As I sit here in the dark on a snowy Sunday afternoon at the closing of second semester, wearing my cream colored Easter dress with large roses on the hem, I'm grateful for the opportunity to reflect back happily over the memories and lessons I've gathered this year; my roses from a much deeper, warmer Spring.

It hasn't been easy to gather them, what with thorns and briers making a general mess of everything--my own imperfections, the differences I find in those around me, circumstances, places, timing, travel, the past, and expectations--all of them have managed to leave scratches on me in one way or another. Trying to get around them sometimes only gets you beyond lost, and many times the only way to get a beautiful bouquet of roses is to barge resolutely through the brambles, grab your prize with bleeding hands and cut it loose, no matter how much it hurts.

Essentially, I'm in a place now where I'm arranging what I've collected, trying to create an image of beauty and truth despite the fact that my hands are tired and scratched. I've worked hard, and yet it still felt like there was something missing--something essential for my bouquet to be complete. The most beautiful rose of them all, the fairest and rarest of anything that has come into my possession so far.

The white rose of hope.
Yes, that is a genuine signature from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--a prophet, seer, and revelator on the earth today in the leadership of Christ's restored church. An apostle. It's the signature of someone I've never met, but respect very deeply because of what his wisdom has brought into my life.
Elder Holland teaches in a way that is easy for me to understand, through symbols and rhetoric, with a playful seriousness about life that seems so appropriate coming from someone who was also once an English major. His words resonate with me because I have a sense for what they mean to him, and I can see how carefully he assembles them to his purpose. I feel the truth in what he speaks, his words are such strong vessels for the powerful spirit they contain. I've listened to many of his talks that I'm sure have been long forgotten, and they've helped me to see my mission in life despite the darkness that has surrounded me so many times before.

Anyone who knows me is familiar with my love for Elder Holland, and has laughed at my self-appointed status as an "Elder Holland groupie." Some that have met him have even tried to correct me in my fondness for any of the General Authorities over any of the others, saying they all are just ordinary men, and that I should be equally willing to listen to all of them. I've often wondered about that, which makes the following experience so special to me.

A dear friend of mine recently went to St. George to see a new statue of one of her ancestors. She was telling me about it and mentioned that Elder Holland would be there, and my eyes instantly lit up as I told her how lucky she was to see him. She offered to take a copy of one of his books that I own to maybe have him sign it, and I was grateful that she would think of me. It seemed so unlikely though, and I couldn't imagine something like that ever working out for me. I remember thinking that she was very sweet, that I appreciated her, but promptly put all thought that it would ever happen from my mind.

I saw her again just as she was leaving for the weekend, and she came to my room to pick up the book. I remember smiling and thinking, Wow, I can't believe she remembered. I'm sure it'll be crazy busy there, she might not get anywhere near him. Plus, he's a busy man. I shouldn't expect the servants of the Lord to waste their time on something so trivial for me.

I told myself to put any more thoughts about the matter far from me. I told myself NOT to get my hopes up... and yet I think on some level, they were already raised. I thought about what such a gesture would mean to me, after all these years of clinging to words and wisdom from someone I trust so entirely, even though I don't even know him--quite a feat for me. I thought about how special it would be to me, in light of what I'm about to go through this summer, with returning to the east and all the work that awaits me there. I told myself that while Heavenly Father loves me, I shouldn't base my evidence of that love on a "sign" of having the signature of my favorite General Authority in a book.

But wouldn't that be something... I said to myself with a smile, and promptly forgot the whole thing.

It wasn't until I saw my friend on Sunday that I even remembered the situation again. I saw her in her doorway and greeted her excitedly, glad to see her home safely, and also curious to see what stories she'd have to tell of her experience. As soon as she saw me, her eyes lit up and she got very excited.

"I have something for you."

I screamed with excitement and took off down the hall, heels and all. I tore into her room, and she pulled out a book I recognized. Peeling back the cover dramatically, she revealed a page with handwriting I recognized from The Family: A Proclamation to the World. No, I'm not kidding--THAT is how weird I am.

I can't believe it! There it IS! It's really real! It's really, really REAL!

After much rejoicing, girlish squeals of delight paired with jumping and hugging and lots of thanking from the bottom of my bouncing heart, I took my gift and went back to my room to stare at it for a while. I put it on my desk, opened it again, looked at it closely, re-read the words a few times, and started to cry.

Only then did his words come to my heart, those words that have explained life to me so many times when I had no one else.

...they are a time to be believing... 

The latter days are not always easy, even when you're picking roses--whether literal or metaphorical. But that doesn't mean I can't have hope. If I let myself become too afraid to hope for things not seen, even for something small that probably only took 4 seconds of someone's time, how am I supposed to hope for an eternity of Christ's time, for the sacrifice He made that involved so much more than ink and paper?

You CAN have hope. I look at my new favorite possession, and I can feel my Heavenly Father saying this to me. He wants me to know that He does hear me, He knows exactly how much of a dork I am, and He loves me and my dorkiness more than I can possibly imagine--enough to bring to pass my own little miracle, just for me, because He knew how much I would always treasure it. A gift from a Father to a daughter that still, in many ways, cannot understand that kind of love. A gift to show me that I must remember to believe, to have hope in all of the beautiful experiences ahead of me, no matter how frightening my trials and thorns may look from here.

I've been thinking about this summer a lot, dreading what it'll be like to go back east after having been in Utah for so long among spiritual giants and some of the kindest people I've ever met. It's a dread that is new to me because I've never been anywhere safe enough for a long enough time to want to stay there. Now that I have, it frightens me to go back to what I remember, but just like Elder Holland says, these are the days when I need to be believing.

So with my bouquet in hand, crowned with a beautiful white rose of hope, that's exactly what I intend to do.

Water, Blood, & Spirit

It has been my pleasure to visit the Museum of Art since I've been living on campus, and I wish I would have started going there sooner. Quiet meditation has proven to be very good for me--something I managed to forget after Christmas break because I've been too nervous and conscious about spending too much time alone. It should have occurred to me that Satan (or perhaps just my lack of good sense) would try to convince me that something that is actually very good for me would be a mistake.

But I digress.

This painting by Ron Richard illustrates a section in Moses 6 from the Pearl of Great Price that has weighed heavily on my mind since my Pearl of Great Price professor emphasized it in class not too long ago. The part I want to emphasize is in from verses 59-62:
Photo of Triplus No. 3, painted by Ron Richmond
On display at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art
59 That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
60 For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;
61 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
62 And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.

I sat in front of this painting for a long time, contemplating the symbolism in what I was seeing, and how the image before me represented the Plan of Salvation, and the more I thought about the completeness of the representation, the happier I became because I saw how perfectly everything fit together--but more importantly because I could feel it was true.

In verse 59, it presents an ordered list of water, blood, and Spirit. The order of the list is relevant, both forwards and backwards, because of everything it illustrates. For the sake of simplifying my life, I'm simply going to list what I've come up with so far:

  • The Godhead - Spirit would obviously represent the Holy Ghost, and the blood Christ, but what I found to be profound was that Heavenly Father would be represented as water. So simple, yet so essential and inseparable from everything we are, and living itself.
  • Spirit birth - As it was explained to me in my Pearl of Great Price class, we simply do not know much about the birth of our spirits. Verse 59 states that water, blood, spirit, and dust became a living soul, and I won't pretend like I begin to understand what that means. It probably has something to do with the fact that bodies are referred to in the scriptures as tabernacles of clay, in which case the "clay" has been consecrated to be a "tabernacle." It seems that only when our spirit is joined with our body that this consecration is complete.
  • The Creation - Because the earth was created spiritually before it was created temporally, it has a spirit and must go through the same baptismal process as we do. Its baptism by water occurred at the flood, and by blood when Christ atoned for our sins in Gethsemane. When the earth undergoes baptism by fire at the second coming, it will be for the purpose of purifying the earth and preparing it for the work that will continue after His coming.
  • The Fall - The Fall was a necessary transition from the spirit world to the mortal world, or between Spirit and blood. Life does not end with mortality, however, and we must be cleansed through the blood of Christ's atonement before we can progress as purified beings and return to Heavenly Father's presence.
  • The Atonement - Much of the Christian community mistakingly thinks the Atonement took place only upon the cross at Calvary, which is why Latter-day Saints often get weird looks about not holding the cross as a symbol of our faith. In actuality, the Atonement began in the garden of Gethsemane where Christ took upon Him the sins of the world and bled from every pore. He gave up the protection of the Spirit, His blood, and His divinity in that moment in order to be the kind of sacrifice He had to be to save us all. Only "an infinite and eternal sacrifice" of a God would be able to atone for the sins of the world, and by giving up His Spirit, blood, and water, Christ was able to do that for us. (Alma 34: 10)
  • Baptism - Baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes many specific details that were restored to the earth in order that the ceremony and covenant would be in harmony with what it was supposed represent. We believe in baptism by full immersion; the entire body has to go under water to represent death to the natural man. Then, by the laying on of hands (a part of the body), we can be confirmed, and the gift of the Holy Ghost is then conferred upon us, and we can have that constant companionship, according to our worthiness.
  • Eternity - In Doctrine and Covenants 76, we learn that the kingdom of heaven has three separate kingdoms; the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial kingdoms.
    • The Telestial kingdom is the one I have the hardest time understanding because I'm not sure how to distinguish the Telestial kingdom from Perdition and outer darkness, but the Spirit part of this metaphor makes it a lot clearer. Outer darkness would be receiving none of God's substance. The Telestial Kingdom, however, would be like receiving of angelic ministry and spirits, but nothing more.
    • The Terrestrial kingdom will essentially be like the Garden of Eden, where God's children who were righteous temporally will no longer live in carnality or sin of blood and body, but will not have the fullest joy because they also cannot bear children.
    • The Celestial kingdom in the greatest glory that God can bestow upon His children, comparable to the exceeding brilliance of the sun's light. Only in this realm, we believe, can Heavenly Father's sons and daughters become gods and goddesses. What most people don't realize is that such a thought is hardly blasphemous because it isn't possible without Heavenly Father. Period. It requires all the purity of water, metaphorically speaking, and nothing less will ever get someone to that point. While we've all been given the choice to be that pure, and many still are being taught about the choices they have to make in order to inherit that grace, the bar is high because it's a matter of becoming, not a matter of passing the test until you can get through the door. Someone once expressed to me that most people probably won't be going there because of how hard it is to get there, and I believe that from what I've seen in my life. Purity is the highest law because it requires a complete transformation. To go from red blood to clear water would require nothing short of a miraculous transformation.

This is just a list of what I have time to go into now, but I imagine you could take just about anything that God has made, any part of His plan of salvation, and these elements will be a part of it somewhere. Thinking ahead to the day when I receive my Endowment, I really do wonder how much of what I'm being taught will also be evident in those temple covenants. That knowledge is not the kind of thing I would ever seek before my time, but I do know that the Spirit has a way of teaching and preparing us ahead of time for many things that might have otherwise been overwhelming. For now, I am satisfied with the truth I have been given, and find great joy in pondering on it still.

I'm grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to be in such a spiritual community where I can be worthy to receive such beautiful teachings. I also testify that if we will seek out the Spirit of God, it will teach us lessons that will bring us to an understanding of our Father's world and what marvelous, miraculous gifts He has given to us, His children. I testify of the joy he has given me, and my heart swells to know that an infinite and eternal deity, my Heavenly Father, would care so much about me to teach me of His artistry so that I can come home; because at the end of the day--after water, blood, and Spirit rest from His labors--that's the only place I want to be.

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