Thursday, April 23, 2009

To speak of my faith during the greatest difficulty of my life...

Today I feel compelled to post this talk I gave over four years ago during a church conference for the adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons) in our area. I was asked to speak on faith and the conference was to take place only seven and a half weeks after my first husband passed away. Some details, such as my place of birth and my full name, have been omitted.

January 2005....

"Good evening, Brothers and Sisters. My name is Jennifer ___ and I feel very humble and grateful to have been asked to speak to you tonight. The theme of tonight’s conference is Building Faith and Spiritual Reliance. Now I have to tell you that I have been preparing for this talk for about four weeks now, and last night I decided to practice saying it out loud after my children went to bed. I share a room with my two-year-old daughter, and since she hadn’t fallen asleep yet, I thought that my soothing voice would lull her to sleep. Instead, she sat up in her bed and said, “Mama, be quiet please.” I finally was able to practice in my car before I came here, so, believe me, I did try! Before I get to tonight’s theme, I need to give you a brief summary of my life up until this point so that you will know where I’m coming from.

I was born here in ______ in 19--. I had a loving, fun-filled childhood with three younger sisters and one younger brother. When I was 18 years old, I met and fell in love with a soldier in the United States Army. We married and a few months later welcomed our first child, Bethany, into the world. We were then stationed in Germany, where Rob got his first call to overseas duty during the aftermath of Desert Storm. After a long deployment, Rob returned and several months later, our second child, Conor, was born. We were then sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, where Rob was, again, sent overseas for a period of five months. Several months after his return, we welcomed our third child, Kyla, into our world. We were then stationed back here in ________. Our fourth child, Reid, was born seven months later. When Reid was nine months old, however, Rob was again sent to Southwest Asia for five months. Upon his return, we had about two years of uninterrupted time together, but it wasn’t to last long, as he was again asked to serve another tour of duty in Southwest Asia. Several months after his return, we gave birth to a son, our fifth child, Landon. When Landon was three weeks old, Rob left on an unaccompanied tour to South Korea for a year. Again, several months after his return, we welcomed our sixth child, Claire, into the world.

As you can imagine, Rob and I and our little military family have had many adventures. We’ve had the trials that a marriage and children can often bring coupled with long separations from each other, but we’ve also had huge growth opportunities that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Our love and appreciation for each other was always intensified by separation, and looking back on the sixteen years that we’ve had together, we’ve had a full life, with definitely more good times than not.

It’s with a heavy heart, but also a feeling of deep gratitude to Heavenly Father for the time Rob and I had together, that I share with you that seven weeks and six days ago, due to a series of unforeseeable, unusual, and tragic events, my husband, best friend and father of our six beautiful children committed suicide.

I know that it is shocking to hear those two words uttered, especially from this pulpit, but because we are in the adult session of conference, I felt comfortable speaking freely with you so that you can have a clear picture of how the Lord has worked in my life through the faith I have in him.

Many of us have read Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon. This chapter is a wonderful lesson on faith and how to build and grow faith. During my preparation for this talk, although I had read this chapter many, many times, I felt compelled to pore over it many more times and I would like to share with you some of the things that stood out to me as I’ve begun to try to rebuild my world.

First of all, I need to remind you what faith is not: Alma teaches us in his 32nd chapter of the Book of Mormon that, “-faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” That struck me as so important because there are many times when we may have doubts about spiritual matters, but we can still have faith because our knowledge does not have to be perfect.
Alma teaches us that this it the definition of faith: “Therefore, if ye have faith, ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” In a world where God is sometimes feared, we can have assurance that He is a loving, compassionate God who only requires the very simple act of HOPE on our part, in order to work in our lives.

In the New Testament, there is a beautiful story of a father who brought his son to Jesus to heal. This son had had many ailments since he was a young child and his father was greatly tormented by this. He said to Jesus, “-if Thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.” Just his request alone was obviously an act of faith. This was the Lord’s response: ”If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” Listen now, to the desperate father’s response as he cried out with tears, saying, “Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief.” And because of his faith, his son was healed in front of the multitude. What I love about this example is that all we need to have the Lord work in our lives is a desire to believe. This father humbly admitted that while he believed Jesus could heal his son, there was a portion of him that didn’t believe and he asked the Lord to help his “unbelief”. The Lord has said in many writings, “Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” I can’t imagine a more noble request than to ask Heavenly Father to help our unbelief. I KNOW He will answer us every single time we ask this of Him.

I would like to count some of the ways my faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ and the Atonement has helped me and my children to get through this very difficult time in our lives. I do this in the hopes that, if you haven’t done so already, that you might begin to spiritually prepare yourselves for things to come in your lives.

There are so many things that I wanted to say to you this evening and when I first wrote out my talk, it was twice as long as the time I was allowed, so I had to chop out so many things I wanted to tell you about what The Lord has done in my life. I think one of the most important things I can speak about is the comfort I feel having faith that the Lord has known all the days of my life that I would experience this and that He has been by my side in so many ways preparing me. When I first shared the summary of my life with you, you might have thought that I was given a difficult lot having to go through so many military deployments with so many children. At the time I went through them, I felt the same way and I often wondered why my life seemed so much harder than the average wife’s. I now know what a blessing it was that I learned how to take care of such a large family on my own and I learned many years ago what loneliness felt like and how to deal with it. We sometimes don’t know how our daily hardships can prepare us for future events in our lives of which only God is aware.

Heavenly Father also gave me a very special gift only two months before Rob died. I would like to share this experience with you. In March of last year, my mother had given me a book about a Christian missionary husband and wife couple that was abducted by Al Qaeda terrorists in the Philippines. For various reasons, I wasn’t able to pick it up right then, and actually didn't start reading it until the end of September, some six months after my mother had given it to me. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. This missionary wife was much like myself. She home schooled her children like I do, went on many adventures with her husband and was very independent. When she and her husband were vacationing in a Philippine resort, they were kidnapped by terrorists and forced to spend a year in the jungles of the Philippines as their captors tried to evade capture by the government. Their story was truly inspiring as the wife, Gracia, wrote how they had befriended their captors and had tried to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. Theirs was an amazing story of love, forgiveness and the power that faith in the Lord can have in one’s life. Tragically, however, after a year of being forced to follow their captors through the jungle, in a rescue attempt by the Philippine government, Gracia’s husband, Martin, was shot and killed. She was rescued, but had to face the prospect of a life without the one she loved most in the world. As I read her account of how she told her children what had happened to their father, how she helped her children say good-bye and how strong she was, I sobbed like I never have before during the reading of any other book. I cried for many days afterwards every time I thought about it and cried when I shared the story with my husband. I was puzzled that I would have such a connection to this family and feel such emotion, because I have read many books that were much more tragic than this. I now know why. I now know that I was to follow Gracia’s example of how to honestly tell our children what happened to their father and how to help them deal with the funeral and say goodbye to their dad. It was like God gave me an instruction manual on how to deal with a crushing event like this. Perhaps nothing, besides prayer and scripture study, prepared me more for the initial few days after Rob’s death than did this book. My faith in the Lord has helped me to realize that this was not a random coincidence in the time-space continuum, but that the Lord placed the book in my hands when he did as a specific road map on how to help my children deal with the death of their father. I will never forget this Heavenly gift and I will always cherish it in my heart.

Now that I’ve shared with you how my Faith in The Lord has helped me, let me share with you the steps that one might take to build faith.

The first step that I would like to discuss with you is the way that our thoughts roam around in our heads. We all know that the best way for the Lord to communicate with us and to act in our lives is through a pure heart. When we carry around feelings of bitterness, anger, pessimism, distrust and resentment, we cannot be an effective conduit through which the Spirit of the Lord can flow. I would like to share with you a parable, the parable of the shopvac. Some of you in Hondo Pass Ward have heard this parable, so please bear with me. As you already know, I have six children. In turn, my floors are often in need of serious attention. I have discovered that a using a shopvac is the best way to clean Cheerios, dog hair, dirt, and cheese all at the same time. This is something I use every day. One day, I noticed that my shopvac wasn’t picking up as well as it used to. There was a very gradual, almost imperceptible decline in the performance level that had finally gotten to be so bad that the vacuum was practically useless. I realized that the filter was clogged with months of grime that I would need to remove. This was during the time that Rob was in Korea and I had five small children and I just didn’t feel like loading them all up and going to the store for a new filter. So, I decided to simply remove the filter and bang it as hard as I could on the side of my house. After some pretty brutal banging and an asthma attack because the exertion and the dust, I found that I could replace the filter in the vacuum and it would function just like new. May I compare this to what can happen when we let negativity into our heads? Sometimes, our negative thoughts have come in and piled up so gradually into our minds, that we don’t even realize the fact that they are blocking inspiration and guidance by the Holy Spirit. We truly cannot be effective Latter-Day Saints if we continue to allow these waste products to cloud our minds. Sometimes, we become so dysfunctional, that it takes a good banging against a wall to rid us our of negativity. That is never any fun, and we can avoid it by willingly forgiving those who we might have thought have trespassed against us. I wouldn’t stand up here and ask you to do something that I haven’t done and I want you to know, that during the last four weeks as I have prepared this talk, as I have been able to forgive those whom I had thought had transgressed against me, I have experienced a peace and a clarity of mind that is unbelievable. I know that as I have done this, my mind has had room to dwell on the more beautiful things of life and it is wonderful.

The second step to building faith is the next standard primary answer: Scripture study:
Something occurred to me a few years ago about scripture study as I was doing some woodworking. I was using a circular saw and it slipped and hit my wedding ring. Fortunately, it made only a very small nick in it and can hardly be seen. Later, as I was reading my Book of Mormon, I recalled that that very book was written on gold plates. When I thought about the power it took to put the little tiny nick in my ring, and then when I thought about all of the physical and mental effort it must have taken to compile these writings, it was completely overwhelming. It gave me such a sincere appreciation for how important it was for us to have these writings. It made me wonder how I could have ever gone a day with doing scripture study. Our Heavenly Father, in all of his wisdom, went to great lengths to provide us with a blueprint of how we should live our lives to be able to receive happiness in this life and the next. If we cannot find the time to take advantage of this wonderful gift, then we will truly be missing out on so many sweet blessings in life. I can truly testify that reading our scriptures daily WILL improve our lives. More time in the day will appear, more patience in our voices will sound as we raise our children, more love will show in our countenance as we interact with our fellow human beings, and a more desire will develop in our hearts to be obedient to our Heavenly Father. I have a strong testimony of how scripture study benefits our lives.

The last step is the standard primary answer to almost any question asked of our children: Prayer. I would like to suggest to you one very simple act of faith that you can go home tonight and perform. Get down on your knees and pray to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ. The act of getting on your knees is a true act of faith. Most people wouldn’t willing forego the comfort of their bed to kneel on the hard, cold floor unless they had some hope that there was someone listening to them. You will be rewarded for this simple act of faith. Let’s talk about how we pray. As I’ve reflected on what some of my prayers may have sounded like to our Heavenly Father, I realized that many of my daily prayers have had this repeated kind of blanket thanks for everything, and then quite a few requests for blessings. As I’ve become more acquainted with prayer, I’ve realized that there is so much more to it than that. I would like to read a quote by Gordon B. Hinckley that definitely enlightened me as I read it.

He says, ”We need to build ourselves spiritually. We live in a world of rush and go, of running here and there and in every direction. We are very busy people. We have so much to do. We need to get off by ourselves spiritually. Get by yourself and think of things of the Lord, of things of the Spirit. Think of the things of God. Just meditate and reflect for an hour about yourself and your relationship to your Heavenly Father and your Redeemer. It will do something for you.”

That is so beautiful. How different is this idea of communion with the Lord than perhaps our daily, routine interactions? Our prophet spoke of reflecting for an hour on the things of the Lord. I truly believe that all of us can find the time to do this on a regular basis. If we do, we can know that everything else will fall into place in our lives just as the Lord would have it.

Something else I’ve recently been enjoying very much when I pray is to just start listing, very specifically, all of the ways that God has blessed me and to thank him for it. During this very difficult time for our family, as I’ve reflected on the hundreds of kind gestures and sacrifices that have been made for us, I am able to spend many hours in prayer on my knees listing all of the people and events that I am grateful for. Sometimes I don’t even feel the need to ask for anything from Heavenly Father after doing this because I don’t fell like I even need anything. He has given me such an abundance of blessings that I have cried many, many more tears of gratitude and joy than I have of sorrow. The Lord is such a loving Father.

I want to leave you with my simple testimony. I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that he is the Redeemer of the world and can save all mankind from their sins. I know that we can live with God again with our families, our families being the most important unit in the universe. I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to speak to all of you today and my only wish is that I have inspired or helped someone to make an effort to build their faith in Jesus Christ. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

I am pleased to list this post @ Cielo's "Hopeful Friday."

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Kathryn said...

Thank you so much for sharing this talk. It must be hard to do, even now. You have really helped me remember the importance of having faith in Christ.

My friend told me recently (when I was complaining about my trials) that "you never know what the Lord has in store for you." It has really helped me to remember that the Lord has blessing in store for us and we don't always know what his plans are for us.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I know I can have more faith because of the faith that you have.
May the Lord continue to bless you and your beautiful family.

Anonymous said...

Life can be so hard at times. Thank you so much for sharing this post with all of us. It's true we don't know the LORD'S plan but he is always taking care of us, especially in times of sorrow and pain. I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

Jessica said...

I have two very different comments.
#1...My family was stationed at Ft. Polk from 88-92...we moved just before the new Leesville building was finished. We lived in Slagel, a tiny town outside of Leesville.
Then we moved to Alexandria and my family is still in that stake today.
It's weird that although we have never met, we might have very well sat in a stake conference together.

#2...A lot of your talk was the perfect thing for me to read. I am in a huge rut about my current calling(I even blogged about it) and reading “Lord, I believe. Help Thou mine unbelief.” just hit the nail on the head. So did a the bit about scripture study. I've developed the bad habit of not reading them, and I just need to get in a routine and do it.

So, this comment is probably way more then you expected (and it is all about me, sorry!), but I am so grateful that I clicked on the link to read. I will probably come back and read your talk again to re-inspire me to work harder. I'm not saying I am out of the rut, but thanks for giving me a little more dirt to help fill in the hole.

Momza said...

As you know, there are literally thousands of blogs to choose from to read daily. I try to be careful about who I "follow"...I want and need the words I read to uplift, validate and sustain me...yours is such a blog worth my time. Thank you for sharing the depths of your character today.

CIELO said...

May The Lord's face shine upon you and yours....



Amanda B. said...

Wow. I knew from the little bit I had read about you that you had certain had a life full of challenges and happiness but I obviously had no idea. Thanks for sharing your story. You are an amazing woman and an incredible example.

Marilyn said...

Thank you.

Babies and Bags said...

As a army wife and mother of 6, who has lived through deployments thanks for the reminder that we are all blessed with so much, and the kick in the pants to do better with personal prayer and scripture study.

sharon said...

Thank you for sharing your life and incredible faith with us. You are truly a remarkable sister, and I think your family life is amazing! You have given me an insight into spiritual courage and understanding which I will long remember. May the Lord continue to bless you and your lovely family!

sharon said...

Thank you for sharing your incredible story of courage, love, and faith! You are a remarkable sister with an amazing family, and I have learned many things from you. May you continue to be blessed in all that you do!

Melinda said...

You are AMAZING!! Thanks for strengthening all of us by sharing your story. What an awesome example faith! Love ya

Connie said...

Inspiring...thanks for sharing!

Maridith said...

Just found your blog and all I can say is wow. I wish I had your faith when my brother died. It has taken me years to even talk about let alone come to terms with. Your post is truly inspirational. I will be back!! Your recipes look delicious!!

Emily said...

Beautiful talk and message on faith. Thank you for sharing. You are a true inspiration!

Amie said...

Wow, goosebumps...thank you so much for sharing your awesome talk. What a row you've had to hoe, but what faith you've used to do it! I'll be sharing this post with my friends.

ParkerMama said...

What a beautiful testimony.

Lorri said...

I saw your link at the Blog Frog. What a beautiful story you share. It's so refreshing to see someone who lets Jesus be the central character in their life. Keep turning your gaze toward him! :)

Anonymous said...

My family has had to deal with some negative things as well and I found myself experiencing the "vaccuum cleaner syndrome" too. I was so often angry and focused on the negative and bad stuff that I couldn't receive the promptings I so desperately needed to keep my children safe and help them to heal. You have helped me to feel grateful as I read your blog that the destruction of our children's innocence did not come from within our immediate family. I have wanted to know that Christ's atonement could heal every wound with a perfect knowledge yet you have reminded me that this sure knowledge comes only after a long period of trial of faith of hope in the belief that He will. It does not come as an immediate and undoubtable fact. I read 3 Nephi recently and identified so completely with the passages where Jesus heals the children and their sorrows are wiped away in an instant that I know this is possible and it helps me to have faith that he will give my children line upon line and even in an instant ,if necessary, all that is truly needful for them to live their lives well and bear the burdens they will face in an increasingly wicked world. Thank you for reminding me of the essentials to building my faith and providing a place for me to identify with someone facing very similar challenges. It is an added blessing that we also share many other things in common so you have truly been an example of the believers to me.