Faith

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I had an interesting experience after my last blog post. I had an anonymous commenter who chose to make sarcastic judgments about my intent and my character because she was seemingly offended by what she perceived to be my heartless judgment of others.

She was upset because she thought I was judging the two women whose conversation I used to help illustrate a point about our personal responsibility for our own happiness. She declared that I was judging them without knowing their intent or their backstories or their hearts. She essentially thought I was drawing mean conclusions without knowing the entire story.

I attempted to explain my actual intent, which only seemed to enrage her further. In the end, I ended up erasing our dialogue and turning off comments on my blog for awhile. I was truthfully kind of perturbed that someone would hide behind internet anonymity and insult me without knowing my intent or my backstory or my heart. The irony of the situation seemed to be completely lost on her.

But as annoyed as I initially was, the situation has had me thinking quite a bit about judgment.

Our society has accepted a really big lie. It is now a common belief that we cannot make judgments between right and wrong. We can't judge situations. We can't judge actions. We can't judge the things people say or do. Because to do so would be to judge them. And it might hurt their feelings to know that we disagreed with that particular choice.

I apparently can't disagree with same-sex marriage without hating homosexuals. I can't be repulsed by abortion without offending the women who think it's their right. I can't be disgusted by rape or murder or lying or cheating without it being taken as my personal condemnation of the offender. And I most certainly can't say that we're responsible for our own happiness without upsetting the masses and being declared a hypocrite.

But we absolutely can judge those things. And we should. It is our duty to draw those lines in the sand. We're supposed to stand for all that is right and good. We do that by making judgments. We make judgments every day. The Savior himself has shown us how.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.     (Moroni 7:15-16)

Judgment is not only okay, but necessary.

Sometimes people feel that it is wrong to judge others in any way. While it is true that we should not condemn others or judge them unrighteously, we will need to make judgments of ideas, situations, and people throughout our lives.     (True to the Faith)

We have to go back to understanding the difference between judging between right and wrong and judging or condemning an individual. To judge a person we would most definitely need a backstory. We would need to know the state of their heart and their intent. And the truth is, we won't have sufficient knowledge of those things, even about our own spouses. Ever. That's why that final judgment is left to the One who knows all.

We don't, however, need to know any of those things to make a distinction between good and evil or right and wrong. We are given the light of Christ so that we have the ability to make those judgments every second of every day.

I can stand toe to toe with an abortionist and declare that what they're doing is wrong. I can make that distinction without knowing a thing about who they are or where they've been. And I can make that distinction without judging the person and condemning them to eternal misery. That's not my job.

But it is my job to defend light and truth and all that is good in this world. It's everyone's job.

I can say that we are responsible for our happiness because God says that we are. I can say that it's not right for any of us to shift that responsibility elsewhere. And I can do it without condemning myself or condemning the two women at school that morning. I can recognize the wrongness of it every time I do it and every time someone else does it. It's called spiritual discernment and I hope I always live in such a way that I retain that ability.

All of that aside, I honestly do try to be kind and compassionate. I don't feel like I've ever used my blog to condemn anyone or to make them feel badly about themselves. If I have ever done that I sincerely apologize  and would hope that someone would tell me so kindly. As I told that commenter, I write this blog in the hopes that people will leave here uplifted, even if it's simply because they could laugh at my kids' antics.

Her only response was "Heaven help anyone you're trying to uplift." My only reply is this: If you sincerely feel that way, please don't read my blog. I'm serious. Please, don't. I don't aim to make anybody feel like a lesser version of themselves. I am full of my own faults and my intent is never to pretend like I'm not.

I will, however, not stop sharing what I know to be true. I will continue to defend what I know to be right even if it offends every person that I know and even if I can't always live up to it myself. Right is right and wrong is wrong and there's nothing about that that's meant to be offensive.

Note:Blog comments have been enabled once again. I sincerely do care about what others have to say, even when they don't agree with me. I do like for my blog to be an uplifting place, however, and therefore comments containing vulgarity and profanity will not be published. I would also prefer an absence of rude sarcasm, whether you agree with me or not, but as one of my friends said, it says more about you than it does about me, so those comments will be still be allowed through unless they contain one of the aforementioned "forbiddens." 

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Last week I dropped my first grader off for her first day of school. She was feeling a bit nervous and wanted me to take her. And I secretly dread the start of every school year so I was more than happy to comply and bask in the glow of being needed. It was especially helpful to my ego that she clung to me and wanted me to stay in her class. I talked all about her bravery and her love of school and we both moved on.

On my way back down the hallway there were two moms that I assumed had just completed such a mission engaged in conversation. Hence my surprise at the tone and direction of said conversation. It became abundantly clear that they were there to pass the buck, to shift this endless responsibility of parenting elsewhere. I didn't exactly mean to listen to their "private" conversation the entire way out of the building, but as they stomped and fumed and vented behind me I couldn't exactly help it.

One mother was adamant that she was going to switch her child to another district because she has "these same issues every year." At first I was wondering how you could possibly have issues before the first bell of the school year even rang. But mom #2 cleared up my confusion. "Seriously! I called yesterday and chewed them out until they switched my daughter into the class with the male teacher. I mean, she has no male influence in her life and she doesn't listen for crap. Maybe he can fix her. I'm so sick of them not doing what's best for my kid." Uh . . . surely I'm not hearing this correctly.

But I was. I heard it loud and clear. And it's the same thing I hear everywhere. Somebody else is responsible for our happiness. Nothing is anybody's problem. The responsibility is someone else's. Our children's behavior. Their success. Our success. Our behavior. Our happiness. Blame when the said area of our life is less than stellar can be swiftly and easily placed elsewhere, anywhere really, but it never seems to be placed right where it belongs.

We, as a society, have literally wiped away a basic truth from our existence. Maybe "wiped away" is extreme. Maybe "chosen to ignore in all of our narcissistic glory" would be more appropriate here. But we have failed to take responsibility for ourselves. We have failed to be the masters of our own happiness. We've shifted that responsibility to a plethora of external stimuli, blaming everyone and everything and every circumstance.

Please, let's be clear, happiness is a state of being, not a result of being.

Honestly, anyone in any circumstance can be happy. That might be tough to hear, but it's the truth. And this is something God intended for us to figure out. The most critical part of our existence falls squarely on our own shoulders. That misery that we feel that we claim to be unable to do anything about is completely ours to own. We parade around sporting our victimhood as if it's the blue ribbon of a hard knock life, earning us the right to wallow and to complain and to blame. We do it because we're weak.

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.   - 2 Nephi 2:26

Did you hear what he said? We're free. Free to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon. Our freedom to choose gives us the ability to control the very state of our existence. We do not fall prey to misery because of circumstance or outside influence, and we most certainly do not stumble upon happiness as we bound through fields of butterflies and rainbows. We're stronger than that. And we've been created to be more powerful than that.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm an angry grump because my kids choose not to listen or because my husband doesn't do exactly what I think he should. I choose misery because sometimes things are hard and it's easier to wallow in self pity than it is to choose to find the inner strength and character to rise above it.

Look, I get it. We are frequently victims; victims of circumstance, victims of crime, and even victims to the poor decisions of myriads of other people. But I'll tell  you what. We are NOT victims to misery. We voluntarily join that club.

Happiness is my responsibility and it's your responsibility. It's not my husband's job to "make me happy." The responsibility doesn't fall to your child's teacher. It doesn't fall to my friends or to your neighbor down the street. My children's momentary disobedience doesn't send me spiraling head first into a pool of misery. I voluntarily dive right in.

We're suddenly failing to take responsibility for everything. We act like helpless pawns being forced to agonizingly suffer through life. We shift blame to all sorts of places where it doesn't belong.

The truth is simple. It's been the truth since the beginning.  We are free; free to choose, free to act, and free to be. We're free to be miserable, but we're also free to be happy. We don't need to be bogged down because of the decisions or behaviors of others. We don't need to despair because life is hard. We can choose happiness every morning when we wake up. And we can continue to choose happiness under whatever circumstances we may be in.

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Lying about it would be futile. The reality is that I spend an enormous amount of time thinking about my children. I put a lot of mental, emotional, and spiritual effort into them. I worry over them, I pray for them, and I try to anticipate problems. I do my best to teach them the principles of courage and strength, obedience and faith.

Lately, as I've watched the state of this country spiraling out of control at an ever increasing rate I've darn near had a panic attack because of them. The political chaos, the rapid moral decline, and the attacks on our God-given freedoms leave me feeling almost desperately afraid when I focus on them too much.  And by too much I mean any longer than 3 minutes.

I've sat around wondering how my children are going to survive it. I've prayed for answers on how to help them survive it.

I didn't discover a magical solution, but I did remember a time-tested one.

There's so much more going on with a tree than what we see on the surface. The healthiest trees have root systems underneath the ground that are larger than what is visible. These trees have extensive and efficient tangles of roots that not only nourish them, but that also help all that is visible to withstand the blows. Trees make sure that there is the same amount of work, if not more, going on underneath the surface.

About 65 years before Christ, Helaman led an army of young, teenage boys to battle in defense of Captain Moroni's Title of Liberty. That Title of Liberty was flown throughout the land. It said, "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children." This battle had raged on for years when these young boys joined the fight.

But even a man as faithful as Helaman was nervous about these boys. He didn't want to lose any of them in battle. However, his observation of them helped quench some of his fears. "Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it."

When the Lamanites surrendered as prisoners of war, Helaman went to count how many of those 2,000 boys he had lost."But behold, to my great joy, there had not one soul of them fallen to the earth; yea, and they had fought as if with the strength of God; yea, never were men known to have fought with such miraculous strength; and with such mighty power did they fall upon the Lamanites, that they did frighten them; and for this cause did the Lamanites deliver themselves up as prisoners of war."

History has taught me two incredible lessons. First is that even amidst incredible fear, deep roots of faith instill courage and hope. The faith of these boys didn't grant them some invisible force field that guaranteed their protection. But what their faith did do was give them the courage to fight. It gave them the courage to lose because truthfully, they knew that even had they lost that battle, they were still winning an even greater one. Their motivation to fight was greater than any possible outcome.

The second thing I've learned that has planted itself firmly in my heart is the incredible power of a faithful mother.

I have come to know that faith is a real power, not just an expression of belief. There are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother. -Boyd K. Packer

So to mothers and fathers everywhere: Hang onto hope. We are not helpless. We don't have to sit idly by while a decaying world steals our children. We have power; power granted to us from on high; power to lift and power to save. The conversations and the prayers and the scriptures that are being shared in our homes will do more to combat the insanity that is occurring every day than any amount of worrying ever will. Be courageous. Be faithful. Make sure you leave no question in the hearts of your children about the reality of your faith or the power of the Savior of mankind to save. Stand on the winning side, regardless of how small that side becomes. Victory is certain. Just make sure there is more good happening underneath the surface than storm raging up above.

 

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It's taken me days to write this post, not necessarily because I haven't had time to finish it, but because my feelings have been raw and my mind restless.

WRDD A couple of days ago was World Rare Disease Day (WRDD). Rare diseases touch so many lives. And these diseases seem to be multiplying at an ever increasing rate. I haven't heard of most of them, nor can I attempt to pronounce their names.

I'd never even heard of PLEVA (Pityriasis Lichenoides et Varioliformis Acuta) until my son woke up one day, suddenly in its grasp. And while WRDD is meant to inspire and raise awareness for so many of this Earth's strongest warriors, it also left me feeling somewhat melancholy. It left me thinking for too long about the disease that has taken up residence in my sweet son. The fact that there is even a need for such a day sprinkles salt into an already gaping wound.

Prior to the 28th I'd already been obsessively thinking about Tanner's disease and his future more than I would care to admit.

Thanks to a dear friend of mine that connected us, I am suddenly in contact with another mother of a child with PLEVA. We chit chatted via social media about this horrible disease. For the first time since Tanner's diagnosis I felt like we weren't silently fighting this battle alone.  We were suddenly part of a team, however small it may be, fighting this beast together. It was uplifting.

But it was also sobering. This little girl has been fighting for a year longer than Tanner and she's right in the thick of it.  Tanner's in the middle of a slight reprieve and it's been easier to ignore for a little while. This little girl even sees the same doctor at Seattle Children's. The scariest part is that her current reality is a look into our most likely future.

The rosy picture painted by our doctor was most likely wishful thinking. In the event that Tanner never has another full blown flare, that might be how our future will look. She was probably being hopeful and extending that hope to us.

When I checked him the other day he had 11 spots in various stages. If we get to 20 active spots he starts chemotherapy. It's the only time in my life I've ever been truly frightened by numbers.

This sweet, little girl has been on chemotherapy for 17 months already. And she was just barely able to successfully lower the dose for the first time. And yes, it's a lower dose than what a cancer patient would be administered so she still has all of her hair, but she gets really sick and exhausted and had to be pulled from school. She receives monthly cancer screenings because the risk of mutation is higher. Listening to this sweet mother explain her daughter's situation to me opened up every fear that use to overcome my thoughts. I felt my hope waning. Realistically, this will be our life.  This will be Tanner's life.

I am not without hope. I have hope in the Savior of mankind. I trust that all things work for our ultimate good and that things are as they should be. But my humanity and my motherhood have no problem screaming at the top of their lungs that this whole situation is a far cry from fair. It's humbling to submit my will to God when this avenue is so contrary to everything that I want for Tanner. I am certain that my Father in Heaven and I have the same end result in mind when it comes to our son and I am even more certain that He knows better than I the best route to get us there. But in my weakness I am incredibly afraid of the path He's chosen.

On days like World Rare Disease Day, days where I don't want to close my eyes for fear of my own thoughts . . . on those days I humbly have to acknowledge that there are powers in force far beyond my capacity to control. I humbly declare that God loves my son more than I do and He is fully aware of our needs during this life's journey. He is conscious of that feeling of fear that lingers just underneath the surface of my every day life and never goes away. He is keenly aware of all of us and in that I find peace.

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I've been absent from the blogging world for quite some time. It's quite shameful really. But hey, I was pregnant (and not pleasantly so) and I had my miracle baby. That's a story for another day, however.

Today when the school called me to come and pick up my sick Kindergartner I was barely phased. Normally a wrench such as this thrown into my already chaotic days would have sent me into a hyper stressed sort of inward panic. I would've been the perfect picture of calm and collected if you had seen me, however, because hey, being outwardly calm is one of my talents. But today I really was calm. It didn't matter that I was trying to work. It didn't matter that I was in the middle of homeschooling my 8 year old. It didn't even matter that I'd just taken my newborn out of the bath and was nursing him mid phone call.  All was well.

Why, you say? Because Seattle Children's Hospital has entered my life, that's why. Talk about an ideal relationship. They're perfect. Or at least close enough to perfect that you can blindly put them on a pedestal for the remainder of your eternal relationship.

Tanner1 blog

If you've read my blog for long you know that Tanner, my 7 year old, was diagnosed with PLEVA back in March. It's a rare autoimmune disease with flare ups lasting for months (or forever) that make you look like you have the chicken pox. It leaves terrible scars and is fairly unpredictable. It can mutate to lymphoma and we were told there was no cure. His diagnosis tore at this mom's heart. It's a tough thing to hear about your child.

We tried 2 different antibiotic treatments lasting for months that did nothing but weaken Tanner's immune system.  He was fatigued and caught everything under the sun. And he still had spots. It was awful and frustrating.

Finally our appointment with Seattle Children's came (there is quite the wait to get into the place because let's face it, nobody breaks up with the perfect significant other). Tanner and I went on Tuesday. It was heavenly.

Our doctor was phenomenal and hopeful. She said that Tanner had quite the impressive case of PLEVA from the looks of his scars (not the type of impressive you want to be). She also said that treating it with antibiotics was basically worthless and the last thing she would do. She treats PLEVA with a low dose chemotherapy drug. He'd be on the drug for 1 to 2 years. It's immunosuppressive and so he'd have to go off of it any time he was sick in order to heal, but the lengthy use of the drug stops the flare ups and then is used as a maintenance drug for awhile. Slightly scary, but at least it's something that works.

And in even better news, she told us that she has seen PLEVA burn out. I stared at her blankly. What does that mean? It means she's seen it cured. Not all the time. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime, but she's seen it go away. You know what that means? HOPE. One of the finest feelings in existence. Hope gives people reason to believe and to have faith and in this case, to breathe easy.

Oh, did you think that was it? Sorry, no. Are you ready for the news even better than that!? She's never seen it mutate to lymphoma. NEVER. NOT ONE TIME. She's not saying it can't or that it won't, but she is saying that she's never seen it happen. I could've kissed her. I think she knew it too because she told me my mama heart could rest easy for a bit. She even told me what to watch for if it were to mutate (we were previously told that lymphoma and PLEVA would look identical and that it'd be tough to know if it had mutated). Oh, be still my heart.

So, yes, my son still has a rare autoimmune disease. And yes, it may never go away. There are all sorts of terrible things that could happen. But his doctor is hopeful and confident and she has a plan; an effective plan that has worked for her many times before.

Tanner currently has only one new spot on his leg. Unless it flares up and he gets more spots, he doesn't have to be on the medication yet. We can rest easy and not have to feel the panic of the  uncertain every moment of every day. And if things turn south we have someone we can call. Someone who knows what to do, someone who's done this before.

Things don't always turn out the way we'd like them to. Sometimes they turn out exactly opposite of our ideal. Sometimes our hearts break and sometimes hope seems just out of our reach. But sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes we're blessed with little miracles. Sometimes things take a positive turn. And sometimes God has prepared other people to improve our journey and make it easier.

Thank you , Seattle Children's Hospital.

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I know I've been absent from the blogging world for a bit. I didn't mean to be. Life just went a little wild there for awhile. And I've come out of that wild a completely different person than I was when I went in.

First of all, the husband, four kids, and two dogs are not news. They were here before, right along with all of the busyness that our little family entailed. We were doing homework, dishes, and laundry. We were working and coaching and running to baseball practices and serving.

I wasn't pregnant then, however, and now I am. I am all smiles about this, lest you were wondering. I've been waiting on this little baby and couldn't be happier.

In the past I have had the worst pregnancies you could ever imagine. They were so awful, in fact, that my husband was driven almost to madness worrying about what this one would bring. I am happy to report that I am a walking miracle and that my head has not been found in a toilet even one time. At least not yet and I'll take it. I'm about 10 1/2 weeks now and my head would have normally been permanently in a toilet for the past 6 weeks. I can't say that I'm avoiding the nausea, but I am gratefully skirting the extreme.

Sometimes when we do what we should, even if we're overcome with fear and apprehension, even if we think we know the nightmare that we're voluntarily jumping into, blessings rain down from heaven. They just do. And everything works out just like you wanted it to.

And then sometimes it doesn't.

Our son, Tanner, who's six, has been suffering from a skin "ailment" for several months. We made a few trips to the pediatrician where he was diagnosed with and treated for a staph infection and then scabies, all with no relief. Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, I insisted we see a dermatologist.

The dermatologist they referred us to wouldn't take our insurance (of course . . . that would be too easy) and so I went in search of a new one. My gratitude has multiplied as I realized that the one we found has been perfect for my son.

He looked at Tanner for two seconds. Seriously two. And he knew what it was. "He has PLEVA. I'm certain of it. But only a biopsy will tell us for sure."

"Wait. What? What's that!?"

"Well . . . let's do that biopsy first and then we'll talk about it."

He was sidestepping me. He was mercifully trying to spare me any panic. He didn't know me yet though and couldn't have possibly known that I would go home and immediately research the whole thing. That's what moms do. It's not his fault that he's not a mother.

Panic set in right along with the reality of the situation. Tanner's skin matched the photos exactly. No wonder the doctor was so certain. It was as if I was looking at photos of my own son. The words unknown cause and no cure and can mutate to lymphoma kept swirling around in my brain.

So I'm going to tell you what I've learned about PLEVA in the three weeks that it took to get a biopsy and definitive results. PLEVA (pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta) is a rare autoimmune disease. Researchers have several theories, but the cause remains unknown. There is also no cure. Symptoms are treated into "remission" and can come back any time his whole life.

The symptoms are basically little ulcers all over his skin (in Tanner's case they're on his extremities and face . . . his trunk is unaffected). He honestly looks like he has the most terrible case of chicken pox you'll ever see. But he doesn't. Mercifully, Tanner's lesions don't itch or burn like some people's do. They're just there. And mercifully, because he's only six, he's not concerned about the appearance of these yet although he did ask me before baseball practice yesterday if people would laugh at him if he wore shorts and a tee shirt. I told him they wouldn't. And I hope that that will always be true.

He has to go on antibiotics for three months, along with using a topical cortisone-type cream. And they hope that will send it into remission. Other options are steroids or ultra-violet light treatments or oral chemo drugs. Ironically, all of the treatments are technically pretty bad for a person under normal circumstances. This is where the risk of mutation comes in. A lot of people have no luck with treatment except going to tanning beds. Enter lymphoma. Some have luck only with oral chemotherapy (which if their PLEVA has mutated to lymphoma will mask it and it will go undetected).

All of this has bombarded me with a huge amount of sadness and what seems like an infinite amount of fear. Tanner's six. Only six. It's not fair. He's too good and kind and patient to have to suffer with this. What if he doesn't respond to treatment? A lot of people don't. What if it mutates? It so easily can. This is my son. Nothing could have prepared me for this. 

But as I've watched my sweet son endure this already and as I've offered up numerous prayers to heaven, I've learned a couple of things.

God is always listening. He weeps when we weep and He lifts our wounded hearts. He knows what course through this life is best for Tanner and He knows which course is best for me and my family. He sends us that way. And we have two choices. We can rise up or we can fall. I think our Father in Heaven stands there, holding His breath on occasion, while we decide if we're going to rise up and lean on Him. This family will follow Him. We will trust Him to take us down whatever road will ultimately lead us back to Him . . . regardless of how bumpy and hard that road.

I've also learned that something as simple as a good attitude eases burdens. It sounds simplistic and dumb, I know, but it's the truth. I was with Tanner for his biopsy. They numbed him and then cut a chunk out of his arm and stitched him up. Tanner thought it was the coolest thing ever and didn't even flinch. He'd "never seen so much blood coming out of a real person!" (apparently different than the puddles he'd seen coming out of fake people??) A few days later, Hunter hit Tanner's arm and busted one of the stitches. "Oh great. Now I only have one stitch, thanks to Hunter. At least it's not bleeding!" Oh sure, hey, and it's only one more scar to add to the dozens you're already going to have. Then they cut out the remaining stitch and  pulled it from his arm. He didn't move an inch. The nurse said that little kids normally have to be held down and squirm all over the place. "You've got a tough kid." Yeah, I know it. And his attitude and lightheartedness are going to make this whole thing that much easier. I've been able to smile at medical procedures where I'd prefer to sit in the corner and cry. I'm going to try to be more like Tanner. It'll make it easier on everyone.

Anyway, I guess I didn't exactly say it, but his biopsy was definitive for PLEVA. The disease is on a spectrum and he's testing in the mid-low range, which is a blessing. The doctor also said that his current biopsy showed zero signs of large cell lymphoma. He was extremely excited about that and so was this mother.

So for now we take this one day at a time. We place our hope right where it belongs, but also realize that the will of God supersedes all else. And we're good with that. I trust Him infinitely. And hey, I'm going to do my best to not blow up like a balloon while I'm at it (thank you, baby). In all of my previous pregnancies I've gained 50-55 pounds. I'm shooting for 45 this time since I'm all about a positive attitude and optimism these days.

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I'm not a very eloquent speaker, especially when the words are coming from my heart and not my mind. But those words that are written all over my heart flow from my hands with complete ease. It's always been this way. So sometimes I don't speak up when I should. And sometimes I'm not so great at defending and sharing the truth.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself guilty of both. I sat in sacrament meeting (our church's congregational meeting where we also partake of the sacrament) listening to people bear testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew I should get up. I knew I had something important to share. But I didn't do it.

I'm hoping to redeem myself today.

More than fifteen years ago I went through one of the hardest times of my life. One of my dearest friends was in a fatal car accident. The experience shook me to the core, both emotionally and spiritually. And I'm ashamed to say it, but I ran. I ran away from everything that I knew to be true. I turned my back on my Savior and the principles of the gospel. It was more than I could handle.

I spent a couple of miserable years living my life that way, but through God's loving mercy I found my way back. And not only did I find my way back, but I did it with a much deeper understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of our loving Father in Heaven. My foundation was solid. And I've been unshakable ever since.

But recently I found myself in that place again. The details are very different, but the feeling of despair was the same. I felt my spiritual knees buckle and I knew I couldn't stay on my feet. I had done all I'd been asked and I knew I couldn't give one more thing. I'd reached my limit. My strength was gone. I felt myself giving up. I decided I was going to turn my back and run.

The difference this time was that I could hear how crazy I sounded. Even as I uttered my feelings of despair out loud I knew it wasn't right, but I couldn't shake it. Very thankfully, I had the sense to inform my Father in Heaven this time. Our relationship is such that I speak with Him frequently and my natural reaction was to tell Him every detail of the pathetic situation I found myself in.

So I did. I cried. I begged. I asked Him where my miracle was. I told Him that I didn't have the strength to do one more thing . . . whether He was the one asking or not. I told Him I was done.

He responded almost instantly as a scripture flashed into my mind. " . . . peace be unto they 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 . . . "

Well, sure. But those words were directed to Joseph Smith. THE prophet of the restoration of the gospel. He was special. He was stronger. 

Essentially I ignored the direction. I went about my business as usual, but with a feeling of desperation. I could see God's hand leading and helping everyone around me. But I couldn't see His hand extended to me. That scripture kept coming back to my mind and finally, almost screaming to myself, all of the despair came pouring out.

Is that supposed to make me feel better!? Joseph never got a reprieve. Not in this life anyway. His "small" moment lasted all of his shortened life. I can't do that. I'm at my limit. You're asking me to do more than I'm capable. I'm NOT strong enough.

My loving Father in Heaven answered instantly again on my behalf. Firm words came into my mind. Yes, you are! Hang on. Help is on the way.

I stopped dead in my tracks.

I don't know if any of you have ever passed out. It's only happened to me once, but as I was about to go down, I remember someone grabbing me underneath my arms and holding me up before all went black. I felt that way again. It was almost as if I was literally being held up as my spiritual knees buckled. I was strengthened. My situation had not changed, but my capacity to endure it had suddenly increased because I had an extra set of hands lending support. I felt a small glimmer of hope. It was real.

Look, I know that everyone tells you that God won't give you more than you can handle, but they're mistaken. He absolutely does. He has to. It's the only way He can help us to realize our need for His strength and mercy. It's the only possible way for us to learn how to rely on Him instead of on our own limited capability to endure the trials of this life.

We will absolutely be pushed until we break, whether once or multiple times. And it's at that breaking point that we make a decision. We decide whether we're going to run or whether we're going to let the Savior of mankind lift us up. If we can muster up even enough faith to shout at our loving Father in Heaven, telling Him we can't make it, telling Him that we feel ourselves quitting, help is on the way.

I bear my humble witness that you will be lifted in your times of direst need. These times of desperation are designed to reveal the loving power of God. They're there to bring light to the perfect Atonement of our perfect Brother. These times come to help us understand that we need Him. They're there to show us our weakness . . . and then to show us our strength when yoked with His mighty hands.

So if today is that day for you, the day you're certain you're going to drown, please trust me when I tell you to reach out your hand. Even if you can't see through the pain or the haze to know that someone is there waiting to grab it. Just reach out your hand. Even if you think it's the last thing you'll ever be capable of doing. And then feel free to cry tears of joy when you realize that the weight has lessened because someone else is helping to carry that load.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is an awe-inspiring reality, His gospel the power of God unto salvation. Trust in Him. And hang on for help is most surely always on the way.

Phil Robertson Freedom extends to all. Except through actions of a court of law, each and every one of us is granted an extensive amount of rights and freedoms by the Constitution of The United States of America. This constitution was designed to protect our God-given rights from oppression and tyranny.

Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty are all over the news and the internet. Phil was indefinitely suspended from his show for answering a GQ interview question about his views on homosexuality. Based on the outcome of answering that question honestly though the eyes of his faith, it would seem that if you fully embrace Christianity, then the only right you're currently granted is your right to remain silent. It's the only one you won't be punished for exercising.

There have been plenty of articles written about the absurdity of this situation, but I wanted to draw attention to a typical gay rights activist argument I've been seeing a lot of in response to those articles. It goes something like this:

Well, sure Phil Robertson has a right to say whatever he wants, but A&E is a business that also has rights and they have the right to portray whatever image they'd like!

Forgive the pause while I try not to snicker.

So let me get this straight, Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex union doesn't have the right to portray his business image in any way that he chooses. He is forced to participate in an event that he religiously and fundamentally disagrees with because business owners don't maintain individual liberties. But A&E is allowed to attempt to censor the Robertson's Christianity. They have the right to portray whatever image they so choose.

Elaine Huguenin, the New Mexico photographer who didn't want to photograph a same-sex union on her religious principles received the same response from the courts. She has to comply or be fined. She's discriminating. But A&E can essentially fire someone because they voice their religious beliefs. Because that's not discrimination or anything.

Are any of you listening to or processing your own arguments? If you are, are you just choosing to turn a blind eye towards the absolute hypocrisy of your absurdly contradictory statements? How convenient that must be for you.

It must be so convenient and comfortable to currently have the government and the law, however crooked and tyrannical they are, backing you up while you throw the biggest temper tantrum of your life. It must be so liberating to force your decisions on Christian America because, hey, if God's not going to agree with you then you're going to pretend that He does and attempt to force, by law, His followers to accommodate you. How wonderful for you.

But guess what? Don't forget that you have to lie in the bed you're currently making. The new precedents that are being set for you in the courts of America aren't always going to work so well in your favor.

First of all, this fit you're throwing will destroy entrepreneurial America. Nobody's going to go into business. They aren't going to want to deal with you forcing your agenda down their throats. They're not going to be strong-armed into supporting things that violate their moral standards. Christianity is not going to lie down and let you have your way.

Furthermore, according to what you're saying, no one has a right to reject business on any grounds. Because you're barreling your way through, demanding that not only does a law need to be passed that changes the fundamental foundation of our society, but everyone needs to like it and cater to you. The tide will turn. You're going to end up catering to groups and things that you completely disagree with because you insisted on this.

I'm a photographer. Should I have to promote same-sex marriage by taking images of a wedding when I completely disagree with it for numerous reasons? No. I shouldn't have to. Find someone who's not opposed to taking those photos for you. As it currently is, I announced this year that I'm no longer shooting weddings. I'm not going to sit here and be forced to do something so profoundly against my beliefs.

I'm also a writer. Should I be forced to write website content for the Westboro Baptist Church (assuming they have one . . . I don't know if they do and I refuse to even look) even though I find them offensive in every single way? No. I shouldn't have to. Find someone else who has no problem promoting that garbage. I will not utter a word in their favor, not in the name of business or anything else.

It is my right as a citizen of this country to reject any of those things. That's what it means to be free. I'm at liberty to say what I feel and to choose not to associate with things that offend me. Phil Robertson has those same rights. You have those same rights. If you don't like someone's views, don't listen or don't watch or just go somewhere else for crying out loud.

Quit granting freedom only to those who agree with you. Phil hurt your feelings? Walk away. Don't read his interview. Jack Phillips wouldn't make your wedding cake? You find that offensive? Go to a different baker. Elaine Huguenin wouldn't take your photos? How dare she disagree with you? Find someone who doesn't.

You spout off constantly about how God doesn't exist. Do you see a mass exodus of Christians filing into court to sue you? Are we trying to make you believe that He does? Are we trying to silence your opinion? No. Say what you want. We don't care. Why should you?

Believe in the Miracle There's a lot to feel hopeless about. I'm not going to deny it. The world is in complete turmoil, much of which is our own doing.

I'm alarmed by the choices of groups and governments. But I'm even more anxious about the personal choices and beliefs of billions of people. Because after all, it is our personal choices and beliefs that direct our governments and any other groups to which we belong.

Good has become evil and evil has become good. We knew that in the last days this would happen. The scriptures and the voices of prophets have told us that it would. All that is right is made to look closed-minded and awful. And those things which are inherently evil, the things which are contrary to the laws of a loving God, are made to look compassionate and loving and decent.

As a society we're trying to rewrite the rules. We walk around as if the fate of the world is in our hands. We currently live under the assumption that if the laws of God don't fit into our personal plans, we can change them. If the secular law is on our side then we must be right. If the majority agrees with us, then it must be because the minority is wrong and ignorant and foolish. We somehow believe that we can lambaste our way through the decrees and expectations of the God of us all.

We can't. I can't and you can't. It's a simple truth that can't be argued away: God is the Supreme Ruler over us and the ground on which we stand. Get used to it. And while you're getting used to it, try waking up. Seriously. Wake up. The fate of the world is not in your hands.

Look around you at what's happening and really let it sink in. Do we really think that as a civilization we can ignore its Creator and come out ahead? If we can convince enough of our peers that something that we want is our right, even when God says it isn't, do we win? Can we hand over our God-given agency to corrupt governments without consequences? Think about it. That victory is temporary.

Maybe you're like me. Maybe thinking about the state of this world for too long leaves you uncomfortably anxious. Maybe you just want to grab the majority by the shoulders and shake them and make them understand just what it is that they're doing.

I feel like that a lot, but I also feel something else. I feel something that even the direst of circumstances can't take away. I feel hope.

And that hope stems from the very reason that we celebrate this Christmas season.

Jesus the Christ, the Creator and Savior of the world, can teach us a lot about hope because He is our hope. He exemplifies it, He personified it when He walked amongst us, and He literally became it when He fulfilled His atoning mission.

As I think back on His entrance into this world, I can't help but feel the warmth and hope of that miracle. I can imagine that I was there, staring in wondering awe at the sign of the birth of the King of Kings. I can understand the joy that must have been felt by those who had been waiting for that holy birth.

For a long time I couldn't imagine what the extent of my horror would be as a nation crucified the Son of God. I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that so many were past feeling, that there were so many who failed to recognize in the gentle man from Nazareth truth and salvation. I couldn't understand the mockery of all that was sacred and the flippant way in which the Roman soldiers insulted and abused their own Savior. I couldn't fathom the storm the world suffered as the Heavens raged.

Now I'm an adult. With age comes wisdom, sometimes more of it than I'd like. After witnessing the last ten years I can fully understand how it happened. I've seen what happens when a civilization collectively turns their back on God. I can now fully grasp the significance of all of the tiny, little decisions that we make . . . the consequences of which are a closeness to God or a removal from Him. I can understand all of the natural disasters that we currently suffer as the Heavens rage over our refusal to follow the Lamb of God once more.

I get it. I'm awake. And it breaks my heart.

But the one thing that breaks my heart also brings peace to it. Everything is happening just as it was foretold. I've known about it my entire life, thanks to wonderful parents who are firm believers in the miracle that is Jesus the Christ. And I still know it now. I continue to spread that hope to my children and to anyone who will listen.

So at this wonderful season of the year, I want to express my gratitude for and faith in the Son of the Living God.

From the foundation of the world, a Savior was a necessary part of the plan of God. Our brother stepped forward. He willingly took the role that would cause Him unimaginable suffering and grief and He did it for us.

I can only imagine the rejoicing that occurred amongst those of us who weren't yet here and those of us who were. What a glorious day for all of mankind. That sweet baby with the humblest of beginnings, set apart by His Godly mission and the angels who heralded His coming. I rejoiced. I know I did. And His birth still causes me to rejoice today.

I find hope and peace in my Savior, Jesus Christ. He's the One, the only One, who can make all that goes wrong, right. He's the One who will come again. He's the One who is mighty to save. All that He promised and all that He said will come to pass. The fate of the world is in His hands, not ours.

So during this most wonderful time of the year, we have as much reason as we ever have to celebrate the birth of the Son of God. He is our constant hope. Believe in Him. Believe in the miracle. In it you will find the peace that will carry you through whatever may come.

As featured in The Reflector:

Last week I spoke at an activity for a bunch of women at our church. The theme involved being a light in the darkness, essentially being figures of hope.

Hope has been on my mind a lot lately. I shared with them a conversation I’d had with my little sister. She and I had been talking a lot about the moral and political state of our country and were feeling quite forlorn over it. We worried for our children and the battles they would have to face because of it.

Then we talked about how we believed in something better. We discussed how we believed in the human race and how we knew goodness and morality were still there. We ended up feeling a little perplexed about the fact that the voices representative of that morality and goodness, including our own voices, are strangely silent in comparison to the opposition.

I possess a lot of hope. Even when things seem irreparable or hopeless I’m still capable of feeling it. A significant portion of my hope rests in God, but I’m also inspired by my confidence in others. I’m confident that there are good people in the world. I’m confident that those people don’t have to be forced into kindness and caring. I’m confident that there are people who still possess the capacity to be moral compasses to those around them. I’m optimistic that people can still differentiate between right and wrong. I’m optimistic that when given the opportunity, those people will choose all that is good and right and moral.

So if I’m confident that these people exist, if I’m hopeful in the goodness that still remains in this world, then why aren’t I hearing more of it? Why aren’t I sharing more of it?

I told my sister that sometimes my silence stems from the fact that I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I don’t want people to find my stance offensive or rude. I don’t want anyone to feel like I might be trying to force my religion or my opinions on them.

But guess what? With hope comes responsibility. I strongly feel that the two are inseparable. If we feel hope and confidence in humanity, then we should be spreading that hope. If we feel optimism in regards to the morality of our nation, then we should be encouraging and sharing that hope out loud. If we find hope in the God of us all, then we should be sharing it. It’s our responsibility.

It’s amazing to me how tolerant we are of the voices of dissent and immorality and irresponsibility. No one questions their right to voice their opinion. They’re screaming loudly and everyone is listening.

Yet those with a message of goodness and hope are comparatively silent. We feel our hope inwardly. We share it with our inner circles. And even when our morality is yelling at our souls, that what we’re hearing is not right, we sit silently at the risk of offending the supposed majority. And the supposed majority engages in fighting our right to share our beliefs and our hope, in the way that they so freely share theirs.

You know, I was amazed as I spoke to these women. There were about fifty of them and they weren’t from the congregation that I attend, but from a neighboring one. So some of them I knew and some of them I didn’t. But what amazed me was that as I looked around, I could see the hope in the eyes of every single one. And if there’s that much hope right here in the middle of nowhere, I have to believe that there’s that much hope everywhere else too.

The hopeful need to start talking more loudly than they are. I told my sister that I feel almost guilty that I’ve been so reserved and quiet on the source and subject of my hope. If immorality can spread like wildfire, morality can too. If irresponsibility can be made to look good, then responsibility can be made to look as good as it once did. Honesty, integrity, loyalty, hard work . . . all of them can make a comeback. I believe that. I believe there is still good in the world.

I’m a mother. I have children. Four of them. There are four, lovely, little people living in my home. I want them to grow up feeling hopeful. I want them to recognize what’s right when they see it. I want them to embrace morality and goodness and kindness. And I want them to be strong enough to share what they’ve acquired with the rest of the world.

If I want those things for my children then I have to 'be' those things for my children. Children are what they hear and do what they see. They have to hear my voice in chorus with the rest. They have to see me defend all that is right. So my silence is ending today.