To The Rescue is the name of President Monson's biography. I've been reading it and I've very touched by the humble service and compassion our prophet gives - even as busy as he is now.
In our women's meeting today, we had a special lesson. The final two were about rescuing spiritually and emotionally.
In one of my earliest entries, I spoke of the shepherd coming out to the wilderness to find me and bring me back home; however I realized today that my "rescue" did not stop there.
For the first two weeks of returning to the church, I had not met the wife of the home teacher who was taking me to church because she had a calling that was taking her to visit other wards at the time.
I finally met her the week after General Conference. It was fast Sunday so there were no special meetings she needed to attend. The week before General Conference, I had the ugliest, longest and worst panic attack I've ever had. I kept trying to fight through it but in the end I was exhausted and felt like an idiot for having such a harsh response to finally trying to attend all 3 meetings. Because of that I was unable to stay in the meeting during the third hour (when the women meet) on this Fast Sunday. I had planned to sit in the lobby and just read my scriptures during the time.
My home teacher's wife - who had not been able to attend the women's meeting for several weeks because of her calling - came out with me. She stayed with me and talked to me. She understood what I was going through. She was also able to remind me that the things I was saying about me because of this situation were Satan's way of trying to keep me from returning to activity. I felt so bad though, that she didn't stay for a meeting she hadn't attended for so long, but she wanted to be with me. She wanted to be there for me.
From that day was born a friendship or more of a sister-ship stronger and more supportive than I ever remember having. How fortunate I was that 2 weeks later she was release from her calling and given one that meant she could come to church every week.
She was therefore me as I continued to struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. She was there for me whenever I needed her. It was with her love and support and help and understanding that helped me keep moving forward as I strove to return to the fold and stay there.
I am so thankful for my Heavenly Father for putting such a wonderful and dear person into my life right when I needed her the most.
This is yet another thing that, only in retrospect and pondering, showed me that my Heavenly Father loved me and wanted me back in the fold.
I've been active for a year plus a few weeks now. In that time I've come so far.
Last year at this special meeting (an annual event), I had a panic attack just as the final speaker, the president of our stake (the head of several congregations whose bishops report to). I didn't feel it was good form to get up and leave at that moment, so I soldiered through - barely. As soon as the closing prayer was finished I fled.
This year, not only did I stay without any panic or even anxiety, I participated in the discussion the stake president was leading. It was, in essence, about going to the rescue. Not only did I participate. I gave the closing prayer.
I almost do not recognized the person I am now because she is so different from the person who was making her first tentative baby steps back to the fold a year ago.
How wonderful it is for my Heavenly Father to continually remind me that He loves me. He knows me. He knows the desired of my hearts. His love is perfect and it encompasses all.
In Relief Society, our lesson was on President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's conference talk "Waiting on the Road to Damascus.
This was, blessedly, the second time this month we've discussed this talk.
We were coming up with reasons why we end up waiting on our road to Damascus. The subject kept showing up about how women (especially LDS women) get caught up in comparing ourselves to others and being the hardest on ourselves and how things are never good enough with us, more specifically how we see imperfections that no one else notices.
This made me remember something I read in President Uchtdorf's book "The Remarkable Soul of a Woman". In it he mentions how his wife cooks meals of all kinds from all parts of the world. She always then says things like "I used a little too much of [x ingredient]" or "Next time I'll add a little more [y ingredient]." Little subtleties that those who are eating her meals wouldn't notice. (Now I can't remember where I was going to go with this. All I can think to say is that if a general authority's wife does the same thing, then we are most definitely not alone in our feelings.). It's a pretty wide spread symptom in women.
The other thing that came to my mind was a part of his talk we didn't get to. That of sharing the gospel with our friends. He mentioned how he and his family, when asked how their weekend was, always mentioned something about the what happened in church. (One of the reasons I now post a Facebook status each week about what really struck me at church that day.) One of the other things he mentioned was how when their friends were struggling with something in life they'd usually remark "Well it's easy for you. You have your church."
I realize that it has become easier for me since reactivating to handle many of life's difficulties. I still find myself beating myself up mentally but can stop it as soon as I realize what I am doing.
One sentence from President Uchtdorf's talk really struck me this week in regard to testimonies.
I've been so very frustrated because even though I know I have a testimony of the Gospel, I can't seem to be able to bear it. I have to keep reminding myself of counsel from one of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - "persistence and patience..."
Anyway, the sentence in President Uchtdorf's talk - which I seemed to have missed in the many, many times I have read this talk was - "Sometimes a simple phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone's life for eternity."
As I've been frustratingly trying to figure out how to unlock my testimony, I have found this somewhat helpful. Maybe I am uttering phrases of testimony without realizing it. I don't know. I still am not sure I'm able to bear a testimony, but President Uchtdorf's words have given me some comfort on the matter.
This keeps bringing back to my memory something that happened last month.
The clutch went out on my car. I discovered this one morning getting ready to leave for work. Fortunately the Holy Ghost allowed me to call a coworker who practically comes right by where I live in time to get a ride to church. I had to rely on him for a ride for a week. (Well sort of a week. It was Wednesday-Wednesday but that covered my Friday off).
When I realized I wouldn't be able to go to the temple that Friday off my first thought - and this is a huge sign of how far I've come since I started back to church mid-September - was that the Lord had a reason for that and it had nothing to do with my worthiness to go to the temple that week.
With the help of a different coworker (who has no idea that she was such a help to me in this respect) was telling me, after I was able to drive myself to work again (and just in the nick of time as the coworker who was giving me a ride would be off the day after I drove myself to work) that she was telling the coworker how fortunate I was to have him there to take me to work when I needed a ride.
Apparently he told her something to the effect of that he was fortunate because of the discussions of church we had.
Each afternoon he'd ask questions about the church. I'd answer them and we'd spend much of the ride to my place discussing the church. Two things that struck me were: first, how easy it had been for me to answer his questions and to freely discuss the church. Not too long ago that was a very difficult thing for me to do; second, this is probably the reason why I wasn't able to go to the temple. The Lord wanted me to be able to answer this coworkers questions and discuss the gospel freely.
Whether he wanted that to give me the practice for future purposes or these discussions were for my coworker's sake (or maybe a combination of the 2) really isn't that important.
I don't expect that my coworker (devoted to his religion) will suddenly take the missionary discussions and decide to join the church. But maybe all he needed was a better understanding of the church. Or maybe something we discussed will come back to his mind sometime in the future. Or maybe now that I've found it so easily to discuss the church once, it will become easier and easier and won't be so timid in the future.
And maybe in those discussions was the start of me unlocking my testimony as a whole. (And maybe even just a phrase of my testimony - which I'm sure probably came out at some point during the discussion - is also among the steps needed to start to be able to bear my testimony.)
Only the Lord knows the reason.
All I know is, I have been able to keep moving on my road to Damascus better than I have ever been able to before. It is almost ironic how easily personal revelation has come to me so often and more easily since I took to heart one thing both President Uchtdorf and Elder Bednar's talk helped me to do - let go of the notion of asking Heavenly Father to reveal His will to me with more than a subtle feeling or thought (mind you, I was not seeking visions, and archangel trumps, just something stronger than subtlety). Also that many of those personal revelations have, in fact, come in the way I was asking for them. I do not believe that all of the things the Lord wants me to know will come as so many of those things have lately, but I do know that I am no longer waiting on my road to Damascus. I keep moving one little step at a time.
This past Sunday (5/30/2011), I was still contemplating the "One Sheep" revelation. Firstly, I never explained that I think I was opened up for this personal revelation by 2 talks from April's General Conference by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor of the First Presidency, and Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles. They were both on revelation.
Additionally, I had recently listened to an earlier conference talk by President Uchtdorf, "The Love of God". (I think the title is self-explanatory. It is enough to say at this point that this talk started pulling me away from Satan's desire that I think God does not love me or care about me.)
President Uchtdorf's April 2011 address was "Waiting on the Road to Damascus". It helped me to realized that although I was not looking for the angel's voice that caused the earth to tremble or a visitation such as the then 14 year-old Joseph Smith Jr. had, I WAS looking for something more than a subtle prompting or a subtle feeling. The talked helped me to see that a subtle prompting or feeling is every bit as meaningful as the major event type vision such as what happened with Saul on the road to Damascus or to the boy prophet, Joseph Smith Jr.
Elder Bednar's talk, "The Spirit of Revelation," focused also on the nature of revelation. He likened revelation to 3 experiences with light: the turning on of a light in a dark room (the immediate answer to a prayer, for example), the subtle brightening of the sky during a sunrise (the subtle promptings and feelings from the Holy Ghost for personal revelations), and how on a cloudy day it is harder to see the subtle changing of light during a sunrise (receiving revelation without realizing it). The first form of revelation is the exception rather than the rule.
Essentially, both talks gave me a much better understanding about how revelation really works. As a result, I stopped looking for something greater than the subtle way the Holy Ghost's works, and therefore I allowed myself to be more opened to personal revelation.
So then that Sunday, I was more open and more ready for the Holy Ghost to reveal somethings to me. The sudden realization that I was the one sheep, was actually somewhat akin to the light being turned on in a darkened room.
I realized this past Sunday, however, I had been in the dark (or asleep) for so long that when the light came on in the room it was so bright that I was blinded and couldn't see everything. In other words I had missed something more sublte that was in that personal revelation. Another answer to another prayer.
Even as I reentered activity into the church, I was full of self hatred and self loathing. It had slowly started to subside as I continued moving forth in church activity, but I still wasn't convinced that I was the person so many people around me saw let alone the person who was worthy of God's love as many church leaders had testified over the years - that we are all loved by God.
What I missed in the brightness of the light being turned on was a more subtle secondary light. The one that was answering my prayers to see myself through His eyes and the eyes of those around me. What was made known to me was that with the understanding that I was the one sheep who was brought back to the fold by the shepherd (my 2 home teachers), I realized that if I weren't loved by God - if I weren't worthy of His love - the shepherd would never have come to find me. Since I was worth being found and returned to the fold, I realized that I was not the person who I hated and loathed so much.
Because of that moment in Sunday School, I have finally begun to see me through the eyes of the people around me who kept mentioning good things they saw (that I didn't) and more importantly I have started to see myself through God's eyes. I am not the "stupid loser girl" I kept calling myself. My friends do not see me as that, God does not see me as that, and now I am starting to see that I am not that.
A subtle answer to a prayer within the great light of personal revelation.
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness after that which is lost until he find it?”
JST Luke 15:4
Yesterday’s Sunday School lessons covered 3 parables – all of which equated to being about the worth of souls.
I read the opening verse to this entry twice in the last week in preparation for Sunday School and earlier this month as I was doing my personal scripture study. Yet, not until yesterday was I suddenly struck by a thought that brought me to tears.
Before late last Summer/early last Autumn I had been in and out of activity with my church for years. Sadly, more out than in. Really, I had never intended to go inactive (or to stray), but I started having more mental health issues and I, being too tired, worn out and battle weary and discouraged from fighting with my mental health without support from family, allowed Satan to use those problems to keep me from going to church.
What I realized yesterday was that less than a year ago, I had been a stray from the flock. I was the one sheep.
Then in August the Lord, through my church’s Home Teaching program, sent a shepherd – two really – to find me in the wilderness and carry me back to the flock.
When I first moved out here, I tried to stay with the flock but for some reason I began having panic attacks when I went to church. I tried for a little while to just work through those panic attacks, but it started taking too much out of me. I stopped going.
For some reason the father and son who had been assigned to be my home teachers did not find out about it until just before Snowmageddon – December 2009 – even though I had moved into that ward during the Summer of 2008. They came faithfully December, January, February, and March 2010. The week after their March visit, however, the Stake reorganized the ward boundaries and created a new ward and a new branch. (Wards and branches being the “local congregations” and a Stake being a collection of said wards and branches). Those home teachers were no longer in the same ward as I.
I tried a few times – 1 time because I had a meeting – at my request – with the bishop. I just tried to stay for the meetings. In all attempts I had to flee after Sacrament meeting – our first meeting - because of the panic attacks.
Then for some reason, no home teachers were assigned until August. One of my home teachers was the one person I knew the best from the previous ward, as he was the one I kept calling when I needed a blessing or other priesthood help. (The Lord moves in mysterious ways as that fact became a big key, in many ways, for where my life is today.)
When the home teacher whom I had known pretty much since moving out here, found out that I hadn’t been attending church most recently because every time I went to church I had a panic attack, made a suggestion. Because he was a familiar face – a very familiar face – he offered to take me to church I could sit with him and his family. He also said he’d be willing to take me home if I felt I couldn’t stay any longer. His companion – whom I had just met – offered the same if the first home teacher wasn’t in town – though the companion did at that time understand there was a lack of familiarity.
That plan didn’t come together for a few weeks. Once it did, however, what great changes started to come to me. The first few weeks were hard because I had to work through those panic attacks. Two weeks before the first time I rode with him, I had to drive myself because I had a meeting – again, at my request – with the bishop. I fought the panic attack the whole time.
I planned to stay in the back and flee after sacrament meeting but I saw the one home teacher and I sat with him and his daughter. Because of his presence I was able to last through Sunday School. I could not stay for the third hour though – when mean and women separate in their own meetings – because that would have been my first time in that meeting and there would have been the introduction of visitors or “new members”. The panic just swelled up more and more to the point I had to leave. So the home teacher walked me to my car. I did not attend the following week. That Sunday night the home teachers came for their monthly visit. I had to remind them both that I had panic attacks when going to church and that the only reason I had gone the week before on my own was because of the pre-meetings interview with the bishop.
Lesson learned, he or his wife (or in some cases his daughter) have faithfully given me a ride to church each Sunday since the. There were a couple of times when I needed the help of the priesthood and this home teacher was out of town so I, with some difficulty, managed to turn to the other home teacher. This allowed me to become comfortable with him and his family.
The first Sunday when I rode with him and his daughter I fought for over 3hours with a panic attack to stay for all 3 meetings (with the home teacher driving me talked to the Relief Society (the women’s group that meets the third hour) about leaving me out of the introduction process for now. (He also ended up having to run interference for me with a very well meaning sister whose help was only making things harder for me.)
The following week, I intended to sit quietly in the foyer until the third hour meetings were over, but that home teacher’s wife (who was able to attend the meetings in our ward for the first time since I started going) came out with me and kept me company. From that point on she became one of my closest friends and supporters – again because of the shepherd going into the wilderness to bring back the one sheep.
These shepherds’ actions have allowed me to return the fold. The panic attacks subsided into anxiety – which is controlled by an extra dosage of my anti-anxiety medication on Sundays. Gradually I’ve been adding more and more things to my life that center around Christ and the Holy Ghost so that I am stronger and braver going to church and at church.
I would not be in the good position I am spiritually now if it had not been for the shepherd(s) going into the wilderness to find me, the one lost sheep, and carry me back to the fold.
When I realized I had been the one sheep yesterday in Sunday school, through tears I thanked my Heavenly Fatter for sending the shepherd(s) into the wilderness to find me and bring me back to the fold.
What great changes have been wrought in my life because of this! I will forever be thankful to the Lord and to my home teachers – the shepherd(s) the Savior sent to find me – for answering the call.
“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness after that which is lost until he find it?”
JST Luke 15:4