Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Anchor to the Soul


I left church after Sacrament meeting today, which is something I never do.  I wasn’t feeling well. So I drove home, took some medicine, and tried to get some rest, but of course, I couldn’t sleep. You would think someone who lives on about 3-4 hours of sleep a night would conk right out, but my mind wouldn’t shut off.

Plan B was to read my Scriptures in silence. A rarity at this hopping house. I read something magnificent. For my Book of Mormon reading I am in Ether 12. It is so packed that this is day three on the same chapter. I just keep finding more gems. Right now I am compiling a three column list on everything Ether has to say about faith, hope, and charity in just this one chapter.

The verse I want to focus on right now is verse four:

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

If you’ve ever felt thrashed about by the storms of life, this verse should make you breathe a sigh of relief. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up on Staten Island. I sure miss that place sometimes. When I was a child riding the Staten Island Ferry, I would often go to one of the port holes and look into the churning sea. ferryAlthough I loved the feel of the air and water as it sprayed up at me, the voyage itself frightened me, so I would sit and watch hoping nothing would go wrong with our voyage.

I was always fascinated by the gigantic chains that would place and withdraw the anchors and wonder how they could help keep such a massive boat in place. I still don’t know the technicalities of all of it, but somehow it worked. Our boat was sure and steadfast.

According to the Scriptures, faith is our anchor. This anchor, however, does way more than the ones on the ferries I grew up with. First, it gives us a hopeful, secure future. Ether called it a better world. It is better because we are at the right hand of God.  At first that phrase puzzled me.  At the right hand of God? No, that is the Savior’s rightful place-definitely not mine. Maybe it was my tiredness, but I couldn’t figure out why he would say that. The answer of course was obvious, but it didn’t occur to me.

I leaned over and asked dear Bishop Nance (he was bishop before our current one), whom I was sitting beside. Thankfully he didn’t call me an idiot for not remembering “the sheep and the goats”. When the author says we will be at the right hand of God, it is because that is where the sheep go. We go with the group destined for eternal life in the presence of God. That will most assuredly be a better world. In that world there will be joy, peace, godliness, honesty, truth, learning, safety, and righteous judgment, just to name a few things.

Why use an anchor analogy for that though? I know some who would say we cannot be sure of our eternal place. I disagree. Faith makes that eternity sure. We can not only hope, but be sure in our hope of it. Not because of our own merits, which I know frightens all of us and makes us worry about eternity. But, on the merits of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I can be sure of my eternity IF my faith is in the right place. Do I have correct faith in the person and work of the Savior? Is it the kind of faith the Scriptures teach us? A repentant faith unto good works? Then if so, I can be sure of eternity. Now that is better than any anchor I have ever seen on a ferry.

This anchor does more though. Heavenly Father doesn’t throw us into a tempest filled sea, leaving us to drown and suffer, merely saying, “Well at least you have eternity to look forward to.” No. Instead He says, “Use your anchor.” That anchor of faith makes us sure and steadfast. That anchor of faith allows us to abound in good works. That anchor leads us to glorify God. I can’t think of anything better.

When I am drowning in a sea of turmoil. And believe me I know what turmoil feels like. I can grab onto my faith. That frees me up to do the work God has set apart for me. I am excited about that! I can think of a dozen ways I have disappointed my Father in the last 6 months, knowing that if I had just grabbed my anchor, I could have avoided the mistakes all together. I can’t change the past, but I sure can remember to grab it in the future.

It can also keep me steadfast in the face of other’s sins. There are frightening people in this world, who do very bad things and are obvious about it. There are others who are more cunning and unexpectedly do bad things. I’m not sure which is more dangerous. It probably doesn’t matter, because both kinds leave wounds and damage our vessel. But this verse says we can be sure and steadfast even in the face of damage. It will not matter what kind of storm we are confronted with. Faith will lead us to glorifying God. We can do great works, even in the face of suffering. What an anchor that is!

One other thing just occurred to me. It says this anchor can lead us to glorify God. I periodically get emails or phone calls from people who say wonderful things to me. Things I don’t deserve. Sometimes they say they admire me. Most often lately they say they have a strong feeling Heavenly Father has an important work for me. Now, I am not an important person and I am sure every assignment Heavenly Father gives, even to the least of His children is important to Him. It did get me to thinking though. I know He has a work for me. We were all given assignments in the pre-mortal existence of how we could further the kingdom during our tenure here. What was mine?

While I do not think I can do anything more important than any other servant, I have been facing tremendous trials that were obviously designed by the enemy to keep me from service. I began to pray and ask Heavenly Father to show me my work. What is my mission? He gently reminded me that He had already told me. He puts desires in our hearts and minds that are designed to help us know and fulfill our mission. What I want more than anything else is to start a magazine AND write books designed to help Latter Day Saints not only become more valiant in their testimony of the Savior, but to give them the tools to minister and teach the gospel to protestant evangelicals.

All I have to do is hold on to the anchor, so I am equipped for every good work and not allow the storms I face to overtake me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Learning in Fog


Do you ever know there is a lesson you’re supposed to be learning, but you can’t quite get it right? That is how I feel now. I have two things I should be learning. One is deeper, more correct faith. The other I can’t quite put my finger on. It seems just out of my reach. That probably sounds weird, but I am weird. Hopefully, in a cute, quirky sort of way.

I’ve been working so hard regarding faith. I’ve meditated on Alma 32 hundreds of times. I’ve made conscious decisions just to insist on having faith and push any doubts out the door. Yet, I still feel I’m missing the main idea of the lesson. It reminds me of elementary school.  This is going to sound like a really weird analogy at first, but it will make sense in the end. My parents are people with good hearts, but like the rest of us, they have a natural man they have to battle with.

Throughout my childhood and teen years, my parents were heavy marijuana users. In the 70’s and 80’s that was quite common. (Yes, I’ve given away my age. I’m 41. Now you can stop doing math and finish reading). I know it sounds ridiculous, but some of the memories that make me laugh the most are my parents and their friends sitting around smoking dope. They had this ridiculously long pipe that would fill up with marijuana smoke. Someone else had to be at the other end to put their finger over the pipe hole. Than when it was completely filled they would let go and the smoker would suck everything in really quickly.

To my brothers and I, the amusing part was watching them try to hold in the smoke they’d just sucked in for as long as possible. There is nothing more fun to a child than seeing adults do ridiculous things. That’s probably why my kids get such a kick when I do silly dances with them. So, here was this adult trying desperately to keep in something their body obviously didn’t want. They would snort and try not to cough. My dad was my favorite because he was completely bald and his entire head would turn purple. Oh the memories….

My point is I was surrounded by marijuana for the majority of my years at home. Even though I wasn’t smoking it personally, I was affected by it. The result was I was often in a fog. It most affected me at school. I am someone who LOVES learning. Ask anyone who knows me and my greatest joy is found in books, even “boring” text books. In childhood, I was the weird kid who was disappointed if we didn’t have homework the first day of school. I was so excited about learning.  Yet, school was hard for me. I couldn’t quite seem to grasp some things, no matter how much time I spent trying. I always felt disconnected.

It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents house that my head seemed to clear up. Boy did I make up for lost time then. I haven’t been able to get a college degree, but I have taught myself many, many subjects. I’m fantastic at advanced mathematics. I love history, literature, and science (especially chemistry), and have even been teaching myself HTML and Javascript. I love them all.I continue to try to carve out some time for learning even now, with my schedule so ridiculous as a single mom. Homeschooling helps. I get to share my passion for learning with my precious children.

About this time, you might be thinking, what is the point of this trip down memory lane? The fog. The fog I experienced at school was a result of the steady diet of second hand drug use. It affected my ability to learn. I have a fog now too. Though definitely not drug use, it is just as damaging to my learning. Sometimes we are so surrounded by our circumstances, fears, doubts, and for me disillusionments, that it is hard to see past them to learn what Heavenly Father is trying to teach us.

I begin a typical day in exhaustion, fear, and worry. My kids mean the world to me. Being a mom is a calling I take very seriously and find it such a huge privilege. I want to do it right. Yet my new life makes that challenging. Gone are the days I can just spend time reading to them and playing games. I have to get moving and I have to get moving fast. We’ve got to get school done, and then I’ve got to work several jobs. I also have to keep up with meals, music practice, housework, laundry, errands……….the list is never ending. I am not a ton of fun right now. Of course, there is the never ending pressure of making enough money for the bills. That stress and worry never stop.

There are other fog creators too. Fear and disillusionment. I have so many fears that have nothing to do with bills. Fear of being alone for a long time. Fear for a friend that I care deeply about who is destroying his eternity. Fear for my children that is personal to them and I cannot share. It has nothing to do with their character. They are wonderful children. Then there is disillusionment. That one is more like a constant weight that presses on me and doesn’t allow me to stand erect and get a good breath. I need to be careful because I’ve been asked not to blog about it by my dear sweet bishop, so I’ll just say it is there and ever present.

When surrounded by all those worldly (though necessary) cares, it creates a difficult environment for me to grasp all the new important spiritual lessons I am learning. There are some things I can do. It is important I take in more “fresh air” than most. That is done in my Scripture study. Wow, that is one of my favorite times.  I love keeping a Scripture journal and jotting down all the thoughts, questions, and lessons, I’m learning. I can almost reach out and touch the Spirit. I learn. I grow. I have clarity. Then, once I close the book, the fog rolls in.  What is the solution? I’m not positive yet.

There are some things that help. Constant communication with Heavenly Father and the Savior makes some difference. It at least helps with the burdens. I get to share it with Them. It gives me someone to talk to. Someone that can actually help and I don’t have to fear has immoral motives. I can trust Them. Another is continually trying to commend myself into Their hands. Yet even with both those things, I still feel like I am not quite getting it. Being everything Heavenly Father wants is more important to me than anything else, so I really want to “get it”.

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows I am not perfect. I make mistakes. Sometimes I make some doozies. Yet, even then, there is such a strong underlying desire to make my Father proud, and to show my Brother how much I love him and am grateful for the atonement. I want to evaporate the fog and grasp every lesson They have for me. I’d love to hear how you go about growing.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Purpose Driven Storm



To anyone who reads my blog it is no secret that I’ve been going though a straining time lately.  Last weekend it seemed to come to a head for me emotionally. I fell apart. Never had I felt so alone. I begged God to please remember me. I couldn’t understand why after everything I had been through that Heavenly Father would be unwilling to protect me from some recent trials. I was feeling quite sorry for myself. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could keep going. There have been a few times in my life that I had considered suicide. The most difficult to pull out of was right after my excommunication.

My husband had left, I had no means of supporting my children, I had lost every connection and friend I had and I wasn’t sure if it was for the true faith, or a Satanic deception. The worst part was I  couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t tell me which it was. I prayed so fervently every day for Him to tell me what was true. Each time I was greeted with silence. Was it because of something wrong with me? Was it because I was unworthy? Or was it because God didn’t exist? An affirmative to any one of them left me without hope.

I distinctly remember laying on my bed and planning out the best way to just end it. I had come to some semblance of a plan, when one of my sweet children walked in, lay down next to me, and starting rubbing my face. It hit me. I didn’t have the luxury of quitting. I had four souls who depended on me. If for no other reason I would continue for their sakes. So, I dragged myself out of bed and began to make supper for them.

I have never forgotten that evening. It keeps me going regularly, as it did this past weekend. I can exist for their sakes. I will do my best to pull myself through what is brought to my path. That does not, however, make existing any easier. Because of that I was pouring my heart out to God asking Him why. After I had no tears left, I got up and decided the only course of action was to read my Scriptures.

I was reading in Ether chapter six. I always read with my Scripture journal in hand whenever possible and write down things that occur to me, and my questions. The first thing I wrote from that day was from the end of verse four:

“….commending themselves unto the Lord their God.”

Regarding that passage I wrote, “Why is this so hard for me? This is what I must do, entrust myself to Him completely.” Right after that verse it spoke of the tempest they were suffering and the fear they felt. I remember thinking how hard it must have been to not feel forgotten themselves down in the deep, frightened, and unsure of the course set for them. Maybe they felt abandoned too, or as if they were unimportant to God.

Then I read verse 8 and it put a little light on our trials.

“And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind.”

It occurred to me that the most frightening thing in their lives was the very thing that was bringing them to the promised land. Maybe so it was for me. Each trial, each heartbreak, each betrayal is specifically designed to bring me to the Celestial Kingdom. It is preparing me in some way for my eternity. Every once in a while I wonder if our calling in the Celestial Kingdom is in direct proportion to our trials and growth experiences on earth. If so, my eternity is going to be awesome!

If I can try to remember that the tempest is driving me forward to Heavenly Father, it will make the storm less frightening. I could sit back in the arms of my Father and just enjoy the waves. At least now I can try to remember that my tempest has a purpose.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Beauty of Tithing

the widows mite

Normally my heart has no struggle with tithing. I find it joyful writing that check. It is almost as if I am getting to partner with God to further the work of His kingdom.  Although, I’m sure it is probably more like the times my sweet 6 year old Sarah brings me the pennies she has saved up to “help me with the bills”. I wonder if Heavenly Father’s heart swells with as much love as mine does when my daughter sincerely gives me her life savings?

For some unknown reason this week I struggled with writing my tithe check. I had over $1000.00 in OVERDUE bills, with the threat of a shut off notice on my heat. If I wrote my tithe check, I would have enough for the heating bill to stay on, but would only be left with $12.00 in my account to cover things like toilet paper and gasoline, plus all the other bills would go without any further payment.

I made the decision it wasn’t my money to begin with and I made a covenant to always pay my tithe. So, I wrote the check and a peaceful feeling came over me. The next day, I received three paychecks, two of which were overdue to come to me. It left me enough to pay something on each one of those overdue bills. Plus, I have enough to get one tank of gas and one small present each for the children on Valentines Day. Isn’t Heavenly Father kind? It was a reminder to me that He is aware and uses our circumstances to help us grow. Though tithing had never been an issue until that particular day, my faith has grown on the doctrine of tithing.

I also wanted to share a cute story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic. My Sarah is very literal and has been brought to tears many times because she doesn’t feel like she can hear the Spirit. The problem is she thinks it is a literal HEAR. Though the Spirit does occasionally work that, way, it is not the most common method.

She and I have been spending a lot of time discussing the fruit of the Spirit and the peaceful happy feelings that come to us when He speaks to our hearts. We had one of those discussions last night. It took about 40 minutes before she would calm down and stop crying long enough to really grasp what I was saying. About 10 minutes after our conversation, she was in the bathroom cleaning the toilet (one of her chores), when she ran up to me excitedly saying, “Mom! I feel the Spirit when I clean toilets! I always feel happy cleaning the toilets.”

Because I didn’t want to discourage her with any clarification. I just told her to remember that good feeling. I really love her enthusiasm.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Steadfast: With Patience and Order


“Be patient in afflictions, revile not against those that revile. Govern your house in meekness, and be steadfast.”

I’m going to be honest. I am exhausted. Utterly and completely. I am raising, caring for, schooling, and providing for four children and a home completely on my own. I work from about 6:30 am until 2 am, without assistance. (The exception being a dear family who pays for my children’s music lessons because I cannot. I cannot begin to express how thankful I am to such a generous, loving, and sacrificing family. I don’t deserve their love, but I am grateful for it.). There are times that I do not think I can do one more day.

It is always at those times that the Lord chooses to stretch me even further. In some ways I am grateful. Interestingly, I have had two people call me within the last couple of weeks and tell me they felt that Satan wants to sift me as wheat. I have felt that way too, and definitely feel sifted.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of passages that have two specific themes. The first being, to be patient in afflictions. The second referring to order. The passages on afflictions are genuinely encouraging. They are a reminder that the Lord is aware of me and my circumstances. They also remind me that we will be rewarded IF we endure well.  I don’t just want to endure, I want to endure well. I have had many opportunities for growth and endurance. Unfortunately, I’ve failed many of them, but I will keep trying. Thank goodness for the atonement.

The second theme is stretching me right now. I’ve recently noticed something about myself that bothers me. I can excuse things the Lord doesn’t because of my circumstances. Let me give an example regarding order. I’ve been divorced for a year now, and somehow I’ve excused my house being a wreck all the time because of my circumstances. I have a lot on my plate. I am doing it alone. And even though I like order, I haven’t found a way to make it happen. I think that might be because I’ve been excusing it.

My thoughts have gone something like this: “Well, Annmarie, you can’t do everything. Something has to give and the least important seems to be the house.” There is a big problem with that. It is going contrary to what the Lord has commanded us. I’ve been reading a lot of passages where the Lord reminds us of the importance of order. I believe the verses are talking about spiritual AND temporal order. Here are a sampling:

“And now a commandment I give unto you—if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house..” D&C 93:43

“Organize yourselves; prepare for every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” D&C 88:119

“Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.” D&C 132:8

There are many, many more, but you get the point. While it is easy and tempting to say, my circumstances excuse me from compliance, they do not. Lest I sound more spiritual than I am, I can assure you I find this command daunting on top of everything else, but it is there nonetheless. I also see the benefits. There are time when I would actually have MORE time to do the things that are needful if things (especially the kid’s rooms) were in better order. I can’t tell you the number of mornings I’ve wasted 30 minutes trying to find my daughter Sarah’s shoes in that disaster of a bedroom.

Yet, even knowing that, I am overwhelmed at how to actually accomplish it and keep up with my other responsibilities. I do know that the Lord gives no commandment unto the children of men save He shall prepare a way that they may accomplish it. The way is there. I just need to find it.

The verse I typed at the beginning sums up everything I’m learning. Foremost at this point in my life I am to be patient in my afflictions. Wow, I stink at that. I have reminded the Lord that though a thousand years are as a day to Him, they are actually a thousand years to me. I periodically hope He hasn’t forgotten about me. But then those gentle reminders come that tell me He hasn’t.

The second command is not to revile those who revile me. I could do better at that. Sometimes because I complain about someone who has sinned against me without naming them, I think that is ok. When in reality I should only be speaking about what they’ve done, to Heavenly Father and my Bishop.  That is hard. I tend to need to talk things through and there isn’t anyone in my home to do that with. So, sometimes my blog ends up as  a pseudo spouse/friend that allows me to sound off about my hurt and disillusionment. I think instead, though not intended that way, it could come across as reviling in return.

Thirdly, was governing my house in meekness. The meekness part isn’t as hard for me as the governing. I’m used to being told what to do and having to run every decision by my spouse before it can be officially made. Now I have to make all of them on my own. I’m navigating a new life and a new religion, and everything is out of order in my home. There needs to be better government. More order.

Finally, be steadfast. Oh, I long for that. I want to be solidly faithful. Actually, I want to be perfect, but know that will have to wait for eternity.