In a talk President Monson gave in October Conference, he spoke on finding joy in the journey of life. One of my favorite parts of it is:
In the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, Church member Jay Hess, an airman, was shot down over North Vietnam. For two years his family had no idea whether he was dead or alive. His captors in Hanoi eventually allowed him to write home but limited his message to less than 25 words. What would you and I say to our families if we were in the same situation—not having seen them for over two years and not knowing if we would ever see them again? Wanting to provide something his family could recognize as having come from him and also wanting to give them valuable counsel, Brother Hess wrote—and I quote: “These things are important: temple marriage, mission, college. Press on, set goals, write history, take pictures twice a year."
As I think about how important each one of those pieces of advice are, I have some regrets, but even more I have joy that the Lord provides ways for us to grab onto joy in our lives. I especially want to make sure that I am "pressing on" as I try to become closer to my Heavenly Father, a better mother to my children, a better wife to my husband, and a more profitable servant to the Lord.
During the process of divorcing my first husband, and struggling with the realities of the childhood abuse which had become overwhelming for me, I made some choices that were not in accordance with the teachings of the church. I am not proud of them, but I also don't try to pretend that they did not happen. I made the choices, and I cannot change those choices now. In talking with my bishop, and then having the opportunity to have a church disciplinary counsel, I was excommunicated for my sins. That disciplinary counsel was necessary for me to start the process of repentance and healing, and I am grateful to the church leaders who righteously executed the judgment of the Lord that evening.
The year that followed was one of struggles, and of joys. As I humbly approached the Lord, I was able to let go of a lot of the rebellion that had taken hold of my soul, really since I was a teenager. When my paperwork got to Salt Lake, the people who reviewed it started the process to hold the person who had abused me as a child, responsible for that abuse. It was a painful process to relive the abuse, as I prepared to testify at the disciplinary counsel and then as I gave my verbal testimony as well. In many ways, it was the most humbling experience of my life. All of the things that I thought made me dirty and unworthy of being a daughter of my Heavenly Father were laid out for the entire high counsel of the stake in which my abuser lived. I had only met the stake president before that meeting, and I was shaking through most of my testimony. It was hard, and I was grateful to have Michael, my new husband, holding my hand during the process.
I walked out of the room where I had given my testimony, and for the first time I felt a huge weight lift off my chest. I saw the person who had abused me, and while I had no desire to see him, I knew that he no longer had any power over me. I don't know that I will ever willingly see him, I can't predict what the future will bring for him or for me, but the flashbacks and nightmares have decreased significantly since then, and the beginning of truly becoming a survivor, and not a victim, started that night. I told the truth, with no regard to what others thought of me, and I could feel the influence of the Spirit in the room. It both helped to calm me, and to help those who listened to me know that I told the truth.
After many months of praying, studying my scriptures, attending church meetings, simply soaking up the spirit of the meetings, and learning the lessons being taught, I was baptized, one year after I had been excommunicated. My husband Michael had been baptized a few weeks before that, and I had the privilege of having him baptize me. When I came out of the water, I felt more clean than I had in my entire life. I felt the beauty of not just having my sins forgiven, but also of knowing that the Lord loved me, and that He did not hold me responsible for the abuse I had suffered as a child.
I know that the Lord had always been ready to help heal me, but it wasn't until my baptism that I was ready to let Him heal me. I am looking forward to having my temple blessings restored. I don't know exactly when that will happen, but the paperwork is in the hands of the First Presidency, and when they and the Lord decide I am ready, I will be able to return to the temple, with my husband who just received his first temple recommend. Someday we will be sealed, to each other and to our daughter Maddy, and that will bring even more joy. We hope to someday serve a mission as couple missionaries, and we continue to feast upon the scriptures, learning all that we can of the gospel.
There are still challenges, as there are for anyone who is living in a mortal body. As a family we have been hit hard by a maelstrom of financial problems, and have learned humility as we have had to rely on the Lord, and our family, to help us through this difficult piece of our lives. My daughter still has medical difficulties. She also brings so much joy to the lives of all who know her, that helping her get the treatment she needs, is a responsibility in which we have no sorrow.
We make goals, press on, and continue to look forward with faith. Our goals are not always those of the world, but we feel blessed to have the Lord's inspiration as we move forward. It is a privilege to serve in the church, and to learn more about ourselves and how to be better people, each day.
Sometimes I am amazed, as I look back on the woman I was five years ago, and see how far I have come. For many members of my family, they simply don't believe that I have come very far. Whether they believe that I am lying about the progress in my life, or whether it is simply too hard to have me change since that might mean that they need to change, I don't know. I am often shocked at what people think they have the right to say or do to me. It saddens me that five years ago I would have become depressed, assuming that they were right, and that I couldn't trust the inspiration of the Spirit. I would have allowed them to send me into a tailspin, and it would have been my fault for letting them have that power over me. The more I learn about families which have issues similar to mine, the more I am grateful for good counselors, a mother who has supported me in changing who I am, and a husband who has always seen more in me than I could see in myself at the time.
I have learned that there is always hope. The Savior and the atonement make it so that there is never a point in which there is not hope for change. If the Lamanites, who had committed murders and many other terrible sins, could become the strongest and most stalwart followers of Christ, then certainly any of us can become Christlike. I don't think that the process of change is ever easy. Alma the younger talks about being harrowed up by his sins, almost unto death. Certainly there has been a lot of pain for me, both in repenting of my sins, and in struggling to break out of long-term habits that led me to allow others to convince me that I was not worthy of the atonement.
Even the man who abused me for years could become a stalwart member of the church again, if he chooses to allow the atonement to work in his life. It is not my job to make that happen, but it is my job to learn to forgive him, and to get on with my life in as healthy a manner as I can. I find that as I learn to set healthy boundaries with everyone in my life, and to stand up for what I know is right, that it is easier to imagine the day when I will forgive my abuser, and truly move on. I know that would not be possible without the healing power of the atonement. Until it happens, that is my goal. Until I am able to do it, I will press on, with a perfect faith that it is possible, for me, and for all of my family!