This post has been a long time in the making. Like, six years in the making. I do tell this story all the time. Chances are that if we have known each other for a year or more, you have heard me tell it. I like to talk about this day, this experience, because it gives me a good reminder and helps me to refocus.
In the summer of 2006, I hated myself.
I was overwhelmed with what I thought were God's expectations of me. I had applied to serve a mission for my church, and was called to serve in Canada. I had this idea in my head that, to be prepared to serve, I had to have a pretty perfect understanding of the gospel I followed. I also thought that I had to follow it perfectly. I also thought that, if you followed the gospel perfectly, you should be able to do everything else perfectly too. I can tell you that putting this kind of pressure on yourself can be damaging.
I don't like to talk much about that time in my life because it's all kind of hazy. Sure, I never turned to drugs, or hurting myself. I didn't become morbidly obese either. I just walked around thinking I was an idiot, all the time. I remember walking home from school one day and tripping on the sidewalk. I stayed in my room the rest of the night, sobbing that I couldn't even walk right.
One Sunday, however, I was asked to teach a lesson on the atonement of Jesus Christ. I was nervous and panicked about it. The atonement of Christ is what our religion is all about, and I did not feel like I had even a clue how to explain it. This made me feel even worse about my decision to go on a mission. How on earth was I going to be able to explain it to strangers when I couldn't even explain it to a group of women who already knew all about it? I studied up. I read a lot of books. I did a lot of praying.
When the time came to teach the lesson, I pretty much just stood up there and I cried. I think I said "I don't know" a lot. I was very confused. I thought that this was the part of my story where I just opened my mouth and God filled my heart with love and everything was suddenly clear. He didn't. I felt even more awful than I had before.
Not long before I was to report for my mission, a roommate asked me if I wanted to go white-water rafting. Our school offered a way cheap option for an all-day trip and a group of friends were all going to go. I thought it sounded fun and agreed. In the van on the way to the river, I listened to everyone talk about how they had been white-water rafting before. They were all telling crazy stories and using giant hand gestures. I was pretty much terrified by the time we reached our destination. I had never been rafting before, and I was sure I was going to die.
Once we all had our life jackets on, the rec management majors taking us down the river told us that we were going to practice and receive some instruction in some calm water. We loaded in, about 4 girls on each side, and our guide sitting slightly higher than us in a chair on the back of the raft. We each had an oar, except for the guide who had two. He started giving us some instruction, but we had all been drinking Rockstars that day and wouldn't shut up. The guide's wife, who was sitting behind me, told us that her husband spoke quietly so we all had to really listen up if we wanted a safe time. I really wanted a safe time.
Our guide taught us commands he would yell and what we should do with each command. We paddled around some shallow water, practicing. He told us that, when we hit rapids, our natural instinct will be to pull our oars in and ride out the rapid. He said that if we did that, there would be no counter pressure and the raft could flip. "You, or I, or all of us will fall out of the boat." He said whenever he yelled "dig" we should all dig our oars into the rapid water and row as hard as we could.
We were the second raft in our group heading down the river. As we started to get going, we loved all of it. Eight silly girls in oversized sunglasses. We were a sight to see. The rapids were fun, not scary. We followed the commands of our guide and laughed a lot.
As we went on, I noticed that our guide was getting more and more excited. He said that the big rapid was getting closer. It made me nervous, but he told me that he had gone down this river multiple times. It still didn't help that I had signed that waiver before hand saying if I died, it was just too bad. I could hear the roar of the "big rapid" before I saw it. We stalled our raft so that the raft in front of us would have plenty of room. I didn't think that the big rapid looked all that daunting, but as the first raft hit the first wave, it went vertical. I watched the people in front of us flail in the air, and when the raft landed again, fall on top of each other in completely different spots on the boat.
And there we were. Bobbing up and down in our raft. Watching in total silence.
When it was our turn, our guide couldn't wipe that stupid smile off of his face. He reminded us to dig. We gave some sort of battle cry before we started rowing. When we hit the first wave, I don't know what happened. All I could see was water and my roommate in my lap. I closed my eyes and I prayed to heaven above to get me out of this thing without falling out! I heard the muffled cries of the guide "DIG! DIG! DIG!"
I rowed. I rowed my oar with everything I had in me. I put my soul into rowing my oar. I dug. I dug a hole to China with that oar! I had never tried at anything so hard in my entire life!
I opened my eyes. We were still in the thick of the rapid, but the water was not overcoming my face. I was still rowing as hard as I could, but my oar was not in the water.
Disoriented, I had been vigorously rowing... the air.
Realizing my mistake, I immediately put my oar back in the water and kept going until we were out of the rapid. We cheered and laughed and I sighed a huge sigh of relief. And then it hit me.
The guide told us that we had to row with everything we had in order to not fall out of the raft. He promised that if we did, we would not fall out. He did not say, however, that we had to row perfectly. He knew that he was taking inexperienced girls down a river. That's why he had to be experienced with those rapids and go down them multiple times on his own before taking us. That's why he had two oars instead of one and sat in the back- so that he could have ultimate control. So he could make up for the crazy girl rowing the air as hard as she could.
Christ has told us to give all we have to becoming like Him. He promised us that, if we do, we will have eternal life. He knows that we are inexperienced in this life, but that is why, through His suffering in the garden and His death on the cross, He has gone through everything we have and have yet to go through. Through his resurrection, He has all power, two oars instead of our one. He has ultimate control. He makes up for the times we are rowing the air because at least we are rowing.
That is the atonement of Jesus Christ.
All of it hit me in about 3 seconds, and I screamed out to the sky and the trees and the world:
"THE CHURCH IS TRUE!"
I believe I went on and served my mission in Canada faithfully. There were times where my best was floundering and awkward. Now, 4 years since I have returned home, I have yet to have a "perfect day."
But I do not beat myself up over my imperfections- rather, I glory in the fact that, because of Christ, I can change them. My life is forever changed because of this one simple outlook. Sure, I am not always great at remembering it, but when I do, I am filled with the love and hope of God. My Savior. My Redeemer.
My eternal guide.