My best friend has this great life story, the kind that Christian Youth videos are made of, the perfect Spritual Rags-to-Riches arch.
We met in New York as 25-year-olds and on that first day we walked the streets of Manhattan for hours, swapping backstories and laughs.
I was fully absorbed in the drama of her former life, the comedic follies, the despairing depths and finally, The Reckoning. She had left the LDS church and more than that, for five years had run full speed ahead into dangerous, heartbreaking territory and it had added up to a lot of pain.
One day she had a particularly sobering experience of betrayal and literally stopped in her tracks and thought, What am I DOING?
She went home, borrowed a copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness, and in short order met with her Bishop to continue with her decision to come unto Christ. She never looked back.
This meant a cold-turkey end to addictive substances, separating herself from an entire social network, and putting all of her energy into healing and figuring out what God wanted from her. This boggles my mind as any one of these tasks could take a person years to achieve.
Our day in New York happened three years from that point and the woman I met then was a bright light. She radiated love and optimism and seemed to be going at life with the same velocity as her previously pursuits, just in the opposite direction.
Since meeting her and benefitting first-hand from her unshakeable faith, I’ve sometimes thought, “I wish I had a backstory like that! Look how easy it would be to back up what I’m testifying about! I mean, I could basically “prove” the effects of Christ’s atonement by the very existence of my sober, happy life!”
Or to be able to say,
“Yep, I’ve tried that, and that. Been there. Oh yes, that too.”
But like anyone who truly knows a thing will tell you, you don’t come to understanding in a moment, even the most radical one.
You can come to know what is painful not by doing it, but rather by learning what brings joy.
My friend’s testimony isn’t rooted in the fact that she lived a hard life and now lives an easy one (she doesn’t). Her commitment to her beliefs doesn’t continue because of a day from the past when she had an eye-opening experience, or even the extraordinary assistance she received throughout that time.
In knowing her today, I can confidently guess (and with her permission, report) that her testimony is solidly based on The Living Christ. Who He is to her now amid new pains, new challenges, new joys.
Yes, He provided the crucial motivation all those years ago. But if her belief was statically resting on a single gift, it would have quickly lost its momentum. Memories, even powerful ones, are slippery and subject to the new lenses picked up along the way.
Even a commitment so all-encompassing, so drastic, will fade when not used as a catalyst for continued conversion. So by now, she’s in the trenches just like the rest of us, having to rely on the almost imperceptible but daily “minor” miracles before her, just like the rest of us.
And still, I find it hard to trust that my conviction expressed is as powerful as hers would be if she were to tell her story.
My personal witnesses are precious but sometimes annoyingly personal. Little gems of affirmation collected in my darkest moments and most peaceful joys. I’ve wavered, essentially stopped it all, seen my life become objectively chaotic and my inner compass a jumble of conflicting messages and pressures.
Then, I’ve come back, seen order restored to my insides, expansive and progressive ideas enter my mind in place of the angry tunnel vision I’d entered, and if not immediately then consistently, felt peace enter in.
But these things are just so… internal. When it comes to sharing, they’re frustratingly all mine. Only I can decipher them, re-feel them, clear away the critics and arrive at that refreshing pool of relief inside, the Source of which is clear.
My conversion to Christ doesn’t come from feeling unhappy and then asking, “Where can I go for happiness?”
My conversion comes from feeling happy, from succeeding in areas that matter to me, then asking, “Where can I get more of this?”
Receiving a gift, even an anonymous one, is great. But how much lovelier to see the giver, to gift them in return with your expression of joy, a deeply bonding experience for two hearts? To be able to express your gratitude for the gift, and even, as the tender trust grows, ask for more?
There is no doubt that Good exists in the world; knowing where it comes from is key to finding more of it.
Knowing there is more good to be had is key to having hope.
The collective treasure that is my testimony is the result of deciding that if Jesus Christ was giving out peace as a free-for-all, that I wanted to be as close to that as I could.
Deciding He was the Source in the first place was the result of (still) searching, aching, yearning, asking, and watching. Feeling. Accepting. And finally, assurance.
I can’t put that assurance into another’s hand, just as my best friend, no matter how breathtaking her experiences were, couldn’t put her assurance into mine.
I have learned that His gifts aren’t random, arbitrary, or given for rote ritual practice. Rather they are predictable, useful and superabundant returns for offerings of the heart.
I have learned that some rituals of sacrifice are effective at breaking down the barriers I’ve built that keep me from letting Him closer. Basically, I need stretching, and if I only chased the low-hanging, feel-good fruit I’d never see the gorgeous views from the thicker, higher branches.
I’ve learned that every good thing worth having requires waiting and working.
I’ve found that there are systems that can be followed, not business-like systems, but actual systems of the soul that can be implemented to steadily, sacredly, reach Him. Each one is activated by simply recognizing, them remembering, Him.
In English the word Remember means “to pass through the mind again.” But in Spanish, Recordar, it means “to pass through the heart again.”
Many times I fail to remember because I think I already know a thing. My brain already knows His words, His commandments, His love. But failing to pass these truths through my heart in concert with His Spirit, will not activate the system of the soul that will enlighten, guide, and comfort. Faith’s real power appears when I trust this process.
I’ve had times where my very foundation is being threatened and it feels as if all I have worked for will collapse any minute. Powerless, uncertain, alone. Yet my inner turmoil was low, centered by a deep assurance that I would be OK, no matter what outcome.
On the other hand, I’ve seen times when all is going well and I couldn’t ask for anything more, and yet I feel immense self-pity, frustration, and restlessness.
The only distinguishing factor between the two is to whom I’m attributing my happiness. Me, my hard work, my luck, my smarts, my natural surroundings, or Him.
No one asks you to show them the point of loving your spouse, your brother, your friend. No one demands that you prove to them that Love exists. It cannot be proven, but it’s glaringly obvious that it exists. Receive it and you know.
The difference in proving the existence of a living Savior is that He gives His gifts so freely and demands so little in return, it’s easy to think it must be more complicated than that.
That there’s just no way all Good could come from Him, that so many secondary sources could be in cahoots, pumping out all this Good from a single river. No one doubts the Good exists, they just doubt its power to exist outside of our vision, and yet, we see it every single day.
I don’t have much certainty in my life, which is unfortunate since I simply adore it. But I’m comforted knowing that with Jesus Christ I can thrive in a field of uncertainty, because that field grows surrounded by mountains of trust.
These mountains can’t be moved, and they stand tall beneath endless skies of love, there for my enjoyment every time I choose to look up.
I trust Him.
Through tears of rage, darkness so tangible I would have preferred to disappear rather than have to touch it, loss of faith in myself, He has reached for me, solidly reminding me what’s at stake. Never letting me descend below His grasp. Never quitting on me, even when I tried to quit on Him.
I need Him.
There are so many ways to live this life. So many good things to do, ways to help, growth to be had. He leads me to the most potent, personally refining, laser-focused-for me joys. Alone, I sometimes stumble upon these same results. And when that happens, I later realize it was still Him, willing to lead me there even as I forgot who to thank.
I love Him.
I love Him, truly, because He first loved me. I love Him the way my child loves me- from the alternating poles of need and gratitude, my actions often just missing my verbal commitments, needing to be reminded ad nauseam the basic truths that I swore I understood.
Loving so imperfectly but with my whole heart wanting to show it to Him. Loving from a place of safety so solid I know even acting out will be met with mercy. He loves on a level so merciful that it transcends terms of “deservedness”. There is no ‘deserve’, there are only gifts.
I believe Him.
His Atonement has given gentleness to the road where previously harsh conditions prevailed. Same road, prettier view.
I don’t understand how it works, but I know that when I kneel and pray, I get up with more resources to take on life than I had before I knelt.
I know that when I recordar His teachings the way forward is illuminated, even if it remains treacherous.
He sees my sufficiency and my potential, both before Him at all times, pleased by both, loving both, believing in both.
I believe Him when He says He is my friend, because He has never let me down.
It’s not fancy, but it’s mine. Gratefully, mercifully, undoubtedly, all mine.
“Look for Christ and you will find Him. And with Him, everything else.” -C.S. Lewis