A Light in the Dark

As a kid, everything seems to have a hint of magic to it. Something mystical, even otherworldly. I’d be lying if I said that I never felt the magic of going somewhere like an amusement park, or a long-anticipated end of the summer vacation. Growing up, at least for me, my magical experience was my family’s annual week-long trip to Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border. My family has been going on this trip for the better part of forty years. My grandparents bought a time share on a houseboat in the late ‘80s and we’ve been using the same houseboat ever since: Moki Sunrise. I’ve been going on this trip since I can remember. In my twenty-two years, we have only missed the trip maybe three times. Every time we go down, I have been filled with excitement that can only be compared to opening gifts on Christmas morning mixed with going to Disneyland. It was magical. It was a week full of swimming, playing in the sand, tubing, wakeboarding, hiking, jumping off of the houseboat, and – one of my personal favorites – playing Phase Ten and Yahtzee with Grandma. The trip always takes place between the last week of July and the first week of August. It has always been the last hurrah before school starts. This added to the mystical and surreal nature of the trip. Time seemed to slow down. Summer was put on pause for one week while we enjoyed the activities and above all the company.

I’m not going to say that the magic has totally disappeared now that I’m older. What I will say is that there is a definitely different feeling being on the trip as an adult. This year, I was the only unmarried adult on the trip and there were fifteen kids under the age of eighteen on the boat. I did feel a bit out of place. One of my cousins that I am close with got married earlier this year and she came with her husband, my younger brother came with his wife, and one of my other cousins came with his girlfriend. I was just there. I guess, in a way, I didn’t have to worry about anyone other than myself but seeing two of my closest cousins and my younger brother enjoying the company of their significant others really put me in a weird position. Anyway, I was an adult on the trip but not quite an adult. I definitely wasn’t a child. That time is long gone. With being an adult, and especially a male adult, it was my turn to take on more responsibility. I was reluctant to do so because, you know, this is a vacation! I’m here to relax and have fun! But, I realized that this trip was no longer a trip for me. It wasn’t a trip for adults. Just like a trip to Disneyland isn’t generally a trip for the parents, I was beginning to realize that this trip wasn’t my trip. It was a trip to make the kids happy. So, I rolled up my big boy sleeves and set out to help the younger kids have a fun time.

Some of the responsibilities I claimed as an adult on the boat were bringing some snacks for after meals, watching younger kids, finding a spot for our houseboat, helping with putting the anchors down and making sure that they’re secure, and the occasional gas and water run back to the marina. We were prepared for the trip. We had more than enough food; we had sunscreen, gasoline for the boats, and water. Although we had made the necessary preparations, we ran out of fresh water on Wednesday. Conveniently enough, my younger brother and his wife had to leave the same day. So, we loaded him and his wife up on our speedboat with their luggage, the trash we had accumulated over the last few days, two coolers, a couple of those orange Gatorade water containers that get dumped on football coaches after victories, and five 5-gallon gas cans. Aside from my brother and his wife, my parents and one of my uncles were on the boat with us. Our plan was to drop my brother and his wife off, help them unload their stuff, get water, ice, and gas for the next three days. After getting the married couple on their way, my uncle and I were assigned to gas and ice duty while my parents disposed of the garbage and got fresh water.

front of boat

We got to the marina a little after six in the evening. There was still light out, but it was getting darker. It wasn’t a problem. At least not yet. We were able to get through the Castle Rock Cut before the sun started to set. The sky was a gold-purple hybrid; the color of the Los Angeles Lakers. It was an awesome gradient that faded from gold to dark orange and then to violet and finally to the color of the purpling night sky. We anchored the houseboat on a beach about an hour away from the marina, so we still had a good forty-five minutes before we would be back at the houseboat. While we were futilely racing the sunset, we took a wrong turn. I had used the GPS feature on my phone to help my dad find the spot where we ended up anchoring the houseboat, but I had left my phone to charge on the houseboat. Plus, I knew that I would be in the water a lot because I needed to help push our speedboat off the beach. When I got into the boat after pushing the boat off, my Dad asked, “Did you bring your phone?” I told him that I left it on the houseboat to charge. My uncle said in a surprised voice, “Are you serious?” I was serious, and when the sun finally started to set, I wished I hadn’t been serious.

We took a wrong turn and went about halfway down a channel until I realized that we weren’t going the way we came. I asked my Mom if she had brought her phone with her. Thankfully, she had. I asked her if I could use the GPS app on it. She gave me her phone and I waited as the GPS picked up a signal. The map came up slowly, frame by frame. It was blurry at first, but after about a minute, a clear aerial view of the lake was in my palm. We saw that we had to turn around and head down the right canyon instead of the left that we had accidentally gone down. The darkness was creeping in. It was dark enough that it made everyone in the boat a little uneasy, but it wasn’t so dark that we couldn’t see. What made things a little more difficult was that my Dad had only brought his prescription sunglasses. The dark was that much darker to him as he piloted the boat.

Lake Powell Stormy

As we rounded the corner and entered the main channel, my Dad said that it was getting harder and harder for him to see. I told him that I could drive if he needed me to. In the meantime, I used my Mom’s phone to both navigate and shine a few feet ahead as we made our way cautiously through the channel.

Before we knew it, the gradient that painted the sunset sky was now wholly devoid of color. The moon wasn’t out yet, and clouds closed in to create a cold canopy over the channel. Absence. Complete absence of light. Shapes of rocks, cliffs, and the water blended together to further the blackness that was contained under the clouds. The only lights we could see were blinking buoys that marked miles through the meandering muscle ridden lake. They blinked every two or three seconds. Dad couldn’t see anything in front of the boat and passed the steering wheel to me. I hadn’t really ever driven a boat before. I had taken a few of my cousins tubing the day before, but it was only for a few minutes. Now I was given total control over the craft. My mouth dried up and I started to panic. I couldn’t do this. I’m an adult, yes, but this was not one of the responsibilities of an adult as far as I was concerned. No where in the job description did it say, “Once you’re an adult male on the Lake Powell trip, you need to drive a boat through a channel in the middle of the night.”

dark lake powell

Although we could see exactly where we were on the GPS, we were lost. We knew where to go, but the way ahead of us was so dark that we couldn’t differentiate between the night sky and the water. The only thing keeping us afloat and drifting in the right direction was the blinking buoys. We stopped for a second and talked about what we should do. Dad was saying that we needed to just find a beach and stay the night in the boat. Everyone agreed. The only problem was that according to the images on the GPS, we were surrounded by fifty to seventy-foot cliffs and boulders. As far as we knew, we were nowhere near a beach. We decided to proceed slowly toward the buoys and use those as our destinations. We passed the first one, a green one. Then the second. But, when we got to the third one, we noticed that there were two other lights, one red and the other green. We didn’t know if they were in the water or above the water. As we got closer, the two extra beacons were indeed above the water. They marked the cliffs that were on either side of us.

After passing this point, we could only faintly make out the next buoy. My heart had been beating like the drums in a Hans Zimmer score and my mouth was getting dryer. I had been praying the entire time, pleading with God to show us, and now me as the driver, where to go. I felt impressed to ask my parents and my uncle to turn on the flashlights on their phones to shine at least a few feet ahead of us. I felt more comfortable knowing that I had some sort of light in front of me, even though it was accentuating how dark the water and the sky now were. At least I could see the darkness better. I could only see as far as the light penetrated the darkness, and that wasn’t that far. The next buoy seemed so distant almost beyond physical reach, and I didn’t think that we would be able to make it. I gave one last prayer: “Heavenly Father, I need to know where to go. Please show me where we need to go.” As soon as I closed my prayer, a pair of headlights turned on. They were brighter and considerably closer than the far-off buoy. They were shining right at us. Mom exclaimed, “The lights, head toward those lights!” I positioned the boat in the direction of the lights. Not only was the boat shining its lights at us, it was shining its lights at a beach as well as potential hazards near the beach, showing us a clear path to the beach between two houseboats. As we approached the boat, we were surprised to learn the driver wasn’t all that interested in us. He drove off into the dark. I later found out that they were just fishing late at night and happened to be facing our direction with their lights on.

We approached the shore and about thirty feet from the beach, we ran out of gas, so my Dad and my uncle had to hop out of the boat and swim the boat to shore. I got out when we got to the beach and helped guide and anchor the boat to a sizable rock near the shore. We were shaking, cold, wet, and most of all safe. Mom was able to send a text message to my older sister, who was on the houseboat with her family, letting her know that we were safe and that we would be back in the morning. My parents and I divided the boat into thirds and claimed them as our sleeping quarters for the night and my uncle slept on the beach with a beach towel. It definitely wasn’t the most comfortable sleep I had or any of us had, but I slept soundly knowing that we were safe and that we would be able to make it back in the morning. The clouds cleared as we started to get ready for bed. As I awkwardly contorted my body to fit the shape of the nose of the boat, I gazed up at the stars. God knew me. He was aware of my predicament. He helped me in a time when I needed it. God, the Creator of the Universe, knew that I, a scared twenty-two-year-old in the middle of a lake in northern Arizona, needed His help. The coolest thing was that He gave me an answer. It wasn’t a word. It wasn’t a fireball from heaven, an earthquake or a tempest. It was the lights of a fishing boat.

Morning

The next morning right before dawn, we took the anchor out and headed back to the houseboat, which was only about three miles away. As we cruised through the channels, we witnessed the sunrise with a newfound appreciation for light. We had experienced complete darkness in a boat and were it not for a pair of bright fishing lights, we would have drifted, not knowing where to go.

God answered my prayer. I know it. That was not a coincidence. He helped us when we needed it most. Some say that you grow out of magic and see reality for what it is. Some decide that they’re too old or too mature to believe in things they can’t see. I wouldn’t say that what happened on the boat in that pitch-black channel was magic in the Harry Potter/childhood sense. But, I will say that God was watching over us and protected us as we found our way back to shore and ultimately back to the houseboat, where our families were waiting for us. And that, in and of itself, reminds me that there is a Being, more powerful than magic, that cares about me. He cares about you, and if you ask for help, He will be there to help.

“Crossing the Bar” as Tennyson’s Poetic Signature

Near the end of his life, poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson instructed all editors of his works to put his elegy ‘“Crossing the Bar’ at the end of all editions of [his] poems” (Hill 496). Since this request, all editors have kept this promise. Tennyson’s career as a poet, playwright, and writer spanned sixty years. In those six decades, he wrote and published scores of poetry ranging from his narrative poems in “Idylls of the King” about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and his 1854 narrative poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” about a heroic charge made by horsemen during the Crimean War, to his poems that explored ancient Greek mythology such as “To Ulysses” and his dedicatory poem to his good friend and fellow poet Alfred Henry Hallam, “In Memoriam.” Considering the vast array of lyrics laid down by Tennyson during his tenure as a poet, I feel like it’s important to understand what makes “Crossing the Bar” the one poem that Tennyson chose to put at the end of every published edition of his poetry. What is it with an elegy that describes a dying man’s journey from sunset to twilight, from shore to open sea, that warrants its becoming Tennyson’s poetical signature?

Lord_Tennyson
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Crossing the Bar” goes as follows:

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,

Too full for sound and foam,

When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell, 

And after that the dark!

And may there be no sadness of farewell,

When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place

The flood may bear me far,

I hope to see my Pilot face to face

When I have crost the bar.

Old English Elegies

Before diving into Tennyson’s work, it’s important to consider one of the oldest recorded English elegies and how it compares to “Crossing the Bar.” In the poem “The Seafarer“, which is found in a collection of poetry reportedly written in the late 10th century AD by Christian monks that was compiled in a book called The Exeter Book, expresses similar sentiments to that of Tennyson’s.

In “The Seafarer”, we see a man sailing upon the sea. He’s cold, alone, and very far from home. The speaker of the poem laments the bitterness of the sea and the coldness of being alone in a ship. His view on his current predicament is mournful. The imagery that he uses to describe the scene that lays before him is like looking at a monstrous wave before it crashes against a canoe. The religious tone of the poem is not in any degree hopeful. He explains that those who have lost faith in God and have turned to gold rather than God are fools and “Death leaps at the fools who forget their God” (106). Rather than providing reassurances, the speaker only speaks of the pitfalls of pride. After describing the destruction of the wrath of God on those who place material goods  above their Creator, the speaker gives suggestions. It’s not advice that helps one come closer to God. It’s more advice on how to avoid the wrath of God.He then praises God and asks permission to “rise to that eternal joy” in God’s presence.

Most of the elegies found in the Exeter Book are similar in their approach to discussing death, destruction, and mortal finality. They lament the evil that is inherent in the world and how evil, evil works, and sin are the reasons why the earth is such a cold and dark place. They describe a scene of total loneliness and isolation. The word bleak doesn’t seem to suit when describing the desolation of death in Old English elegies. There’s not a whole lot to look forward to on the horizon. Everything is just dead and there’s nothing that can really be done about it except kind of hope that a wrathful God won’t totally waste you. Kind of depressing. Although this poem is saturated in sadness, somehow floating in the frozen, frigid yet raging waters of a life where God lays waste to the wicked and seeks to do the same to the remnants of mankind, there is one blip of optimism that is the impetus of the hopefulness that is found in “Crossing the Bar.” In “The Seafarer,” before the speaker goes into listing all of the “Thou Shalts” of avoiding destruction, he presents an interesting thought: “Our thoughts should turn to where our home is.” The speaker could be talking about our physical home, like, where Mom and Dad live or where his family is waiting for him. He could be referring to a heavenly home. It could be both. As we consider the idea of home in Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” as well as his poem “To Ulysses,” we can understand why he would place an elegy, a typically somber and reflective poem about death, in the back of every printed copy of his collected poetry.

Ulysses and Life After Death

Crossing the Bar” was written in 1889, three years before the poet’s death in 1892. He reportedly wrote it after recovering from an illness. By this time, Tennyson was in his eighties and, for anyone around that age, an illness was almost always synonymous with death. Death was on his mind, but not in the fireballs from heaven, struck dead just for trying to balance the Ark of the Covenant [put link] sense of the word. Death wasn’t the end of life for Tennyson. This propensity toward life beyond death can be seen in Tennyson’s 1843 poem, “To Ulysses.” In “To Ulysses,” he writes as if he were the famed Odysseus, one seafarer who sailed the Aegean Sea in order to return back to his home on the island of Ithaca. At the end of his life, he reflects on what will become of his life after he passes through the harbor of mortality and into the seas of the beyond. He speaks that even after passing on to “newer world[s]… Some work of noble note, may yet be done, / Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.” He wishes “To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars.” He wants to continue until there’s nothing left to continue to. For Tennyson, and the speaker, there is something beyond death. There is something to look forward to. Something beyond that begs him to return.

The speaker examines the boring nature of halting. “How dull it is,” he remarks, “to pause, to make an end.” Death as a halt or a hiccup in the journey is borderline blasphemous. It should be, according to the speaker, part of the journey beyond the sunset.

Crossing the Bar

In “Crossing the Bar,” Tennyson sees the passing from life to death as something that all humans will experience whether they are wicked or righteous, and rather than giving a litany of things to do to be prepared, he simply offers hope. Rather than focusing on the cold and the crags like the author of “the Seafarer,” Tennyson’s speaker emphasizes stars and sounds. In the poem we meet a man in a harbor looking out beyond a sandbar into the sea. The sun is setting and he contemplates what will happen once he proceeds past the precipice of the bar and into the ocean. In the opening stanza of the poem, the speaker describes the scene: “Sunset, and evening star” (1). The sun is setting indicating the inevitable arrival of night. Although the sun will soon set, the speaker presents the image of a star. A light that will still be there even when the light of mortality is extinguished. A constant light in the sky. As the sun descends behind the horizon, the speaker hears “one clear call for [him]” (2). A call that is accentuated by the dimming of the day and the movement of the tide. This call is timely. It comes first as the sun sets and later at the tolling of the evening bell, reminding the speaker that his time has come to cross the bar and there isn’t a whole lot he can do about it. He doesn’t want people to mourn for him or be sad for him as he sails across the bar. He just wants to sort of glide into the sea amid the sonorous sounds of the surf and make the transition between life and death as easily as possible. He doesn’t want fanfare. He would much rather drift off noiselessly without making a ruckus.

The tide is described as being drawn “from out the boundless deep.” The ocean is unknown, maybe even foreboding or intimidating. It is nothing like the supposed safety of the harbor, yet, the speaker realizes that the call came from the ocean and not from the harbor. He must take the step into the unknown as a he crosses the bar. As the tide recedes, it “turns again home”. The use of the word home as opposed to the “boundless deep” earlier in the stanza brings with it feelings of connection with the ocean. Although it is something unknown to the speaker, there is something familiar about it. Something welcoming. The call, this charge, to cross the bar is more than a realization that the speaker’s mortal clock has ticked its last tock. It is filial. It’s not the wrath of a calloused God causing chaos and desiring to destroy man. It is a call from a Creator to His creation. It’s a call from home. It’s hopeful. Rather than agonizing over the lost and fallen state of man in the presence of a vengeful deity, the speaker desires to cross into the familiar unknown of the sea beyond the bar.

His experience of crossing is marked by the coming of twilight and the evening bell, “and after that the dark.” Though the sun has now set and he doesn’t know entirely what lies beyond the bar, the appearance of the evening star provides him with the assurance that this treacherous traversing from harbor to sea will all be okay in the end. The speaker concludes hopefully, though the scene is shrouded in darkness and uncertainty, that “For tho’ from out our borne of Time and Place, / The flood may bear me far, / I hope to see my Pilot face to face / When I have crossed the bar.” The hope that is present in the end of the poem penetrates the firmament and gives the speaker and the reader hope that there is something more beyond the threshold of time and place and that they might have the chance to look their Pilot, their Creator, face to face upon crossing the bar.

A contemporary of Tennyson’s, Lionel Johnson, in writing about death uses the exact same images as Tennyson. In Johnson’s 1887 poem “In Falmouth Harbour” the speaker is sailing just as the speaker in “Crossing the Bar” is. The only difference is that rather than crossing the bar to the ocean, the speaker is leaving the ocean of life into the harbor of the grave where no waves are made and where travelers can rest from the restlessness of the sea. Daniel Rutenberg of West Virginia University observed that in “Crossing the Bar,” Tennyson views and “[treats]… death as a welcome challenge” and Johnson on the other hand turns death into a sort of “redemption” (179).  Johnson sees death as more of a victory rather than another phase in the battle. Although both poems view death in a very valid and mostly positive way, Johnson’s perception of death as a harbor presents a lack the faith in Falmouth Harbour’s speaker that Tennyson’s speaker is able to exercise in his act of crossing the bar. Rutenberg compares two quatrains from each poem to show the similarities in form along with the differing ideologies surrounding death:

Sunset and evening star,

And one clear call for me!

And may there be no moaning of the bar,

When I put out to sea,  

(“Crossing the Bar”, 1-4)

And

“I have passed over the rough sea

And over the white harbour bar;

And this is Death’s dreamland,

Led hither by a star.

(“In Falmouth Harbour”, 29-32)

Though the imagery is the same in both of these quatrains, the thoughts regarding death stand in stark contrast. Rutenberg states that the ages of each of these poets when they wrote these poems might explain the differing tones. Tennyson was in his eighties when he wrote “Crossing the Bar” and Johnson was barely in his twenties when he wrote “In Falmouth Harbour.” Tennyson had the experience of a full life. He knew sorrow, he knew happiness, and above all he knew that, as his American contemporary Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned,

“Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not the goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.”

Tennyson, when asked about the Pilot’s presence beyond the sight of the speaker, simply stated that “the Pilot has been on board all the while, but in the dark I have not yet seen him.” The Pilot is, “that Divine and Unseen Who is always guiding us” (Hill 578). By stamping “Crossing the Bar” at the end of every edition of his poetry, Tennyson wanted anyone that would read his poetry to understand this one fundamental truth. Though our bodily frames will eventually waste away, deep down each human being is divine. When we are about to be “called home” we can hope for something better after this life and not fear death. Although we, as Paul the Apostle stated, “see through a glass, darkly,” there will come a time when we will see things clearly. We will eventually see the Pilot face to face. With the knowledge of the Pilot who made it possible for us to, like the tide, “turn again home,” we can rest assured knowing or at least hoping that our crossing of the bar will be peaceful and placid.

Works Cited:

Hill Jr., Robert W., Tennyson’s Poetry: Authoritative Texts, Criticism. W.W. Norton Company, 1999.

Rutenberg, Daniel. CRISSCROSSING THE BAR: TENNYSON AND LIONEL JOHNSON ON DEATH. Victorian Poetry; Summer 1972; 10, 2; pg. 179-180

Why Religion Matters to This Millennial

I’m a twenty-two year old college student, and I’m not ashamed to say that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. You’ve probably heard of us. Contrary to common consensus, I don’t have horns, I have nine siblings and… no my father only has one wife. We’re all biological siblings. We’re not a cult, though some would want to believe it. We don’t worship Joseph Smith. We believe in the Bible as the word of God as well as in the Book of Mormon. We believe that both volumes of scripture help us understand our relationship with Christ and with our Heavenly Father. Like most Christians, we believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and that through Him we can be saved. We believe that God is the Father of our Spirits, Christ is our Savior and that they are two distinct and separate beings who have the same purpose. That purpose is to guide us and help us learn how to return to live with Them after this life. We believe in living prophets and we believe that family relationships can be perpetuated beyond the grave and along with this we believe that there is a life after this life because of Jesus Christ. If you have any questions about my beliefs, check the church website at lds.org or mormon.org. You can even stop those two young men or two young women who wear those black name tags that you see walking around your town. It’s totally worth your while. I was one of those awkward looking young men for two years in the Philippines. We don’t bite, but the happiness that comes from the message we share is contagious. You’ve been warned.

DSC01014
Me and Elder Halen Carringon in Tuguegarao City (June 2016)

If I haven’t lost you yet, thanks for staying invested. It seems that whenever religion is spoken about, people tend to retract into a shell of so-called spirituality and politely say “Thanks, but no thanks.” This sort of response is very understandable. A lot of terrible things have been done in the name of religion. I do not condone in any way, shape, or form the many hateful acts that have been done under the ensign of ecclesiastical entities. But, what I am saying is that although a lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about the religion and a belief in God in the Christian sense, I believe that there is one thing in religion and a belief in God that can help everyone on earth especially in our current increasingly cynical and chaotic climate.

That one thing is hope.

You’re probably thinking, “That’s cliche. There’s no reason to hope for anything because scientists say that eventually we’ll all die and then there will be nothing.” Or you might say something that has to do with a “heat death,” or World War III. Although those are real worries, hope in something better is the spoonful of sugar that we all need before we all go six-feet down.

I was raised by parents that taught me that even though life is hard, I can find strength to overcome difficulties through hoping and relying on Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father. I come from a litter of ten kids. It can be pretty easy to get lost in a family of that size, but my parents taught me that I was not only their child, but I was a child of God and that He loved me and had a plan for me. They taught me that if I keep the commandments, make and keep sacred promises with God, and help others do the same that I would feel happier and feel God’s love. My parents wanted me to be happy and they wanted me to know that I was more than just one of several billion people on the planet that was born, lived for a few years, and would die and that would be it. They taught me that there was something more. Something to look forward to. Something to give purpose to my life. We read from the scriptures of people who found hope in the promise that God would “provide some better thing” for us. They taught me to fold my arms, bow my head, and pray to Heavenly Father. They taught me to thank Him for my blessings. To ask for help when I need it. To ask for comfort when I felt scared.

Some might say that parents doing that to their kids is equivalent to brainwashing them. Filling their heads will false hopes. Well, you can think that if you so choose. Some might say that it prevents kids from learning to think for themselves. That it restricts their freedom. You could also think of it that way as well. Many people could say that religion in the life of a child is like classical conditioning. You know, Pavlov’s dogs stuff. Press a button, and receive a reward or punishment. Or say a prayer and blessings come out. Some might see this as a great way to turn children into mindless drones who can’t think or act for themselves. As one of those “drones,” I’d have to say that I’ll always be grateful for what my parents taught me as a child. They taught me not only to hope for good things to come, but they taught me that on top of hoping, I need to go about doing good. They taught me that if I had questions, I could ask God (James 1:5-6).

You might be thinking that I’m just a product of blind obedience, but that is far from the truth. Although I was taught these things by my parents, I ultimately had to find out if anything they were teaching me was true. I had to know for myself.

mom and dad
Mom and Dad ( September 1979)

As a ten-year-old, my family experienced a tragedy. My oldest sister passed away in November of 2006 at the age of 26. There is a song in the LDS Hymnbook titled, “Families Can Be Together Forever”. The chorus says, “Families can be together forever / Through Heavenly Father’s plan. / I always want to be with my own family, / And the Lord has shown me how I can.” I sang those words so many times as a kid growing up, but after the passing of my sister, I wanted to know if this was true. Would I see my sister again? Is there a life after this life? What’s the point? These along with many other questions were queued up in my head until I decided to kneel down in my room and ask God. As a shaken little boy, I took some of life’s toughest questions to God. Along with this, I started reading the scriptures to understand for myself. The answer came to me as I relied on my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, through praying, going to church, studying the scriptures and the words of modern prophets. I remember reading in the Book of Mormon about a prophet named Nephi who, because of his unwavering faith in Christ before Christ was even born, was given power and authority to seal things on earth and in heaven (Helaman 10:7). In the LDS Church, the marriages that are performed in the temple are also called “sealings.” A husband and wife are sealed to each other and their children as one eternal family contingent upon their staying true and faithful to covenants and promises they make with one another and with God. My parents were sealed when they got married back in 1979. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so a sealing performed by the power of God was still valid in 2006 (and continues to be so even in 2018).

 

For me, answers came slowly. It didn’t happen all at once for me, but it came. I was able to understand that God had a plan and that sometimes I wouldn’t understand exactly why things happened, but I could understand that things would be okay in the end. God didn’t bring my sister back. Things didn’t go right back to normal. But, I was able to understand that part of being on earth as a human is the inevitability of trials and hardship. I came to understand that death is real and the pain associated with losing someone close to you is hard and sometimes impossible to quench. I learned that sometimes, life can really suck and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. But, above all, I learned that hope can be found even when you’re high atop a hill of hopelessness with no feasible way of getting down. This hope, for me, was found in Jesus Christ. It was a hope that although bad things happen, Christ suffered so that He could understand us and be there for us in our time of need. It was a hope that although we all will someday die, Christ made it possible for us to live again after this life. It was a hope that sacred promises that my parents made with God in the temple would allow our family to be together in this life and in the next if we stayed true to our promises. Ultimately it was a hope that in the end, things would be okay. I felt that. It wasn’t as much a voice telling me, “Everything is going to be alright” as it was an affirmation that I felt in my mind and in my heart.

This experience, along with countless others, has given me hope that as dark as things might seem, things will work out. Things will eventually be okay. A lot of times, that’s really all I need to know. Things are going to work out. I feel that in a time of such calamity as we find ourselves in now, religion and a belief in God can provide comfort and reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Religion and a belief in God have shaped me into who I am today. It has provided me with the strength that I need to face the world. If you have questions about religion, faith, trials, Jesus Christ, or anything in between you can ask them. You can ask me (I might not know the answer, but I can help you find it), you can confide in a friend, and above all you can ask God. You can find hope and answers to questions even when it seems like all of the lights are out. In the words of Lavar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to give it a try. What could a little extra light in your life do anyway?