By Guest Blogger Chelsea Slade
In the course of my training as a medical student, I have seen many difficult situations. I have seen a sixteen-year-old girl die of tuberculosis; I have heard the mourning wails of a wife when her husband’s heart monitor went flat and his last breath was drawn; I have held a premature baby no larger than a frog shortly after he died, and felt the warmth gently pass from his tiny body. I have taken families to see their loved one in the hospital morgue. I have been the one to say, “You have cancer,” and the one to say, “Your cancer has returned, and there is very little we can do.” I have seen families pulled apart by their son and brother’s fits of psychosis and aggression. I have seen a man so tormented by his belief that he was the Anti-Christ that it drove him to try to end his own life. I have tried to comfort a woman so plagued by the memory of the abortion her mother forced her to have at age seventeen that she throws herself into a wall until she loses consciousness. I have seen children who spend their entire preschool and elementary years fed through a tube through their belly wall directly into their stomach, never knowing what it is to taste ice cream or cold lemonade on a hot summer day. I have seen a seven-year-old boy’s body wither away, ravaged by the ravenous cancer in his kidney. I have shared with an expectant mother the realization that the mass on her prenatal ultrasound is a terrible cancer that will likely take her baby’s life soon after she is born.
Perhaps the most difficult encounters I have faced—the ones that wrench my heart into a tangled mess and leave me in tears—were the several women I met while working in a psychiatric hospital, who believed beyond any convincing that they were worthless. These were beautiful women, most of them mothers, who could not, even with long hours of coaching, name anything they truly liked about themselves. They saw themselves as fat, ignorant, stupid, deserving to die, worthless, and disgusting. Many of them had toxic family members who reinforced those beliefs, or heard voices telling them these things over and over, every day of their lives. Suicide seemed the only way to escape the harsh judgments that surrounded them. They had all tried several times.
When I found myself in conversation with these women, I wanted to gather them up in a huge hug and say, “But you are a daughter of God. You are a holy, beloved child of our Heavenly Father, and that makes you beautiful and valuable—no matter what the voices or your family can say.” I knew, from my faith in what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had taught me, that each of these women was a precious spiritual being with intrinsic worth and beauty. If only I could have shown them!
But the medical profession is strict. An outside observer to that conversation would see a student doctor, in a position of authority, proselytizing and preaching to a vulnerable and victimized psychiatric patient. So I had to check myself and limit the profession of my beliefs and my pain for these beautiful women, to saying, “I don’t believe you’re worthless. I could name a hundred wonderful things about you.” I worked so hard to help each daughter of God come to her own realization that she did have value and that life was worth living, while keeping explicit religious doctrine out of the conversation.
When I left that hospital, there had been only one suicide attempt among these women for a month. I don’t know that my words and love had any lasting effect on how these daughters of God will view themselves. But I came out with further solidification of my knowledge that our Heavenly Father does love us each as his children. I hope I will be able to subtly but powerfully bring that message to all the hopeless that I will touch as a doctor.
By Guest Blogger Laura Pitt
Most of my life, I didn’t think I needed a God. I was agnostic, at best. When I started college in Seattle in 2009, I was in a relationship with a very manipulative and hurtful person. I turned into a very sad and dependent young woman; as long as I was with this man, I believed I did not need to be accountable to anyone except him. This relationship, and other personal events, led to what I call my “rock bottom” in the winter of 2010. I felt so alone and so forgotten that I didn’t think I should be in this world anymore. These thoughts scared me, and a little feeling, a little voice said, “Just wait, and if you still feel this way tomorrow, get help.” I moved home, sought proper treatment, and went to a local community college in the meantime. (And the guy? He’s out of my life forever!) I learned immediately from my rock bottom that I cannot isolate myself, that my friends and family are here for me and want me to be happy.
After a year of working hard at community college, it was time to return to my university. When I moved back to Seattle this fall, I quickly became overwhelmed with fear. I kept hearing, What if I’m not good enough?
I remember the day so clearly. I was going to officially declare my major. When the adviser explained opportunities within the major, I broke down crying. I told her that I was upset about my bike (which I discovered that morning had been stolen), but I knew it was just the last straw. I felt alone and forgotten again, and I knew I wasn’t going to get through school (and life, for that matter) if I kept living with these feelings. They paralyzed me, and I just knew there had to be a way to get past them.
I left the meeting completely embarrassed. I walked back home through campus and saw some LDS missionaries. They’d been on campus a million times before, and I had ignored them a million times before. But that day, a little voice said to me, “Go talk to them. They’ll listen.” When the elder asked to pray with me, he asked afterwards how I felt. I was crying (happy tears, this time!) and said that it was comforting and really nice to have someone pray for me. To which he responded, “What you’re feeling is the Holy Ghost.”
In that ten minute conversation, the elder had demystified so much to me about the Godhead (I had heard of but never understood the concept of the Holy Ghost before). There had to be something to this church, I quickly realized. The elders gave me a Book of Mormon and made an appointment with me the next day to see their church and to have a lesson.
I tried to bail out of that meeting. I called and listed almost every stereotype about the LDS Church as my reasons for not going, and the elder stayed on the phone with me for twenty minutes explaining why each stereotype was inaccurate. I caved, “Alright, I’ll still meet you guys today.”
And I’m so grateful I did. Each lesson was more and more eye-opening. I did have questions, but there were always answers. Every doctrine and every commandment comes with so many blessings (I can write about this, but it’d take a whole other article!). The elders always asked me to pray, read the Book of Mormon, and to go to church.
I had attended numerous Protestant services in my past, but was never compelled to return. However, I loved every moment on Sunday at church for LDS, and I know now that I love it so because it is the true and restored church of Jesus Christ. I always felt I had to settle when going to other church services, but this was perfect.
I was baptized and confirmed three weeks and two days after my first meeting with the elders. The adversary used my past against me, telling me I was not worthy and deserving of happiness—there was no point in me trying to be a good person anymore because of mistakes in my past. Through my baptism, I was finally released from the grasp of my past. I promised to God that I will try every moment to be the best person I can be, and that I will not turn away from his love ever again. The gift of the Holy Spirit was the “thing” that was always missing for me. Yes, I had already learned that my friends and family loved me and were there for me, but sometimes they couldn’t understand my feelings and my thoughts. I joined so many different clubs and organizations trying to seek that comfort. The Holy Ghost is God’s blessing to me after I chose to be baptized. My Heavenly Father has always been there for me. He did get through to me in my darkest, most humble moments, through the Holy Spirit, but now I have it with me always.
I testify that Heavenly Father never gives up on you. He will be there for you during your highest highs and your lowest lows. He feels everything you feel, and he knows you better than anyone (even you, sometimes). I know that Heavenly Father knew exactly what I needed to go through so that I could come Home. He knew it would take twenty-one years of investigating before my heart would be humbled and soft enough to finally receive these revelations. I am not alone, I am not forgotten, and I am loved perfectly by my Heavenly Father. The trials I’ve faced here have built my testimony, and I now have no doubt in the truth of the gospel. My life itself hasn’t really changed, but I face each day now with a peaceful and joyful anticipation instead of dread and fear, and that’s the greatest comfort Heavenly Father can give me.
By Guest Blogger Matt Blakely
“Now the Atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths. Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord in his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life. But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah, we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived. May I invite you to join with me in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.” (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane)
As I have grown and matured, I have realized how true this statement is. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we define the Atonement as Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, his suffering and death on the cross, and his glorious resurrection on the third day. Jesus Christ’s atonement redeems all mankind from physical death. Every one of the billions of people who have lived on the earth will receive the gift of being resurrected and living for eternity, regardless of how well or poorly they have lived their lives. The Atonement also makes it possible for every member of the human family to be cleansed of our sins as we come unto him and repent. These are truly incredible blessings, and I am eternally grateful to the Lord for making them available to me and to all mankind.
However, I think that most of us, including those of us who have been Christian our entire lives, have still only scratched the surface on understanding how truly remarkable the Atonement is. I know that the words I share here will certainly be inadequate to fully describe it, but I will try to help us catch a glimpse of it anyway.
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.” (Alma 7:11–13)
Christ didn’t suffer for only our sins, though it seems harsh to use the word “only” when we realize how big that burden is on its own. He suffered for every pain, every sorrow, every weakness, every sickness, every infirmity that each of us will encounter individually. Why would he do that? “That he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people” (Alma 7:12). Succor means to run to the aid of. Christ is always there willing and wanting to run to our aid if we choose to turn our lives toward him. He wants to transform us into beings like him, and he has the power to do it if we choose to follow him.
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want us to become like them so that we can return to live with them and with our families throughout eternity. This is made possible through the Atonement, which can transform who we are into who we truly yearn to become. Just like every person who reads this, I have had sins that I’ve struggled to overcome for long periods of time. Through these struggles and my efforts to turn to Christ, I have seen how his love has changed me. I recently wrote this in a journal entry: “I have come to realize that being a righteous disciple of the Savior is not dependent upon whether I have sinned or what sins I have committed. Being a man of God depends on doing what is truly hard—knowing yourself well enough to realize what your weaknesses are, recognizing the sins that you commit, and then following God’s plan regarding how to apply the Atonement to be cleansed of those sins.”
The Atonement is meant to change us. It can be hard to make the decision to change. I testify that going through that process of change brings joy that is exquisite. When you feel that the Savior has transformed you and you don’t have any desire to commit a sin that you used to commit, you realize that the process of repentance is completely worth all of the devoted effort you put into it. I know that Jesus Christ knows and loves you more deeply than you currently comprehend. The worth of every soul is great in the sight of God. The Touch of the Master’s Hand, one of my favorite poems, illustrates this beautifully. May each of us turn to the Savior and understand his atonement more fully as we feel his love transform us.
By Guest Blogger Denia-Marie Ollerton
I grew up in a religious LDS household. My parents were and are hardworking, God-fearing, sacrificing people. But it wasn’t easy. We had our difficulties and challenges, and at the time I felt we had more problems than my seemingly-perfect Mormon neighbors.
Church was just a thing we did every week. My friends were there, but I didn’t feel much else pulling me besides them. I remember thinking that religion as taught in my church was for perfect people only. They’d talk about the virtues of being good, and of happy families. I didn’t feel that fit my experience. I thought that God was cold, mean, and punitive.
In my teens, I got into some trouble with school, friends, and had some close calls with the law. I wasn’t happy, but I was trying desperately hard to become so. I still felt that religion was too strict and family relationships too sterile. Around eighteen years old my parents loosened their grip, and I began to experience the reality of being all on my own. I had long since lost any close friends I had in high school. My interactions with my family were minimal, and my life consisted mostly of going to school, trying to stay out of everyone’s way, and going home to sit in my room. Yes, it was very lonely. I knew that the life I had lived and the choices I had made up to that point were not making me happy.
I noticed my siblings were good enough people, and they seemed happy. They were active churchgoers, and always talked about how great the church was. I decided that I’d try religion one time, and one time only. If it was true, if it did work to live by certain rules, then great. If not, I’d know and I could move on with life. At this time, a lot of teachings from my childhood started to come into mind. One principle that came to mind was repentance. Repentance as I understood it was supposed to be this thing where you told God (or your bishop) about all the bad things you’d done, and somehow that was supposed to make you feel better. Oh yeah, and you weren’t supposed to do it again.
I also remembered the teachings about Jesus. I didn’t have much of an opinion on him. I had heard about the crucifixion and the atonement, but those were just words to me. And yet, he did seem like the only forgiving person in the entire story of religion. I remember thinking, “Alright, if he really is merciful and kind, I’ll test it out. I’ll see if he can handle me and all I’ve done.”
I went to my bishop after thinking this over for some time. I expected some harsh words and punishment, but I was willing to go through the process to get to the other side whatever that was. I went in and just let everything out to him. I was surprised but grateful at how calmly and kindly he handled the situation. He just listened for a while, and then asked if we could meet again after church. I agreed. I went to sacrament meeting, and the speakers all spoke about repentance and the atonement. I cried. I felt like a spotlight had been shone on me, and God was finally noticing me. I went back and talked more with my bishop. All of his words were encouraging, hopeful, and healing.
I walked home that day and went to ponder all that had gone on. It was as if a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders, and I didn’t even know I was carrying it until it was gone. I felt incredibly happy. I think it was joy. I can honestly say I hadn’t felt joyful or happy up until that point in my life. I had seen people cry “tears of joy” before, but I didn’t want to cry, I just wanted to smile. I went through the rest of that week with a huge grin on my face. I knew then that God lived, and that there was so much more to life than I had known. Who knew that because Jesus Christ died thousands of years ago, and went through the atonement, that I could find healing and happiness in life? I didn’t before, but I knew it then. And there was no way I was going back to the life I had lived before.
I became fascinated with religion. I realized that I had been surrounded all along by a wonderful road map to a successful and happy life! I felt that I was doing years of make up work, but also felt that I was given an increased ability to soak it all in. Everything was positive that I found out. My previous notion of a punitive God was erased in large, sweeping motions. I found out he really did care about me. He did answer my prayers, he listened to me, he talked to me, and he helped me connect with others in ways I never knew were possible.
By relying on the teachings of the gospel, I’ve overcome fear, judgment (mostly of myself), and discouragement and have instead found opportunity, growth, excitement, and love. I thought my past would weigh me down, but it has buoyed me up. It has taught me that if God can right the wrong in life, he can make the good even better. I can come to the Lord, imperfect and all, and ask him to change me. And he does!
I love living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not because it’s what I’m used to, or what I’ve known all my life, but because it makes me truly happy. And although I haven’t had a perfect life, I don’t hold myself to that perfect standard anymore, and I know God doesn’t either. He and I both know that I am powerful, and I have so much potential. And I’ll continue to draw on that potential, with his support, for the rest of my life.
When Jesus walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he saw fishermen working on their boats and he called out to them. His simple words, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew. 4:19) were taken seriously by his apostles, and they dropped what they were doing and followed him. These men walked with Jesus, taught with Jesus, and administered with Jesus. They never asked how much such a living would gain or if there were any health or dental benefits included. I assume that they did it because they felt that it was the right thing to do. It was not an easy, luxurious lifestyle they led, but they were often the first to witness miracles performed by Jesus, and to come to know personally that he was the Savior of all mankind.
Today, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, there are prophets, apostles and other church leaders who travel all over the world, from Boston to Kenya, from Alaska to Australia, teaching and administrating to everyone, not just members of the Church. They receive no income from this work because they don’t see it as work. At the local levels, individuals who are old enough are asked to serve in one capacity or another, whether as teachers, speakers, sacrament blessers and/or passers (the list goes on and on), and no one draws a salary. So why do we do it? Why put in your time, money, efforts and talents towards something without remuneration? I’d like to hope that everyone gains something, but perhaps not monetarily.
As the Bible teaches us, there are countless blessings in store for those who comes when Jesus beckons. It’s this idea that we are all helping each other, so that we can come closer to the Savior and become more like him. Our lay clergy helps remind me that I don’t have to be a professional or divinity school graduate to help build the Kingdom. Who runs this church? We all do!
I think a lot of Mormons, including myself, have been put on the defensive lately because of all the media buzz surrounding Mormons. It seems anyone that has an opinion about Mormons is sharing it via news outlets, blogs and facebook. It is normally not hard to get a Mormon to feel and act defensive, it kind of goes with the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historically Mormons have had to defend themselves on just about every issue pertaining to the Church, and many times these conflicts have resulted in violence and even death.
I hate feeling defensive all the time. I hate feeling like I’m going to have to combat all the false information that is out there about Mormons that I seem to run across everyday online or on TV. But, I realized something a few days ago, I don’t need to feel defensive all the time, or really hardly ever. I was trying to remember the last time I felt falsely judged or personally attacked because of my religion or beliefs. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure the last time was in high school. There were a few instances in college where people would come to BYU campus and try to make a scene, but I didn’t feel personally attacked then. I would put that on the same level as internet comments. I don’t feel personally attacked or judged unless the person knows me personally and says the comments to my face. Otherwise, I think people are just trying to stir up controversy to get attention and share their opinions.
I really have had very few experiences where people have personally attacked my beliefs. I have actually had really positive experiences where friends and acquaintances have been very respectful and understanding of my beliefs. Especially in areas where we disagree or they think the beliefs are just too out there I have noticed people really put effort into trying to be understanding and non-judgmental. And when I say understanding and non-judgmental I don’t mean sterile. People kindly tease my husband or myself all the time about the more peculiar aspects of our religion. They do it in a way that lets us know that for them it is a little far-fetched but what we believe does not bother or threaten them. Everyone has different experiences but my experience is that the large majority of people are kind enough and understanding enough to accept me with friendship even if my beliefs are different from theirs. I try to be as kind and accepting as they are, and you know what, it makes life a lot more fun and interesting when I’m surrounded by a variety of people with a variety of view points and we can all appreciate each other for our differences.
This past week we started attending a new congregation because we moved across town. Our congregations are set up a little differently than other Christian sects. Congregations are based purely on geographical area. You attend the congregation whose boarders you live within. This is significant for a few reasons.
First, a congregation is not a source of income for anyone, including the head clergyman, the bishop. There is really no monetary incentive or need for a clergyman to try and get as many congregation members as possible. No one is trying to sell you on a certain congregation.
Second, the same thing is taught in each congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worldwide. Members don’t visit different congregations and then decide which clergyman or congregation best fits their ideas because the Church is organized in such a way that all the same doctrines and principles are taught across the board. Each congregation does have its own flavor, customs, traditions, etc though as is natural for different cultures and areas. I’ve attended congregations in Jordan, Mexico, Guatemala, Virginia, Utah, Massachusetts, New York, California, South Carolina, North Carolina, Hawaii, Florida, and Arizona. Each congregation has definitely had its own style and culture but what has been taught is always the same, the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To be honest, I was sad to leave my old congregation because of the friends I had made there and the people I had worked with. It can be a hard transition. But, everywhere we go we are needed. Each congregation has needs and roles that need to be filled and those needs and roles are dependent on the congregation members. I’m excited to get involved and contribute and I’m excited to make new friends and to get to work with new people.
I have a very vivid memory of being on the school bus when I was in 4th or 5th grade and having some boys my age offer me candy if I would say a swear word. When I declined they tried to get a little more persuasive and try to convince me that it didn’t count if I said a swear word because I could just quote them saying it so it wasn’t actually my own words. To their great disappointment, I didn’t end up saying a swear word that day. I don’t mean to paint this picture in a persecuting light. The boys were my friends, they were having fun teasing me and I was having just as much fun being stubborn back to them. I was somewhat of an anomaly to them. I was the only Mormon in my elementary school besides my little sister so they were curious to see what my limits actually were and if I could be bought over by candy.
Avoiding profane and vulgar language is something that most Mormons strive to do. My brother-in-law requested that I do a blog post on this subject to try and help explain why that is. Sometimes it’s not so obvious why it matters so much. In the situation on the school bus I didn’t really know why I wasn’t supposed to say swear words, I just knew I wasn’t supposed to. My reasoning, as it often was when I was younger, was that it was against my religion. At that time that was a good enough reason for me. As an adult though I desire a little more insight as to why our church leaders have asked us to avoid profane and vulgar language.
Now let’s get something straight before I go any further. If you haven’t heard a Mormon use a swear word you probably don’t know very many Mormons. This is something that is difficult for a lot of people to master. Sometimes the tongue is a little faster than the mind but as a general rule we do try to keep our language clean.
What somebody says, or how they say it, reflects who they are. All kinds of assumptions are made about someone based on their speech. If I spoke with really bad grammar people would assume I was uneducated or if I spoke with my best Boston accent people would assume I either had a speech impediment where I couldn’t say my “R’s” or know that I was from Boston. As I have explained before, when we are baptized we take the name of Jesus Christ upon us and agree to be his representatives throughout our lives. That means our language not only reflects who we are but also the Savior. It doesn’t really matter if people are watching and assuming or not, I covenanted to represent Jesus Christ at all times; when I’m alone, when I’m angry, when I’m with friends, when I just got cut off driving, etc. so my language should also reflect that at all times.
We also don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. We do not use the Savior’s name as an expletive or that of our Heavenly Father. Those names are to be used with only the utmost respect and reverence. In the bible James explains about why language matters. He says that if we can control our speech then we can control our whole bodies but if we allow our speech to be vulgar our lives will follow. He also explains that the same mouth that teaches God’s word has no room for profane and vulgar words, it’s hypocritical.
Mormons don’t avoid profane and vulgar language to be self-righteous or to prove a point, we do it because we are trying to represent Jesus Christ and want to lead clean lives. But, we’re just normal people and we say things we regret in the heat of the moment or perhaps sometimes the candy being offered just looks too enticing. When you avoid profane language do you notice a change in your behavior as well?