Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bringing Zion Home

Last week I flew back to Utah. That means it's been a little over a week since I left the Zion-like community known as the Hill Cumorah Pageant. The other day I was talking with a Pageant friend about this. I told her that Pageant was one of the most Zion-like places I've been (the other one being North Star firesides and gatherings). She responded in agreement and expressing that she can't wait for that day to come for real. It got me thinking and I told her that in the meantime I want to do my best to bring Zion to my ward, because I don't believe we have to wait.

The scriptures say that Zion is a people of one heart and one mind who dwell in righteousness (Moses 7:18). Historically it has been a physical location (i.e. The City of Enoch, Jerusalem perhaps, and for a time Independence, Missouri). It will also be a physical place in the future in Independence. However, in the meantime, I believe we can have Zion in the church. I have my issues with Mormon culture, so I wouldn't trick myself into thinking "all is well in Zion" (2 Nephi 28:21) but I have felt Zion before. I've had wards that have felt like Zion. I've been to North Star firesides that just felt like home. And of course, as I mentioned earlier, the Hill Cumorah Pageant. I know it's possible, but now it is a matter of bringing that feeling of Zion with me to my current ward, or at the very least my group of friends. I cannot live (permanently) at the Hill Cumorah Pageant or at North Star firesides. However, I can work on building my own spiritual strength, building others up, and creating Zion in my circle of influence.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Letters from the Hill, Part 3

"And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen." (Moroni 10:34)

It's hard to believe that my time at the Hill Cumorah has come to a close. Last night was our last performance and today my parents are picking me up from the Hill. It has been such a blessing to be here and to be where prophets have been. I am grateful that repeatedly the Lord witnessed to me that this is where I've needed to be. By no means has it been easy. In fact, it's one of the most draining, exhausting experiences I've had. However, it's also been an amazing, spiritual learning experience. Every performance I could name something different that I learned. I've met amazing people. I've grown and I've had the experience that I needed to have.

It was such a blessing each night to be able to see a man in white descend onto the stage portraying the Savior. Though I know in my mind that he was just a man on  a stage, his face showed the light of the Savior. It was such a blessing to see that portrayal each night and ponder on how the Savior would interact with me if he was here. Surely he'd treat me better than I've treated myself. Just as I saw that man on stage portraying the Savior hug the little primary boy each night, I know the Savior would embrace me in His arms. I have felt those healing arms around me on some of my hardest days and I know that He loves me. I know He sacrificed Himself and suffered to redeem me and to change me into a better man. Because of Him, I feel hope. Because of Him, I know there is always hope. Because of Him, I know I can be happy every day of my life, even in turmoil and disappointment. Because of Him, there is always something to be grateful for. 

Now like Moroni (sort of) I bid you farewell, Cumorah, until the Lord brings me back here again.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Letters from the Hill, Part 2

I'm at the Sacred Grove and I just feel the desire to share my testimony.

know that what Joseph claimed is true. He saw God and Jesus Christ. I know Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. I know he restored the Gospel to the Earth. It is because of all of this that I am here. There is nowhere else I would have rather spent this July. It has been such an amazing blessing to be at the birthplace of the Restoration, to stand where prophets, both ancient and modern, stood. When I see the man portraying the Savior on stage in the Pageant, I see the Savior and I desire to come closer to Him. I know that He is the only sure foundation I can rely on. People disappoint, friends move away, but the Savior will forever be close to me, as long as I remain close to Him.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Letters from the Hill, Part 1

It's now day four at the Hill Cumorah Pageant. I've been blessed to have a good group of people  to call my cast team and my home base. I've been blessed to see old friends (including my cast team leaders from when I was 10) and to begin to forge new friendships. I was cast to be a Lamanite warrior in the Pageant, so I'll be in three scenes: the big fight scene after the Nephites and Lamanites separate, the burning of King Noah, and the big swarm of Lamanites known as the tsunami resulting in Mormon's death (sorry, spoiler alert: Mormon dies).

Yesterday was a calm, relaxing day to focus in the spiritual side of the stories we're portraying. There is a calm spirit here. The moment I arrived I felt at home again (you should have seen my giddy face when I arrived--it was similar to the picture above). I feel so blessed to stand on this holy ground where prophets have stood and where angels have visited. It feels like Zion. The only thing similar I've been to is North Star firesides.

In addition, it's just so beautiful here. I miss my Utah mountains, but I'm amazed by how green it is here. I love all the big trees! This is where the Lord needs me to be and I am so grateful to Him for this opportunity to serve Him and to be a missionary again. I know that the gospel was restored in this town. Just a few miles from where I am now, the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph Smith. At this very hill that I'm sitting by, the Angel Moroni gave the golden plates to Joseph that became the Book of Mormon. I know all this to be true because the Holy Ghost has witnessed it to my heart.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Preparing for Cumorah, Part 3

The day is finally here!!! As I type this, I'm on the train headed to Rochester. There will be someone there from Pageant to drive me to the Hill Cumorah. I can't believe it's finally here! Being out here, I have had the opportunity to reflect on a few things. 

First, it's been nearly seven months since I got my acceptance to Pageant. December 15 was the exact day, actually (the blessing of keeping a journal). I'll be honest: the past seven months haven't been easy. Even earlier that day, December 15, I was having an super emotional day. Throughout the whole thing, I've moved twice, I've had friendship/dependency issues, and I had one of the most difficult semesters of my college career (coincidentally it was also the most successful semester I've had). I didn't realize it until recently when David pointed it out to me, but these trials could have easily been reasons to doubt my faith. While it didn't cross my mind to cancel my trip and drop out of Pageant, if I had chosen to doubt my faith, it would have made the trip pointless. I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who has patiently and gently (sometimes less gently when I need a good shove or a smack to the face spiritually) taught me and brought me to where I am now. I have a stronger testimony now of His love and His perfect timing. One hard day in particular, I remember crying and grieving a struggle I was going through. Once I was done, humbled, and ready to listen to truth, a phone call came from the exact friend I needed (literally, just as I was finished crying my phone vibrated). God is there and I know He loves me. 

Second reflection: it's been five years since I was in the cast of the Pageant before. That was before I started BYU. It was before I started this blog. It was before my mission. It was before I even accepted that SSA was really a part of my life, as opposed to just attached to my addiction (I don't think I've written here on that, but I mention it in my Voices of Hope essay and possibly my video). It was five years ago that I really first felt free of that addiction. In fact it was at Pageant that that miracle began. A lot has happened in the past five years: I've done several years at BYU, I left on my mission (twice), I came home from my mission (twice), I opened up to EVERYONE in my life about my SSA (that dark secret that I was never going to tell ANYONE), I have worked through (and continue to work through) feelings of dependency and codependency, I have made amazing friends, and (arguably most importantly) I have begun to accept my Heavenly Father's love and to believe that I am worthy of love. I am happier now than I remember being in a long time and largely that is because I've chosen to be happy. Life isn't always pleasant and I have bad days, but life is always worth living and it is always worth striving to be happy. As is mentioned various times in Pageant (quoting Alma) I have "felt a change in [my] heart" and I know that that change has come through the Savior Jesus Christ. He is the whole reason this Pageant is happening. He is the whole reason anything happens. Without Him, all of this mortal experience would be wasted.

I'm a couple hours away from Rochester, so I'll close this now. I'll try to make updates while I'm gone, but I just want to leave my testimony (the same as the last line from the Pageant--unless I'm remembering incorrectly): He lives and He will come again.