10 March 2014

"A testimony is not that which you say at the pulpit, but a testimony is that which you become." -Edson De Marques

Until now, I haven't understood what it takes to develop and maintain a testimony. I assumed that if I lived righteously and did good things, it would simply fall into my lap. If I did what was right, the Lord would bless me with faith, belief, and trust in Him and His plan. Right? Wrong.

The year I graduated from high school was hard. My rebellious streak came into full bloom when my parents moved away to New Zealand. I wasn't attending church, and I made a lot of wrong decisions. Apathy became my partner in crime, and I didn't feel a whole lot... for anything or anyone. My conscience took an unprecedented vacation, and I somehow convinced myself that what I currently had in life (which was nothing) was really all that life had to offer. Family prayers, and family scripture study was just something my family did. Tradition, perhaps. Going to church was just something we would do. In those 17 years of my life I had "done" the right things, but I didn't know why. 

There was one dark night in particular, a night where I remember feeling I couldn't sink any lower than I had. I hit rock-bottom. My life, and my salvation, were dependent on the decisions I needed to make. With the love of my always-active family, and with the unfailing love of my Father in heaven and His Son, I wanted to change. I came to my Father in heaven, and I told Him of the pain I was in. I told Him of the hopeless and miserable existence I was living. There was nowhere to go but up and for the first time in my life, I caught glimpses of the power of the Atonement. Through my repentance, and through my desire to change, my heart literally changed... my very being changed. It was hard. It was so hard to get where I knew I needed to be. Except this time I had the love and support of my Heavenly Father and Savior. They were fighting with me. They were fighting for me. And Their love sustained me when I never, ever deserved it. For that, I owe Them everything.

It was a long process, and it was a constant process. It took consistent effort on my part, daily, consistent effort, and slowly, The Lord's grace changed who I was and how I was living, and for the first time in my life I believed in something. I believed that there was more to life than what I had been living. I knew I had a Father in heaven who loved me so much, despite my failings. I knew His love for me would never waver. I knew that His Son, Jesus Christ, atoned for me. I knew that He had experienced every dark and miserable night I had lived. I knew that He gave His life, quite literally, so I could find mine. And for the first time, I found love in the right place. I found my purpose in life. I found my Maker. 

As I was getting out of this dark place, I met someone, and I saw this someone for who they could be. I was now worthy to enter the Lords house. I was now worthy of His blessings and promises. And I thought I was strong enough to make a decision as significant as marriage. Looking back, I now see I had not yet fully accepted just how much I was worth. I knew I had been forgiven, I had felt the Lords forgiveness very specifically, but I still wasn't yet where I needed to be, where I could have been and should have been when someone is making a decision as significant as eternity.

There was more than a seed of faith on my part. I had made so much progress, so much improvement. But those glimpses I caught of the Atonement? They were still that: glimpses. I had not fully learned and appreciated exactly what the Atonement can do.

I "did things the right way." I was married in the temple, held a church calling, paid my tithing, and lived the commandments, but I wasn't progressing. I was once again existing, righteously, but merely existing. 

My divorce hit me like a ton of bricks. It was one ton after another. Crushing me, at times, quite literally killing me. But - this time - I knew how to overcome it. I knew Who I needed to turn to so I could overcome my trials. The second my ex-husband was out the door, my knees hit the floor. Day in and day out, at all hours and in all places, I was entirely and completely dependent on my Heavenly Father and Savior. They were my Saving Grace. They were all I had - but I finally knew They were all I needed.

It's a lot to go through by the age of twenty two. I feel like I've grown ten years in the past two! But looking back, my heart is filled to the brim with peace and gratitude. My testimony is my most treasured possession. It is something I have fought for, and will continue to fight for. It is the one thing that I hold closest to my heart. It is absolutely everything to me, and I will protect it in every way I can, for the rest of forever.

I'm still learning, I'm still growing. I will be today, and tomorrow and thirty years from now. The hard times will come and the hard times will go, but I know now what I never knew then. I know entirely that this gospel is true and that my Father in heaven and Savior love me so much. I know that Their love is unyielding and infinite, and I know it will always be there. I know They are with me. I know They are guiding me, and I know Their hand is so completely involved in my life. It takes a lot of effort. It takes an hour of scripture study every day. It takes prayer, constantly, all throughout the day. It takes a temple trip every week - without fail. It takes consistent worthiness and recommitment. It takes the sacrament every week and it takes obeying each and every commandment in its entirety. But I now know what it takes.

I love my Father in heaven and I love His Son, my Redeemer. I don't understand Their will for me at times, but now and forever Their will is MY will. No matter how hard it is. No matter how unwanted or confusing. All I want is what They want for me, and FROM me. I have quite literally given my life back to my Heavenly Father and said, tell me what to do, I am in Your hands. I know now who I am because I know Whose I am and Where I came from, and I will do whatever I need to do, every day for forever, to remember the things I know and to feel the way I have felt. I found my life by losing it; by returning what was never mine to the Lord. Their will is finally my will, my life is in Their Hands, and there is no safer place for it to be. They hold me so close, and in return, I promise to always and forever love Them with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength.

And every day for the rest of forever,
I will make that choice.

They will always be my choice.