In a couple of weeks will be the Fifth Anniversary of my Baptism (on June 14, 2009). Today, I got up in fast and testimony meeting and bore testimony that every good thing in my life has come as a result of my decision to follow the savior and enter into the waters of baptism. My mission, my law school success, my marriage, and my soon to be born daughter have all come as a result of my choice to follow the savior and to keep following him despite challenges, trials and obstacles.
In honor of my five year anniversary of membership in the Church of Christ, I wanted to write about five things for which I am particularly grateful. These five are not in any particular order, and I should certainly come up with many others.
1) Faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement:
I can’t begin such a list without first talking about Jesus Christ. He is the center of my faith and the rock upon which I build my life. As a teenager, I had explored Christianity and had developed a very crude understanding of Jesus Christ. However, I am especially grateful that thanks to the Book of Mormon and the Church I have better come to understand who he was and the matchless power of his Atonement.
It is amazing to me to consider that 5.5 years ago when I first met with the missionaries for the first time, I was unwilling and unable to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Even after I first received a testimony in front of the Boston Temple, I struggled to understand why I needed a savior. I know that I made mistakes. but I thought that God would forgive me without the need for an atonement through my own efforts. Soon after, I came to understand that I simply could not do it alone. I could not be as good of a person without the savior. I could not overcome my weaknesses. I needed Christ’s atonement not because I was irreparably wicked or bad, but because I longed to become even better.
2) The Gift of the Holy Ghost
Related to my gratitude for the savior and his atonement, I am incredibly grateful for the Gift of the Holy Ghost that I received upon confirmation. Before baptism, I had felt the promptings of the Holy Ghost on several occasions. Indeed, I believe that the promptings and warning of the Holy Ghost saved my life on at least one occasion well before I knew about the church. In my long wait to be baptized, I often wondered whether actually taking the step and being baptized would make a difference. Could the Gift of the Holy Ghost really be all that different?
At first after my confirmation, I only noticed subtle differences. However, in the course of these five years I have noticed that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is an immense blessing and has changed my life in many ways. I think most significantly, before my baptism I experienced many dramatic ups an downs. One day I would feel incredibly close to my Heavenly Father and the next I would feel nearly overwhelmed with fear. Since baptism and confirmation, I feel like my life has become much more constant.
One other way that I have profoundly felt the impact of the spirit is on the occasions when I do something that drives the spirit away. Before baptism, I comfortable watched R rated movies, listened to death metal and did other acts repugnant to the spirit. Since confirmation and reception of the Holy Ghost I simply cannot do those things. When I do, I feel the spirit literally leave and feel a sense of darkness. I am driven to avoid this feeling and this helps me make correct choices.
3) The Temple
I have written in depth about how I first received my testimony in front of the Boston Temple. Since then, the temple has become a refuge for me and a place of incredible comfort. Even before I could enter the temple, I would go outside of the temple and read my scriptures and pray. The week after my baptism, I went and did baptisms for the first time in the Manhattan. I received my endowment a little more than a year later in the Salt Lake Temple. In this hectic world, it is nice to have a place where I can go, unplug and receive revelation.
I think that heavenly father knew how much I need to go to the temple for spiritual rejuvenation, because I was called to the Novosibirsk Russia Mission. While Novosibirsk is probably about as far from the temple as any major city in the world, Russian missionaries were required for visa reasons to leave the country every three months. Thus, we were able to go to Helsinki Finland and go to the temple. I am so grateful for this tender mercy. Every trip was an incredible opportunity to account for my stewardship before the lord and to receive needed comfort and revelation.
Since my mission, my connection to the temple has remained strong. I especially love going to the temple right before exams start each semester and being uplifted. Though I don’t have the same desperate longing for the temple that I once did, the Temple and my spiritual experiences there form the center of my testimony.
4) The Plan of Salvation
Nothing has meant more to than my knowledge of God’s plan for each of us. I am grateful to my Heavenly Father for giving me knowledge of my eternal potential. Before joining the church, I often wondered why I was here and especially what happened after this life. I grew up in a household with a sick father and where the question of morality was ever present. It always seems to me that this life had to have some higher purpose and meaning.
I am especially grateful to know that I have a heavenly father who loves me unconditionally. Knowing my heavenly father has helped me strive to become a better son and develop a closer relationship with my earthly father. Knowing my father in heaven has also made me feel loved unconditionally. He has developed this plan for me because of his love. He has sent me here to Earth knowing the trials I would face. He has not sent me here to fail, but to triumph.
I am also grateful to know that God’s plan is just and that all will have a chance to accept the Gospel. Knowing that God’s plan is truly fair enhances my regard for him and my love for him.
5) Eternal Families
I love my family. Even though members of my family did not understand why I made the choice to join the church, I really feel like so much of what I have done is for my family both present and future. The happiest day of my life was when I did the temple work for my mother sealing her to her parents, followed closely with my own sealing. Each of these events had such a great eternal significance to me. All of the challenges in life are worth it if it means that I can spend eternity with them and with my father in heaven.
I will soon be a father and that is an incredible responsibility and opportunity. I am so grateful to know that my daughter and all additional children will be born in the covenant and sealed to me eternally. I am so grateful that despite challenges that will come, the cords of eternity will bind us together.