Monday, November 9, 2015

My Temple Walk

On August 8th, 2015 i did something I'd waited my whole life for. 

This is going to be a long story. 

let's rewind to October 2013. 
I was in a dark place. A very dark place. I had limped through the hardest summer of my life with addiction strapped on my back and stumbled back to BYU-Idaho but i was not myself. 

Pictures from fall semester make me teary eyed, because i remember how hard i was trying not to drown. I remember craving change but lacking the willpower, and i remember crying myself to sleep at least once a week because i knew i was pushing away the few friends i had with my harsh tongue but i didn't feel like i could be any different. 
I hated my habits and i hated my attitude and i desperately wanted to just snap my fingers and be over that mountain. I CLUNG to the few good things that i had. 

the few things that consistently made me feel a sliver of the kind of happy i knew i could be:

Mallorie , Jaylene, my neice Evelyn and my blossoming relationship with Christine. Evelyn made me feel needed. 
Christopher Michael Moen. playing catch in random fields and driving across town to a dinky gas station to get sour patch watermelon just because they all knew it would help me feel a little bit better. 
Jonathan. He is so kind to me. 

the snow. 
oh, the dear snow. 
even now i'm choking up because i miss the snow. I miss the ice i miss the hoar frost i miss seeing my breath and i miss the air stinging my nose. I miss the crunching under my feet and i remember just being overwhelmingly grateful for the snow. It was a beautiful thing in what i thought was an ugly life. 
The snow made me happy. 

and my New Testament class. 
learning about Jesus Christ, the ultimate friend, when i thought all mine were dwindling, was the best medicine for me. 
that class helped me heal.
as the months went on, and as the snow came, my sadness began to leak away. 

I made small steps toward recovery and my usual joy, but i hurdled the grand canyon one day when i finally admitted to my mother, and my church leaders, what i was struggling with and why and how much i wanted to change. 

From then on, every day, though it was a battle, felt like a climb up instead of a fall down. 

That giant on my back was still loud and angry and mean and vindictive, but he got smaller everyday. 

slowly, very slowly, i crawled my out of the dark.
and i began to feel happy again as Christmas lights donned windows and shapes of angels appeared on snowy lawns. 

I remember that phone call, after i had admitted my struggles and my past to my mother and we'd both cried, she told me that a few days prior she had been in the Temple, and had the thought, "Melissa is ready to come here. She is ready to make these promises with God."

I could not believe that.

Rewind again to High school.

i had times of great strength and liberation where i was totally fine without my addiction. i didn't even think about it Junior year. I was busy, i was happy, i had faith in God.

but i slipped, and slipped, and slipped, until it was the end of my senior year and somehow i was down the hill again. not quite in the valley, but too middle-ground for any real progression.

And then my brothers came home for the summer and saved me, and pulled me up.

I went to BYU-Idaho and had whole new growing experiences.
then i came home and lived with my sister and her kids for a few months and had zero struggles with addiction or thoughts of insignificance. those months, along with spring semester in Idaho, were absolutely golden. I was on a spiritual high after a church history tour, and i thought nothing would ever be wrong again.

Often in the scriptures, after an individual has an uplifting experience from God, Satan comes and tries to bring them down. 
such is the pattern in my life, as well. 
After many spiritually enlightening times, I receive greater temptation. 
I am tried. 

I think this happens to us all, and i think it happens every day. 
I'd like to say that this particular trial came and i faced it head on. I'd like to say that i rose above my fear and sadness and kept along my merry way, but that would be a bold lie. 

I was shattered. 
and no, it wasn't about a boy, although that's what it seemed at first. Satan used that to begin the cycle, but then he became relentless. He brought back to my mind every time I'd lied or cheated or sank low, and he threw those acts onto a jumbo-tron. 

Replaying over and over and over in my mind. 
Everywhere i went in my hometown i was reminded of some sin or sadness. 
I was breaking. 
I relapsed to my old habits and means of treating myself. 

That gave the devil a perfect opportunity to step right into the spot where the Spirit of God used to be, and take over his duties as thought-whisperer. Instead of inspiration, he spat discouragement. 
and he was loud. 
He screamed at me all summer long. 
When i failed, i swear i could almost hear him laughing at me. 

Very quickly i was completely consumed in darkness that i could not control. 
That is the scariest thing about addiction to me. 

People say, "you always have a choice." and to some extent, you do. 
But when you get so far into a hole, you can't see anything, and i truly felt, and still feel, like i did not have a choice. Like i had forfeited my agency for a time because of all the choices i HAD made, and that the chemicals in my brain and the devils on my back were moving around my arms and legs and eyes. I was not acting. I was being acted upon by my addiction. 

I felt abandoned. forsaken. lost. 
I felt tangibly filthy, like my sins were leaking out of my pores. I felt hopeless and unlovable and like a "chewed up piece of gum".  
I could never be worthy again, i could never be clean again, i could never mean my smiles again.

I tried to find peace in all the things that usually uplifted me, but i was so numb i couldn't feel anything. not even the good things. 


In my journal during this time, i hardly ever wrote, but  i drew a series of actually quite disturbing pictures. I never rip anything out of my journals or edit them, but i ripped these out after i'd drawn them. I didn't want anyone to see them. I don't remember where they ended up. 

The first picture was a girl. me. 
the caption reads, "This is me. I was happy. I was fine." 

the second was a girl with a shadow. 
the caption read, "This is me. i feel dark."

through the series, the shadow gets straighter and straighter until it is standing right beside the girl. 
one caption is under all these that reads, "I am becoming something else"

and then it begins to move in front of her. 
the caption: "And no one can tell."

finally, it stands in her place, and then consumes her. 
"Everyone thinks i am fine. They think this is me."

The girl is trapped in the shadow. the next picture is from the girl's point of view, as if the viewer is beside her, inside the shadow of herself. The girl is pounding against a window, the window is really the vision of the shadow.
"Why can't anyone see?"

the girls is scraping against the window, trying desperately to break out. 
The girl leans her forehead against the window, her fists on it as well, to her sides, and she is crying. she is giving up. 
"This is NOT me."

the girl is curled up at the bottom of the cavity in the shadow. hopeless. 
"No one can hear me"

the final picture is of the girl's shadow, and you can faintly see the outline of the girl inside her, trapped, screaming. 
The shadow girl is surrounded by people, family and friends. the shadow girl is smiling, and everyone else is smiling at her. 
The caption reads, "I am not fine."


Even just typing that gives me goosebumps, because it was such a desperate and obvious attempt at admittance.

That night, I read through the addiction Recovery 12 steps on my phone, and wept, because each rang so true to me. 
I knew i had a problem. I knew i needed to change. 

but i had no idea how. 

jump back to that conversation on the phone with my mother.
she planted a seed in me. 

The Temple.

I'd always wanted to go inside, and i had since i was 12, gone inside to perform proxy baptisms for the dead. but i wanted to make covenants with God. 
I just felt like i could never be clean enough to do that. 
I thought i could never have enough faith to be that obedient. 

I had never heard a girl talk about it before. 
I didn't know anyone else could echo my feelings so well. 
It is a wonderful, eye-opening article. 

I can still remember that i was sitting in my study spot at the "Crossroads" at BYU-Idaho when i read these lines:

"You wouldn’t guess by looking at me that I have an addiction. I was on the seminary council, I went to church and mutual and the temple every week. I read my scriptures and say my prayers every day. You look at me and you think, “She has it all together.” Every time I tell people, they’re completely shocked. I know that there are other people like me that exist. I know that they’re there. It just makes me sad that they can’t come forward."

and i openly wept in the middle of the cafeteria. 

I re-read the addiction recovery manual online, and then i went home and told Mallorie and Jaylene about my addictions, because i knew i needed someone to be accountable to.

Then i called my mom, and we had our conversation.
We talked about the temple.

the Temple.

the Temple of God, the House of God, the Holy Temple.

I wished i could go in.

that night, i locked myself in the bathroom and prayed for hours.
these words came into my mind from the Addiction recovery manual,

"Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health."

In that cold tiny bathroom, leaning against the wall, i felt, lighter. physically lighter. I literally felt as if a portion of my burdened was removed.
and through tears i thanked God for that feeling, and for the hope i could feel trickling into my heart.

over the next days and weeks, i was determined to be different.
I'd tried this same path before, and always relapsed.
And even when i did relapse this time, it still felt different.

Before, i had been motivated to change because i wanted to stop feeling guilty. I wanted to stop hiding things I wanted to stop feeling judged.
those were good reasons.

But this time, i epiphany of sorts. After I'd admitted my whole past, and confessed that i literally could not change on my own, the pressure was gone. I could breathe again. It was still labored breathing, but i could breathe of my own volition.

Everything i thought i knew about forgiveness was wrong.
Everythign i thought i knew about relationships was wrong
about love, about guilt, about desire, about Jesus Christ's Atonement, it was all skewed.

I had to start over.

this time, i wanted to change because i wanted PEACE. I wanted to feel God's love, i wanted to hear the Holy Ghost, i wanted to be whole, i wanted to grow, i wanted to formally promise with God that i would always be my best self, i wanted to receive power from Heaven.

I wanted to go to the temple.
I wanted to be close to God.

I changed because i wanted to live with God.

that Sunday, i sat in my chair and literally ached for the Sacrament to come to me, and for the first time in what felt like forever, i understood its implications.
I was clean again.
I was whole again.
I was starting over.

I was not prefect, i fell back many times that semester, but i never let it hold me back. I just kept getting up, kept brushing off, kept climbing.
I kept doing everything i knew i should do to be whole.

I went home, and started completely new.

and i was clean.
I really was.

The rest of 2014 was incredible, because i felt new. God had given me a new heart. I didn't want that life anymore, i wanted peace.
this change was different, and lasting, and strong.

no, i wan't perfect.
yes, i still messed up.

but less and less frequently.

By June 2014, I felt stronger than ever.
I went to BYU Sports Camps with hope in my heart and happiness filling me to the brim.
I had the best summer of my life, because i was finally free.

I was finally open and honest. i had no secrets. i wasn't hiding a single thing.

I was just me.

Just plain old me.

it was the best feeling i'd ever known.
I wrote in my journal one night, "I think they call this JOY."

with that new found joy, came a spiritual confidence I'd never experienced. Every time i went to the temple, i yearned to make covenants for myself.  I prayed over and over about big decisions i was making, and i always finished my prayers with, "and help me know how to better prepare to live worthy of going the temple." because i was confident, i was happy. i attracted people, because they could see i was happy. I made life long friends that summer.
I even met the man i would eventually date and marry.

One Sunday as i sat in a Fast and Testimony meeting at church, the spirit filling my heart, i heard in my mind, a loving voice say, "You are ready".

It's interesting, the voice of the Spirit. It comes in an instant, but fills your mind with whole paragraphs and discourses and libraries of knowledge. It can convey directly to your heart an entire message in literally one single moment, using something much higher, much better than words. And you feel such immense love, and then you try to describe the message you felt, and it's impossible to be accurate.
God speaks to us in a way that is literally indescribable, and i had one of those moments that day.

I felt love.
I felt assurance.
I felt confident.
I felt ready.

ready for life, ready for love, ready to move from my past, ready to share my past, ready to make eternal promises with God, ready for everything. ready for anything.

I met with my bishop that Sunday, and he was excited for me. He too, felt like i was ready, and we were thrilled, but he said that since i was leaving for home really soon, i should schedule meeting with my home leaders.

I called my home bishop, who expressed sincere confidence in me, but told me that my home Stake had made the decision that women who were not engaged or going on a mission should wait until they were 23 to receive their Temple Endowment.

I was crushed and confused.

why had i received this impression if i couldn't even go to the temple?
After a few hours, and prayer, i felt that i was given that impression to assure me that i WAS ready.
But it was not time. 

and really, what a blessing to have that message!
What an opportunity to have an assurance from God that when my time came, i could be know i was ready! I felt so full of God's love for me that day, despite my disappointment of timing.

I went home, and spent the rest of the summer as a librarian at my Alma Mater, counting the days until i could be back in my dear Rexburg, nestled in the Teton Valley

That fall, when i went back to school at BYU-Idaho, i quickly formed a bond with my bishop and met with him often to keep myself on track. I was thrilled with my classes, i was happy with my roommates. But i still felt a nagging, a longing. Something was missing.

at the end of the semester, in my last meeting with the bishop before Christmas break, he told me that my stake had a per-requisite of one semester of a Temple Preparation Sunday School class before actually going to the temple for myself. He told me that he was putting my name on a list for a temple prep class winter semester.

I burst into tears of joy.
i could learn about all the symbolism and doctrine of the Holy Temple!

over Christmas break i prayed and prayed to be ready for that class, and felt nothing, which frustrated me. when i got back to school, i met with my bishop and he extended me a calling in the ward that i was completely surprised by. Two of my best friends/roommates were called to serve with me.

Afterward, he said special prayers with each of us gave us blessings. In mine, He told me that i would be able to understand God's timing of my temple endowment.

that line kept bouncing around my head all week.
I spent hours on my knees, praying, trying to decipher all the thoughts and feelings i was having. I clung to the message i'd heard over the summer, "You are ready". Whenever it was time, i would be ready. I would keep myself ready.

and then slowly, i began to understand.
the next Sunday, i met with my Bishop again and told him that I felt ready, and i wanted to go through the temple, but that this was not the time God had prepared for me to do so. I knew i needed to wait. He emotionally told me that he felt the same way.

I was a little sad, because i wanted this more than anything i'd ever worked for. But i also felt peace. I knew that God had a plan, and that He would let me understand it as i walked His path.

That semester was incredible. I taught preschool, and became close with all of my roommates. I was writing a lot and realizing a lot about who i wanted to be as a wife and mother. I was doing Personal Progress every week. I was growing in strides and i was proud of what i was doing.

I was proud of who i was.

I was truly, genuinely, happy, and i believe that is when real love naturally finds us.

at the end of that semester, i started dating Karl.

After one week, i knew everything was going to change. I knew that this was different. I knew i was going to marry him. I knew he was 'the one'.

So i decided to just be patient. my Temple Day would come.
so i did wait.

and then finally, after courtship and engagement, came time to go to the temple.

the month before was hard. As soon as we got engaged, it was like Satan was determined to do everything in his power to stop us from getting married in the Temple. He put an awful lens over my vision for a few days. Karl was annoying, chastity was annoying, obedience was annoying, i just wanted to to whatever i wanted to do and i didn't care about the consequences.

Luckily, I had a great fiance who knew exactly what was happening, and how i was feeling. And Even luckier, we had a bishop with a rule that he meets with engaged couples every single Sunday to keep things on track. He helped me IMMENSELY. I literally would not have made it if it weren't for his council and help.

the week before was impossible without help.

Satan seemed to spend ALL of his time shouting at me that i wasn't worthy, that i hadn't been preparing, that Karl wasn't right for me, that i was wasting my time, that blah blah blah every single taunt or slander you can possibly imagine,  he threw it my way.

It was hard.
i was exhausted.

I was also frustrated because i felt like people were tiptoeing around me when i asked them questions about the temple. Yes, there are sacred things that we keep to ourselves, but that is only a few things. I KNEW that, and i KNEW that people COULD tell me a lot more than they were. i didn't know what to expect and quite frankly, i was terrified that i was going to walk into a room and see like, an animal sacrifice going on or something freaky weird happening that would make me feel uncomfortable. I wished someone would just tell me, "hey, this is what happens, you're going to be fine."

My sister Allison took me to go buy a pure white Temple dress, and i picked out a beautiful but simple dress with floral stitching. We bought my Temple Garments and Robes. Everything felt so well made and pretty. I started to be really excited.

I moved into my new apartment the night before I was to go to the temple. I slept on the floor because we didn't have a bed yet.
I prayed my guts out, really scared and feeling completely unworthy.

when i woke up in the morning, i did the same thing over again.

The day had come.
August 8th, 2015.

I woke up, prayed, read my scriptures, prayed, read my Patriarchal Blessing, prayed, cried, and then i took a shower and i always sing in the shower. I unconsciously started singing children's hymns. It wasn't long before "I love to see the temple" was coming softly from my mouth. My voice caught at the words, "I'll go inside someday" because my mind changed them to "I'll go inside today.".

This was the day i had worked so hard for.

and i really was ready.

Karl and i cleaned my old apartment, and that took almost all day.
And then we changed, got all my things ready, and we drove to the Payson Utah Temple. I was nervous and fidgety the whole drive. We were going to be way early, and i don't do well with waiting while i'm nervous, so we stopped at Walmart before hand to get some apple juice and granola bars because i was hungry.

While we were driving i expressed my frustration about people "tiptoeing around me" Karl looked at me and smiled. I love that dear boy's smile. He said, "Melissa, i promise, you're not going to see or hear or do anything that will make you feel uncomfortable. I promise, there's nothing in the temple that you haven't already believed since you were a teeny little kid, because i know you were raised to kep the commandments and that's literally all this is. It's just a ceremony where you formally promise to keep the commandments. It's what you've been doing every week when you take the sacrament, it's just in God's house, and you say it a specific way, wearing specific clothes. We do this in the Temple because we're completely safe in there from temptation. And they do everything they can to let you know what you're doing before you do it, and you can say no if you really want to. If you feel weird, you really can leave. They give everyone that option, every time, your first, your tenth, your one hundredth time, they'll give you that option. No one is forcing you to do anything."
 he told me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was. He bore his testimony to me of the power of the temple, and the peace i would feel.

and then we were there,

and Karl looked like a model while he was one the phone with his sister for a minute

I was nervous and fidgety and just wanted to go in, but we were waiting for my mom, who was going to escort me since it was my first time. 

My mom got there, and it was time to go inside.

My nerves reached a boiling point right before we walked inside and i was so anxious that my eyes started to tear up, and then we walked through the doors.

But then

I was completely calm.

A wave of peace rushed over me as if someone was wrapping me in blanket.

My senses were still and quiet as we walked through the gorgeous halls. We got all checked in, because we had a scheduled time.

There are two parts to receiving an endowment.
1) The Initiatory
and 2) The Endowment Session

One is private, just you and the temple workers, the second is a large group of people.
I got dressed, hugged my mom who waited outside the room on a comfy bench next to a giant gorgeous painting Aaron being ordained in the Old Testament.
Then, i went in to my initiatory alone.

There were several sweet old ladies who helped me. They explained to me many blessings i would receive that day, and they prayed with me, that i might have all of those blessings, and all that knowledge. we moved from one tiny room to another until all the blessings of the initiatory were given and explained. Then in the last little room they explained a little more about my temple Garments, and how respectfully i should treat them, and i exited.

The blessings were in-expressively wonderful.
I felt completely clean, i felt strong. physically strong, and spiritually uplifted. Like, literally lifted up. I felt literally like angels, or God, or something higher than me, were lifting up my soul. Filling it with light and power to do whatever i needed to do.
I felt very safe. I felt protected. A protection i can't explain fully, because i can't find the words.

My mom immediately stood and hugged me, tears in both our eyes.
The spirit of God was felt strongly between us, and in the room.
Then out of the corner of my eye i saw someone hurrying toward me.

My dear sister Allison, who maybe more than any other human understands everything i've been through, everything i've explained here and more, and how hard i have worked to get to where i was that day. All of my siblings love and understand me, but Allison and i have been through a lot together, and shared similar struggles.
we practically ran to each other, and threw ourselves into a hug. She whispered, "Isn't it wonderful?!" It was all i could do to shake my head.  I let out a small laugh, i couldn't verbally express what i was feeling, but there was too much joy to contain. so i laughed.

My mother walked me back to my changing room. as soon as the door was closed and i was alone, i wept and prayed in gratitude for this opportunity, and for the trust and gladness i felt from God.

I changed again, into my new white temple dress.

The temple Matron (The head lady, who is usually like old and super wise and knows everything about temples.) sat with my mother and i in a room and answered any questions i had about temple garments, or the initiatory. She read through some FAQs in case, and then she told me how happy she was for me.

My mother walked me to the Endowment room. Karl was waiting outside the door for me. He was wearing a white shirt, white tie, and white pants. He looked so handsome and clean and happy! His face was glowing! He hugged me and kissed me very gently, and then we walked in together, hand in hand. The men and women sit on separate sides of the room, so Karl sat right across from me.
i got to sit in the front row, with my mom. Then everyone started filing in. all my family members and my bishop with his wife. They all gave me giant smiles and little friendly waves. My sisters all sat around me. My dad smiled at me from the other side of the room with tears in his eyes.

Karl was signing to me excitedly, "you look beautiful. I love you."
I signed, "I'm very happy, but very nervous!"
He signed, "It's going to be great, don't worry." and then after a pause and a  big smile, "wow, you are beautiful!"

Then the instruction started, and i was SO nervous. We learned about the creation of the world and Adam and Eve, everything that i'd read in the scriptures since i was a tiny child. I was actually surprised that there wasn't anything new or startling. I kind of kept waiting for something to make me uncomfortable, but nothing came. haha. Maybe that sounds weird, but everyone had been so vague about what would happen, i didn't know what to expect.

Here's what happened:

we sat and listened to the story of the creation of the world, and the story of Adam and Eve, and it made me really appreciate Jesus Christ, because he saved us from suffering from Adam's transgression. He provided a way to return to God, but be clean from all the bad things we might do on earth. He also made it possible for ALL of us, each of us, to live again AFTER we die. to be resurrected! To have our bodies again, and live forever! literally every single person who has ever lived, who is living now, and who will yet live, gets to live forever in a perfected version of their body after they die, because of Jesus Christ.

Every once and a while, at certain points in the presentation that corresponded with the story, we'd stand up and add a piece of the temple robes to the full clothes we were already wearing. The clothing is beautiful, and just helps us visualize what Adam and Eve went through.

Then, after we learned about Adam and Eve, we promised to obey God's commandments. They weren't new commandments, they were all the same virtues i'd learned about my whole life from the scriptures. The same commandments we promise to keep every week when we take the sacrament, and the same commandments we promise to keep at baptism, and every day as we live to be like Jesus. It was totally normal and peaceful, and felt like Sunday school. Of course i'll keep the commandments, of course i'll have to sacrifice to do that, but it will be worth it. Of course i'll be chaste. Of course i'll follow the Prophet and give to the poor and needy.

I've been trying to doing all those things my whole life,
the Temple was just the first time i formally promised to do so.

Then, the person who had been giving the presentation says a prayer. anyone who wants to can go stand at the front of the room with him while he says it. Most people stay seating and just listen from their seats reverently. I went to the front, with Karl and my siblings. We all held hands and smiled at each other.

Then, everyone goes one by one to one end of the room that has a big partitioning curtain instead of a door. It represents the veil between Heaven and Earth. Everyone goes to that end of the room and quietly talks with a temple worker about what they learned. Since Karl and i were getting married in a week, They let him stand in for the temple worker. I got to tel him the things i'd learned, and he got to ask me questions. It was a sweet experience. Then we walked past the curtain together and he gave me a big hug before we went into the "Celestial Room" which represents Heaven.

and that was it.

nothing weird, nothing foreign. No weird memorized group chants, no smoke and incense. Not anything secret or scary. literally anything and everything that happens in the temple is in the scriptures.

It was all just simple, beautiful doctrine. i loved it.

As Karl and i hugged i heard several old ladies whisper, "oh, they are just so cute!" hahaha.

We walked into the room, and i hugged each of my family members who were able to come. I hugged my bishop and his wife, who were so happy and proud of me. I thanked them for their help, and for coming. I hugged my old roommate Stephanie and her husband Connor who had come, too. We all stayed and talked for a few minutes. My siblings and i mentioned that we wished Jenae, Phillip, Donny, and Christine were there to complete the sibling group.

And then we went to the changing rooms and put back on our regular clothes.
we tried to take some pictures outside, but the flash wasn't really working with my family. Looked great with Steph, though! haha

hahah our eyes kind of look creepy. But i promise we were happy! SO SO SO happy!

It was the best day of my life, tied with my wedding day.
I was indescribably happy, and i felt completely whole for the first time in my entire life.

If you read all the way to the end, way to go! That was a long one.
If you skimmed, know this:

I made the best decision of my life that day. It was beautiful and happy and i do not regret it a single bit. I am proud that i got there, and so happy that it FINALLY came true.

Also, know that more than anything in the world, I love Jesus Christ. I love His Gospel. I love His Church. I love His Temples.

God's mercy is real.
I was redeemed.

I was so broken, that i thought i could never be whole again, but i was wrong.
the Atonement of Jesus Christ healed my fractured soul.
And then He made it strong, and gave it protection.
Now i AM whole.

I feel that.
I know that.

It is all so true.

1 comment :

  1. I read every word. My sweet sister, and I love you even more if that were even possible.


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