Monday, July 27, 2009

it came to life...

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I have a testimony of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. Ever since I can even remember, I have know that it's the word of God. That it compliments the Bible (which is also the word of God). That it is another testament of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I grew up reading from it's pages. When my family was young, we were lucky to be able to get through 4 or 5 verses a day. Those 4 or 5 verses, however, invited the Spirit of the Lord into our home. They welcomed a feeling of love and peace. As we got a bit older we began drawing pictures on the pages. Pictures which depicted what we had just read. I still have that old Book of Mormon filled with my 5th grade sketches. Tender memories flood my heart and mind as I flip through the pages to find a picture of sticks - all different lengths, representing the lots that were cast between Nephi and his brothers. Or the drawing of a headless Laban lying in a pool of blood. Or of the ship that Nephi constructed. Or of the tree of life from Lehi's dream, brimming with white fruit, which represented the Love of God. Or the giant bold letters H-O-O-R-A-Y, written towards the end of the second book of Nephi...a celebratory indicator that we had made it all the way through the Isaiah chapters.
I'm so grateful to my parents who helped make the Book of Mormon come to life in my life. I'm grateful to them for instilling in me a love for reading...and more specifically, a love for reading the Book of Mormon. I read it for the first time on my own as a teenager. I remember kneeling by my bedside and testing Moroni's challenge. You know, the one in which he exhorts us to ask God if these things are not true...and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. It was in that very moment, in the privacy of my own bedroom, that I got my very own answer through the power of the Holy Ghost, just as Moroni had promised. Peace enveloped me. A feeling of love prevailed. I was filled with - no longer just a belief - but a knowledge that what I had just read was indeed true. A new desire to read and re-read the Book of Mormon - all the days of my life - was born. I've since lost track of the number of times I've read the book. Each time I finish it, I begin it again. I can't say, however, that every time I read it, I have a life changing experience. I must admit that many times when I read, I allow my mind to wander. Sometimes I'll read several pages at a time, and later realize that I have no idea what I had just read. Sometimes I read without thought. Sometimes my heart is not in it. Sometimes I read just so I can check off that I have read. Sometimes I read and forget that I'm reading about real people, and real life events. Sometimes I read, but fail to ask the Lord what he would have me learn from the passages - how I might apply them to my own life.
It was for these reasons, and many more, that I was so grateful for the chance to go to youth conference this year...which was completely centered around The Book of Mormon. The objective, and hope, in choosing such a theme, was that the Book of Mormon might actually come to life for the youth (and leaders alike). That they (we) would have a new found desire to read it...and not just to read it, but to read it with real intent. Throughout the conference, many prophets and heroes from the Book of Momon made special guest appearances. We heard from Abinadi, Captain Moroni, and King Benjamin. Following each of their speeches, we were privileged to hear from a seminary teacher from our stake. He was amazing, and as he taught, the verses and chapters of which he spoke, began to come to life for me. We had a very special program in which we were able to experience Lehi's dream (which Nephi is later allowed to relive through a vision). Each of us held onto an iron rod, symbolizing the word of God.
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Through the forest, and with the Holy Ghost as our guide (YW and YM presidents dressed in white and carrying flashlights),
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we were led through all the facets of Lehi's prophetic (and very symbolic) dream. Through the large and spacious field we trudged,
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along the river of water and the mists of darkness, past the great and spacious building - where the prideful followers of the world stood and mocked us to scorn.
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On our way we went, following the straight and narrow path, ever clinging - even sometimes with both hands - to that rod of iron...
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until off in the distance we could hear a choir of heavenly angels...be still my soul. There, permeating through the thick, dense darkness was the most glorious sight to behold - a tree, strewn with phosphorescent lights, and blanketed with luminous white fruit. Angels dressed in the purest white, encircled the tree.
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I longed to be there. As we made our way through thick mists of darkness, which represented Satan's temptations, and as People were pointing their fingers and mocking us for holding onto the rod...all I wanted to do was to run...run to that tree. To me, that tree represented peace, it represented safety, a refuge from the world. It represented Love. It represented my Savior. It represented eternal life, and of course, the Love of God (which we have been taught by Nephi). There is no greater manifestation of this love than that of Jesus Christ and His atonement. These chapters of The Book of Mormon came to life for me through this experience, and more fully as each of us were invited to partake of the fruit. Being asked by the stake to take pictures along our journey, I lifted my camera and witnessed the most beautiful sight...hands, dozens of hands, reaching for their own piece of fruit. Tears welled up in my eyes, and clouded my vision.
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The photo turned out far less than what I had originally seen through the camera's viewfinder; but thankfully that image is instilled in my memory forever. I felt so much love in my heart for each of these youth and the other leaders (one of which happened to be my very own husband). I watched as each person pulled some fruit from the tree, and I watched as my husband reached up and took a piece for himself, and then picked one for me.
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I could not hold back the tears, as this familiar scripture story came to life for me like never before. As a ward, we spent the next several moments seated in a circle in the middle of an open field. We shared our love for one another, we cried together, we bore witness to each other of the feelings we were each experiencing, we resolved to make our lives better, to cling to that iron rod (with both hands if it becomes necessary) so that we can each - individually and collectively - partake of the fruit of the tree of life (Christ's atonement). I know that by so doing, we will each be awarded a spot at the right hand of God...which gift is eternal life.
I am so grateful for the programs of the church, especially the programs designed for our youth. The church puts a lot of money into these programs, countless hours are devoted to the planning and carrying out of these events. And why? Why does the church allow so much of it's money, and so much of it's member's time, talents, and energies to be poured into programs like this? Well, it's so that these youth might have an experience. Maybe even a life altering experience. It's so that they might develop a greater understanding of the gospel, and a deeper relationship with - and love for - the Savior. It's the hope that they might have the desire to better their lives. And it's so that, in our case, the Book of Mormon might come to life in their lives. I'm convinced that if just one life was changed on account of one of these conferences, or programs, or camps...then it will have made every last sacrifice of time, and money, and whatever else - totally and completely worth it. I know that my life was changed from our three days of youth conference. My love and appreciation, (might I even say passion) for the Book of Mormon, has intensified. My relationship with my Savior has grown. My love for my husband and for our family is stronger. And I now have a greater desire to share the fruit of the gospel with everyone I know.

4 comments:

me said...

What an amazing experience. You guys are making such an impact in the lives of the youth in your stake.

diana said...

i was glued to the whole post, reading your recount of this great weekend experience and towards the end i was feeling tears fall down.

i'm so glad you've had such wonderful spiritual experiences with the youth this summer and that this time even with your husband. how memorable.

(i really enjoyed spending time with you today, you're one of my favorite people. thank you for being my friend.)

natalie eve said...

our bishop had a couple of our youth get up and bear their testimonies after youth conference... it sounded phenomenal from their words and yours. i wish i could have gone.

i am learning that each time i read the book of mormon it is a different experience. either because of the stage of life i am in or the lessons i am supposed to be learning at that time. i love looking back at my scriptures and seeing verses i have marked and it helps me remember the answers i was looking for at that point in my life. and i LOVE finding new verses that never stuck out to you before. it is like reading them for the first time.

great post. you have such a strong testimony and are a great example to me.

Celeste said...

You are a pillar of strength to the Young Women Nicole. I just love you. They just love you.

Sarah told me all the details of Youth Conference the day after you guys got back. That Tree of Life idea is the best idea I've ever heard of. I wish I could have gone. What an amazing experience it looks and sounds like it was.