A Page of One's Own

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Apr
10

I have felt vulnerable both preparing and now giving this talk. Not because of any doctrinal or philosophical question about my topic, but rather because I do not know how to talk about the Atonement of Jesus Christ with any amount of distance from myself. It is so incredibly personal. When I received this talk, I felt immediately what I needed to talk about, but my thoughts and impressions are a little uncomfortable for me to share. But despite my fear, I will do my best to say what I feel I need to today.

When I went on my mission to San Fransisco and then to Brazil, my expectations for what my mission would be and what my mission turned out to be were vastly different. I thought that my mission would be about conversion, about teaching and about learning. Although all of these happened, the most sacred moments for me occurred when God and Jesus Christ allowed me, privileged me, to see another person through their hold, all-encompassing and all-merciful eyes.

In San Francisco, my companion and I walked to an appointment, a few minutes late, hurried, and stressed. On our way, we passed an old woman sitting on a cement slab, wearing mis-matching clothes. She was very dirty. Thirty seconds later, I turned to my companion and asked if we could return; I had felt that the old woman needed our attention. Approaching her, we sat, one of us on each side of her, and asked if there was anything we could do for her that day. She immediately began to sob. I saw that she had no teeth and that cigarets hung from her oversized sweatshirt pocket. She told us that she had been diagnosed with cancer that day, that her husband beat her, and that she had been abused since she was three years old. She did not have a soul in the world to love her. I put my arm around her and in that moment, the heavens opened and I saw her and loved her as perfectly as I have ever loved anyone.

Three months later, a man with no arms in Brazil approached my companion and I to beg for food. I told him that we had very little but that I had a book that had brought light and joy into my life. As his eyes widened in shock that we had responded in kindness and with the idea of hope and belonging in our voices, I began to cry as I earnestly testified to him that he, personally, individually and alone, meant something irreplaceably beautiful to not only just someone, but to the Son of Man and Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

In Isaiah 53: 3-5, it says, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

This scripture illustrates that He “descended below them all” (D & C 122:8) when He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and then on the cross. Because of this, each of us, independent of circumstance or fortune, have find power through turning to him. None are left out or abandoned–the woman in San Fransisco, the man with no arms in Brazil, the hopeless, the hopeful, you and I–none are denied access to the most incredible source of power and resilience through Him, Jesus Christ. This was  my greatest discovery on my mission. Truly, like Preach my Gospel says, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

Although my problems comparable appear small when weighed against what so many suffer, I truly believe that the small injustices in my life matter to the Holy Son of God.

Our Savior loves us perfectly. Elder Renlund recently said that “The Savior’s mortal ministry was indeed characterized by love, compassion, and empathy. He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of sinners. He did not dodge them in abject horror. No, He ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy. Like the true shepherd He is, He seeks us and finds us to offer relief and hope. Understanding His compassion and love helps us exercise faith in Him—to repent and be healed.” He goes on to say that if we are to understand, appreciate and truly apply His flawless teachings, we are to love others. “The message to us in clear: a repenting sinner draws closer to God than does the self-righteous person who condemns that sinner.”

I’ll be the first to admit that among my favorite pastimes is judging people. It’s easy. It turns my thoughts out instead of in, and it feels good to blame someone else for what goes wrong in my life. However, the truth I have learned and the first tangible application to drawing power from Christ’s life and culminating sacrifice comes from withholding judgment. It comes from withholding criticism. It comes from understanding that when Christ knelt in the garden pleading with the Father for relief and finding Himself more and more alone, He did not pick and choose which of us merited His love. He did not say that He would feel the pain of only those investigators who chose baptism, only those men and women who would spend their time on earth practicing self-sufficiency, or only those who would be loved and give love.

No, He saw each of us; He thought of each of us. Of the ex-communicated member, the anti-Christian, the less-than-ideal church leader, teacher or speaker, the smoker, drug addict, the murderer. He saw us each in those moments. He saw those who believe and practice religion differently, the corrupt politician, those with different sexual orientations, and those who for the life of them cannot read their scriptures of pray consistently.

I believe that the most beautiful aspect of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that He chose each one of us, no matter where we may find ourselves right now. Recognizing this has helped me make small goals to be kinder, to give people a break, and to say that I am sorry with more sincerity. Although I am far from where one day I will be, when I remember Jesus Christ and His impeccable love, I feel that I am heading in a good direction.

The second way that I have learned to draw power in my life from Christ’s Atonement is by trying to live in such a way to have the Holy Ghost with me. In a recent face-to-face with the youth, Elder Holland and President Eyring spoke of how the application of Jesus Christ’s Atonement in our life is seen by living with the Spirit and thus being guided, comforted and led by Christ. Elder Nelson said last weekend that “When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.”

I have little idea what’s going on in my life most of the time, let alone yours. But because of Jesus Christ’s excruciating choice to see each one of us, He knows–He knows how to come to us. He knows what we each need. Tad R. Callister, in The Infinite Atonement, wrote that “One of the blessings of the Atonement is that we can receive of the Savior’s succoring powers. Isaiah spoke repeatedly of the Lord’s healing, calming influence. He testified that the Savior was ‘a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat’ (Isaiah 25:4). As to those who sorrow, Isaiah declared that the Savior possessed the power to ‘comfort all that mourn’ (Isaiah 61:2), and ‘wipe away tears from off all faces’ (Isaiah 25:8; see also Revelation 7:17); ‘revive the spirit of the humble’ (Isaiah 57:15); and ‘bind up the brokenhearted’ (Isaiah 61:1). So expansive was his succoring power that he could exchange ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3).

Oh, what hope soars in those promises.”

As we strive to have the Spirit with us, because Jesus Christ has been where we are and knows the best way for us to keep going, He will come to us. Through the Spirit, He will speak to our souls and help us know what to do next. And if in any given moment He doesn’t, He will be our Friend.

In my experience, the most sacred understanding and application that comes from Christ’s Atonement is the recognition and belief that although He suffered for every other individual in the world, He also saw you, and me. I have experienced and seen that as a culture, this one is hard for us. This one is hard for me. But I believe that if I am to understand, accept and show gratitude for my Savior, then I am kind and forgiving to myself. I see that no matter what I have done or still continue to do, He knew, and I was still worth it.

I spend a concerted amount of time and effort every week remembering that and trying to change the way I speak to myself. As a recovering perfectionist, I know that this is hard.

But I also can testify with certainty that Jesus Christ loves us in our weakness, in our very moment of struggle. He loves us as we fail. When it seems that so much in our world is conditional–we get into college when we earn good grades, we maintain healthy relationships when we work on them, we receive praise for acting a certain way and rejection for acting another–I genuinely know that our Savior’s love is not conditional on what we do.

I have struggled for years with addiction. I understand all too well what recovery and relapse look life. I thought for years and years that I could not approach my Lord while in the midst of my sin. I did not plead for forgiveness because I thought that by asking and then messing up again, every day over and over, I was disrespecting Him. And I knew that I loved Him and I didn’t want to hurt anyone any more.

But here’s the thing I have learned: we try and we often see our efforts fail. I am imperfect. It would be impossible for me to wait until I had it all “figured out” to start applying His sacrifice in my life. When I reached a point of humility to where I was willing to ask Him to help me change, to help me want to repent, even in my consistently failed efforts, I can testify that He loved me perfectly. And recovery began.

In D & C 45: 3-5, Christ says, “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—

Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;

Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”

I know that Hie is our advocate, and He is kind. He is on our side, especially in the midst of our imperfections and struggles.

I got sick on my mission and came home early. The time between my hospitalization in Brazil and my flight back to the states was among the most confusing of my life. I will never forget the moment, the first moment of my life, when the realization hit me: He thought of you too, you know. He saw you too.

I was very sick and afraid. I did not know what my future looked like, and I was afraid of the comments and judgement I was sure were to come. As I left the mission home for the last time, I looked at a small picture of Christ handing on the wall. He had tears in His eyes and I had a distinct impression: Kaylee, He is crying with you.

It is my sincerest desire that everyone in the world knows that they have a Savior and that He saw them, He sees them, He cries and rejoices with them, as I have come to know.

Feeling Too Much

Feb
21

Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel constantly shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a raindrop, a teakettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all–look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love. -Zooey Deschanel

Today: an walk in the wind, gold sprinkles on a cookie, butterfly kisses, an over sized floral bow, tiny footsteps upstairs, two dutch braids, creativity on a computer sheet of paper.

Yesterday: a nearby farm, a picnic blanket under a tree, a bird talking to everyone, sparkly fingernails, thrift store shopping, sweat pants, blaring country music.

Noticing and feeling everything.

Society favors extroverts. Job interviewers want their future employees to be social, good with people, friendly and likable. Understandably, many introverts feel a few steps behind.

I am an extrovert in every sense of the word. Let me tell you everything. Let me give you my heart and my thoughts and my observations and my days and my moments. I am yours, whoever you are. Despite the favoring of “my kind” of people, there is one caveat–it seems that I feel too much.

As much as society favors extroverts, it encourages a type of communication different from the one that comes naturally to me. People are more often careful and guarded and reactive, because people compete with people who compete with other people who compete with themselves. A never-ending competition of appearances advocates for a certain type of communication; a cautious one. And if I open up and listen like I always do, time after time I feel that I feel too much, that my heart is too big and guides my decisions more than it should.

There are many people like me. After asking many friends, I have discovered that even  people who are not exactly extroverts feel that they feel too much. The whole world feels quieted.

And in the middle of this world, I am vulnerable most of the day to most everyone I meet. I bubble up in every conversation. I crave connections and I feel it deeply when they are strengthened or broken. In the middle of this careful world, it would be probably be easier to shut it off and shut down, to close my mouth and heart. It would probably be easier to lay the vulnerability which I experience daily in many forms down to rest. The vulnerability sometimes gets exhausting.

When you feel too much by today’s standard, people sometimes crush it. But here’s the thing that I have learned about sacrificing vulnerability: it comes with a steep cost. Being careful does not allow me to connect with people in the ways that I love, and by sacrificing who I am, I lose parts of me that are irreplaceable, authentically me.

So if you are like me, an extrovert or someone who “feels too much,” here is some free advice from someone who has learned:

Feel it anyways.

If someone hurts you and blames you from their distance from people, feel it anyways. Allow yourself to be hurt without blaming.

Allow yourself to be human. Look at what others may call “weakness” as an incredible opportunity to empathize and validate others. Look at every feeling as a buy into humanity.

For those of you who feel for others too deeply: I know that it hurts, because you cannot fix the world. Feel it anyways; allow yourself to hurt for others, and then you will remember to be kinder and to try harder to be better. The pain is productive–feel it.

When you get too excited about successes, let yourself feel joy. I often protect myself from this one in order to prepare for potential future failures. Feel joy.

Feel sadness when you need to. Take a day or a week or a month to mourn.

Don’t let people silence you by telling you that emotion is weakness; it isn’t; it is incredible strength that makes you uniquely, beautifully connected. Feel as deeply as you can, and cherish the moments that it lends you.

Thank You, Stranger

Dec
28

Being a parent is tough. You hold this little kid in your arms having (literally) no idea what you should really do. This bewildered feeling, in my experience, has not gone away for the last eleven months of motherhood–new day, new huge question mark in the air following me around.

And you know what is mega helpful to me, as a loving and concerned parent?

When you, dearest stranger/family member/anyone other than my husband, tell me how to parent.

You have no idea how much of a relief it is to have you approach me and yell in my face: “SHOULDN’T THAT BABY BE WEARING A HAT?” It makes me feel warm and fuzzy and wonderful inside, knowing that you trust that I love my baby (who I carried for 40 weeks in my uterus, pushed out of me, and have spent every moment of her life with) more than you do.

Haha, just kidding. Don’t test me right now. Don’t tell me to put a hat, a coat, a blanket, or a diaper on my baby, or my baby will be completely naked for the next year (or five years) of her life. Rolling around in the snow, eating the yellow snow actually, completely naked.

Back to the whole “being a parent is tough” bit. Man, I’m not kidding. Every mistake you make as a parent causes brain damage, according to google. There is no way to raise a little human without inflicting some serious amount of brain damage.

You let your kid cry? BRAIN DAMAGE.

You pick your kid up when crying? BRAIN DAMAGE.

You use a bottle instead of a sippy cup, OR a sippy cup instead of a bottle? BRAIN DAMAGE.

You feed your kid solids too early, too late, you use the wrong color car seat cover? BRAIN DAMAGE.

All of these things can be stressful if you let them get to you. Brain damage seems like a steep cost for getting the wrong car seat cover, but don’t risk it.

All of this aside, I can also confidently and without reserve say that the WORST part of parenting is the unsolicited advice. It is hilarious. It is as if every human in the world suddenly gets a say in how to best raise my kid. Which totally makes sense, seeing as they are all the one awake with her all night/changing diapers all day/etc etc…

I put together a little list, so you can know if you are an unsolicited advice-giver to young parents. If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, seek help, or just stop offering unsolicited advice.

A. Do you or have you ever started a sentence with the words “you should” to a young parent?

B. Do you or have you ever reacted negatively, (including body language such as eye rolling, shoulder shrugging, etc…) when a young parent does anything?

C. Do you or have you ever said the words “When I was young parent” in a condescending tone without being asked to speak that sentence?

D. Do you or have you ever approached anyone in Target, Walmart, or Home Depot to offer helpful ideas on how to raise a child, including but not limited to how to best feed, comfort, clothe or love their child?

You want to be helpful? Thank you. Go buy me diapers, or a cute outfit for my baby, or better yet, go get me some caffeine.

Xoxo, Kaylee