“Master the Tempest is Raging”
Boston Stake Relief Society Conference, Weston, MA
Friday, May 19, 2017
Master the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’ershadowed with blackness.
No shelter or help is nigh.
Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today.
The depths of my sad heart are troubled.
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
The winds and the waves shall obey thy will:
Peace, be still.
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies. (Hymns, 105)
Do you ever feel like you live in a small vessel, tossed by huge waves, lightning, and heavy rain? Are you afraid? Do you long for peace?
I believe that peace can be found, regardless of the sea and the storm that rage around us.
The question of the evening is: how do we invite and keep the Master with us in our little vessel – and find peace?
To answer, I will share three stories.
My first story – Finding Peace in Disappointment
I grew up in a town in rural, Mormon Idaho. I lived my young life – figuratively speaking – smack dab in the middle of the bell-shaped Mormon curve. My parents were sealed in the temple and we were a family that went to church, ate meals together, and had Family Home Evening.
I never dreamed that my life would move me out of the fat belly of the bell shaped curve. But life turned out different than I planned, and I found myself many standard deviations to the left – in the skinny outlier region. One of the things that makes me different from my Mormon peers is that I have no children of my own. I am 47, unmarried and childless.
The “I will never bear a child” reality has grown slowly over the past ten years. It is a unique pain, known only to a few, but it is now an integral part of my emotional landscape. Unlike the sudden sting of a death, there is no funeral, no grave, no gathered community, and no name. Gradually, and by myself, I bury my unborn children.
The loss has overwhelmed me at times. And it is has been largely unrecognized and misunderstood by my childbearing peers. I feel like I watch through the glass as other women name their babies and raise their children. I wonder what it would be to grow and carry another human inside my body. I wonder what it would it sound to have a small voice call, “Mom.”
I cannot heal my grief by replacing it with other things or other children – or “other kinds of mothering.”
While few of you know this specific kind of disappointment – you all know what disappointment feels like. Life has not turned out the way we planned – for any of us.
It is not just our lives that don’t turn – it is our faith too. Neither my faith in the Savior nor in the church is the same today as it was when I was young. It has grown. And it has also shrunk. It has been frustrated and it has been disappointed.
How do we find peace?
I believe one solution is to rethink our narrative, our story. And we can make it triumphant.
Let me quote from Heather Sundahl, whom many of you know and love.
“There is power in stories, especially your own stories. And if our stories are not working, we can rethink them, own them, and even change them – through Christ – to find new beginnings and happy endings.”
Brene Brown says: “Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending, to rise strong, to recognize our story and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes, this my truth, and I will choose how this story ends.” (see also Heather Sundahl’s talk at the 2014 Boston Stake Relief Society Conference, “The Stories We Tell…(and What They Tell Us)”)
My story, the one that has brought me grief and heartache, has also made me unique. This brings me peace. This allows me to feel that I am loved and needed by the Lord, in my own special way — just like each of you are uniquely loved and needed.
- When my teen-aged nephew calls me to tell me he hates his family and he wants to run away, I am uniquely positioned to help him specifically because I am not his mother.
- When I see my friend crying at church, I can talk to her about her miscarriage because I know what it is to lose something unborn.
- When I started my organizing business, the Spirit whispered to me that I was uniquely positioned give energy and time to this work and to help others with my talent, because I had time and energy to give.
Let me give you an example from the scriptures. On the first Easter morning, women came to the tomb of Jesus – with anointing oil.
Why is it that women are coming on this morning rather than the apostles? Well, we might think – as I often have – women are nice. They are service-focused. They loved Jesus. But I think that the apostles were also nice and probably service-focused. And they certainly loved Jesus. Why weren’t they there?
If we study the history, we learn that the apostles were in hiding at this precarious time just after Jesus’ crucifixion. So it was the women – who were not regarded as important, who were not noticed – that were available on that Easter morning. I don’t think I would like to be a woman in Jesus’ time, and be unimportant and unnoticed. But it was this very fact that allowed them to be at the tomb and be the first witnesses of the resurrection. Their story was ultimately triumphant. And ours can be too.
Christ tells us that He will sanctify and redeem all the heartache in our stories – and bring us peace.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee overflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress. (“How Firm a Foundation,” Hymns, 85)
My second story – Finding Peace in the Darkness
To begin I will quote from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. This scene is of Galadriel, an elf queen, giving gifts to Frodo and his companions as she makes her journey to Mordo to destroy the Ring of Power. She says:
“I give you the light of Earendil, our brightest star. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
Not long after this scene, Frodo separates himself from his companions to journey alone. He finds himself in dark cave with no light and a large spider trying to kill him. He remembers the light of Earendil and pulls it out. It is indeed a light in this dark place. The power of this light repels the spider and allows him to escape from the cave.
Life is full of dark times, and occasionally we have particularly desperate times when ALL of the lights go out. 2012 was such a time for me.
I was heartbroken over the loss of a romantic relationship that was headed toward marriage. I had been deeply in love, so I was also deeply crushed over the long drawn-out painful ending. The whole breakup sent shock waves through our mutual friendships and waves of grief through my own heart.
At the same time I was laid off from a good job and was in the midst of rejection letters in the search for a new job. I was struggling to find my own worth and this kicked me further down the hole of “not enough.”
A few months later – cancer. Being treated for cancer was dark, but even darker was the conclusion of cancer treatment. In January 2013, I finished chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free by my doctors. My friends, who had supported me in so many gracious ways, let out a collective “Hooray” – and went back to their lives.
And I was alone. I had no hair. My body was still very weak. And I was financially devastated. I didn’t know how to get my life back – or even how to be grateful to be alive.
You may have felt like this. You may feel like this tonight – right now. You may even feel that your darkness is caused by your own sin. We are all too familiar with our shortcomings and failings. Focusing on them does not bring us peace. Forgiving ourselves and loving ourselves does.
I don’t know all the individuals in the audience. I don’t your trials or your failings. But I do know that you ARE WORTHY. You are worthy of love. Of forgiveness. Of peace. Right now. Today. As you are.
We sometimes believe that we are the only ones who struggle in such times, but we are not.
The women and men who came before us had some dark times too. A particular poem printed in the 2002 Ensign about pioneers has had special meaning to me. It is called “At Journey’s End” by Elaine Wright Christensen. I will read a section to you:
Thirteen times we crossed the Platte …[and]… how we pled for the waters to part.
Now we kneel here in the sand, grateful for every unanswered plea that proved us.
Faith is the mountain that does not flee, the water that does not part.
And our faith … wrung drop by drop, blossoms – red as the promised rose.
Though my dark times seems to pale in comparison to those experienced my pioneer ancestors, their determination inspired me. In my mind they seem to say, “We too obeyed the Lord’s commandments, we too prayed for relief from our trails, we too struggled to comprehend why we had to endure so much, we too were unsure of our answers.”
There is some comfort in knowing that others struggle with dark times just as we do, but we are all still alone IN dealing with such times. So, two suggestions on HOW to find peace.
#1 – See the light that is already around you.
Light and dark have some ironic outcomes. When times are good and light is good and we can easily see all our paths and all our options, this conversely makes it harder to see which SPECIFIC path we should take. It’s harder to see THE WAY.
But when it is darkest, we look our with our blind eyes say “which way, Lord?” Then, it is BECAUSE OF THE VERY darkness that I we see. We see the dim, low light and hear the quiet voice that says, “There – there is your next step.” And when we see the way illuminated, however dim, we feel – peace.
In the darkness, the other thing we see is the light of others. In my own dark time, I saw so clearly the very bright light and goodness of others, as they came to serve me and to comfort me, in small ways and in large ways. Their light of compassion and love and plain old human goodness burned bright in the night sky of my life. And when we see the goodness of others, we are again given a measure of – peace.
#2 – My second suggestion in dark times: tap into the light.
We need to “Be Still.”
In the Lord of the Rings story, Frodo’s light was with him the whole time. He simply had to recognize it and hold on to it.
Similarly, the light and peace of Christ is always with us, like the blue sky is always there, above the clouds and storm. We simply have to recognize it and see it.
Meditation is not part of the Mormon faith tradition, but I think it should be. Meditation helps me be still. It helps me tap into the light and peace that is already around me and available to me.
Phillip McLemore wrote a beautiful article called “The Yoga of Christ.” It has had a deep influence on me, showing me how the power of meditation intersects with the teachings of Christ. I’m a newbie to meditation, but thankfully, with modern technology, there is a little thing called the Headspace app. I turn it on each morning – and center my core.
Let me give a more practical example.
I am a professional organizer, which means I organize space for people: offices, kitchens, closets, basements, garages. When a new client calls me, she is often feeling a bit desperate about some disorder in the house. She often meets me at the door with a frantic look in her eye and a credit card. “Let’s go to the Container Store,” she says. “I’ll buy whatever you tell me to buy. I just want to fix this problem.” But buying new organizing things is much further down the list of organizing steps. Step ONE is sit still and envision.
I ask my client to sit down in the room that is creating the trouble and to be still. I ask her to look at the room and tell me how she feels in the room, and then to start envisioning what the room would look like and feel like if it were organized.
Darkness is not a time to go flailing about. We must learn to be still. The other half of the “Be Still” scripture is “Know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
The scriptures tell the story of a nameless woman who never speaks a word – but who knows her God. I read from the 14th chapter of Mark.
“And being in Bethany, as Jesus sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. And Jesus said, “She hath done what she could; she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.” (Mark 14:3-8)
She brake the box as Jesus’ body would be broken. She poured out ointment as Jesus’ blood would pour out. And she anointed his head because she knew that he was a King – and that he would die for her.
In our own moments of breaking and pouring, we CAN know our God, and find peace in His gifts.
My final story – A Story of Hope
I dreamed a dream when 7 years old. I remember it clearly today and have thought of it many times.
I dreamed that I was coming home at night with my family – at that time, my parents and 2 younger sisters. It was late and my sisters were asleep, so my parents were carrying them up the stairs to our house. I walked behind them, then heard someone call my name. I turned to see Jesus standing at the foot of the stairs, all in white, looking at me. I knew immediately it was Him and a feeling of familiarity flooded over me. I ran back down the stairs and threw myself into His arms. He hugged me, then kissed the top of my head and said, “I love you.” I knew He loved me. I knew it. He held my face in His hands and looked into my blue eyes and said, “I love you.” I felt it through my whole body. Love. Acceptance. The intense sense of being known. And I’ve carried it with me.
Seven years later when I received my patriarchal blessing, these same thoughts were reiterated by the patriarch:
“The Lord loves you more than you can understand or appreciate at this time. I bless you that your understanding of the Lord’s love will be one of the most powerful and significant guides to your life.”
And it truly has been. The Savior has been THE power in my life and THE significant guide.
I believe in a living Christ. Let me return to the three women going to the tomb on the first Easter morning. I was taught that they went to anoint Jesus’ dead body because He had been buried in haste the Friday before. But as I read this story more recently, a new thought occurred to me. These were women who knew Jesus and who understood this message. They knew He would rise on the third day. Perhaps they were not going to the tomb that day to anoint a dead man at all. Perhaps they expected to see a risen Christ – and they went to anoint their King!
God’s answer to all the sorrow, and hurt, and brokenness – is still and always – a baby born in Bethlehem – Emmanuel – God with us – in our joy and in our suffering. Our small acts of goodness can be part of His divine plan.
Like Jesus in the manger, we are all small and helpless and vulnerable.
Like Mary His mother, we will hurt and suffer. Like Joseph His earthly father, we will be invited to participate in miracles we do not understand. And in and through and below it all, God promises to be with us – and He WILL make our suffering redemptive. He will increase our capacity for love and joy. And we will have peace.
“No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.”