Sapphires in September

How do I describe the torment that has privately racked my soul for so long—finally purged from me in a moment so exalted, I fear I shall never know this lack of feeling ever again?

I feel no burning in my bosom, no radiance of any kind to confirm that what I have done is the beginning of anything significant. I desire none. For once, within me is perfect stillness—and if I close my eyes, I can see to the core of my soul with perfect clarity. Beyond anger, beneath grief, and buried under years of hatred is a solitaire of Mercy—my most precious gift. My tragedy.

I can see it so clearly—my parting promise given to me in a more celestial sphere. My brother, the Prince of peace and broken pieces, embraced me for the last time to the sound of worlds colliding in my breast to form a single perfect gem. He knew that dusty flesh alone could not suffice for suffering. And in this moment of ultimate sacrifice, I knew I needed to have that piece of Heaven closer to me more than I ever had before.

And so I surrendered beautifully, placing myself upon the altar. I closed my eyes to the knife in His hand and pleaded silently.

“Do it.”

And for the first time, I felt gentle hands embracing my world. With inspired calmness, I picked out the envelope I would use to invite His miracle. I wrote my father’s name and felt no pounding in my ears. My mind was blank of my father’s voice, empty of his face, and devoid of fear both of him and for him as I wrote my name above the return address. I did not pause as I opened my purse and took out my pocket-sized Book of Mormon—my liahona, my iron rod, the rock of my salvation. My greatest treasure. A gift I had given myself for surviving my hellish odyssey to Utah—for the faith that carried me over a thousand miles and at least a dozen states—of mind and lines alike.

Everything I had and ever would trust—and it fit into the palm of my hand.

I did not pause to consider any of my own feelings as I unceremoniously jammed life and letter into an envelope and paid a stranger (my receipt says his name is Ryan) two dollars and thirty-three cents to send it to my grandmother. A note printed carefully on the back instructs, “Please be sure that he gets this.” As the only one who bothered to teach me about God as a child, I have to trust that she will listen to Him.

The preparations had been made, and so I folded my arms and said the prayer that would begin the transformation I had been avoiding for years. The crowds of people surrounding me seemed to disappear as I ascended the stairs.

Please open his heart. May he no longer resist what he should have been all along. Please let this work so I never have to go through this again.

And for the first time, every part of me became a sacrifice. I felt the firm tugging and pulling against my heart strings as His tender hands began to work their wonders deep into my soul. Somewhere between the bookstore and my dormitory, the anesthesia wore off and I felt the jarring forces grinding against my understanding until I was gasping for air. I wanted to hide, but I could not escape what had been so permanently done to me. For me.

Hunched against a washing machine in the basement of Hinckley Hall, I pled for guidance from tissue paper revelations bound in burgundy; opened to a random page...

...and winced when I saw that the passage in 3 Nephi was taken from Isaiah. How could I understand conundrums and fortune cookie language at a time like this?

Then I recognized the chapter, and I could barely read for blind and breathless awe.

These tears are the only sacrament that matters to me right now—a baptism of a different kind. A sacrifice without blood. Atonement without crosses. Shred of Mercy in a clenched hand. As I opened my eyes, the sacrifice complete, tears cascading freely down my face, I beheld the jewels of prophecy that had been promised me for so long…

O thou afflicted…Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

Life as an Elder Holland Groupie

I came to Brigham Young University for countless reasons. One of them was to learn the things I need to know to be a better person--things they don't teach you in any other school. This past Sunday, I was given an opportunity that was nothing short of remarkable from beginning to end. I not only went to a fireside hosted by an apostle of the Lord, I was not only in the same room with a man for whom I have the deepest respect, and not only was my even being there an answer to a very simple prayer; I was sitting about ten feet away from Jeffrey R. Holland. I took pictures of this apostle, whose guidance has been essential to building my testimony, with my camera phone!

I left for the Marriott Center an hour and a half early, and I wasn't the first person to arrive. My only regret is that upon discovering that I was allowed to sit in the floor seats right in front of the pulpit, I wasn't bold enough to go to the better seats. It just felt wrong somehow. I allowed myself the privilege to sit in the third row--no closer. I pulled out my Book of Mormon and tried to catch up on my homework. But in all honestly, I've never liked homework so much. My Book of Mormon professor has given me a tall order, but a good one. Read from 1 Nephi to Alma 29 in two weeks. I remember getting very nervous about whether I would be able to keep up and understand so much in so little time. But like the gift of tongues to a missionary, the gift of learning with which I have been blessed has served me so immediately, inexplicably, and constantly that I scarce can believe what I am seeing. A book that I have been reading for almost a year, that I haven't finished, that I stopped reading because I COULDN'T understand it... and I've re-read and understood so much that I missed the first time.

As I waited for the fireside to begin, I marveled at this latest spiritual wonder in my life, completely unaware of the evening that was still ahead of me.

I read to myself silently as the Marriott Center filled slowly but surely. The quiet murmurings became open conversations became shouting matches as people fought to be heard over the people next to them. But it all sounded like a dull roar to me from where I was sitting. I ignored them all and focused on my reading.

But no one fails to notice when they all suddenly hush and practically jump to their feet in a single, collective swoosh.

I snapped my book shut and stood--with awe and breathless wonder--when Elder Holland entered the room, joined at his side by his lovely wife Patricia. Even as people took their seats again and more leaders filled into the stands, I didn't take my eyes off of this, the Lord's apostle. He seemed so deep in thought, and I wondered to myself what he could be thinking about that could create the facial expression he was wearing.

I wasn't left to wonder for very long because the meeting began. And after QUITE an introduction to his many accomplishments, so did Elder Holland's instruction.

I won't try to describe it. I encourage you to listen to it for yourself! There's a reason he's my favorite speaker out of all of the apostles. The hour you will spend listening to this is not an hour wasted, at all.

By the end of the meeting, I was in tears for reasons that I felt, but also couldn't understand right away. I thought of The Patient One and how much I heard seemed to be speaking to me about him, especially the line where Elder Holland so adamantly states that Heavenly Father keeps all of His promises to His children. I thought of how much I have seen in my short life, and how much better I could have handled all of it had I known these simple, yet POWERFUL truths about turning Liberty Jails into Temples. I thought of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and my love for him and all he did to pave the way for us in these latter-days. My admiration for him was already grounded but it has deepened significantly, as has the rest of my testimony since I've been in Utah. And Elder Holland's beautiful teachings on the nature of the Godhead, so simple that I can't believe I ever didn't know them, have given me even more to embrace every day about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As always, I draw closer to God when I listen to the guidance of this learned and respected apostle of the Lord, and have a firm testimony of the priesthood he holds.

As instructed, I read Doctrine &Covenants 121, 122, and 123. They put the task of this last dispensation into a clearer perspective to me than I've previously had on Opposition. We are fighting a literal war of the spirit every day on this earth. Satan and his minions are very real, and doing everything in their power to bind us and hinder us from doing that which is righteous and coming to know the true nature of our Heavenly Parents. I knew this before, and after reading these sections I am reminded that there is a way--a very Christian way--in which we are to respond to the challenges posed to us by men who would try to intimidate and belittle us.

We must tell their story, and never stop telling it. This is not the same as holding a grudge, or denying the perpetrators the forgiveness that we have been commanded to offer all men. Rather, the preservation of history must include transgressions and hardships endured because of ignorance and oppression. Only then can hatred be captured, studied, slowly transformed, then finally shared with those who must go forth knowing better than we knew. Only through this process of active learning do we truly ever begin to see the influence we have over that despicable power in the universe. Only through this process do we not only approach perfection of self, but reach into the lives of our posterity and bless them with all we have learned. These are our responsibilities in this life, and we cannot forget them or fail to know of them.

As always, I testify of the wisdom of these inspired men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are instructed and guided of the Lord to teach us deep and eternal truths that I have found in no other place. We receive guidance not only on provident living that is unique to what we do as Latter-day Saints, but we are blessed with increased understanding of that which has confounded Christendom for thousands of years. How blessed are we not to have to wonder anymore! Blessed are we for the truth that heals, and brings us to godly sorrow. I see now that the deep, powerful feelings that brought me to tears during this meeting were those of godly sorrow that bring men unto repentance. And because of that most fulfilling experience, I can honestly say I walked out of the Marriott Center a better person than I was when I went in. THAT is the kind of Christianity I've tried to realize in myself; one that constantly moves as I move, where Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are active forces in my life that truly inspire me to do even MORE than all things within my power.

I pray that all who seek a relationship with Heavenly Father find, at least once, the joy that I've felt since coming into this Church. I am convinced that life is much too short, and also much too long, NOT to have what I've found since I've put the Almighty at the center of everything I do. I say this not in praise of my own efforts, but out of the deepest reverence for His power to change EVERYTHING about my life. And I would not choose to go back for any price.

I leave these thoughts with you in peace and love in the name of Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the Almighty. Amen.

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