I wrote this testimony for a very close friend. I expected it to hit on several points of study and inspiration. But soon after the first three or four paragraphs, my words took an unexpected turn. I wrote it, asking myself, "When did I truly know?" The truth is that the answer is messy. There have been dozens, if not hundreds of times I "truly knew," where I felt God's presence unmistakably. My testimony is not one earth-shattering moment, it is many. It is a testimony of the Lord's patience as he has held the hand of a willful, rebellious, lonely child as she struggles through a life that has never been what she wanted it to be.
To me, testimony has not been a plant or a light as much as it has been a struggle to stand against the waves of the sea. My life has never been truly bad. I have been richly blessed, and kept safe by the hand of God. But to me, it has been difficult to stay true to what I have known to be true, and to learn that elusive charity for others...and for myself.
I have long acted on belief. I have not often been disappointed in the rewards for that trust in God. But I am learning that some rewards are long in coming, and some blessings look an awful lot like curses. Trust does not come easily for me, but I have learned to trust God and rely on Him for my salvation. I only hope that I can be an instrument for good in His hands.
I think the first time I felt the Book of Mormon was true, I was about six or seven. I asked my mom a question about something, and she told me to go find an answer in the Book of Mormon. I remember being frustrated at the lack of a real answer, but going to my room and picking up my copy of the Book. I flipped through it randomly, and read what it opened to. As I read, I felt what I knew was the Spirit, teaching me and answering my question.
That’s a magical sort of testimony. My parents were always like that, making us go and find our own answers, teaching us to rely on our own relationship with God to build our testimony. But magic only lasts so long.
As a teenager, taking Seminary and reading the scriptures myself, I was constantly pricked with troublesome questions. From Nephi slaying Laban and being wracked with life-long guilt, and Abinadi dying because he preached the gospel, to Sarah and Hagar, or Emma’s struggle with being the wife of a Prophet, I was troubled, I pondered and prayed my way through building a testimony of God and His dealings with mankind.
I didn't read any supplementary books. The scriptures themselves were enough material for me to pore over. They let me live dozens of other lives dedicated to God's service, and taught me of the harsh reality of what it meant to be a disciple.
This was the theoretical part of my testimony. I thought through everything, but I hadn’t really tested my faith. By the time I graduated college, I had experience following the guidance of the Spirit even when I wasn’t sure of the consequences. It had always blessed me. But that was about to change.
Though I had wanted to serve a mission for some time, I received guidance the year before I would have gone that I should not go. Nearly a year and a half later, I had the opportunity to reconsider. This time, I felt I should go. I was unprepared, but my parents (after due protest) were supportive and offered to help fund my mission.
Going into the mission field was so sudden for me that it was a bit of a shock. I landed in Germany only two months after putting in my papers. Once the Lord moved, He moved quickly. Immediately, I was hit with allergies and a training companion who did not like me at all. I was not the eager greenie she expected. Instead, I was older than she was, with more life experience, and I was miserably sick.
Looking back with what I know now, I know that I let her get to me. I felt awful. I thought I was a terrible missionary. All the rules and structure they imposed grated on me. It went against everything I felt a mission should be. In my second area, my new companion healed much of the damage that had been done, but the self-doubt would linger throughout my service. I was never good enough to feel I had made an acceptable sacrifice to my Lord.
It was on my mission, however, that I was humbled and shaped. I think that the most important part of my mission boils down to hearing that something I said early in my mission inspired an anorexic, self-hating, bottom-of-life woman to change. I merely told her to “never give up,” something I had just promised (or would soon) an Apostle of the Lord. She changed her life, and was transformed. Seeing that change created a bond to God in me that was what kept me attached to the Gospel by the skin of my teeth later in life.
That was a testimony of practice, of habit, of lifestyle. Truthfully, I think that even after everything I had been through in life, the first time I really knew I had a testimony, a no-matter-what sort of testimony, was when I looked into the eyes of my husband and saw the end of my world.
By the time it happened, he had already frightened me. I had been told that I offended people, so I’d stopped trying to be friends. I had been chased halfway down the street, literally barefoot and pregnant, sobbing and with the knowledge I had nowhere to go.
The home teachers came to my house and talked to us uncomfortably about not fighting, and I was sure it was my inability to compromise that led to the friction in my marriage. I just couldn't find enough in myself to give. In short, I was in the middle of a complex web of destroyed self-esteem and being helplessly alone. My whole world at that moment was fighting to find a way to keep my husband happy without losing myself, and I was failing.
When he tried to keep me from going to church, I found out what it really meant to me to believe in God. Somehow, for the first time, as my heart fell to pieces, I hit rock bottom and found that my rock was my Savior. My husband could not take that from me, alone among all the lost things that had once made me who I was.
My experiences were not the worst. But they taught me that I was more than an object, more than a daughter to practice obedience, a wife to please her husband, or a mother to raise children. I had a relationship with my God which could not be taken by any other mortal. I might share it, but I would never give it away.
The covenant I had made to “never give up,” which I had passed on to another broken daughter of God—whom I had met before I even knew what being broken meant—kept me alive and sane. In the end, that was all I had. Even it was strained as I lost confidence in my ability to hear and recognize the Spirit.
Of all the things that can be said of me, both good and bad, it will not be said of me in the end that “she gave up.” I am one of the least on this earth. I do not have much to give the kingdom, especially as a busy single mother and recovering perfectionist. But I will not give up. Because He didn’t. And even though there have been times when I longed for a break from the fight, I promised Him through His anointed servant that I would not, either.