Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How can I help you?

A few weeks ago I went to Wal-mart with my mom. We were walking around the aisles and I saw a woman pass by us wearing the exact same colored shirt and pants I was. Weird. We continued to shop. After awhile I saw the back of another person walking by that also matched my outfit. What the heck? We then went to the craft and fabric section of the store. Again, more people in the same colors I am wearing, but this time I could see the front of them, not just their backs. I looked closer. The only difference between our outfits was I was missing a red, white and blue name tag with a yellow happy face that said "how can I help you" on it. I hate when that happens. It was like the time I had gone to Target wearing a red sweater and khaki pants. At least nobody stopped me to ask where the laundry detergent was.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A post about something in a blog about nothing

Today I had to give a talk in church. The delivery was awful, but I had fun writing it, and yes I’m one of those who are too nervous to speak without every word pre- thought out and written down to be read from. I don’t normally post personal meaningful posts in this, my blog about nothing, but here it is anyway. I wasn’t really given a topic to speak on, but rather a reason as to why I had been chosen to speak and was told that I’d know what to say once I started outlining my talk. Here’s what I came up with.
I wish I could tell you how excited and happy I am to be up here today, but because of what I have learned and been taught in this church I know that lying is a sin. So I content myself to tell you how happy and excited I will be once this is over and I can sit back down.

I consider myself to be very blessed to have always had the church be a part of my life and to have been born into the family that I was born into. I remember when I was in my teens, I was pondering on the concept of eternity. I was trying to wrap my mind around such an awesome idea. I couldn’t begin to comprehend forever... and ever and ever and ever. The more I thought about it, the more panicked I became. Oh my goodness. Forever. It was scary for about 30 seconds until I remembered that I wouldn’t be alone. My parents had been sealed in the Oakland temple. My brother’s, sister and I had been born under the covenant. If I didn’t do anything horrific, like lie in a talk in sacrament meeting, I would be with my favorite people forever, and I was ok with that. I’d be ok existing for an eternity if my family could be there with me. As soon as I remembered this truth I was instantly at ease and the panic that had begun to grow faded out. It is my goal in life to be able to provide the same love, learning and knowledge that I have been blessed to grow up with to my future children. These blessings of the atonement that make eternal life possible give me peace as I look forward to eternity and gratitude as I look back on my past.

I have many fond memories of my childhood, and having 2 older brothers there were many other interesting experiences that I was slightly less fond of. I was the victim of unending merciless teasing and the target of many practical jokes. I didn’t always feel as blessed as I do now to have been born into my family, but we had a lot of fun together, too. I appreciate the effort my parents put into teaching us the things that are important when we were still young even if it seemed to be ineffective at the time. My brothers and I had gotten into trouble more than once for not taking family home evening seriously, making light of serious topics and laughing at inappropriate times. Despite what seemed to be failed efforts at creating spiritual, happy, obedient children, that would grow up to be spiritual, happy, righteous adults not all lessons were lost on us.

I can remember the first time I ever repented. I wasn’t even 8 years old yet, I was probably around 6. Seeing as how I was so young, it wasn’t really necessary for me to repent, but it was a learning experience I was given so that I might know how. I don’t remember what I had done (perhaps that’s the miracle of forgiveness working it’s magic, or maybe it was just so long ago and I so young there’s no way to remember), but I had been sent away from the dinner table for some form of misbehavior. There were many things strange with this. First, I wasn’t usually the one being sent away from the table. Knowing my situation, I was probably provoked by either one of my 3 brothers and was being unjustly dealt with.

Secondly, being sent away from the table was the opposite form of punishment I usually got at dinner time. I was used to being told to "sit right there until a certain fraction of the green things were gone from my plate". I was not a picky eater, but there were a few things I did not care for that my family tended to have on a regular basis and we’d have a sit out until I’d get bored and eat my peas so I could go play.

Another thing that was strange about my being sent away from the table this time was I was not sent to my room, which was usually where I would be sent when I was in trouble. I was told to go to my parent’s room. After a minute or two by myself sitting on the floor in my parents room my dad came in. He wasn’t angry. He told me that when we do something wrong, we should apologize to those we wronged. This was nothing new to me. I was very familiar with the art of "I’m sorry" and the expected response "It’s ok" both in theory and in practice. I must have been forced to say I’m sorry multiple times a day to my brothers, to my parents, to our pet dog, to my neighbor friends. I was forced to say "It’s ok" even more often than I was forced to say I’m sorry. This was mostly in response to my brothers after they were forced to apologize to me. Hearing this I told my dad I was sorry. He then said that when we do something wrong, we not only have to apologize to the person we were mean to, we have to make it right if we can, and we have to say we’re sorry to God too. He then asked if I could say a prayer to tell Heavenly Father I was sorry for what I had done. For the first time in my life I told my Heavenly Father I was sorry. I was familiar with repentance in theory thanks to primary and family home evenings, but not in practice. This was new to me. I had never considered repentance as something for me, but rather for other bad people. This lesson of repentance at such a young age was something that stayed with me and something that taught me the importance of taking advantage of the atonement. I was taught how to repent so that I might be able to do so on my own once I grew up and actually needed it. It was like a practice round with the help and guidance of my dad so when the time came for the real thing I’d be ready. It also showed me that repentance was necessary for me personally, not just every one else who did really bad things like I had thought, but for me too who did only kinda bad things...but only when provoked.

Every once in awhile as a child I was given the option of pursuing different things even though I would have been content to play outside with my bike and skates with my brothers and neighborhood kids. Because these choices were presented to me as my own to make and not something I was being told to do I always gave each decision serious and lengthy thought. At least 30 seconds worth, which in child time when your mom is waiting for an answer is actually quite long. Sometimes I’d require clarification on what it was exactly that I’d be signing up for before I’d say yes, like when I was asked if I wanted to go to Brownies. What are brownies? Do you make brownies there? I almost always accepted these opportunities. Some didn’t quite work out or last very long, like the brownies, dance lessons, or soccer. Others were decisions I was glad to be given the opportunity to make and have brought a lot of joy and gladness into my life, like when I said "yeah ok" when my mom asked if I’d like to take piano lessons from my grandma, or when I said yes, I would like to be baptized when I turned 8.

I remember the day I was asked if being baptized was something I’d want. I felt empowered and important to be given the option with something so important. In my primary classes there never seemed to be an option. When they spoke of baptism it was always "when you turn 8 and get baptized" not "if you get baptized when you turn 8". When I was asked I stopped and did my serious 30 second reflection. Considered saying no since I had the power to do so but I’d only be saying no to say no and I didn’t want to say no so I said yes and I’ve never regretted it. Now, when I was 3 years old my mom was pregnant with my younger brother and she asked me if I wanted the baby to be a boy or a girl. I honestly thought I was getting to choose so I thought about it and considered my options carefully and after my typical 30 second reflection came to the conclusion that I’d like another brother. THAT was a decision I grew to regret after a few years. I kicked myself for not making him a girl when I had the chance and wondered what I had been thinking, so I amused myself with dressing him up in my dress-up clothes and pretending he was a girl anyway. I eventually grew to like him as a boy (which was good because I got in trouble for dressing him like a girl), and ended up getting a little sister later on so it all turned out in the end. My decision to get baptized on the other hand was never looked back on as a mistake. When I was baptized I was determined to never sin again. I figured Jesus did it, I can too. Unfortunately, try as I might to be like Jesus, I found those repentance lessons with my dad in my earlier years to come in handy.

As I grew up I continued to have many little experiences that would help build and strengthen my testimony that my parents and primary teachers had kindled in me. When I turned 12 my new favorite activity was baptisms for the dead. It was so exciting for me to know that I was helping someone who couldn’t help themselves in such an eternal way. The joy I feel in those moments is something that I can hardly believe and I can never help but smile. One experience I had with baptisms for the dead left me smiling for a completely different reason. A few of my friends and I were going to be baptized and confirmed for some family names my grandma had sent while on a youth temple trip to Oakland. Usually, you’d go in and be confirmed for those who have already been baptized by others and then go on to do baptisms in order to limit the number of times you’d change, but since we were doing my family names that I particularly wanted the experience of doing myself, my 2 friends and I were the only ones who did baptisms first and then the confirmations for the same names we had been baptized for after. I was being baptized for my set of names, many of which had the last name Pigg. When "Ima" came up I didn’t have time to react because nearly as soon as the name is said you’re being sent under the water. I was reverently laughing to myself in my mind and thinking what it must have been like to live a life with such a name while I was changing into a dry jumper before I went to be confirmed. I felt I had control of myself, but I was worried I’d lose it and laugh out loud when it came time for Ima Pigg to receive the holy ghost. It was one of the most difficult times I’d ever had in keeping my laughter in check. If I’m ever going to get myself in trouble it will be from laughing. Not including all the times my brothers and I had driven the spirit off with our laughter during family home evenings, one other time in particular my cousin and I laughed together so much that we were put into separate rooms by my aunt/his mom. After she left us alone for a while she brought us together, told us she didn’t mind that we were happy and laughing, but there is a time and place for everything. She then read a scripture to us. I don’t remember what the scripture was, but I think it had something to do with thou shalt not laugh at your younger brother/cousin while he’s choking on milk.

With my track record of laughing at inappropriate times I was so proud of myself for making it through Ima’s confirmation, although if anybody had been looking at me they would have seen the biggest smile in the world on my face and if I had seen you looking at me I probably would have cracked. This is why I personally keep my eyes closed during prayers, I learned at a young age the tragedy that can occur if you make eye contact with a silly friend, cousin or brother during a moment that is supposed to be spiritual .

I used to think that because I had grown up in the church and never had one major life changing spiritual experience, or any one amazing single experience where it all hit me at once, that my testimony must not have the same strength or validity as others who had amazing stories prefacing the birth or growth of their testimony. I had never fallen away from the church only to realize the church was true. I wasn’t a convert that found the church through missionaries. I never had visions or had anything dramatic or miraculous occur to give me a great "how I got my testimony" story. While I was a teen after hearing young women and Sunday school lessons about testimonies and how we should find out the truth of the gospel for ourselves, I prayed many times that I might know for myself with out a doubt. The only thing was I already did know. I had always known. There was nothing new that came to me as a result of those prayers. It wasn’t necessary for anything dramatic or huge to happen to know what I knew.

While I was at Sac State the last few years I was never able to take institute classes during the day because my nursing classes and clinicals kept me busy during those times every semester, so I would go every Wednesday to the night class. I always looked forward to these nights. I didn’t usually have time for many fun social things even on the weekends, and going to institute halfway through the week in the middle of my stressful nursing courses was a source of strength for me, and I loved the sister who taught the class. I’m not one who will voluntarily answer a question in any kind of class. This class was never large and I wasn’t the only one not willing to offer opinions and thoughts. The teacher’s way around this was to ask a question and have every person give their input going around the room. One night, she wanted to know all of our conversion stories saying even if we’re born in the church there is some point when we come to know on our own and experience our own conversion. She herself is a convert and has an amazing story that I’ve been able to hear more than once and can sit and listen to again and again.

We went through the room and every body had their own amazing conversion story to tell whether they were born in the church or not. It came to be my turn to tell my own conversion story. I had nothing amazing to tell them. I told them I- like a few others- had been born in the church, that while I had probably relied on my parent’s testimony as a child I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know it to be true. That family prayer and scripture study led me to my own personal scripture study and prayer as I got older. There wasn’t one point in my life where I can say this is exactly when it happened. This day at this time is when I knew for myself the church was true. Not one prayer in particular, or one particular time of reading the scriptures. I had a lot of little events and experiences all the way from when I was a child until even now that helped build and strengthen my testimony. It took me awhile before I realized that just because I didn’t have one point in time where I had a clearly defined moment where my testimony was born or significantly strengthened that it didn’t mean my testimony was any less strong, valid or real than any other person’s who might have had one of those amazing stories to tell. A testimony is amazing all on it’s own, regardless of the story it comes with.
I feel I have been blessed to have been raised in a home where I was able to know and develop a relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ. I am grateful for the role the atonement had in my life and for what it means for my future and my future beyond this life.

Mosiah 4:6-7 says:

I say unto you, 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.

I know that if we follow King Benjamin’s counsel to continue in the faith and keep the Lord’s commandments that we can gain salvation through the atonement of Christ. I know eternity will be tolerable because the atonement has made it possible for families to be together and I won’t be alone. I am grateful for the early education my parents gave me in teaching me how to take the atonement personally. While I don’t have an amazing story to accompany my testimony, I do know of the truthfulness of this gospel and the love God and Jesus Christ has for me and all of us.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.