Our True Identity

Hans Christian Anderson is the author of many children’s stories; among them is the story of the Ugly Duckling. It starts with a family of ducks, the mother happy and proud of her young ducklings – all except one. This particular duckling was large and rather ugly. The rest of his family made fun of him, teasing him for how he didn’t look anything like the other ducks. One day, the ugly duckling decided it would be better for everyone if he left, so he flew away. As he traveled, he saw a flock of beautiful and majestic white birds who were full of grace and power. He decided to join them, even though he was sure they would tease him and treat him the way everyone else did. As they stopped at a pond, the ugly duckling looked into the water and saw, to his surprise, a beautiful and glorious swan staring back at him. The other swans gathered around him and declared that he was the most majestic and beautiful of them all. The ugly duckling, now a magnificent swan, had finally found his true identity.

How many of us allow the opinions of the world to weigh us down and keep us from recognizing who we are and our divine potential? I know I tend to forget this sometimes and allow the way others think of me to become a little too important to who I am. But as I’ve grown in my knowledge of the world and in my testimony of the Gospel, I remember more and more often that the world is wrong. Instead of being nobody of any importance, I am the daughter of a King – the daughter of the most glorious Being in the Universe. Our Father in Heaven created this Earth specifically for His children to live. We’ve been given bodies, experiences, family and friends who help us to grow and be strengthened in ways that will only bring us closer to Him. The experiences I’ve had throughout my life have taught me over and over just who God really is. I’ve discovered that He is not, in fact, just an all powerful, all knowing God. He’s not up there directing traffic and deciding who to strike down with lightning whenever He feels they need it. He is keenly aware of each and every one of us, not just that we are alive or in need, but He knows when we’re happy, sad, struggling, frustrated, ready to give up or ready to keep going. And not only does He know all of that, but He CARES, too. He is our Father. Matthew 7:7-11 says: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” If we care about each other here, and if we were created in God’s image, wouldn’t it make sense that He cares about us too, and He knows what we need and want, just as parents here know what their children need or want?

Romans 8:16-17 says: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” Any parent who loves their child even a little bit most likely wants them to have the best life possible. They give their child what they need to learn and grow, to become better than they were the day before. The parents generally urge their children to receive as much education as they can while also learning any skills that will be helpful throughout their lives as children, teenagers, adults and eventually parents themselves. The more I learn about my relationship with Heavenly Father, the more I can see that this is the same relationship we have with our families here – Heavenly Father is willing and wants nothing more than for us to have everything that he has! And it is beautiful, enlightening, inspiring and brings me great happiness to know that I can say not only do I know OF my Heavenly Father, but I actually KNOW Him and I know that He is that way.

Prayer has become especially important to me in the last year. I briefly served with a companion who taught me how important prayer is through her simple and quiet example. She was only in our trio for about five days before transfers happened, but in those few days, she changed me. At night, she would ask if either I or my other companion needed to use the restroom before bed, then she would go in, turn on the fan, and say her prayers out loud. It was the only privacy she could get, but I could tell how much it meant to her and how much greater and stronger her relationship with Heavenly Father was because she took that time and made it sacred and personal. When transfers came, just a few months before I returned home, I told my new companion, fresh from the MTC, that I wanted to improve my prayers by saying them out loud at night. As we both made a concerted effort to have more sincere prayers, my two or three minute prayers, sometimes only 30 second prayers, turned to being 20 or 30 minutes long. I never knew I could have conversations like that with my Father in Heaven. I never understood how anyone could pray for that long until I tried it myself. I realized that prayers aren’t just to thank God and ask for things. I learned on a deeper level that my Father in Heaven wants to know EVERYTHING that’s on my mind and in my heart. He loves me unconditionally, no matter what I do, say or feel. I opened up to Him more than I ever had before. I poured out my heart and soul during that time each night. Previously, I had simply said what I was grateful for, asked Him for things I needed and got into bed. Now, I do those things, too, but I also tell Him things that I’m afraid to admit, even to myself. I share with Him my worries, doubts, fears, joys, and every thought I’ve had throughout the day that is important to me. The time I spend on my knees is so precious and personal. But I don’t have to be on my knees to communicate with my Heavenly Father. I pray whenever I feel the need, which is generally at least ten times a day. Those prayers or mostly short, simple ones for strength, guidance, or gratitude. Because I take time every morning, day and night to get on my knees and have a real conversation with God, I know Him better, and I know and love myself better.

Because of sincere prayers, I can better recognize what I am worth to a God who created the Universe and who has so many things to do that it might seem as if I’m worth nothing. But I know that I am important, and I am a tool in the Lord’s hands. He is using me to strengthen and beautify others, who they are, their knowledge and their testimonies. Through my diligent, humble, kind and loving service, lives have been and will be changed and the world will become a better place. I know that I have touched so many lives throughout the years I’ve been privileged to live on this earth, but just the same, those lives have touched me. Through their diligence, humility, and kind and loving service, they have been tools in the Lord’s hands as well, to shape and change me into who I am today, and to continue shaping and changing me into who I can become.

Mosiah 4:6-9 says: “…if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body – I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world. And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is non other salvation save this which hath been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you. Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” This passage describes who God is, but also (and more importantly) it describes a way that we can become as He is. It all starts with believing in Him and coming to know who He is. As we understand who He is, we begin to understand our need to be obedient to Him and follow the commandments with full purpose of heart and with joy! Obedience is truly a blessing and something that each of us should embrace without grumbling about how many rules there are or picking and choosing which ones we like. We cannot truly follow God and achieve our divine potential if we do not love Him enough to keep His commandments. The sister who trained me on my mission loved to follow the missionary rules. She always made sure we were up before 6:30 in order to be ready for a full half hour of exercise. We left the apartment precisely at 10am and didn’t return until 9pm or later. Our lunch breaks lasted exactly an hour and we did everything we could to keep our appointments short, sweet and to the point. At first, I thought she was insane and over the top. What did it hurt being a few minutes late going out the door or early coming in? Did we REALLY have to exercise for exactly 30 minutes? Did I seriously have to talk to that guy all the way down the block and across the street? Or the woman with a screaming child? Was it such a bad thing to skip one night of updating the area book since we’d worked hard all day and needed more sleep? These questions often came to mind whenever I struggled with being obedient, but eventually, I came to really love it. Our mission president taught us that obedience brings blessings but exact obedience brings miracles – we tried our very best to be exactly obedient, and I can testify that miracles really did happen. We always had around 15 investigators and lots of support from the ward. We often met people in circumstances which wouldn’t have happened without the hand of the Lord. Every night as we planned for the next day, we wrote down different ways that we saw the hand of the Lord throughout that particular day. My page was always filled with so many things which ranged from seeing different kinds of wildlife, thunderstorms, meeting new people, or seeing the progression of investigators and less-actives. I believe that it had everything to do with our determination to be obedient in as many ways as we could think of. And I believe and know that as I strive to continue being exactly obedient, even though I’m no longer a full-time missionary, miracles can and will happen.

As we are obedient to the commandments, we learn to be humble, more kind and loving. We also learn to serve others and to have charity. Our lives are no longer about “me”, but rather about “everyone but me”. And that is what God is all about – everyone but Himself. Becoming like God kind of sounds like an impossible feat. Some might even classify it as blasphemous. But it is possible and it is not blasphemous because it is true. We are His children. He loves us and has told us exactly how we can become as He is. Jesus Christ has already done it, and because of Him, we can do it, too. We’re taught both in Matthew 5:48 and 3 Nephi 12:48 that we should be perfect even as our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are perfect. Along with that, Jesus Christ teaches over and over again HOW we can become perfect – have faith, repent, be baptized and partake of the sacrament, receive the Holy Ghost and endure to the end. Each time we do these things (because we do have to do them all more than once) we grow in humility, grace, forgiveness, diligence, patience, charity, and service and many other godlike attributes.

In a YSA devotional, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf referred to the story of the Ugly Duckling and taught that we often neglect to see who we really are and we let ourselves get down and upset over it, especially when other people judge us negatively for who we are. But instead, we should see that we ARE special. We aren’t “just little ol’ me”. We have the potential and the power to become as God is, to inherit all that He has and is. When we see ourselves in that way, we become able to see others in that way, as our brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of God, and we have the desire to serve them and to do all that we can to see them happy. We don’t think twice about it because we love them, the way our Father in Heaven loves each of us.

So if you ever find yourself thinking “What’s so special about me? I’m just like everyone else” or even “what’s wrong with me? I can’t ever do anything right” – whether you mean that in a way that says “I’m not good enough” or in a way that says “I’m simply just another person,” you need to know, brothers and sisters, that that is the exact opposite of the truth. You are a beautiful, glorious and divine son or daughter of God, your Father in Heaven. You are unique and wonderful in each of your own ways. You have strengths and weaknesses that come together to help others who have strengths and weaknesses different from your own. Those things, your best and your worst, are what make you who you are. What you do with them determines who you become.

I know that we can become just like our Father in Heaven. One day, if we continue on the path of righteousness and repentance, we will truly inherit all that He has. Heavenly Father knows us perfectly, and better than we know ourselves. He believes that we can become like Him, so why shouldn’t we believe it, too? 

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Just a Simple Testimony

Today, I want to keep it simple. I have nothing in particular to talk about. No significant and completely life-altering experiences to share, no amazingly exciting events to report. And that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes you just need short and sweet. I hope that I can accurately share my testimony and bring the Spirit to you, even if it’s only for a few minutes today.

On my mission, a lot of people accused me of being brain-washed or not really knowing what I was talking about since this is all I’ve ever known. Well, it’s true. I grew up in the Church – my mom always brought us kids with her every week. When she and my dad went on vacation, we had family friends bring us. We only ever missed a Sunday if we were sick or out of town (though, I do remember going to church on vacation a few times). I was baptized when I turned 8 years old. I always faithfully went to activity. I never missed a Girl’s Camp or Youth Conference. I went to just about every church activity you could think of. I was in the Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurel presidencies (each of the Young Women classes). I was on the LDS Prom Committee and I helped plan Youth Conferences. Most of my friends were (and are) members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But that’s not why I still go today.

I go because I have a testimony of Jesus Christ – a testimony that He is very real and that He is my Savior and Redeemer. I go because I know that through Him, all will be okay. My trials and hardships? Experiences I need to get better. My mistakes and weaknesses? Things I do because I’m human, but I know that because of Christ, I can be made stronger and my wrongs can be made right as I change and repent and work hard to do better.

I go to church today because I know my Heavenly Father loves me and because of that love, He’s given us His Son, who has given us His Gospel. The teachings of Jesus Christ change lives – they’ve changed mine. I have felt that love not only for myself, but for the hundreds of people I’ve come in contact with throughout my life, especially the more I learn about God’s love. It’s perfect, all-encompassing and unconditional. I know our Father in Heaven loves each one of us perfectly, no matter what we say or do. And I know that He will give us every chance He can to come closer to Him and His Son.

I go to church today because I know the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, are true. I know those words came from prophets and apostles and disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are words we can still learn from today as we study them daily and ponder their meaning in our own personal lives. The scriptures have changed my life every time I’ve read from them. I’ve received guidance from Heavenly Father as I’ve prayerfully studied His words and applied them to myself.

I go to church today because I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. We need prophets today to guide us in the ever changing standards of the world. Prophets clarify and reestablish the laws of God – laws that are unchanging and perfect, despite what any man on Earth might think or want. I know that the modern prophets and apostles teach truth about families, the Gospel, love, and most importantly Jesus Christ. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not perfect, but they are special witnesses of Him and everything they do exemplifies Him.

I go to church because I know my Savior lives. I know He loves me and is always by my side. He carries me when I’m not strong enough, but puts me down when I need to learn to be strong. Jesus Christ comforts me when I think I’m not good enough or when I forget my potential and shows me who I can become. He teaches me daily as I pray sincerely and study the scriptures diligently. He blesses me and my family as we strive to come closer to Him in all we do and say.

Because of these things that I know, I will faithfully go to church for the rest of my life, every week for three hours and live every day for 24 hours what I believe. Because it’s not just a Sunday thing. And it’s not because I was “born into” the church. I know these things are true and I know that truth never changes – it will ALWAYS be true, whether I like it or not, whether the world accepts it or not. Everyone has a choice. I made my choice when I was 8 to be baptized, but it wasn’t until I was 16 years old that my testimony truly became solidified in my heart and mind. And every day, as my testimony grows and I learn new things, I have to make the choice again to follow Jesus Christ, no matter where He leads me.

I testify that these things are true in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

An Inspired… Everything!

This week has been pretty fantastic for me. I love when things seem to just fall into place, especially after a few weeks of struggling, even if those struggles weren’t extremely difficult. But the events in my life over the past week have made me reflect quite a lot about the Lord’s hand in my life. It’s pretty amazing and awe-inspiring. It’s exactly what I need to remember everything I know and stand for, and to remember all that I want in my life.

Since I’m a leader in Young Women’s in my home ward, I had the privilege of spending five days this week at girl’s camp with the girls in my stake. Let me just say that it’s pretty awesome being a leader at camp – you get to sit and relax almost the whole time. And the girls were so willing to help and at least two or three always jumped at the opportunity to help with making a fire, cooking food, cleaning the camp site, walking up the hill to get stuff from the main pavilion, etc. They were such champs and wonderful helpers! I definitely appreciated that so me and the other leaders up there didn’t have to work so hard to get things done. Anyway, I always loved girl’s camp as a youth. I loved being in the mountains, away from the world. I cherished that time in the morning as the sun came up and I was one of the only people who’d wake up so early. I always read my scriptures in the peaceful mornings with the sounds of nature surrounding me. It was amazing. But my favorite part has always been testimony meeting on the last night up there. Each ward gathers together and gives every person there an opportunity to bear their testimonies. I’d almost forgotten how powerful such a simple meeting could be, and honestly, it’s even more powerful than the monthly testimony meetings we have every month at church because almost everyone gets up and you get to see a side of people that doesn’t often show, especially in 12-18 year old girls. The Spirit is always powerful and this time was no different in that sense for me. However, there was a difference – I was a leader, and a return missionary. I felt so much more love for each of those girls than I ever have before. Those beautiful girls have powerful testimonies and though they’re young, they have some pretty amazing experiences in their lives already. My life was changed because of their examples and so was theirs. I know that callings in church (and even in life!) come directly from the Lord. I was called as a Young Women’s leader because these girls need to hear my testimony and experiences, but I think mostly I was called to this position because I need to hear their testimonies and experiences. We all need each other, one way or another, and because of that, our specific gifts and talents are given to us for just that purpose – to help one another change and become better and closer to Christ. I know Heavenly Father knows each of us better than we could ever know ourselves, so He knows exactly what we’re in need of, when and who is best to help us during every minute of every day.

The second example from this week’s thoughts: This country was completely and totally inspired. I’ve been reading a book series called “Prelude to Glory”. It’s written by an LDS author, and it’s about the Revolutionary War and the spiritual side of that entire point in history. I’ve not yet finished the first book, but it’s made me think more deeply about things related to it. I have no doubt in my mind that the Founding Fathers were absolutely and 100% inspired by God to rebel against England in order to form a country where we could be free to worship, say, think, and act in whatever manner we feel is right for us. Because of the revolution and the formation of the United States of America, the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was made possible. Without our Founding Fathers, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or all the other denominations, for that matter) wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t have the blessing and privilege of worshiping Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father with the Priesthood, the covenants and the ordinances that we have – baptism, temples, etc. Sure we might have religion, but more likely because it was forced upon us than that we chose it, and that never works out very well.

Finally, I have no doubt that I was meant to be at home this long after my mission. The past few months have been filled with ups and downs where I constantly was wishing I was back at school and more productive than I have been. I kept thinking that I shouldn’t have decided to stay at home this long. At one point, I thought I’d be moving to southern Utah for a couple months before school started, but it ended up not working out. At first, I was bummed, but then I realized that staying home is exactly where I’m needed most and where the people I need are at. I don’t think my life would’ve been awful had I been able to move early, but I would’ve missed out on things that have changed my life and strengthened me – Girl’s Camp and friends coming home from their missions. Because I’ve been home for this long, I’ve been wonderfully blessed with spiritual experiences at church with the Young Women, and in the past couple months with childhood friends returning home I’ve had the chance to talk with them and be strengthened by their powerful testimonies and mission experiences. They are exactly what I need at this point in my life.

As I’ve had the chance to talk with my friends about different spiritual experiences and topics, I’ve had some amazing realizations and thoughts. I have a favorite scripture from Doctrine and Covenants 50:21-22 that says “Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” While I have these spiritual discussions, I do everything I can to be open to what the Spirit has to teach me, and as I do that, I learn so much more about myself, about my friends, about the Gospel and about Jesus Christ. I understand better and I can truly say that I am edified. And honestly, those are my happiest moments – when I can feel the Spirit working through me or through others to the point where it changes me or the people around me. I’d rather have a spiritual discussion than spend all day laughing at random jokes or comedy shows. And that says a lot, because I absolutely love to laugh.

I’m so thankful for the men and women throughout history from the time of Adam and Eve who have listened to the promptings of the Spirit so that we can all be here and have the opportunity to progress and change every day. I’m thankful for the Spirit in my life to show me the correct paths to take – the ones that will bring me the most joy and bless me with what I need every day. I’m grateful that I served a mission where I learned to recognize those spiritual promptings. And today, more than ever, we are in need of that inspiration from God to keep us on the right path, to bring us true joy and to help us strengthen others. I’m so grateful for my inspired friends and family who let spiritual discussions happen. And I’m so thankful for my Father in Heaven, who loves us enough to inspire people so that all of His children have the chance to be blessed and changed.

Because of those few experiences and more I’ve had throughout my life, I have no doubt that Heavenly Father is always watching out for us. If you take time to talk with Him and listen to His answers, I promise you that you won’t ever go astray. He won’t let you go too far down a path without telling you if it’s right or wrong. You just have to be listening and open to whatever the answer is.