December of 2017 was a difficult month, far more than I actually let on to anyone. I was dealing with a new full-time work schedule and trying to write two Christmas programs. Our family was going through some tough times. After dealing with an additional disappointment that shook me up, I decided I needed to take a trip to my Oregon home for a few days. The night before I left, I had one of scariest nights of my life and another terrible disappointment. The day I got back from my trip, my brother and his wife suffered a devastating loss and a big change I had been expecting but dreading happened, further shaking my world.
Christmas and all of its delights came and I felt happier and more at peace. But as the Christmas magic ended, and the lights around me and inside me started to go out, my troubles started to haunt me again. I had the chance to spend a Saturday evening by myself at the end of the month and I had plans to rest and replenish. But again I was disappointed as I spent past midnight dealing with an ugly situation. As I laid in bed that night, my mind spinning and my heart hurting. I felt lost, confused, and so very tired of everything. The next morning was Sunday. I had a choice. I could go to church or I could stay home and spend a few precious hours to myself I felt I desperately needed. There was no one at my house who would care if I went to church or not. “Surely God would understand this one time,” I thought to myself. Surely He knew that I could use some time alone and would not mind if I skipped just this once.
I went back and forth a lot the next morning and in the end, I don’t know really what it was that got me to church. Yes, I do believe that God would have understood had I chosen to stay home, but more importantly, He was aware of me and what I needed and He knew that I needed much more than bath bubbles and a good book. During Sacrament Meeting, I felt the Spirit but still felt distracted, like I was half-there. After Sacrament Meeting, I walked down the hall to Sunday School, smiling at my friends as I passed by, but inside I was still hurting. That year we were studying Doctrine and Covenants and as the last lesson of the year, the Gospel Doctrine teachers were assigned to teach on a talk Jeffrey R. Holland gave about Joseph Smith’s experience in Liberty Jail. I listened as the teacher talked about Joseph’s trials that refined him and the beautiful revelations that came from that terrible time. While my trials were nothing compared to Joseph’s, I felt a connection with and a gratitude for Joseph in a way I hadn’t before. At the end of the lesson, the teacher played a recording of Elder Holland’s concluding testimony. It was a typical Elder Holland testimony, full of beautiful encouraging and inspiring words, spoken with his classic fervor. I listened intently and then I heard these words:
“In the words of the Liberty Jail prison-temple, my young friends: Hold on thy way. Fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.”
Suddenly it felt like the other people in the room had disappeared. I felt as though Elder Holland was there, kneeling down in front of me and looking me directly in the eyes delivering to me the exact message I needed. “Hold on thy way.” Four words that struck with such power and love, that I find myself tearing up writing about it now. I knew that Heavenly Father was aware of my circumstances and He wanted me to continue on, just as I am, relying on the Savior to help strengthen me and guide me.
As a youth and a leader, I have said the words to the Young Women theme many, many times. But after that experience, I saw things differently when I thought about the value of integrity. I have always thought about integrity in the sense of being honest, and true to what you know to be right. But I think integrity is also being true to who you are, just as you are with all of the wonderful gifts you have to bless others, and all the weaknesses you have, ready to be turned into strengths through the Atonement. As one of my favorite quotes says, “The world is collapsing, but that doesn’t mean our own world has to collapse to make up for it. When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, do you know what you do? You find it in yourself. You change the world, right from where you are standing.”
In the past year since that experience, those four words have rung out from my heart many times. They have become my personal motto, a “Title of Liberty” to remind me of my purpose when my world does feel like it is collapsing. As my friend Rachel Macy Stafford would say, “My friends, whether we are facing life’s small mysteries or gigantic ones, whether we are facing mysteries for ourselves, our loved ones, our the world in it’s troubling state, I am certain this is how we must deal. We must…
Because when we do, our people are thankful we joined in.
Because we do, we see, smell and taste beautiful things we may have missed.
Because when we do, angst diminishes and hope swells.”
I know that as we turn to God, we can be blessed with the strength, fortitude and joy to "hold on our way" rejoicing that "Heaven is cheering us on today, tomorrow and forever!"