Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Beauty for Ashes..."

I copied and pasted this directly from posting on our adoption blog.  A few things are specific for that "audience," but these posts came together too nicely to not bring here. Enjoy.
At the Provo City Center temple open house.
It's been fun to get in the groove of writing every day and giving you half put together thoughts and snippets you may otherwise not get.  I have noticed on my traffic that I seem to have regular visitors.  I don't know of your faith, but mine is of an eternal perspective.  As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that this life here isn't the end.  I believe that it is but a small part of our existence---that we lived before coming here and that we will continue on after death.  I believe that family relationships can be eternal.  Isn't that as is should be?  That individuals within a family seek to improve themselves and strengthen relationships so that we want to continue these relationships? I know it isn't like that for everyone, but I believe it is possible.  I cannot imagine the death of my sister and watching her little casket being laid in the grave only to wonder why our time with her was so short or if she was truly gone forever.  I have become acquainted with a loving and just God and know that would be contrary to His nature.  I also believe that God not only intends to save us, but to exalt us.  To may Christians this may seem blasphemous, but it is truly the same doctrine Christ sought to teach during His mortal ministry.  It is in sacred structures called temples that we learn about our eternal relationship with God and how He intends to accomplish such a lofty goal.  
Last night while Mark tucked the kiddos in bed, I headed up to the temple.  It was my great privilege to be one of several volunteers there to clean.  I started out vacuuming the Celestial room.  Some of my other favorites were vacuuming the bride's room and where Initiatory is performed.  My heart filled with gratitude as I pondered on the peace and perspective I have had in these very walls and my beloved Rexburg temple and some sacred moments in the Idaho Falls temple.  There are many side stories I could take with this post as I had about 3 hours to ponder on the memories and thoughts that were stirred by being there last night.  
Being there to clean I was reminded of one more way Mark has spent his time.  When the Rexburg temple was built, we expectedly anticipated to volunteer as ordinance workers. We found out that if you have children, your youngest child must be at least 18. :(  We found out that we could serve in other ways and we were needed.  Mark would go weekly for about 3 hours to supervise volunteers like I had been last night in cleaning the temple. I played the organ and would contact the music coordinator when I was pregnant.  She would rotate me out if the pregnancy held and I would call her to be rotated back in once my newborn was old enough to leave with Daddy.  Having these opportunities to serve helped to keep our temple running, but also has blessed us and our family.
Another thought is that even though it was tricky to get me to the temple regularly with so many little ones, Mark and I both have made that a priority.  With so many pregnancies and so many babies at home, most of my temple worship had been playing the organ followed by Initiatory. Shortly after we moved, I had the prompting to increase my temple attendance and bring my own names too.  It felt unreal to consider HOW we were going to do it.  We were already trading off and sending one of us every week.  How could we possibly send me every week and Mark every other?  We stepped forward with faith. I appreciate the ways Mark has covered my responsibilities at home, so I can have peace of mind during my time away.  Being in the temple every week has been an incredible blessing to me the past almost 9 months.  Most weeks my worship has happened Saturday, followed by partaking of the Sacrament Sunday.  It has brought the Doctrines of Exaltation---that God wants me to become like Him---to life.  Although only crawling inches forward each week, it is forward movement and that has become visible through following this prompting.
Last thought for today.  As we prayed for our straightest course of refinement, the one with the least waste to become like Him with the most efficiency, adoption has been part of that answer. Already we can see part of why and hints for the future. There are days I wonder if I am crazy.  There are days when it feels discouraging and that it seems it will never happen.  There are times it feels too impossible.  We have so much to offer a child and after what we have been through could easily take a birth family comfortably into our own family...but we are still so human with imperfections and weaknesses.  Sometimes I wonder if that humanness is somehow blocking this process from happening.  Basically some days I feel back grade school waiting to be picked for teams at recess, waiting feeling so awkward and worried about HOW it will happen.:)  Thankfully I have enough experience to usually recognize quickly the source of doubt and recenter my trust and faith.  In December we went to the temple as part of our anniversary celebration to perform sealings.  These were our own family names we had done all of the work from finding our ancestors to now sealing ordinances, so it was all the more of a special occasion. Kneeling across the altar from my husband sealing these children to their parents, it hit me powerfully. Of all the things we have to offer, having entered into covenants and seeking to keep them is the greatest blessing to our children.  With willing hearts, God will find the child for us. Of course He will. The desire of our heart is a righteous and worthy one.
I apologize for ending abruptly, but I'm not sure where to go from here in my words.  Maybe more thoughts will come together today or in the coming days to share more.  In the mean time, we want our birth mom to know we are praying for you. We know God is aware of you and your circumstances.  I know for me, at dark times in my life, it seemed He had left me.  At times I felt confused, alone, and even abandoned.  In hindsight I can see clearly that He was always there, often through angels He sent along my path to encourage me and to be His instruments for good in the details of my life. There were times I wished in the moment that things would work out the way I foresaw would be best, but again, in hindsight, and I grateful for unanswered prayers (or God steering me a different direction or to have different timing). God doesn't do coincidences. I KNOW that and I'm learning to trust it more quickly. 

*********POST 2

Here is Sennika with her ticket to the Provo City Center temple dedication. This is the first one she has attended.  My two favorite comments from here afterwards: "that was the most special thing from my whole life" and "that was the longest prayer of my whole life." :)
Isaiah 61:3
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."
Maybe me thoughts about the temple will continue to flow. It has almost seemed to be clique with the recent temple dedication. As I flipped through the seagull book ad, there are books being written about the Provo City Center tabernacle turned now temple.  But when Sister Reeves spoke of the Provo tabernacle being burnt to the ground in her talk in the Women's General Meeting in October of 2013, I sobbed through the entire talk.  In 2010, the tabernacle was burnt to the ground.  She spoke of the tragedy and how many asked things like, "How could God allow this destruction?"  Ten months later, it was announced that the very fire that had gutted the interior of the building had actually prepared it to be turned into a temple.  I will never forgot when she said this:
"Suddenly we could see what the Lord had always known! He didn’t cause the fire, but He allowed the fire to strip away the interior. He saw the tabernacle as a magnificent temple—a permanent home for making sacred, eternal covenants.  My dear sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones—and maybe our own—figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But He does not leave us in the ashes; He stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to Him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally."
About the time of the tabernacle fire, I found myself looking around in the ashes of what was left of my life.  I remember one Sunday in particular looking around the room at the women in our Relief Society (women's meeting) I deeply admired who all seemed to have it together, but knowing full well my life was in complete shambles.  I felt like I didn't belong and worried what they would think if they knew. (side note: the ironic thing is that later I got to know many of these same women more intimately and they have similar or other difficult circumstances in their own lives. Sometimes we feel the need to wear a mask to keep others from seeing.  We all struggle.  Maybe in different ways, but being here on this earth in a fallen state, we are all stretched...maybe it's a good year, :) but opportunities to grow more will always be around the corner for each of us).
Little by little these ashes made sense.  Although I had every appearance of doing it right and nothing glaringly wrong, I had built on a cracked foundation.  My faith was hollow and habitual.  The best way to remedy it was the fire.  Looking back, I don't think it necessarily had to be the fire at first.  He called to me in many ways and when I didn't answer, one by one, He began yanking or allowing things to be yanked out from underneath me.  And still I did not turn.  And so it continued until I had lost almost everything.
I have watched over the past five years how He has given me beauty for ashes. This process has come gradually and has been centered as I spoke yesterday. It has been living the principles of the gospel.  It has been seeking to understand my covenants, both baptismal first, then those I have made within the walls of the temple.  As I have turned to Him, little by little the fire has made sense.  As He is building a magnificent structure of me, one "where His Spirit can dwell eternally," my foundation is correctly and permanently firm.  I AM NOT GOING ANY WHERE.  Even though I still continue to make mistakes or go slightly off course, I have the pattern engraved on my heart.  I know in whom I can trust and how to turn to Jesus Christ and rely on His strength and His grace.  This anchor is mine because of the fire.  Because of the fire, I have an empathy that wasn't there before in my life of ease and "cotton candy and rainbows." I can validate others who are struggling mightily.  Because of the fire, I am a beacon of light and have pointed others to the One Source who can pull them out from the wreckage, even Jesus Christ.  Because of the fire, I am His mighty instrument, on His errand.  It's humbling to watch this structure coming together, knowing full well the ashes I came from. 5 years ago I never would have imagined it possible that I could become such a beautiful person.  
Truly He has given me beauty for ashes.  That beauty isn't what I expected.  It isn't my beauty, but HIS beauty shining through me. I love the other phrases from this verse too: "joy for mourning, spirit of praise for heaviness, trees of righteousness."  I can equally testify to the reality of each of these.
Last fall Sister Reeves again spoke at the General Women's Meeting and said this:
"I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, “Was that all that was required?” I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly Father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally. What will it matter, dear sisters, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?""
Looking back on the fire, I now have a different perspective because I see what has been built in its place and catch glimpses of what is yet to come. At the time of the fire, it felt so hot I didn't think I was going to make it. It seemed I would be swallowed whole.  I was swallowed. When I finally allowed my will to be swallowed up by His, the flames didn't seem to bother me.  There fire was such a small price to pay for the course correction it has brought me.  This fire was of eternal significance and again, what a small price to pay in comparison for eternal gifts.
For those who may find themselves in a fiery trial of your faith, hold on. Trust. I have enough experience of my own to trust more quickly.  If you don't, turn to those who have gone before.  Search the scriptures and words of living prophets.  Look for the patterns.  Watch for the fires and the ending results.  Look for how God strengthened them and their faith.
I testify of a loving God. Like I mentioned yesterday, there are no coincidences.  God knows and has a plan for you. As we get out of the way and allow Him a place, He will give us beauty for ashes...even if we can't yet see how.

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