Let me preface with a story from Sister Burton from the Relief Society General Broadcast:
Mary Lois Walker was married at age 17 to John T. Morris in St. Louis, Missouri. They crossed the plains with the Saints in 1853, entering the Salt Lake Valley shortly after their first anniversary. On their journey they had suffered the privations typical of other Saints. But their sufferings and adversity did not end when they reached the Salt Lake Valley. The following year Mary, then 19, wrote: “A son was born to us. … One evening when he was two or three months old … something whispered to me, ‘You will lose that little one.’”
During the winter the baby’s health declined. “We did all we could, … but the baby grew steadily worse. … On the second of February he passed away … and so I drank the bitter cup of parting from my own flesh and blood.” But her trials were still not over. Mary’s husband was also stricken, and three weeks after losing her baby, he died.
Mary wrote: “So was I, while yet in my teens, bereft in the short period of 20 days, of my husband and my only child, in a strange land hundreds of miles from my blood kin and with a mountain of difficulty before me … and I wished that I too, might die and join my loved one[s].”
Mary continues: “One Sunday evening I was taking a walk with my friend. … I was reminded of [my husband’s] absence and my intense loneliness, and as I wept bitterly I could see, as it were in mental vision, the steep hill of life I should have to climb and felt the reality of it with great force. A deep depression settled upon me, for the enemy knows when to attack us, but our [Savior, Jesus Christ,] is mighty to save. Through … the help given of the Father, I was able to battle with all the force which seemed to be arrayed against me at this time.”
Mary learned at the tender age of 19 that the Atonement gives us the assurance that all things that are unfair in this life can and will be made right—even the deepest sorrows.
I would never trade the difficult experiences I’ve had for anything. It’s been a long journey. More specifically, it's been a seven year journey. I've already written extensively about my depression, so you can read about that in an older post. I'd rather focus on my change.
Here are a few key experiences in the past few weeks that have helped me to overcome my mountain:
She is fantastic. She listens to everything I have to say, and then she poses tough questions. During our first meeting, she asked, "If I were to strip you of all of your external accomplishments--debate trophies, leadership roles, ACT score, earned credits, etc.--who are you? And do you like yourself?" I was stunned. Who am I? I felt that same restlessness after graduating. Everything I'd invested myself into was gone. I immediately jumped into BYUSA and the Honors Program to give myself some sort of meaning. Those things aren't necessarily bad, but if I base my self worth on them, then I'm heading in the wrong direction. That caused a lot of reflection. Another thing we talked about was disappointment. I've always felt very disappointed in myself. Sure I accomplished a lot, but I couldn't even make myself happy. My doctor pointed out something I never thought of: I should be proud of myself for achieving what I have in spite of my sadness. Most people with depression give up. They let their illness hold them back. Instead, I applied myself and came out on top. I'd encourage everyone struggling with a mental illness to seek counseling.
My Mom (who is my other psychologist:)
I told her about what my doctor and I had talked about. She told me that it gave her an epiphany about self esteem. When I was home over conference weekend, we had a long discussion about it. Self esteem comes from inherently feeling good about ourselves and actually being able to accomplish something. Oftentimes the world focuses on the first aspect: internal. They give awards for participation. They teach kids to just feel good about themselves. This causes a sense of entitlement where the new generation feels like they are deserving of certain privileges without having to work for them. My Mom told me that from my comment, she realized that members of the Church seem to emphasize the latter external aspect more. It's important to have a balance between the two. In order to have good self esteem, we should like ourselves the way we are and then we should be proud of our accomplishments. This leads right into the answer to my doctor's question: If I were stripped of all of my external achievements, who am I? And do I like myself? My inherent self esteem is my knowledge that I am a daughter of God--that He loves me and I love Him.
I received two blessings on the same day that helped teach me that truth--that I am a daughter of God. First, you must understand that I am an incredibly independent person. I really enjoy having control of myself, my situation, and everyone else. One of the ways God speaks to me is through my own voice in my head. I listen best that way. It's sort of like slapping myself in the face with the Spirit. The first blessing came from my Dad, who has an on-campus calling and is in Provo each Sunday. He stopped by my apartment by my request to give me a father's blessing. He started out by saying "you know that you're a daughter of God, and that he is mindful of you." Later that afternoon I was being set apart by my Bishop as the Relief Society instructor. He started similarly: "You know that you're a daughter of God, and you know that he loves you very much." Something to that effect. DUH SARAH. I know that I am His daughter. I just needed to be reminded of what I already know.
I have a friend who has been having some serious challenges. The other day, I felt inspired to call her and share the story from the Relief Society Broadcast posted above. I then felt like I needed to teach the principle behind the story: the Atonement can heal everything that's imperfect about us and the world. Then I knew I needed to bear my testimony of it, so I did. It was a major faith-building experience for me. I'm not sure if it did anything for her, but I know it changed me. I especially love the line from the girl's journal: "The enemy knows when to attack us, but our Savior Jesus Christ is mighty to save."
When he told me that I hadn't meant anything to him for months, my heart broke. I didn't think it was possible for my heart to hurt so much. It wasn't just emotional pain. I was literally aching, as if a part of me had been torn off. How could he throw two years away? I tried so hard all summer to make it work. I sacrificed so much. He described himself as "apathetic." Mid August, I just gave up. [As a caveat, I'm grateful that he and I were together when we were because I really thrived from his friendship and attention. He didn't decide to not have feelings for me, and I feel like it was my fault for trying to drag us out. So please don't blame him because he is still a wonderful friend to me. Yes he broke my heart, but I know he didn't do it intentionally. And I'm grateful for his honesty with me. Anyway...] I was terrified that I would relapse. I was so worried about being friendless. And though I have felt lonely at times, I have never been alone. I have prayed harder than I ever have before. I have come to rely on my Savior more than I thought possible. I used to think I had a testimony...but when I compare then to now, I'm shocked at the difference. The biggest thing I've learned is to be submissive to God's will. In my mind, I thought I had my whole life figured out. But God has greater plans for me. Remember when I said earlier that I like to be in control? Well, I'm learning to yield myself to Him. Thus far, He's been putting things together so perfectly for me. Every single day I am stronger than before. I am so blessed.
How could I not talk about him? He has been such a good friend to me. I've had the wonderful opportunity to work with him for the past few months. He knows how I feel about him, but he doesn't treat me differently for it. In fact, he's been more sensitive to me ever since I shared my feelings with him. We're both very honest and open with each other. He asks me really introverted questions that make me think way too much. The things he says often catch me off guard, which I like. He makes me laugh so much! I admire how adventurous and friendly he is. Even though he's older, more mature, and my superior in every way, he treats me like an equal. I have so much respect for that. He's watched me go through all of these aforementioned experiences. He probably thinks I'm crazy because of how much and how rapidly I've changed since June. I'm grateful for the way that his influence has changed me for the better.
I’m so thankful for the knowledge I now have that happiness is a choice. It’s definitely a hard choice, but a choice nonetheless. Sister Burton said, "the Atonement gives us the assurance that all things that are unfair in this life can and will be made right--even the deepest sorrows." I’m so incredibly grateful for the atonement and its ability to make our heartbreaks beautiful. If I could go back and change anything that I've gone through, I wouldn't. Depression was hard, but I faced it head on and now I've overcome it. I didn't do it alone. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wonderful parents. Thank you Mom and Hapa. I love you both so much. I'm grateful for my Father in Heaven and the beautiful sacrifice of His son, my Savior, Jesus Christ.