Friday, February 7, 2014

Learning the Atonement--Come to the Master

As I mentioned in my last post, the Atonement is my favorite topic within the Gospel.  It is the idea that really saved my life spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.  It is the foundation upon which I have continued to build my testimony of the Gospel, and it is the means by which I have been able to continue to grow.  I am incredibly grateful for those things which my Savior has done for me to take away all of my pain, my friends, and my guilt.

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that Alma 36 is perhaps my favorite chapter within the Book of Mormon because it really is a pattern of my life and how I feel about the Savior.  Before I truly allowed Him into my life and let Him help me, I truly felt that I was much like Alma the Younger.  I was constantly racked by the memory and guilt of my sins. I always felt unworthy at church, and I felt unworthy to do many of the duties and responsibilities which were before me.  During my darkest time, I even felt unworthy to pray to the Lord, to unworthy for His love.  That night when I received such a powerful witness of my Savior's love for me.  The pain immediately began to subside, and I knew that His love could bring me through and bring me healing.  Since that night I have tried as best as I could to share the love of God with others.  I just wanted to be good all the time, and never turn back to my sins.  It's interesting that the entire Book of Mormon is basically a giant chiasmus, and Alma 36 is the center of this chiasmus.  Alma 36 itself is a chiasmus, the center of which is verses 17 and 18.  In these verses Alma recalls the memory of Jesus Christ and the power which He had to save us from our sins.  Christ and His Atonement are truly the center of this Gospel.

My favorite scripture of all time is Alma 7:12-13.  I love this scripture because it made the Atonement so personal to me.  I first found this scripture randomly one night while reading my scriptures.  In my infinite wisdom, I didn't write it down, but I remembered what it said.  I finally found it again many months later.  The thing that I love about this scripture is that it says that Christ would take in himself all our infirmities, which includes our pains, sorrows as well as sins, so that He would know what we feel.  Because He knows how we feel, He can heal us.  Through this scripture I came to know that He knew exactly how I felt, including those feelings of loneliness.  He knew my pain, and He wanted to help me get rid of that pain.

Because of life's situations, I moved back to Burley last August.  I came back to Logan to hear all of my choir friends sing at the Logan Tabernacle early in the semester.  They sang a song titled Behold the Wounds in Jesus' Hands.  I loved this song as soon as I heard it.  I was extremely pleased when I got to join Latter-Day Voices again to sing it with them.  As I began rehearsing the song, something caught my attention in the last verse.  Here are the words:

Behold His wounded hands and feet!
Come touch, and see, and feel
The wounds and marks that you may know
His love for you is real.
Then as you fall to worship Him
And wash His feet in tears,
Your Savior takes you in his arms
And quiets all your fears.
It's kind of hard to describe what I heard, but I will attempt to show you because I think it is really cool.  In the music the second through fourth lines are punctuated: Come touch and see and feel.  The wounds and marks that you may know His love for you is real.  However, Brother Salmond directs it differently.  I'm not sure this is done intentionally or not, but the way I heard the words was: Come touch and see and feel the wounds and marks that you may know.  His love for you is real!  I just love this way of looking at the words.  Those wounds and marks which Christ bears are the result of Him taking our pains and our sins.  Put another way, our pains caused the wounds of Christ, they are the same wounds which we create when we sin.  In this way we can look upon the Savior and recognize specific wounds which He bears in ourselves because they are the wounds we carry.

I just want to throw these two conference talks in here.  I don't really have too much to say about them because it is Elder Holland speaking.  The first one is one of my all-time favorite conference talks.  It describes many of these things which I have been writing about Christ feeling our pains, sorrows, and loneliness.

This one is a talk that my Bishop had me read as we continued to meet together.


O Divine Redeemer

Last year in Latter-Day Voices we spent much of the year singing about the Savior.  I loved pretty much every song we sang, but my favorite from the entire year was O Divine Redeemer.  This was my favorite because it was so personal to me.  It was pretty much my life summed up in a single song.  I remember those nights approaching Heavenly Father in prayer pleading for Him to receive me even though I was unworthy.  I remember those times when darkness gathered all around me, and I just felt lost and alone.  However, I also know the sweet joy that comes when the Savior took away my sins and pains.  I just love this song so much.

One of my absolute favorite places to go, especially when I was younger, was the visitor's center on Temple Square to visit the Christus.  I always loved going to see it and hear the words of Christ read.  I often begged to go to Temple Square just to see it.  I loved it so much that I always carried around a small picture of the Christus in my scriptures for years.  I now have a small Christus which I received for Christmas several years ago.  Every time I moved, I made sure that it was someplace where I could easily look to it as a constant reminder for me of the love of Christ.  I am eternally grateful for all that He did for me, and all that He will continue to do for me.  I am grateful that He was willing to suffer through the Atonement so I could find peace in my own life.  The power of the Atonement is real.  It is accessible to all.  Christ gave us all the opportunity to receive its blessings.  All we have to do is accept Him as our Lord and Savior, come unto Him, and strive to be like Him.

A couple years ago, I was in a Book of Mormon class at the Logan Institute.  In this class we were discussing Alma 37.  In verses 6-7, we read that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.  I soon found out that this had great meaning in my life.  After my witness that Jesus was my Savior and Redeemer, it was not anything big to help me overcome my addiction.  Rather, it was the continued small things which helped lead me in the path of discipleship.  Reading my scriptures daily, praying daily, attending church meetings, magnifying my calling, serving others, etc.  These things gave me the power, through the Atonement, to overcome my weaknesses in this issue.

I would plead with anybody who reads this who carries pains, sorrows, and burdens to come to Christ and allow Him to take your burdens from you.  He doesn't want you to carry them alone.  He wants to help you.  There is always hope.  I spent much of my life feeling beyond the reach of His arms of love, but I can testify that you are never too far beyond His reach.  He is always there to catch you when you fall.  He is the way to happiness.

*I just want to stick a quick note here.  I'm really sorry about any ramblings, poor organization, whatever in this post.  I have learned and continue to learn just how massive the Atonement is.  I probably have more I wanted to say, but I felt that I needed to get this posted as quickly as I could.  I will most likely come back and edit this post at some point.

I also want to again thank everyone for the love and support which you've shown me through this series of posts.  It was not an easy thing, but I think it was the right thing.  You've all shown me just how loved I truly am.  You are all amazing people, and I love learning from you.  I will probably be writing more posts on the Atonement later, but I think I'm ready to move on to something else for a little while.  These posts put a bit of a toll on me, so I think it's time to write about something else (unless I feel impressioned otherwise).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Learning the Atonement--Addendum

So, this isn't the fourth part which I wrote about at the end of the last part, but I needed to make sure that I wrote this little note quickly.  It was praying on my mind all of last night.

First of all, I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for the love and support that came my way with my posts yesterday.  It really helped me see how many people out there love me.  The response that I received is another example of why I love you all and love the Gospel.  So, thank you all again!

I just wanted to point out that the response I received kind of threw my plan for this series out the window.  I originally had intended to write 2-4 posts detailing my story over several days.  The first post was just a look into what I faced.  The rest of the posts would be filled with the things I learned, scriptures, conference talks, etc. as I told the rest of my story.  However, within a few hours I started receiving messages and calls sharing help for my problems.  I loved the response.  The only problem is that my problems are in the past, and I have long since moved past them.  Please don't lose any sleep over me because of my posts yesterday.  I am fine now, and always trying to be an upstanding human being.

I just wanted to quickly write about why I've done this to bring people back around and preview my next post.  I love the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  It is my favorite topic of the Gospel because it saved me, as told in my last few posts.  I wanted to share my story of healing through the power of the Atonement.  When I originally thought and planned out my posts about this topic, I hadn't planned on sharing specifically what my sin was, but pornography is a great disease right now in our lives.  It affects just about everyone in one way or another, and I know that many people in the church struggle with it.  I decided to share my struggles in the hopes that someone might read it and come to know that healing is very much possible through the power of the Atonement.  The next post, which may be a few days from now will better look at many of the things I learned throughout my struggles.  It is really the meat of this series, and the reason why I wrote this post in the first place.

Thanks again everyone, but please don't lose any sleep over this.  If you haven't already read it, here is part 3 where I overcame my addiction.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Learning the Atonement--All the Difference

In my fourth semester at USU (Spring 2011), I did something that I hadn't done before while at USU.  I sat myself down and forced myself to sign up for Institute.*  I signed up for a Book of Mormon class with Brother Salmond and I decided to give the Institute Choir a try.  I soon realized that both of these choices were very inspired decisions.  These two classes were both instrumental in my recovery.

About a month into Institute Choir, we had our first performance entitled The Lord of the Small held at the Logan tabernacle.  I was still somewhat unsure about my like/dislike for the choir at this point.  If I remember correctly, the Institute Choir sang three numbers that night, and Latter-Day Voices sang a couple as well.  The Institute Choir sang I Know That My Redeemer Lives, I Stand All Amazed, and both choirs sang The Lord of the Small.  The songs were to be sung in some order, interspersed with three guest speakers; however, one of the speakers didn't come to the fireside.  I'm not sure if it was ever found out why, but at the last minute the order of the program changed.  We ended up starting the meeting off with I Know That My Redeemer Lives.  Before I describe my experience this night, I would just like to make it known that I personally never cared too much for this hymn.  I've never been able to explain why, but for some reason I just didn't like it too much.

The arrangement of the hymn was very simple, and the men were to sing the second verse alone.  Here are the words we were singing:

He lives to grant me rich supply.
He lives to guide me with his eye.
He lives to comfort me when faint.
He lives to hear my soul's complaint.
He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
He lives to calm my troubled heart.
He lives all blessings to impart.
As we began singing this verse, I suddenly felt as though I was hit by a wrecking ball of the Spirit.  In that instant, I knew that Jesus Christ was my Savior.  I knew that He suffered the pains I had been carrying with me for so many years, and I knew that He would help me find healing if I accepted Him as my Savior.  I am the type of person that just doesn't cry.  I don't really know why that is the case.  I will occasionally tear up a bit, but they hardly ever come out.  At this time, I just couldn't help it, and I full on cried.  I was seriously bawling through the rest of the song.  I somehow was able to sing through the rest of the song, but I just felt so much joy, happiness, and peace at that moment.  This was the night that just changed my life forever.  I will always remember it very distinctly.

I just wanted to touch a moment on my Book of Mormon class.  Similar to my feelings about choir pre-fireside, I was unsure about this class.  Remember that I was a person who was broken in many ways, especially socially.  I was really quiet and wanted to hide in the back of everything to be completely unnoticed.  Brother Salmond is not quiet.  I soon came to love this class though.  I learned so much about the power of the Book of Mormon and of the Gospel while in this class.  It seemed like so often Brother Salmond came into class telling us that he wasn't planning on sharing something from the Book of Mormon, but he just felt that he needed to teach that principle.  Pretty much every time he did this, he was speaking to my needs about some great principle on the Atonement.  One thing that really changed my life came from 1 Nephi 4.  Here in the scriptures Nephi cuts off the head of Laban (1 Nephi 4:18).  We had a lengthy discussion in class about cutting off our heads of Laban which prevent us from progressing in the Gospel.  My personal head of Laban was pretty easy to identify.  I learned a ton in his class, so much so that I wanted to re-take this class when I returned to Logan in January.  I will probably share some of the things I learned in future posts.

With these two institute classes, I was able to make decisions in my life to stop defending the problem and instead go after it and attack it.  I still hadn't been ordained an Elder as of yet because I just didn't feel right about it.  I didn't feel anywhere near enough worthy to do that.  My Bishop had the secretary set up an appointment to discuss this situation.  I wasn't sure why I was asked to set up an appointment beforehand, but as I walked to the appointment, I just felt very heavy.  I leveled with the Lord and told Him that if the opportunity presented itself, I would discuss my addiction with my Bishop.  The Spirit took over in the meeting, and I came clean.  As I walked home afterward, I just could not stop smiling.  I was so happy.  I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders.  Looking back at those couple hours, I realize that my life followed very closely to the pattern of Alma 36, which is probably my favorite chapter in the Book of Mormon, if not all scripture.

During this semester my growth everywhere, but especially spiritually, just took off.  I just could not seem to be stopped.  I met with my Bishop a few times to discuss my sins.  It was such an amazing feeling to be able to honestly answer that there were no issues when being interviewed for my ordination, my temple recommend, and my patriarchal blessing recommend.  A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, I was ordained as an Elder.  By this time I was roughly three months into my latest string of freedom from pornography, something that would last me through the summer.

I had a very small relapse during the fall semester.  That is exactly how I looked at it.  A small setback, not a major disturbance.  My growth was continuing greatly.  I was serving in my favorite calling, where I served as a Vice President of the Institute Choir.  I loved the calling so much, and I was able to feel the Spirit so strong.  I was becoming so busy that I really didn't have much time to be around pornography.  On November 19, 2012, I intentionally viewed pornography.  Two days later, I was finally set apart in my calling.  About this time, we set a goal as a music council that we would all set an example for the two choirs by reading from the scriptures seven days a week.  I took on the challenge, one that with a few odd days in the bunch, I carry with me to this day.  November 19, 2012 was my last intentional brush with pornography.  I can honestly say that I have been clean from using pornography for over two years now.  It is such a freeing thought to me.  The Atonement works, and it can help anybody with anything!

That is where I will end this part.  There will be one more part where I discuss some of the aftermath, and I will gather my learnings from this period of my life.  I realize that I skimmed over a lot of stuff in these three posts, I'm sure that there are things which I really wanted to share but didn't end up doing so.  If I think of anything like this I will share in some ways.  I just wanted to get my story out there.  I tried to give you over ten years of history here people.  I'm only human after all.

*I just wanted to add kind of a fun little story here.  It really has nothing to do with the bigger topic, but it is something that still tickles me to this day.  I forced myself to sit down and sign up for Institute over Christmas Break 2010.  I hadn't really sung much outside the confines of my own walls at this time  One night during the break, I had a dream that I was singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I knew many of the people in the choir which consisted of people I knew from Burley as well as Logan.  Okay, so it may not have been the Tabernacle Choir, but it was my dream folks, so I will say it was the Tabernacle Choir.  We were, however definitely singing in the conference center.  In my dream we sang two songs, I don't know what either of them were.  What I do remember is that I knew the first one, and sang it accordingly.  The second, I did not know, but since I was singing in the Tabernacle Choir, I just mouthed the entire thing to avoid looking like some kind of idiot.  A few days after this dream, I signed up for Institute Choir, not thinking about the dream.  Fast forward to the Institute Choir.  That semester, unbeknownst to me, the men of Logan Institute got the opportunity to sing at the Priesthood Session of conference.  I actually got to sing in the conference center, which was beyond cool by the way.  The other interesting thing is that at the fireside I wrote about in this post, we sang, unplanned Go Ye Now in Peace at the end of the fireside.  Because it was unplanned, we hadn't rehearsed it.  I had never heard the song in my life, so I just stood there in the choir loft mouthing along, trying not to look like an idiot.  In the process I probably looked kind of like an idiot.  Again nothing really important, but something I found quite interesting.

Learning the Atonement--Here is Hope

The night when I questioned having a testimony.  I set out on a bit of a journey to find what I did or did not believe.  It was not an easy journey, but I knew that I needed to know what I believed.  I made a more concerted effort to read my scriptures and pray.  I made a journal to help me figure a lot of things in my life out.  In many ways I felt like I was back in primary.  My issues were still there, but I noticed that things were improving somewhat in that regard.  I still wasn't attending church in Twin Falls, but I did go when I returned to Burley, which happened fairly frequently that semester.

In May 2008, I graduated with my degree from CSI.  I officially finished my degree in the summer of 2008, with a degree heavily tied to the construction industry.  Because of the joys of the economy during this time, jobs completely disappeared, and I moved back to Burley with my parents.  This soon became one of the longest periods of my life.  I found it difficult to feel much self-worth when I was creating nothing to society.  I soon found myself being overtaken by depression a bit again.  Unfortunately, one of the escapes that I turned to was pornography.  The progress that I had been making went completely out the window, and I relapsed in a big way.

Through a series of events in December/January, which I may talk about in a future blog, I decided to return to school, and I decided to attend Utah State as an engineering major.  In January 2009 I also started a new calling in my home ward.  I started teaching the 12/13 year old Sunday school class, the subject of which was Teachings of the Prophets--I can't remember the exact name, but it's something similar.  For those who don't know it is a class which teaches the basics of the Gospel.  What better way to re-learn the Gospel than teaching the basics?  This calling really helped me during this time, it helped with my lack of self-worth, and the additional time studying the Gospel helped me feel the love of the Savior in my life.  This started my longest streak of days without turning to pornography which lasted some time into the beginning of my time at USU.

My first year at USU, I was trying to set myself up for success.  I still wasn't in my scriptures too often, and prayer was spotty.  I was going to church every week though, and it made a huge difference in my life.  Eventually I relapsed again, but unlike last time.  I took this as a personal challenge.  I was done having my testimony shaken by this thing, and I knew that with the help of my Savior I could overcome this obstacle.  I remained active in the Church, and was doing my best to bring my life back in tune with the Gospel.  This year was extremely tough for me mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I was able to let a lot of things go in my life, I changed my major, and I lost ~70 pounds.  I was just starting to become a different person, but I just couldn't seem to get rid of my addiction.  I struggled with these things for the next three semesters, but I was always able to pick myself up after each fall.  I was making progress in my addiction.

Learning the Atonement

This is an extremely difficult post for me to write.  As I mentioned in my last post, there would probably be some really emotional things for me to write about.  I was thinking about this post, or series of posts, when I wrote that.  It is honestly one of the most frightening things to think about writing, but I felt that it needed to happen.  I knew that I would be writing something on this subject shortly, but I figured it would be a couple of posts down the road.  I even had my next post somewhat planned out, but I just couldn't stop thinking about this particular post.  All day as I have been fasting I have been thinking about it, and it has been weighing very heavily on my mind.  I knew that it was time to start this topic.  The topic itself lends to some fear, but it became even scarier for me as I thought about what exactly I wanted to share.  I pondered, prayed, and researched to better understand what I wanted to share and what was appropriate to share.  I changed my mind several times about sharing everything or not.  After much thought and prayer, I have decided to share much more than I originally intended.  I do this with the hope than someone can find some benefit.  I hope and pray that what I share does not create a cause for judgement.  I just love this Gospel so much, I think many of the things I write may help someone out there.

I will be splitting this topic into several posts because it is a huge topic to discuss.  I am basically sharing over ten years of my life which very few, if any, people know about.  I have a lot of thoughts, feelings, and material to share.  As such I figured that it would be better to start a series of posts rather than one freaking huge post.  Doing it this way also makes sure that I actually go through with this rather than chicken out at the last moment.  This first post will be somewhat of a backstory/setup post for the meat of my thoughts, but it is also by far the most difficult one to write.  It is likely that after posting I will want to add/change some things within the post as I think of other things I want to say.  So, here goes.

When I was around eleven or twelve years old, I got to browsing the Internet, looking at stuff that I probably shouldn't have been in the first place.  I kept looking at this junk, and through it, I had an encounter with pornography.  I have the kind of brain that just seems to have some sort of trap on it, and I just remember stuff really well (unless it's remembering to take something important with me, but that is a subject for another post).  As soon as I saw that garbage, I knew that I shouldn't be seeing it, but I just couldn't unsee or stop thinking about it.  I knew within the next 24 hours that I was in trouble and had a problem, but I was too afraid to say anything about it.  I figured that I could just forget about it and move on, but that just wasn't the way it worked.  It was always right there in mind.  Within a few days I knew that I had become addicted, but I just couldn't tell anyone.

This started a new cycle of lying and covering up to my family.  I immediately hated myself for the things which I got myself into.  Each time I viewed this filth, I vowed to never participate again, only to relapse again a few days later.  As my teenage years progressed, I became much worse.  I looked at everything much differently.  I looked at people, especially females differently.  I didn't like who I had become, but I felt like there wasn't much I could do to change that.  I felt kind of like slime all those years going to church and seminary and serving in the Priesthood with this junk going on in my life.  I don't know but I think that I was truly depressed from all of the effects that pornography had on me.  I basically went to church, sometimes read my scriptures, and sometimes prayed because it was what I was supposed to do.  I was just completely failing.  The social shell which I had naturally come with become a much more comfortable home, and I found myself just wanting to be alone much of the time.  I didn't really have much to do with anyone outside of school once I hit junior high and high school.  Pornography was honestly just ruining my life.  While this was all going on, my addiction just became worse rather than better.

Upon my graduation, I went to the College of Southern Idaho.  On my own for the first time in my life, the wheels just completely fell off.  I still tried what I could to get over my problem, but things just became so much worse at college.  I truly became a shell of my former self.  I didn't go to church, I wasn't reading my scriptures, and I wasn't praying.  It all kind of came to a head one night as I was in my apartment.  I looked at my life and what I was involved with.  I had just again relapsed, and I was hit with that all too familiar feeling of being completely empty.  I felt completely abandoned, like I was truly alone.  I felt that my Savior had left me completely alone.  I remember lying on my bed, and I questioned myself as to whether I even had any kind of testimony anymore.  I then had a thought that scared the daylights out of me.  Have I ever had a testimony of the Church?  I decided at that moment that this very broken boy had to find out.

That concludes this post.  I again hope that this post hasn't come between myself and the reader in any way.  I know some of these things may be difficult to hear.  They were extremely hard to write.  That third paragraph alone took me about thirty minutes to write.  I originally didn't intend to be specific about my issues growing up, but I felt that someone who may well read this may need to see what I was dealing with.  In some ways it is really nice to have it out there.  For those who read this that may have been somewhat skeptical about the effects of pornography, especially the addictiveness of it, it is real.  It really screws with your brain chemistry, and it is not easy for many to overcome.  An excellent book that I would recommend for anyone wanting more info on the effects of pornography on the brain is He Restoreth My Soul by Donald Hilton, linked at

*Updated with a better link for the book.  I would also like to point out that this book is great at discussing the cleansing power of the Atonement in general, not just for pornography addiction.

I know that this was somewhat of a heavy post, even excluding some of my own thoughts/feelings, but much like the book of Isaiah, I will follow up this post of doom with a post of hope very soon.  Thank you to all of you who read this post.  I love you all!