By Elyse Rose Freeman
My beloved brothers and sisters, it is an honor and a privilege to stand before you. It is an awesome opportunity to bear my testimony of the Savior and His work upon the earth.
Some years ago a woman sat in a Fast and Testimony Meeting in Salt Lake City at the Church Administration Building. Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve sat peacefully on the stand next to President Gordon B. Hinckley, then first counselor in the first presidency. It was a week after general conference. The woman and her two friends had spent several days in the Family History Center and this was to be the highlight of their week.
“No, Dino,” she had said to her friend, “I don’t want to go to church with the prophet. I am content to go to a normal sacrament meeting, in a normal meeting house, and sit on a normal back row.” Her friend insisted, saying it would be the greatest experience of their lives to see the prophet, maybe even to meet him. Protests were filed. Nothing would sway her.
They came in early and sat on the front row next to Marjorie Hinckley.
“Why, dears, how sweet of you to want to meet me! Gordon gets all of the attention,” was the beginning of a wonderful highlight.
Listening to the testimonies, a prompting came, “Stand up and bear your testimony.”
“No,” the woman replied back to the Spirit. “I can’t do that.”
“Go on, stand up and bear your testimony.”
“No!” she said more emphatically.
“If you can stand and bear your testimony to prophets, your children will never doubt how much you loved the Lord and His gospel. They will know you would die for your testimony.”
Too nervous, too afraid that she would lose her courage if she stayed seated, she stood and walked to the side of the room. She hoped the pounding in her chest would stop then. It didn’t. She shook President Hinckley’s hands afterward. They were large and work-worn. She was impressed. What an awesome experience.
I am no less expectant today than I was in bearing my testimony to President Hinckley those years ago.
This assignment has brought the atonement more fully into my life. Many of you have lived through the greatest test in your lives and fully understand the blessings of adversity. I am still living mine. A member for 30 years, mother of six, grandmother of ten, I love the gospel with all my heart and soul.
There is a part of my life that is missing though. I chose a marriage partner, not knowing all the guidelines set forth in the scriptures. I found him before I found the church. Looking back on it, I know the Lord cautioned me, warned me, but once promises were exchanged, he honored my agency. After we both joined the church five years later, I so hoped that he would see his own potential and make the necessary changes to bring the atonement into his life. We had six children together, now all grown, all laboring in one degree or another because of my choice and their father’s choices. I finally had to accept the fact almost four years ago that I couldn’t fix things, that his life had gone far beyond anything that I could do or anyone else could do to help him ?except the Lord. It had to be his choice and the Lord honored it, too.
I chose my test but the Lord did not leave me without light and guidance. As with the choice Eve made in the garden, I learned many things about myself that perhaps I could have only learned in the fire of adversity. I am eternally grateful for the strong spirits that entered my home and life as my children. Each one of my children is still trying very hard to overcome the breakup of the foundation of their home, and in some cases their lives. Some of them are drowning because they have taken themselves away from the atonement. Others are standing tall and letting out the line until their beloved brother or sister can reach out and hold on with their own strength again. We love each other very much. I believe each one of them would give their own lives for each other. It is still a wonderful, vibrant family-filled with love. It is that miracle that I would like to address; how the Lord enables us to succeed in very trying circumstances and not just succeed, have joy and peace.
Unexpected Blessings Come When You are Trying Your Very Best
Despite the fact that we lived in adverse circumstances, each of my children was valiant. There were Eagle Scouts, Young Women Medallion recipients, temple weddings, missions, and blended voices around a piano. Because I so desired to be strengthened to raise my children in righteousness and to have a special relationship with Jesus Christ through our trials, I sought out opportunities to study the gospel. I was able to graduate from institute. My children and I assisted in blessing the lives of many of our ancestors in the temple. We were able to accept and honor many, many callings in quorums and auxiliaries including the stewardship of serving as presidents, counselors, and teachers. Drop by drop of precious oil was placed into our lamps by the atonement of Christ.
Strength and Virtue Come from Bearing Up Under Your Own and Each Other’s Burdens
There are many virtues that came into our lives as individuals and as a family. We became fierce in our loyalty to one another; flexible because it was required; naturally positive because the opposite was unendurable; tolerant and sensitive to others in their differences; non-judgmental because of our own weaknesses; and patient because we never had all the answers. Despite the challenges we each face today, we are unyielding in our testimonies because we saw the Lord in action so many times guiding us, teaching us, and harboring us in the hollow of his hand.
Pain is a Necessary Part of Life: The Greater the Pain We Endure, the Greater the Blessings
After the death of my parents, I desired to do work for the dead. One great-grandmother in particular caught my attention and earned my love though I had never met her. We had so many things in common. As I immersed myself in research, my heart healed and I was given strength to go on in my own life. When I finally took her family to the temple, it was a glorious experience, one that I will never forget and I am blessed with the memory of her love for me and gratitude as I assisted in performing those ordinances to give her back what she most loved in life.
My Relationship with Jesus Christ Bloomed Through Adversity
Through infirmities, illnesses, distress, and anguish, I have found my Lord. He succors me and releases me from memories I cannot change, from pain that has passed away. He carries my burdens. He makes my weakness become strength. He has personally experienced all of it. He understands our pain and will walk with us even in our darkest hours. I am grateful for those who came to my assistance, never judged me, provided me with respite. He sent you. He sends us all to help one another if we but listen.
We are all like the little cottage who is content to bask in the warm sun, enjoy an occasional rose bush trailing up our picket fence, happy to house a cozy little fire. The Lord understands our desire to sit on the back row and acknowledges our negative response at prodding us to progress. His plan for us is otherwise. He would build of us a castle, knock out beams and walls, and sculpt a fortress with cascading, jeweled gardens filled with glory, intelligence, peace, and joy. “No, I can’t do that,” is our protest. Just let Him try. It is my prayer that we will all feel deep gratitude for his architectural designs on us and gladly accept His building plan.
I do not have all the answers yet. Perhaps I never will in this life. To speak to you today, I have had to seek out the Lord’s atonement, his peace, direction, comfort, and discernment.
I am so grateful to the stake presidency for their inspiration to kick me out of my seat to bear my testimony, to search for truth, to find healing. I am grateful for the scriptures and the power of prayer. I am grateful for my testimony of this work, for the clear, simple phrasing of the Book of Mormon, I know that it is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that a prophet of God today, even Gordon B. Hinckley, whose hand held my own, leads us. I have an unshakeable testimony of the priesthood of God and the restoration of the gospel. I know that Jesus Christ stands at the head of this church, that it is His.
I have renewed confidence and hope that the healing of my family will continue to take place, that strength will be forthcoming. I have shirked this test. I have begged, pleaded for this cup to pass away. It cannot. It is part of the building plan. He will help us to heal the splinters, the blisters on our hands, with the nail holes of His own.