Jul 18, 2016

Overcoming Adversity


I’m no stranger to adversity, just as we all aren’t. In fact, we all have adversity we face at one time or another. President Henry B. Eyring said, “With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity. There may be periods, sometimes long ones, when our lives seem to flow with little difficulty. But it is in the nature of our being human that comfort gives way to distress, periods of good health come to an end, and misfortunes arrive. Particularly when the comfortable times have gone on for a while, the arrival of suffering or the loss of material security can bring fear and sometimes even anger.” (Adversity)


That being said, I want to focus my talk on overcoming adversity. After all, isn’t that our goal when we go through challenges—to overcome them? To do that, I want to share some of the adversities I have faced and currently do face in the hopes that you will learn through my experiences. 


My daughter tracing the words on my mother's headstone.
I suffer from health problems that have almost killed me—three times! I was bullied at school and at church to the point where I doubted my own self worth. I endured a period of emotional, spiritual, and mental abuse in a past relationship that nearly broke me as a person. I grieved deeply during the unexpected death of my mother. Most of all, I suffered through the darkest period of my life, when many of the aforementioned adversities were happening, when I fell away from the church and turned away from the light and peace of the gospel. Most of these adversities have left me with scars and consequences that I will continue to endure throughout the rest of my mortal life. But as I look back on these trials, I see all that I have learned, all the strength I’ve gained, and the magnitude of blessings I received as I overcame them.


Elder James B. Martino said, “It is much easier to look back when a trial is over and see what we have learned from our experience, but the challenge is to gain that eternal perspective while we are going through our tests. To some, our trials may not seem great, but to each of us who are passing through these experiences, the trials are real and require us to humble ourselves before God and learn from Him.”(All Things Work Together For Good)


During those times of adversity though, I wasn’t always looking toward that eternal perspective, or even to my God. Physically, my health was deteriorating. I was plagued with constant migraines and constant nausea. I couldn’t keep down any food. I continued to lose strength until I couldn’t sit up since my muscles couldn’t support my own weight. I was in pain, I couldn’t sleep, I lost so much weight that I was only 98 pounds. My heart was on the verge of giving out, and my kidneys and liver were shutting down. This happened over a period of six months, and in the 16 ER visits and 25 doctor appointments I went to, they just told me it was all in my head and to drink more water. As I was so weak that my coworker had to literally carry me to the clinic, a new doctor took me seriously and realized that I was dying from a highly, off-the-charts overactive thyroid. I was rushed to Albuquerque to receive emergency treatment. When that specialist saw me, he told me that if I hadn’t received treatment right then, I would’ve died within the week. It’s been about five years since then, and I am still recovering from all the damage of going untreated as long as I did. 


Concurrent with the physical trials, I was experiencing many internal ones due to bullying, abuse, and guilt. I withdrew into myself to the point where I felt unloved, hated, and despised. I was unhappy, but I didn’t necessarily recognize that I was unhappy. I felt shrouded in darkness and despair, wallowing in the pits of depression and self deprivation. I felt unworthy of the gospel, unworthy of peace, unworthy of joy, unworthy of love. I was filled with a poisonous guilt that was affecting every aspect of my life. This rancid guilt had me feeling like it was too late for me; that I had ruined my not only my temporal life, but my eternal one as well. I felt like I deserved all the horrible things I was going through, and that were being inflicted upon me. In my mind, this was my penance for my poor choices and my self-felt unworthiness. I even blamed myself, albeit completely illogical, for my mother’s death, and relived every not-perfect thing I said to her.


I don’t want to get into to much detail of all the things I went through, felt, and experienced. We all have trials, and you all know how bad things can get. I want to impress upon you though, the anguish of mind, body, and soul I felt. I suffered incredibly through all these different forms of trauma, and these weren’t light, easy trials. They were traumatic events in my life. I felt that the weight of all these trials was going to destroy me.


It was during that time of utmost darkness to the point of destruction that light came into my life. Events transpired to where those who were harassing me the most had moved away, and my health was improved to the point where I could function with minimal pain. Looking back, I see the Lord’s hand in arranging these events so perfectly. All these trials had humbled me to the point where I was ready to accept help, and ready to be directed to turning to my Lord.


My family was always there for me, offering their love and support throughout these hard circumstances. What really helped me the most was their unconditional love and lack of judgment. They didn’t criticize my actions or choices. They just loved me and they were always there for me. I think it was realizing this that started softening my heart to the Lord.


Also during this time, I had the world’s best visiting teacher who faithfully visited and contacted me for years. At first, I avoided her. I wouldn’t answer my phone when she called, or respond to her texts, and when she stopped by I pretended not to be home. I know, not the most mature thing to do. But what touched me was that she was consistent. She never gave up on me. I think it took about a year for me to finally respond to her, and that was just to ask her why she kept trying. She told me that it was because she wanted me to know that someone cared about me. That was it. Not that she wanted me to come to church, and not that she wanted to be able to check off visiting teaching from her to do list. She genuinely cared about me and wanted me to know that.


From then on out, I started visiting with her. She never pushed attending church on me, although she did invite me to come to church and to attend church activities. She wanted me to know that I was always invited and that there were many people in the ward who would love to see me. This sweet and devoted sister’s love—genuine love, softened my heart further to the point where, when the missionaries stopped by, I also met with them.


I loved having the missionaries over, and not just because they were always eager to mow my yard, take out my trash, or get rid of my gopher problem. Just like my family and my visiting teacher, they had a light about them that I desired to attain myself. After a few visits, one of the elders felt inspired to share a scripture that, quite literally, changed my life. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  He who seeketh to save his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 10: 37-39)

In this scripture, the Savior is outlining what our priorities should be.  He should come first, above family to include spouse, parents, and children.  Once the missionaries shared this scripture with me, I knew I had to correct my priorities and put the Savior first.  And once I did that, everything started to fall into place, or fall out.
Photo credit: Mormons.ph

 I knew there were many things I needed to change in my life--things I needed to start doing again, things I needed to stop doing, and things I needed to truly repent of.  I met with my bishop and he helped me figure out what I needed to do to get my life in sync with what my Father in Heaven would have me do.  It wasn’t easy, and it required so much work and faith on my part, but it was worth it.


In D&C 121:7-9 it says, Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.” I had my friends, my family, and my ward family standing beside me, helping through these adversities now. I learned so quickly that I wasn’t alone, and that I didn’t need to be alone. My Father in Heaven guided these wonderful people to help me when I needed it most.


I had undergone a true change of heart.  I so utterly changed that prior temptations weren't effective on me anymore.  I had and still have no desire to participate in activities that had led me and trapped me in spiritual darkness.  Instead, I filled my life with heartfelt prayer, personal and family scripture study, family home evenings, consistent church and temple attendance, and sincere repentance.  Additionally, I’ve put forth a great deal of time—and still do—in studying the diseases I’ve been diagnosed with so that I can better understand what I can do to be healthier and feel better. 


Some of the adversities I’ve gone through required even more help however. My autoimmune and thyroid diseases nearly killed me, and I desperately needed medical treatment to get to the point where I could function somewhat normally again.  I had to constantly visit the doctor, and I will always have to visit a doctor for treatment for these illnesses. My recovery, although I’ll probably never be fully recovered, is a miracle in and of itself. Every doctor I see to this day are shocked by how well I’m doing, how much strength I’ve regained, and the yet again miraculous repair of my kidney and liver. I know that this is because of the Lord and His healing light through the power of the priesthood and my faith.


Just the same as seeking treatment for my physical ailments, if it weren’t for the addiction recovery program in teaching me how to apply the Atonement in my life to overcome the effects of abuse, and counseling to learn how to get past my grief and guilt, I wouldn’t be as healed as I am today. I can’t stress enough how amazing these programs are. I suffered through traumatic things, and little by little I’ve been healing from them. We need to make sure that we are seeking every avenue of help as we seek to overcome our adversities.


Photo credit: The Idea Door Files
Elder Martino went on to say, “When we face our challenges, we must seek greater help from God. Even the Savior of us all found a need to pray “more earnestly” as He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can learn to gain great faith if we do this. We must remember that often the answers from our Heavenly Father do not remove the trial from us, but instead He helps strengthen us as we pass through the experience.”

I finally learned that lesson. As I continue to go through adversities now, I make sure that I never stop praying, never stop studying my scriptures, never stop attending church, and never stop turning toward my Savior. I still have a long way to go, and there are things I probably won’t overcome fully in this life, but I know that as long as I’m actively moving forward toward my Savior and Heavenly Father, and doing what I can to keep the commandments and my covenants, then I will not move toward the darkness again. All will be made right.


Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength… He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek.”


Through my trials, I have also received so many blessings, blessings that have made everything I’ve gone through completely worth it. The friendships I’ve made through this time will continue into the eternities. I’ve learned to trust in others again. I’ve learned so much about my own body and how I can better take care of it. I pushed through illness to find joy in running, which is now a big part of my life and helps me build my self confidence. I’ve grown closer to my family. I’ve built such a solid testimony of the gospel and this Church that I know I will never waver again. Most of all, overcoming these adversities made me the woman I am today, and made me worthy to be sealed to my most amazing husband in the temple for time and all eternity. This blessing alone is worth all the experiences I’ve been through.


Elder Holland goes on to say, “Now, with that majestic devotion [of God’s unwavering love for us] ringing from heaven as the great constant in our lives, manifested most purely and perfectly in the life, death, and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can escape the consequences of both sin and stupidity—our own or that of others—in whatever form they may come to us in the course of daily living. If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow—and every other day—is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children! It is a plan predicated on the truth “that all things work together for good to them that love God.” So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” (Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You)


I want each and every one of you know that it is never too late, and you have never done too much, to not qualify for exaltation. You can always repent, you can always change, and you can always improve. The Atonement is there for all of us to use to find true purpose, true happiness, and true love. As we seek to keep improving, the Lord will help us. He loves us more than we can comprehend and He wants us to find joy. As President Gordon B. Hinkley said, “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.” And I know from experience that we can find joy, even during the hardest of trials.

photo credit: Empressive Designs from Etsy


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