Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Testimony

In 2010 my cousin took her life.  She had made choices earlier in her life that had led her away from God.  Years later she returned home and struggled to change her life.  She began to meet with her bishop but her guilt tormented her and on a dark, lonely night when her husband was out of town, Satan convinced her that there was no recovering from her past sins and she ended her life.  

On the morning I received the news, I stood shocked in my kitchen in the middle of making breakfast.  My three boys came in to see me and I had an overwhelming need to wrap them in my arms and tell them that I loved them.  I still remember that moment so vividly.  I do not often hear the Spirit speak so clearly as I did that morning but as I cried for my cousin and hugged my boys, the Spirit told me that above anything else I needed to teach my children that there was nothing they could do that would keep them from the love and reach of the Savior.  

Truman Madsen said, “I bear testimony that you cannot sink farther than the light and sweeping intelligence of Jesus Christ can reach.  I bear testimony that as long as there is one spark of the will to repent and to reach, he is there.  He did not just descend to your condition; he descended below it.”  

The kids and I studied Kintsuji last year during school.  Kintsuji is the art of repairing broken pottery with a gold resin.  The pottery is made into a new piece of art, thought of as more beautiful than the original.  Rather than trying to disguise the broken pieces, the piece is thought of as more beautiful because of having been broken. Like the Japanese artist, Christ takes our broken pieces and makes them whole.  He changes us into something more beautiful than the original.  

Not only does Christ’s Atonement cover the brokenness caused by sin, but all suffering.  

On July 24th, 2014 my family and I drove to Evergreen Cemetery.  The kids cheerfully hopped out of the car, each carrying their little gift they wanted to leave their sister.  Mike and I slowly followed behind.  We walked past little graves until we reached the center of the row where Laila is buried, where we placed a handful of new fake flowers in the vase and the kids poked their metal gifts into the dirt next to her headstone.  We didn’t always bring flowers but when we did, they were fresh flowers but this was the last visit we would make as a family for many years to come so the flowers we left were fake this time.  Their gifts placed, the boys ran off to search for sticks and groundhogs leaving Mike and me alone to our thoughts, each silently saying our goodbyes.  This spot was a sacred spot for us.  Just days after she died, we went to the cemetery to determine where she should be buried. After visiting the other baby area in the cemetery, we both knew that Laila would not be buried there and asked if there was any other spot available.  A new baby row had opened up just that morning and when we drove to the row we knew immediately that this is where her body would rest.  At the graveside ceremony Mike and I stayed behind while everyone else left to watch as her casket was lowered into the ground and dirt thrown on top.  A week later we visited her for the first time and I fought the real, physical urge to dig her out of the ground.  This was the place our family had gone for walks on crisp spring days after church and where we had a family picnic on her birthday.  We swatted gnats in the summer and brought a mini Christmas tree with homemade ornaments in the Winter.  This spot was the spot where our family could all be together in one place physically.  This spot held the body that Laila came to earth to receive.  So, that day, the last day before our family left Colorado to move to Knoxville, Tennessee, we visited as a family to say goodbye.  Big, heavy drops of rain began to fall, and with them came lightning and big claps of thunder.  As we ran to find shelter in the van and drove away, my tears began to flow.  My body shook with sobs.  Mike and the kids were quiet and all that could be heard were my anguished cries, the sheets of rain on the windshield, and the loud shaking of thunder.  In my heart I felt as though Heaven was crying with me.  In that moment, I felt like the heavens had opened and the heartache of my soul was being mimicked by the tears of heaven.   

Our family was once broken but our understanding of Joy was broadened by our suffering and in my opinion, we are more beautiful than before.  

There are many details of the Atonement of Jesus Christ that we don’t know.  Tad R. Callister says that “Even the best of minds, the most fluent of speech cannot adequately describe the Savior’s ordeal.  It is beyond any experience known or conceived by man.  While there is much we don’t know, the experiences in the scriptures do record his responses.  One response I had not considered before  happened on the narrow roads of Jerusalem.  I imagine it this way:

Two soldiers carry a crossbar and roughly position it on Christ’s shoulders and push him forward.  Dehydrated and exhausted from a sleepless night and emotional and physical beating, he stumbles under the weight of the 100 lb crossbar.  The dense crowd parts as he struggles to carry his load through the narrow streets.  “Save yourself!” some taunt, while others, weep openly at the sight of his tortured body.  Physically unable to go any further, his steps falter and his body crumples under the heavy crossbar.  Annoyed, the soldier to his right, grabs the arm of an onlooker.  “Pick up the crossbar and carry it for him,” he commands.  The soldiers heave the crossbar off of Christ’s body, and thrust it onto Simon’s shoulders.  “Get up!” the soldier snarls and kicks Christ’s side.  He groans as he rises to his feet and slowly follows the man chosen to carry his burden.

Are we too proud to turn to the Lord?  Do we feel as though our burdens are ours to carry alone and we are too afraid to ask for help?  Do we allow the Lord to help us carry our burdens by accepting help from those he has placed in our path to support us?  

Elder Orson F. Whitney shared, “Our little finite afflictions are but as a drop in the ocean compared with the infinite and unspeakable agony borne by him for our sakes because we are not able to bear it for ourselves.”  

Are we willing to let the Savior help us bear our afflictions?

After Laila died I taped scriptures on my shower wall that I read every morning for the next three years.  One of the scriptures I chose was Doctrine and Covenants, 123:16-17

These verses come after the Lord gently gives Joseph some honest feedback.  Joseph cries out, “ O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”  The response is kind and encouraging, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;  And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”  and then he tells Joseph, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”  Taped to my shower were the final pieces of advice Joseph was given, “You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.  Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.

We cannot control the storm but we can control our response to the storm.  When talking about his experience with cancer, Elder Maxwell said, “I have learned that not shrinking is more important than surviving...As we confront our own … trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we ‘might not … shrink’—meaning to retreat or to recoil (D&C 19:18). Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus.  I admit, this is a struggle for me.  God obviously knew this about me when he advised me in my patriarchal blessing to ask myself, “What would Jesus do? And then act courageously on the answer.”  
When I broke my knee in 2012, I didn’t follow the Savior’s example.  Mike was gone for two months.  Piper was 6 months old.  She was sick for 6 of the 8 weeks Mike was gone--pink eye, ear aches, RSV.  I was running on four hours of sleep a night.  Just a few weeks into his trip, I broke my knee.  I was angry.  I knew God could have prevented the accident from happening.  I had received a blessing telling me that I would be healed and I was not.  So I was mad.  I was even more mad when I discovered that I would have to have microfracture surgery to heal the broken knee and that the surgery usually didn’t work, and that I would have to have a knee replacement in 5-15 years.  The recovery required that I was non-weight bearing for six weeks.  I couldn’t drive.  I couldn’t take a shower or go to the bathroom without help.  I couldn’t get Piper out of her crib.  I had to have my knee in retraction for 8 hours a day and go to physical therapy three times a week.  It was a horrible experience and I admit that I didn’t have a very cheerful attitude about it.  Eventually, I was able to recognize the Lord’s helping hand and have a better attitude but I often wonder how that summer would have been different had I chosen to turn to God and sincerely let him help me rather than being angry.  Before the surgery, Mike gave me a blessing telling me that the Lord knew I was mad at him.  He understood and he would wait for me.  When I was ready, he would be waiting.  Even though I had been angry and turning away from God, he still offered his love to me.  
Christ didn’t fight against the circumstances that he was placed in, but he intentionally chose his course of action within them.  He had the freedom to call down legions of angels.  He was taunted, “Save thyself.”  He had the power to do just that but instead he let himself be crucified.
So, returning to my patriarchal  blessing,    
What DID Jesus do?  
Rather than being angry (when his friends failed to watch with him), he was kind.
Rather than being fearful (when the angry mob came to get him), he was courageous.
Rather than being passionate (when he was accused unjustly), he was measured.
Rather than being bitter (when he was betrayed), he forgave.
Rather than turning inward (when he was beaten, tired, and suffering on the cross), he served.
Rather than fight God (when he hoped the cup could pass him), he aligned His Will with God’s will
Rather than carry his load alone (when it was his burden to carry), he humbly accepted help.
Rather than give up (when he is stripped of both temporal and Heavenly help), he conquered.  
Sometimes I grow tired of talking about Laila all the time.  I don’t want to be remembered as the woman who’s baby died.  However, it’s Easter, and I don’t know how to talk about Easter without talking about Laila so I wanted to share my a thought on Laila today.  At our Easter Dinner we place a picture of Laila on our table.  Every year I think about her and what she does on Easter.  In my mind, Easter is a day of glorious celebration for all those who have ever come to earth and died.  I think about how grateful the spirits must be to know that they will be reunited with their bodies again and that they will be perfected.  I’m not exactly sure what celebrations look like in heaven but I imagine it is a happy, sacred day and I wonder if they sing praises like in the song Called Forever
Now death where is your sting?
Our resurrected King
Has rendered you defeated
Forever He is glorified
Forever He is lifted high
Forever He is risen
He is alive, He is alive!
We sing hallelujah
He is alive, He is alive!
All the experiences I have shared with you have been somber. Easter is a bitter sweet holiday. I want to end with focus on the sweet. No event in human history compares with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As with bitter sweet the juxtaposition of the intense suffering from the loss of a loved one and the overwhelming joy at their return to life provide the full range of emotions necessary for a complete education here in mortality.
The loss of Laila, turned our world upside down. The loss brought a pain beyond anything we could have imagined, let alone what we had previously experienced. So many truths, previously accepted without serious thought, were brought into sharp relief. Does Laila live on? Is the spirit world near or far? Can families truly be together forever? Firmly grounding ourselves in our beliefs, and working through our pain brought new meaning to old stories. The celebration of the resurrection is an example.  
Consider Mary, a sincere disciple and follower of our Lord, Jesus Christ: present when He rose her brother from the dead; present as He hung upon the cross; witness to His power and to His humility. Here she is, returning to his tomb, a final act of devotion, to anoint his body. She questions the gardener, falls to her knees to beg, her grief too heavy to bear any longer, her pain spilling down her cheeks. He speaks, "Mary." Can it be? She looks up in disbelief, stretching forth her hand. It is. The darkness is swept away, and light fills her soul. He is Risen!


Jason said...

Simply beautiful, Adrianne. Thank you. Your testimony has bolstered my own.

Jess Clark said...

Very nice -- thanks for sharing your thoughts.