Sunday, March 22, 2015

An All-Encompassing Atonement (My Farewell Talk)

            I am so grateful for the many family and friends who have traveled to be here today. It is your love and support that gives me comfort and peace to do hard things. I can’t wait to begin my mission and bring others the same feeling of love and support that the Savior has for each of us. I pray that I will be able to touch just one of you today. For as we read in Doctrine and Covenants 18:15, “if it so be that [we] should labor all [our] days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto Christ, how great shall be [our] joy with him in the kingdom of [our] Father!”
            Each of us existed before this life in a pre-mortal state-spiritual beings yet to receive bodies. Each of us chose to follow our Heavenly Father’s plan; that is, come to earth to receive a body and learn to make our own decisions. But our Father knew we would choose wrong. We knew that Satan would tempt us at times beyond our control as mortal beings. Thus he gave us the greatest gift of all. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) Our Savior, our brother, took upon Himself the pains of the world, thus providing us with a saving atonement.
            There are many aspects to the atonement, many of which, even after a lifetime, we cannot fully comprehend. Today I would like to touch on the three elements of the atonement that stand out in my life.

First, through Christ and His atonement, we will be made perfected.
I found the following story in a talk by Elder Jeffrey R Holland, a member of the Quorum of the 12 apostles. It was recorded by Elder Orson F. Whitney:
“[While on my mission as a young man], I dreamed … that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. … I stood behind a tree in the foreground. … Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, He passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed: ‘Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt.’
“As He prayed the tears streamed down His face, which was [turned] toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with His great sorrow. My whole heart went out to Him. I loved Him with all my soul and longed to be with Him as I longed for nothing else.
“All at once the circumstance seemed to change. … Instead of before, it was after the Crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran from behind the tree, fell at His feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with Him.
“I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real that I felt the very warmth of His bosom against which I rested. Then He said: ‘No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me; but you must stay and finish yours.’ Still I clung to Him. Gazing up into His face—for He was taller than I—I besought Him most earnestly: ‘Well, promise me that I will come to you at the last.’ He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: ‘That will depend entirely upon yourself.'"
I testify that the last statement is true. In the temple of our Heavenly Father, we are promised blessings more joyous than we can fully comprehend. As Sheri Dew writes in her book no doubt about it, “Noble and great. Courageous and determined. Faithful and fearless. This is who you are and who you have always been”. We each hold great potential; we are heirs of the kingdom of our Father in Heaven. We can one day be kings and queens in the kingdom.
But right now, it is only potential. We are not yet perfected like our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. It is our choices, our everyday decisions that, like in a maze, can either lead us to a dark dead end, or bring us to our goal. We must be EXACTLY like our Father in Heaven in order to enter into His presence.
Let me be the first to say that I know I’m not perfect! Those of you who know me best would use words like bossy, high-strung, needy, and IMPATIENT to describe me. I am messy and sometimes mean. I can be lazy and idle at times. At times, I know I feel like I’m doomed to head down every dead end with no way out. I firmly believe that sometimes there are imperfections that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot overcome them, even after an entire lifetime. How can I, one girl in a sea of billions of people and trillions that with faults of their own, ever be EXACTLY like our Heavenly Father?
That is the beauty of the atonement. If we rely on Jesus Christ and earnestly try our best, pouring out our whole beings unto God, HE WILL MAKE UP THE DIFFERENCE. He will be our salvation at the great Day of Judgment. As D&C says, “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—[saying] Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (D&C 45:3&5) In the words of my 10 year old brother, “Jesus was willing to suffer so much pain because he really wants us to come to live with Him again”. This simple truth speaks volumes. Both our Heavenly Father and our Savior want us to return. If we try our very hardest each and every day to be the best we can be, to improve upon our weaknesses as much as possible, we can confidently turn our imperfections over to Christ and allow Him to make up the difference. As David A Bednar said, “If today you are a little bit better than you were yesterday, then that is enough”.

The second aspect I want to touch on is accessing the atonement in times of sorrow and grief.
            We all know that grief and sorrow is a part of our mortal experience here upon the earth. Tragic accidents occur, loved ones pass away, trials tear apart families, and depression brings people into the depths of loneliness. It is easy in times such as these to blame God. Many people believe that if there was a God, he would not allow such terrible things to happen to good people.
            This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Daniel was betrayed by his king and cast into the den of lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Nephi was bound and beaten by his brothers, who sought to take his life. Alma and Amulek were forced to watch as women and children were thrown into a pit of fire. Joseph Smith was dragged from his home in the dead of night while men filled with hatred poured scalding tar over his skin and threw feathers at him. He was bound unlawfully and held in Liberty jail, unable to stand fully erect, and lying in his own filth and waste. In the depths of his despair, he cried out “Oh God, where art thou?” and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
            We would be wise to heed the counsel of Elder Jeffrey R Holland:
“Whenever these moments of our extremity come, we must not succumb to the fear that God has abandoned us or that He does not hear our prayers. He does hear us. He does see us. He does love us. When we are in dire circumstances and want to cry, “Where art Thou?” it is imperative that we remember He is right there with us—where He has always been! We must continue to believe, continue to have faith, continue to pray and plead with heaven, even if we feel for a time our prayers are not heard and that God has somehow gone away. He is there. Our prayers are heard. And when we weep He and the angels of heaven weep with us.”
The Lord places grief and sorrow in our path that we may know the sorrow from joy, for there must be opposition in all things. If you are suffering grief and afflictions beyond imagination, you are in good company. The best company this world has known. After all, was it not Christ, the only being to ever walk this earth in perfect humility, meekness, kindness, and servitude, who suffered the greatest of all? Was it not He who bore every one of our sorrows? He felt Daniel’s fear, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s pain, Nephi’s grief, Alma and Amulek’s helplessness, Joseph Smith’s abandonment. He has borne the grief that comes with economic strife, terrorism, war, abuse, infertility, death, failure, cancer, hunger, fear, hopelessness, and children who fall away. He perfectly understands every physical, emotional, and spiritual pain, for it was His pain too.
            Through the great power of His great atonement, He can mend all wounds. As we read in 2 Nephi, “He shall rise from the dead with healing in His wings”. If we pour out our souls unto Him and seek His light in all things, He will lift us from our afflictions. In His time, we will be made whole again.
Referring to the sorrowful Friday on which Jesus’s followers grieved His death and then to the glorious Sunday on which He was resurrected, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said:
“Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.
“But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.
“No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come.”
            I add my testimony to Elder Wirthlin's that we will be made whole. Our Savior, the Redeemer of our souls, can piece us back together, for “with His stripes, we are healed” (Mosiah 14:5). He can fill the void that is left in our hearts and bring everlasting peace and comfort. When we rely on His healing power, our relationship with Him will become stronger, and we will find greater ability to bear our burdens as He bears them with us. I testify that our Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ love each of you and promise that as you walk in righteousness, they will bring you through.

The last aspect I wish to speak on is the one we’re all familiar with—the sacred cleansing power of the atonement.
We have been born to this earth in the last dispensation of the fullness of times. Satan is working harder than ever to bring down as many of God’s children as he can. He is more deviously cunning than ever before. He knows our exact weaknesses. He knows what will bring us down, even if it is through something good and wholesome. He knows exactly where to target us. And sometimes he succeeds.
But he is not fully prepared for us. As Sheri Dew says, “we are the Lord’s secret weapon”. We are a chosen generation, a righteous generation. . The Lord knows we can overcome all temptations thrown our way and has saved his strongest soldiers to finish the war with Satan. I love the comfort and courage I feel when I sing the hymn We Are All Enlisted. The third verse strikes me in particular:

Fighting for a kingdom, and the world is our foe;
Happy are we! Happy are we!
Glad to join the army, we will sing as we go;
We shall gain the vict'ry by and by.
Dangers may gather--why should we fear?
Jesus, our Leader, ever is near.
He will protect us, comfort, and cheer.
We're joyfully, joyfully marching to our home.

The outcome has already been determined. Our Father will win. The question remains: which side will you be on?
            However, the battle against Satan will not be won without casualties. There will be times when we will make mistakes, as though charging into battle without our armor. Satan lurks in the shadows, watching and waiting for the tiniest of slip ups. And sometimes, he will get you. Thank goodness we have a Savior who has borne our burden of sin and made it possible to repent of those mistakes.
            Often, we sin because we desire something easy, something comfortable. Other times we succumb to a worldly appetite. Satan lures us into thinking that those things will make us happy. Tell me, when has something easy ever been worth it? The Lord did not send us to this earth to be idle and take the easy road. Ultimately, taking the easy way out is like going 20 mph on the freeway. You are going to get hurt.
Last week, hours before I was to receive my endowment, my sister, best friend, and I were on our way out to North Phoenix. As we were cruising down the US 60, the driver just 15 feet in front of us completely lost control of her car while attempting to switch lanes. We watched as the car swerved back and forth between lanes, beginning to spin until it was facing us. The driver continued to spin out and then, miraculously, spun away from us, across 4 lanes of traffic, and smashed into the dividers between the east and west bound lanes. After calling 911 and informing them of the accident, we immediately offered a prayer of gratitude to the Lord for protecting us and keeping the spinning car out of our path. Afterward, I realized how lucky the poor driver was to have that barrier there to stop her from being seriously injured by oncoming traffic.
The Savior and His atonement are our spiritual barriers. So long as we are trying our best to live a righteous life, he will protect us from Satan’s attacks and, like a paramedic, will help relieve the pain that comes when we do sin. We will never be perfect. Each one of us will lose control at some point in our lives and feel like we’re spinning out of control, causing harm to ourselves, and potentially to those closest to us. It is when we pour out our hearts to our Father in Heaven and rely on Christ’s cleansing power that we can be brought to a stop and find safety once more. Just like a car, we can be repaired and once again continue on the road toward our heavenly goal. It won’t be easy and it won’t come without a price, but we can be made whole.

I want to remind each and every one of you that there is never a point in which you've gone too far, spun out too much to be saved by the Savior’s cleansing power. He can bring you back from any sin and make you new again. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). He will restore peace, comfort, confidence, and happiness to your soul, and, as we live faithfully, striving to fulfill all righteousness, he will remove our guilt. For “there shall be no more … sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelations 21:4) I cannot express the joy that fills my entire being when I feel Christ’s atoning power. Pure love fills my entire being and I can feel His presence. Each of us can feel it if we humble ourselves at His feet.

               I testify that the Savior lives. I testify that he bore your sins, your trials, your struggles, your faults, your weaknesses, your sorrows and grief. In His time, He will take away all pain, all suffering, and all heartache. He loves each and every one of us with an infinite love, no matter our differences. It doesn't matter what color our skin is or what language we speak. He doesn't discriminate between a prophet and a prison inmate. He sees our true potential and desires each of us to be made clean, to be made whole, that we may return to our Father’s kingdom. I know that He desires that I bring those who do not recognize their potential to a knowledge of His everlasting gospel, that they too may feel His power burn within their hearts. I know that the people of Oregon need me and that someone, somewhere, needs each of you. Just as He invites all of us, each of His brothers and sisters, to "Sígueme tú”, “follow thou me”, we must extend His message to all those around us, that we may one day return, united in love for one another, to our Father in Heaven.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

6 Weeks and Counting!

Well, today marks 6 weeks until I leave my family and friends for 18 months and enter the Missionary Training Center (MTC). The time seems to have dragged on and yet flown by all at the same time! I can't wait to serve my Heavenly Father by bringing the fullness of His restored gospel to His children.

This week, I want to tell my story so far and talk about the tender mercies that the Lord provides us in our every day lives, even if we don't notice them.

I was never planning on serving a mission. In fact, the people closest to me will tell you that I was adamant that I wasn't going. A few weeks before, my bishop told me that all the girls in my ward were going on missions and jokingly asked when I was going to break the news to him. I quickly told him. I'd researched schools and scholarships and already had my whole life planned out; I'd go to BUY-I, major in Music Education, get married, have a bunch of adorable kids, and live happily ever after. Everything a girl could ask for! Right?

Now those of you who know me understand that once I have a plan in place, I NEVER change it. And I'll admit, sometimes I lose my cool if something does change (something I'm still working on improving!) So then what could make me completely change my mind? About a year ago, I sat in sacrament meeting feeling pretty low. I just wasn't where I wanted to be at that point in my life. I had decided the night before to make some changes. The Lord humbled me at exactly the right time to be prepared to hear a beautiful farewell talk from a girl in my ward. Sister Hunt was leaving to serve in the Ohio Cleveland mission. In her talk, she read the following story:

(The following event took place in a ward in Salt Lake City in 1974. It occurred during a sacrament meeting and was told to me by a Regional Representative of the Twelve who was in the meeting. A young man, just before leaving on his mission stood in sacrament meeting and bore in essence the following testimony)

Brothers and Sisters, as you know, the past two weeks I've been waiting for my mission call. During the time I was waiting I had a dream. I knew it was not an ordinary dream. I dreamed I was in the pre-existence and awaiting my call to come to earth. I was filled with the same anticipation and excitement that I had before I received my mission call. In my dream I was talking to a friend, and I felt a special closeness to him, even though I've never met him in this life. As we talked a messenger came and gave me a letter. I knew it was my call to go to earth. In great excitement my friend and I opened the letter. I gave it to him and asked him to read it aloud. It said: "You've been called to earth in a special time and to a special land. You will be born to the true church and you will have the priesthood of God in your home. You will born into a land of plenty, in a land of freedom. You will go to earth in the United States of America."
My friend and I rejoiced as we read my call, and while we were rejoicing the messenger returned. This time he had a letter for my friend. We knew it was his call to earth. My friend gave me the letter to read aloud. His letter said: "You've been called to go to the earth in circumstances of poverty and strife. You will not be raised in the true church. Many hardships will attend your life. Your land will be fraught with political and social difficulties - which will hinder the work of the Lord. You will be born in Costa Rica."
We wept, my friend and I, as we read his call. And my friend looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, "When we are down on earth, you in your choice land and me in Costa Rica, my friend, please come and find me."
The this young missionary, with tears in his eyes, said, "Brothers and Sisters, I have received my mission call. I am going to Costa Rica."
There is a sequel to the story. About a year after the sacrament meeting, the bishop received a letter from the missionary in Costa Rica. The letter had one sheet of paper in it and on that sheet written in capital letters were four words:

The Spirit pierced my heart so deeply and as I turned to look at my mom, we both knew that the answer I needed would change my plan. I had to serve a mission.

It came as a bit of a shock to my family that I suddenly did a 180 from an adamant no to an absolute yes! But I knew in my heart that I needed to serve and I knew that as long as I was willing, my Heavenly Father would help me to be an effective missionary. I knew He would help me grow in ways that I couldn't without complete dedication to my faith.

Immediately following our 3 hour church block, I spoke with my bishop and told him I wanted to serve. He smiled at my sudden drastic change of plans and supported me wholeheartedly. I started attending Mission Prep and Temple Prep classes and planned to stay home, get a full time job, save for my mission, start my mission papers in June/July, and turn them in EXACTLY 120 days before the date I was available to serve (the earliest you can submit a missionary application).

However, at the end of June 2014, I was suddenly offered a full-tuition scholarship to Eastern Arizona College (EA) and told I would receive a brand spanking new French Horn to play while I was there. I toured the school and LOVED it. There was an amazing spirit about the school and I knew I wanted to go to school there.

So I began preparations to move to Thatcher and start school in August. I found an apartment close to the Institute building and right across from the school. My family helped me move everything and I began my journey in the scary adult world... I mean seriously, sometimes it is REALLY scary.

I was so excited to start my mission papers with my new bishop. It was rumored that the bishop for my ward was the best of all the Youth Single Adult (YSA) wards. Unfortunately, a week later, they realigned the ward boundaries and I was assigned to a ward with a brand new bishop who had zero clue how to begin mission papers (wouldn't you know).

And then.... there was a whole mess of my home ward changing bishops because one moved and the other one didn't know who I was and didn't know if I was worthy to serve a mission so they had to track down the old bishop and there was a lot of waiting on my part........ Needless to say, I started realizing that the Lord was testing my patience, my biggest trial in life.

Once my YSA bishop finally received confirmation of my worthiness, we began the mission process. Yay! I figured the application would take about a month, maybe two, to complete and that I'd have it submitted by October.

But the Lord again saw fit to teach me to be patient. Due to complications with my physical, the application took ALL SEMESTER to complete (this is a whole other ordeal!). By this time, I had taken the Temple Prep course 3 times and was sooo ready to leave!

On December 2nd, 2014 my mission call was assigned and on December 5th I opened it with my friends and family surrounding me. I was called to serve in the Oregon Salem mission, speaking Spanish. I couldn't be happier!! Until I read the report date: April 15th.

I'd already been waiting for so long, and now I had to wait another 4 months. One by one, friends of mine from EA and San Tan Valley received mission calls after me with report dates before mine. I grew agitated and frustrated and, at times, angry because of it. I began to question if the Lord still wanted me to go. I tried to pass the time by crocheting Disney inspired hats and selling them to earn money and went job searching as often as I could. I was finally offered a position as a full time Optician at the end of January and began working at the beginning of February.

And then..... I realized the real reason the Lord had kept me waiting for months. While at work, I noticed a sharp pain in my lower right abdomen which continued to spread and worsen. After a trip to the doctor, I was sent to an Imaging Center for a CT scan to check for appendicitis. Sure enough, my appendix was swollen and surrounded by fluid. As I sat in the ER getting poked 11 times by IV needles, the news traveled to members of my family and my friends. I received text after text consoling me and suggesting a very prominent and spiritual message: "Maybe this is why the Lord asked you to wait so long for your report date".

I can't imagine how hard it would have been to go through surgery for the first time without my family. They were there to help at a moment's notice. I received numerous visits before and after the surgery to help comfort me and bring a smile to my face. I don't think I could have conquered that trial while away from my family. I am so thankful that my Heavenly Father knows better than I do. I am so grateful that He had a plan for me from the beginning of this journey and that His will superseded mine. I am thankful for those tender mercies that He so graciously blessed me to recognize. I encourage you all to try more fully to recognize the Lord's hand in your life. Even the most terrible, discouraging trials are there to bless your life. I leave this quote with you and hope that together, we can recognize the strength to be gained from each and every trial.

"My dear brothers and sisters, there will be days and nights when you feel overwhelmed, when your hearts are heavy and your heads hang down. Then, please remember, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the head of this Church. It is His gospel. He wants you to succeed. He gave His life for just this purpose."

Con amor,
Hermana Brower