When I was 19, I left my life in Oklahoma to serve the people of Fresno, CA on a full time LDS mission. I served faithfully, grew immensely, and became completely immersed in the work. On one day in particular I remember going to a member’s house to find an address. When the members opened the door the father said through his tears “Elders we prayed you here.”
When I came home I slowly fell apart. As directed and purposeful as I felt on my mission, it was to that extent that I felt lost and useless at home. I was no longer feeling the promptings of the spirit. I didn’t feel his guidance in my life. In retrospect I know that I stopped doing the things that would bring the spirit in to my life and my expectations of feeling the spirit as I did when I was in the mission field were unreasonable.
I went back to BYU and struggled. I had trouble holding down a job. I couldn’t bring myself to go to my classes. I spent days on the couch crying and reading and watching MTV’s Road Rules vs. Real World The Gauntlet pt. 2. It was unfortunately during this time that I met Holly. God bless her for giving me a second chance. I buried myself in this depression. Brothers and sisters the sadness was overwhelming. And I can’t say I wasn’t trying. I found an old journal the other day. It was full of goals I had written down and scriptures that I wanted to memorize. I wanted to be active and faithful. I wanted to feel the spirit. I wanted a temple marriage. But there was a disconnect in my logic. I wanted those things but I wanted to do them myself. I wanted to do all of the work. I didn’t want any help. This led to alienating myself from the church and my friends. Ultimately, in a perfect storm of being broken up with, fired, and academically suspended from school I moved in with my parents. I’m sorry mom and dad that wasn’t the best time for us. But I really wanted to be good. The only job I could find was at Jamba Juice and it paid $6.40 an hour. I tried going back to school at the community college (several times, actually) to the same end. I would go and then just stop going. It was this strange holding pattern that would be adequate to describe my whole life for about four years. I felt like I was fighting tooth and nail and couldn’t get ahead. And, let me tell you I was.
This was the worst time in my life. I felt abandoned by the God I loved and served. I felt scared and cold. What I didn’t realize was that I was the one that chose to “waste [my] substance with riotous living.” I was the Prodigal Son. No one else made the decision to leave His graces. I made those choices and I could not escape the consequences. In my despair I thought that God didn’t love me. And though I didn’t say it or want to believe it I secretly resented and despised Him. I thought he hadn’t given me anything.
Then I met Holly. Brothers and sisters, allow me to gush over my wife for a minute. She is the most impressive and capable woman I have ever met. With the help of the Lord she took the broken man that I described just a minute ago and turned him into me. She made my life work. When I look at her I see the face of God. I see his hand in my life through her. She helped me to become responsible financially, academically, mentally and spiritually. No man has ever been helped more than I have by Holly. She is no less than the single reason that I stand before you today. All of my successes are hers.
I heard it once said that God can make more out of our lives that we can. I know that this is true. The topic I was asked to speak on is what activity in the church has given me. I say, it has given me a chance. A chance at being a father and husband that holds the priesthood; a chance to receive revelation for my family; a chance to partner with the Lord and become what I always wanted to become but could not on my own.
In 2 Kings there is a story of the prophet Elisha that is pretty remarkable. It is in the sixth chapter. Verse 15 reads:
15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
Elisha was giving information to the king of Israel that he received through revelation. This did not make the king of Syria happy so he sent thousands of soldiers to kill Elisha. So the servant of Elisha wakes up, yawns, stretches and throws open the curtain to see numberless amounts of soldiers. I would say that he was justified in his fear. But the prophet teaches us all a lesson in his response:
16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And just be to be thorough.
17 And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
Without the Gospel of Jesus Christ I would be lost. I know that there were days when I through open the curtain and saw thousands of soldiers that wanted my soul. But I know that there where more on my side, even when I couldn’t see them or even deserved them. Even though I gave up on God, I testify that God never gave up on me.
What did I get from coming back to the fold? A beautiful family? Yes. Direction and purpose? Yes. The ability to hold and exercise the priesthood? Yes. But the most important thing I received when I came back to the Church was a second chance at becoming the man that I intended to be when I accepted the Lord’s plan in heaven.
In April of 2003, Elder Holland, in a conference talk, asked all of the parents what their children know. He says:
“Might we ask ourselves what our children know? From us? Personally? Do our children know that we love the scriptures? Do they see us reading them and marking them and clinging to them in daily life? Have our children ever unexpectedly opened a closed door and found us on our knees in prayer? Have they heard us not only pray with them but also pray for them out of nothing more than sheer parental love? Do our children know we believe in fasting as something more than an obligatory first‐Sunday‐of‐the‐month hardship? Do they know that we have fasted for them and for their future on days about which they knew nothing? Do they know we love being in the temple, not least because it provides a bond to them that neither death nor the legions of hell can break? Do they know we love and sustain local and general leaders, imperfect as they are, for their willingness to accept callings they did not seek in order to preserve a standard of righteousness they did not create? Do those children know that we love God with all our heart and that we long to see the face—and fall at the feet—of His Only Begotten Son? I pray that they know this.”
I want them to know what I believe in. I want them to know that I believe in inspired leadership. I need them to know that I honor my priesthood. More than anything I want my sons to know that I love God. I want them to know that I love God more than money and possessions and that the only way to show our love for God is to do His work. Because of the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ I have a shot at that. I have the opportunity to be that man that I never would have been without the love of an Eternal Father.
In closing, let me share a personal story. This is when I as the proverbial Prodigal Son “came to myself” decided that all of my efforts were lost without the Lord. I look to the 15th chapter of Luke to further explain these feelings. It says:
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
During the time in my life when I decided to go back to school I had been active in the church for about two years. I had been keeping my covenants, regularly going to the temple, paying my tithes et cetera. But I hadn’t really completely surrendered all of my trust to the Lord. The Spirit had commanded us that I should go back to school. But going back to school would be a very expensive prospect, not only because of tuition and books but also because I was leaving a very lucrative management position at that very same Jamba Juice that I started at when I moved in with my parents to fully devote my time my school work. This was scary for us. We had one child and plans for another very soon. We lost our health insurance, cashed out my 401k and as the sole provider for our family I was scared. We went to the temple one night and I prayed and expressed my concerns to the Lord and a marvelous thing happened. I return to the text of Luke. It says:
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
When I was at the temple lamenting what we would do and how we would accomplish this thing that we had been commanded to do I was embraced by the Lord and though I had been active for a few years it was in this moment that I knew that I was back in His fold and that the Lord would take care of our little family. It would be terribly hard but all the way I knew that the Lord would take me and make me into what he needed me to be. This was the moment when I came full circle.