Last week, I did something that I have been wanting to do…and trying to do…for years: I went back to school.
That’s right. I know it’s hard to believe, but it is true!
My church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has created a program to help members like me gain an education through a program called “Pathway”. It is a course of study that will eventually lead to an online education through BYU-Idaho. I’m very excited to be back in school and can’t wait to progress in knowledge of both secular and spiritual things.
One of the classes I am currently enrolled in is a religion class. We are studying the first half of the Book of Mormon, an ancient book of scripture that is unique to the LDS church. It is the story of a group of people who migrated to the Americas from Jerusalem hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The story follows these people as they cross the ocean, establish civilizations and build cities. About 3/4 of the way through the book is a record of the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, visiting these people on the American continent. The Book is full of teachings of the gospel of Christ, and testimonies born by His followers in this land. It complements the Bible perfectly and is, in fact, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. As I progress through this class, one of the assignments I have is to record the things I am learning. I have a lot of options about how and where to record them, and one of them happens to be on a personal blog. I’ve fallen out of the habit of posting here regularly, so I thought this would be a great way to get back in the habit of doing it, while getting credit for school. Win, win for me! So here goes…
This past week, I began my studies with the very first verse of the Book of Mormon. This is a verse I have read myriads of times. I dare say that it is probably the most read verse in the entire book, and that would definitely be true for me. This time, however, I found it to be full of things I hadn’t ever noticed before. I spent almost 2 hours one morning just studying this verse. It was fascinating to discover the very ‘mysteries of God’ that the verse refers to. This is what it says:
“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore, I make a record of my proceedings in my days.”
From these words, I learned lessons about parenting, education, journal keeping and more. But the lesson I want to focus on here is afflictions vs. blessings. I’ve seen a few afflictions in my day. They began at a very young age and have continued throughout my life. The past 3 years, I’ve felt particularly “afflicted”. Just looking at the physical problems that began with cancer in 2012 and have since morphed into the perils of regrowing an arm, have been enough to make people run away from me for fear of ‘catching’ whatever it is that I have! While Nephi refers to the afflictions of his life in this verse, it almost seems like he is connecting his trials to the blessings or gifts from God that he has also received. It got me thinking. Have my afflictions been “gifts from God”? I wouldn’t have labeled them as gifts, but as I look back over my life and ponder on the things I have gained from the many trials and afflictions that have been mine, I see the good things that have come from those difficult situations. Maybe the afflictions themselves haven’t felt much like gifts, but the blessings I’ve received from them certainly have.
On the wall in my counseling office, the following verse is written. I have changed it a little to fit how I feel about my own experiences:
Perhaps strength does not reside in having never been broken…but in the courage required to seek out the cracks…and grow strong in the broken places.
If nothing else, my life experience has built incredible strength: mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes I feel like I am going to fall apart, but I never really do. It doesn’t seem like much of an option for me. Even when I feel as if the very jaws of hell are gaping wide after me, I can’t seem to give up. Giving up is the easy way out…and I don’t want the reward at the end of the easy path. I want the exquisite reward that is at the end of the most difficult path out there, and I know it can be mine if I continue to be faithful. Yes, I have faltered. Yes, I have questioned the reality of God. Yes, I have closed off my heart while I raged at the heavens. But in the end, I have always come back to my belief that there is a God in heaven, that He provided His Son as my Savior, and that I can share in all of their glory if I endure to the end.
So I will endure. I may even begin thanking the Lord for my afflictions, because it seems that it is during the most difficult times of my life that I turn towards God and receive the peace that only He can give. As the prophet Jeremiah said:
“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
I am seeking, I am searching with all my heart, and I am hoping that He will be found even amidst the challenges of life…because I need Him every hour of every day.