It’s Time To Encase Your Jagged Pill With JOY

The Hurt

He is so still. Snuggled up to him in bed, I gently put my hand on his back and wait. I wait to feel him inhale and exhale to make sure he is still alive. He is. My heart is broken for my husband who had been unwell for so long. He was 33, in the prime of life and working as an R&D scientist, when an experiment at work went wrong, leaving him in constant, unsolvable, untreatable, unbelievable pain.

Friends watched our two kids so I could take him to see specialists all over creation, hoping to find some kind of relief for him. Now three years later, not one of those twenty-two doctors, quasi-doctors, or pseudo-doctors has been able to help.

The amazing thing is he hasn’t complained. Not a peep. Ever. He can’t drink water, eat food, sit up straight, stand up straight, bend over, or walk without some level of discomfort. Every morning, I know when he’s waking up because he lets out a sharp gust of breath, telling me the pain woke up too, also ready for a new day. It is his constant companion.

When it first happened, I was doing the best I could to take care of our two kids (neither was in school yet), handle all the responsibilities of the home (including what I would definitely consider the “man chores”), and keep him alive. My own emotional pain increased as I watched him go from a fit, endurance cyclist to an emaciated shadow of himself. I was often overcome with worry, grief, and what-ifs. One of the stealthier what-ifs quietly hovered around the thought of becoming a widow. Months went by like this. He still wasn’t any better, and I was becoming threadbare.

I found myself falling in and out of anger. I was angry that this had happened. I was impatient for God to answer our prayers and just heal him already. Please?? Then I became despondent as more time passed and I realized that this might not just be a short-term detour. This might be the tour.

The Call

And then a phone rang. Would it be possible for me to meet with Bishop on Wednesday? Of course. Not being dullest knife in the drawer, I knew a new calling was waiting. What I had not expected was to be called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher. I can understand why most people aren’t thrilled about receiving a relatively intense calling during an already difficult time. It can seem overwhelming when there is already too much to stress out about. But, despite what was going on in my life, I immediately accepted. I would not allow doubt to sit down and order an appetizer.

It was the best thing that could have happened.

First, here’s what the calling does not do: It doesn’t allow my husband to eat homemade chicken pot pie—his favorite food in all of creation. It doesn’t decrease his pain in any form or fashion. It doesn’t keep my children from constantly squabbling. It doesn’t take me on dates because my husband couldn’t leave the house, even as birthdays and anniversaries came and went. It doesn’t do the dishes.

Here’s what it does: It takes my jagged pill of adversity and encases it in peace. I choose to take the work God wants me to do and do my real, actual, bona fide best. I throw myself headfirst into the scriptures to prepare each lesson. I shut off Netflix, put my fiction books in a stack to the side, ponder rather than rock out when I exercise, read from the manual, read the scriptures, read other sources, and don’t stop until I am satisfied with the result. I channel my best mental and spiritual energy into understanding the doctrine well enough to teach it clearly and to try to teach it in a way that makes those particular points of doctrine important, necessary, and beautiful.

And The Rest

My spirit is fed and energized as I work to prepare my lessons. I find I have fresh strength straight off the vine to put one foot in front of the other, to do the dishes for the 27th time this week, to be the tree my two little squirrels need to climb up, to be resilient enough to suspend my own emotional needs that my husband has become incapable of meeting, to handle coming home and finding him fighting off unconsciousness on the floor. Three years into this plot twist and his health issue has remained unchanged. I, however, have not.

Does this mean I have overcome my part in this story of adversity? I don’t know. Maybe that is the wrong question to ask. The verb often paired with trial, adversity, etc. is “overcome.” With “over,” there is an intrinsic and implicit understanding that the way is up. And after quite some time living with this gut punch, I have noticed that the view from where I am now standing is considerably different from the view from where I started. This adversity has changed my altitude. Up.

As an avid couch-sitting mountain climber (there’s not a Mt. Everest documentary on Netflix or YouTube that I haven’t seen), I know that high-peak climbers have to spend time within certain elevations to acclimatize their bodies before continuing up to areas that require greater strength, stamina, and skill. At first, I felt like my husband’s health challenge was surely a Mt. Everest-y trial for our family. But as my altitude began to change, my perspective also increased, and I saw that this was only one feature on a larger mountain still. This adversity is a skills course intentionally placed in the path and designed to help me and my family acquire, increase, and improve skills we need to survive the conditions ahead.

Like with real climbers, resting and acclimatizing are essential to making spiritual gains. Paradoxically, as I work to magnify my calling, my spirit rests. In the Old Testament, entering into “God’s rest” was synonymous with being in the presence of God. And being in the presence of God happens physically (more or less) by showing up on His doorstep at the temple to do temple work. It also happens when what I’m working on invites the Holy Ghost to come in without knocking.  When I need His presence—His rest—the most so I can keep going, He mercifully gives me the spiritual work to find it. I find it in synthesizing scriptures, I find it in preparing for my calling, I find it in service to others, I find it in playing the hymns on the piano, I find it in sharing clippings of my testimony on Facebook for all the digital world to read, I find it in strengthening someone else through kind words, I find it in temple work, family history work, and my family’s history-making work. This work—His work—brings me rest because through it I am sanctified, quickened, and healed.

Today is the day to encase your jagged pill with joy. Not just any kind of joy, but the joy of Christ. The joy of Christ is found in the emulation of him. Take your burden and wrap it with service, love, acts and words of kindness, staying true to the light in you by keeping the commandments you know the best you can, offering forgiveness, surrendering grudges, putting an arm around the lonely, praying for your friends, praying for people you can’t stand, verbalizing your gratitude for someone to that someone, strengthen the faith of another by filling an unmet need. The burden is still there, but you can no longer taste it. You taste the juicy sweetness of the fruits of the Spirit. You collect a crate of joy fruit for yourself and everyone in your life. This fruit will sustain you on your journey as you ascend the mountain of the Lord.

I know that I will find His rest someday at the very top of the mountain and stay there in His presence forever. Come with me.

 

Sympathy Pains

A few years ago, I was contemplating this interwoven connection between mother and child, love and ache, and birth and death. And finally my own pietà formed in my mind. Not in stone, but in words. A woman’s birthing experience and Christ’s dying experience are attuned to each other. She gives life through birth. He gave life through death. Salvation is a masterpiece.

Sympathy Pains

The waiting room is packed. New life is coming.

The signs are here, but she thinks it’s too soon.
He knows it’s time, and he’s made it up to the right place.

Her mom is there, an eager helper. A loving nurse.
His mom is nearby, trying to breathe. A nursing pietà.

She gushes red as muscles scream in biting rhythm.
He silently counts the time between the clangs.

She’s cut open to speed it up.
He feels her pain in his side.

She asks for water.
He gets the vinegar.

Blood and water, spirit and form burst out from her with a jubilant scream.
He’s hung to dry.

The firstborn son is welcomed home.

 

*This poem was first published on Andrea’s personal blog.

** Image: the “Pietà” by Michelangelo, Saint-Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. 

The Beauty of Gospel Symbiosis

During the months preceding my call to work in the temple, I was looking for something. I didn’t know what it was, but the Lord did. I had thoughts such as “I just don’t feel the Spirit like I used to,” “I’m not really progressing right now,” and “Are my prayers even working?” I knew that I could be praying better, reading my scriptures more thoroughly, and paying closer attention in church, but I wasn’t doing those things on my own and I really needed help overcoming my own spiritual inertia. When I got a call from the temple president’s office, I was amazed at how attentively the Lord had heard my prayers and offered to me exactly what I needed.

Serving as a temple worker has been such a blessing and every shift I work is healing and inspiring to me. However, I know that my service in the temple isn’t about me. The blessings I receive are not the primary purpose of my service, but they are a natural byproduct of it because the temple is a perfect example of what I like to call gospel symbiosis. I remember learning about this principle in science classes as a child. My teacher told us that “symbiosis” is another way of describing a win-win situation. When I was in third grade, we learned about the remora, which is a little fish that nibbles small parasites off of big sharks and other sea creatures. The fish benefit from having something to eat, and the sharks benefit from having their parasites removed. The fish will even clean out the shark teeth, which I imagine takes a lot of courage.

The gospel is all about symbiosis. Every act of service we do also serves us, and every act of personal devotion we do benefits those around us indirectly. The temple is a pinnacle of the win-win nature of being a member of the church. For example, every week at the temple it is a blessing for me to perform ordinances and welcome people to the house of the Lord, it is a blessing for temple patrons to worship in the temple, and it is a blessing for those who have passed on to have their ordinances performed by proxy.

I had an experience in the temple a few weeks ago that provides a sweet snapshot of a regular day as a temple worker. While I was assisting one sister, she told me, “My friend is here with me, this is only her second time in the temple so she’s not quite used to it yet.” A few minutes later, I met her friend. She was a much younger sister and was nervous both because she was new in the temple and because we were navigating a slight language barrier, which she managed beautifully. It was a pleasure to do temple work with these women, and after they were finished I heard the two friends talking nearby. The older sister bore a simple and heartfelt testimony about how good it feels to do something selfless and how the blessings of temple service have given her hope in the face of all her health problems. As I sat there in the soft white light of that peaceful setting, surrounded by the still, small whispers of sisters reverently doing the Lord’s work, I felt my heart grow three sizes in admiration for the pure and loving friendship of these two women, who were so different in age and cultural background but so alike in their willingness to serve. I don’t know what the story of their friendship is, but I do know that the church community fosters unlikely friendships just like theirs — friendships that transcend cultural, generational, and other barriers. I felt such a strong sisterhood there because in the temple we feel keenly that we are part of God’s eternal family and the Spirit reminds us that families belong together.

This simple experience showed me the power of gospel symbiosis, which is so potent within the walls of the temple where we can connect with each other and with God on a spiritual level. These two sisters were clearly so blessed by their friendship with each other, I was grateful to witness it, we were all benefiting from the Spirit of the temple, and the people whose names they brought in received a gift that had the power to change the course of their eternal lives.

I used to think that I went to the temple just for self-care, but it is so much more than that. The temple is a magical place that combines self-care and community care seamlessly and we can take that example into every part of our lives. The symbiotic model of the temple can show us how to go to church more interested in contributing love and friendship to our community than what’s in it for us. It can help us approach our church callings and community service opportunities with an increased sense of gratitude.

On of my favorite scriptures is a gospel paradox spoken by the Savior and recorded in Matthew 16:25: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” When you lose yourself in any kind of service, including temple service, you will find the life God has in store for you. I will add my witness to these words. I promise that the temple can instruct you in the ways of gospel symbiosis and that the Lord will help you find ways to serve through your private devotion and will ensure that you will be personally blessed as you turn outward. May we ever follow the divine patterns which are set in the temple, for these patterns are the way of Christ.

*Christ Calling Peter and Andrew, by James T. Harwood

6 Ways Our Family is Preparing to Be Sealed in the Temple

I’ve been to 4 temples before and only ever been on the outside. But the temple had a HUGE influence as to why I first started investigating the church. Every time I waited outside of a temple I always felt like I could hear the Spirit whispering to me and each time His message grew louder and louder. All I could think of was “if it is this powerful and I’m only waiting outside, I can only imagine how incredible it will be if I ever get to go inside.”

Years after my first experience like this at a temple, I made the choice to get baptized. After my baptism, I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost. Since I received the gift of the Holy Ghost that whisper has now transformed into a melody that seems to be playing in my mind all day long. Sometimes I feel like I could sing it at the top of my lungs, and other times it is a soft humming. I know my Savior wants me to come be with Him again and I know by getting sealed in the Temple I can.

What will make my sealing so special is that I will get to experience it with not only my husband but with my two daughters as well. We are all going to go through this sacred experience together and we are preparing as a family for the day that we will all be able to become closer to our Heavenly Father. These are some ways we are preparing:

1)Prayer. During our daily family prayer, we ask our Heavenly Father to help us be prepared for our day to be sealed.

2)Scripture study. We read the scriptures slowly and we take time to discuss what it means to be sealed.

3)Journaling. I write in my journal when I am concerned and I ask questions when I am curious.

4)Strengthening faith and testimony through learning. I am learning more about personal testimonies through church books which is then helping me build my own testimony.

5)Improving through repentance. I can recognize my faults better now and repentance is gradually becoming less difficult.

6)Visiting the temple grounds together. Above all, my favorite way to prepare to enter the temple is by visiting the temple grounds as a family and feeling the Spirit there.

It amazes me how excited my two girls get just by seeing the tip of Angel Moroni when we drive around Gilbert. Every time we go to the temple it is as if they have never seen it before. The Spirit they feel and the things they notice leave perfect memories carved into my heart. Those moments are what help me know that the temple truly is His home here on earth. Flowers become more colorful, the sun shines brighter, and the bond between us becomes undeniable. The only word you can use to describe it is LOVE.

I want to be sealed in the temple because I want my family to grow closer together while we build testimonies individually. I want our love to be strong enough to conquer anything influenced by hate and I want our faith to be more valuable than facts. I know that trust in my Savior is more powerful than any vaccine to any illness and I know if I follow His commandments I can have all those blessings and more. So I will play this beautiful melody on repeat every day from now until my family and I walk out of the temple sealed together for all eternity.