Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lessons Learned From a Leaky Roof

leaky roof

My wife and I have been struggling with something for a while. Our roof is leaking and we don’t have $8000 for a new roof. We have been praying and praying that Heavenly Father would help us.

Last Winter the water was beginning to damage our ceilings and sheet rock. So why didn’t I just get up there and patch it?  Well, I had never been up on a roof in my entire life. Fat kids don’t get on roofs. Fat teenagers don’t get on roofs. And Fat old men definitely don’t get on roofs.  The thought of getting up there terrified me.  I just knew the roof would cave in, or I could take a bad step, resulting in death or a long and painful injury.

I had talked to several people at church about our problem, hoping that someone would offer some advice, or even offer to help me patch the roof, but no one did. I felt utterly helpless.  I couldn’t understand why my prayers weren’t being answered.

Finally, it got to the point where something had to be done.  Inching my way up the ladder took everything I had, but I finally made it onto the roof and put a tarp over the area that was leaking.  I secured it with boards.  I was shaking with fear as I came down the ladder, but I was so glad that I had done it.  That night, a big windstorm came up and ripped down the tarp. I went off by myself and cried.

Then I had an impression. I needed to go to Home Depot and figure out what I needed to patch the roof myself.  I’d never done roofing before, so I was clueless.  I remember my wife praying that night in our family prayer that I would be guided in figuring out how to repair the roof and that my hand would be guided as I worked.

I took 3 gallons of roof tar and headed up on the roof.  I was worried that if I fell, there would be no one to call 911 because my wife was at work.  I tried to get someone to come over, just to be here in case something happened, but everyone was busy. So I was on my own.

I told my wife to call me every hour on my cell phone, just to make sure I was still alive.

While I was up there, I could feel my mind being enlightened as to how to fix the problems. I could suddenly see areas that needed fixing that I hadn’t seen before.  In fact, I hadn’t even known what to look for until I was up there.

When I was done, standing up there on my roof looking around at what I had accomplished, I suddenly knew why I had to do this alone.  The Lord had to show me what I can do. I needed to learn that I could reach beyond what I thought were my limitations.  I needed to learn that I can do hard things.  I CAN DO HARD THINGS.

Some folks may think this is silly, but I’d never felt more like a man than I did at that moment.  I felt so alive.

Our roof had no more leaks that year.   I thanked God for giving me the precise experiences and trials that I needed to learn and grow in faith.

But apparently, I still had lessons to learn.  And since the leaky roof proved to be a good teaching vehicle in the past, Heavenly Father decided to use it again.

Yesterday, I noticed a brown spot on our ceiling.  We had another leak.  But I knew from past experience that I can do hard things.  Heavenly Father taught me I can patch the roof. I checked the weather report and saw that a storm was coming in today.

So I went back to Home Depot and got another 3-gallon bucket of patching tar.   I came home and said a prayer asking for help, similar to the prayer my wife had offered last year.

As I made my way up the latter, it began to rain.  Hard.

Why wasn’t God helping me?  Why didn’t he answer my prayer?  I was feeling abandoned and alone as thunder cracked in the sky.

And then I realized something.  As the rain steamed down the roof, I could see the areas that needed to be patched.  I followed the water paths and discovered the places that puddled.  Had it not been raining, I never would have been able to find the problems.

I sat there on the roof, cold and soaking wet, and thanked my Father in Heaven for making it rain.  I asked His forgiveness for doubting Him.

I know that to find happiness I must turn my entire life over to God.  As I do so, I am amazed to find Him patient and accepting of my faltering efforts.

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Just Stop

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I was only eleven years old the first time I sought council from a spiritual leader for an addiction.  I was terrified, but resolute.  I felt like it was the only place I could turn for help.  Without telling anyone else, I called on my own and made an appointment with my Bishop.

Being so young, my problem wasn’t a big one in the grand scheme of things, but it was big to me.  And within my little problem lay the seeds of addiction that were already beginning to take root and would someday become the unstoppable force that would lead me to alcohol, tobacco, pornography, pills, and other self-destructive behaviors at different times in my life.

I tearfully explained my problem to the Bishop.  I remember feeling exposed and unsteady as I waited for his response.   His solution came along with a tone of voice that said it should be obvious and simple.  He said, “Just stop.”

I left his office feeling misunderstood and, frankly, unimportant.  However, I’m not saying it was that Bishop, fault.  In 1979, who could blame the guy for knowing nothing about addiction?

And yet, if you pay attention, you will still hear those same sentiments expressed today.

“Honey, you keep putting on weight.  Why don’t you just stop eating so much?”

“You have lung cancer!  Why are you buying cigarettes!”

“Do you look at porn because I’m not pretty enough?”

“Don’t you think you have had enough?”

Even addicts themselves usually spend years telling themselves they will stop someday, eventually, when the time is right, soon.

The greatest gift God has given us is our agency, the power to choose our own paths.  So why can’t people just choose to stop doing a certain thing?

If that were the case, addiction wouldn’t exist.  We would have no need for the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) because everyone could control themselves.  Let’s be honest, a little wine every once in a while isn’t going to hurt you.  But the Lord in his wisdom knows that not everyone will be able to have just a little wine.  That’s why the Word of Wisdom states that it is given for the “weakest of all saints” (v. 3)

As difficult as it is for me admit, I am the weakest of all saints.  I gave up my agency a long time ago.  I no longer have a choice.  Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve observed:

“Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 7).

It takes years, sometimes decades, for an addict to get the turning point when they can take Step One of addiction recovery: “Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.”   And that turning point is usually only found at rock bottom.

In my role as Group Leader of an addiction recovery support group, I have heard dozens of stories very similar to the one I told at the beginning of this post.  Church leaders, employers, judges, spouses, children, and friends who tell the addict to “just stop” what they are doing.  And they wish they could.  They desperately wish they could.  But they can’t.  I can’t.

But there is hope.  Take that first step and admit.  Then take that Second step: “Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.”

The Addiction Recovery Program is nothing more than a workshop in how to use the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Church leaders must become educated in this process and learn how to help those who suffer.

I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different had that Bishop in my youth been able to steer me onto the path of recovery.  But I know I sin in this thought, because the experiences God has given me have been exactly what I needed to arrive where I am today.  The only thing I can do is promise to help others who struggle.  And maybe I will be able to spare someone else the anguish that I have felt.

Things are getting better.  There are LDS Addiction Recovery support groups popping up all over.  We help with every kind of addiction, and we help people of all faiths.

One of the fastest growing addictions we see is pornography addiction.  It is estimated that 70% of men view pornography at least once a month.  The Church says this number is the same within church membership, and they estimate that 40% of men in the church have a pornography addiction.  And that’s just pornography addiction.  When you consider alcohol, drugs, food, and the countless other addictions that exist, it boggles the mind.

Sometimes when we are in our little Addiction Recovery Meetings we joke that if everyone who needed to be there came to our meetings, we would have to rent Arco Arena.

So I tell my little group that they are warriors.  They are the ones on the front lines fighting their demons and working hard to become followers of Jesus Christ.  They are the brave ones.  And they are being trained to help others do the same.

Someday, someone will come to them for help.  And instead of ignorantly saying, “Just stop,” they will be able to put their arm around that person’s shoulder and share with them the hope they feel.

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Remembering a dear friend

Last week, someone who was very close to me lost her long-time battle with poor health.  Her father called right after she passed and told me that she had requested that I give her eulogy.  I was honored, and a little confused why she wanted me to do it, rather than a member of her family.

In the days before the funeral, I contacted her family members for information and stories from her childhood.  It became clear to me why she wanted me write her eulogy.  A few of her family members wanted to use this event as a forum to air grievances and point fingers at others.

It made me sad.

I found it difficult to write the eulogy because I felt so depressed as I thought my friend living in a family full of resentment and hard feelings.   However, as I pondered on it, I was struck by the thought that perhaps it would be difficult to find a family that DIDN’T have a lot of lingering hard feelings festering just under the surface, waiting to burst out at the slightest opportunity.  And a death in the family is surely something that will bring feelings to the surface.

Finally, with just a few hours before the funeral, I forced myself to sit down and write.  I focused on how my friend had impacted my life.  I told about just a couple of the times when she sent my life moving in different direction, a better direction.

I left out the more personal stories, but I still feared that what I wrote was too much about me, and not enough about my friend.  So I asked my wife to read it and let me know what she thought (something that I almost never do, because I don’t like people knowing what I am going to say before I say it.)  She felt it was a nice tribute.  I printed it, and didn’t didn’t look at it again until I was standing at the pulpit. 

As I spoke, I left out a few things and changed some of the wording, as the Spirit dictated.

In honor of my fiend, I’m going to post most of what I wrote.  

This experience has inspired me to work harder on healing the relationships in my own family.  I challenge you to think about what might be said about you after you are gone.  But more importantly, think about what affect your passing will have on those you leave behind.  Have you helped them to live in a healthy environment so that your passing will bring them closer together, rather than tear them apart?

I have known Jacki most of my life. And even though I have the honor of standing up here today and sharing a few of the ways that she has touched my life for good, I know there are hundreds of others who could share stories that would equally or better illustrate the impact Jacki had on their lives.

 

I have found two great benefits of funeral services. First, we get to remember the life of someone who we knew well. Second, and maybe more importantly, we get to discover things about them that we never knew, and it feels like we are meeting them all over again.

 

Today, I get to share some things about Jacki that many of us never saw and only her family remembers. And then I’d like to share some ways that Jacki helped me. And those stories might be new to even her family.

 

Jacki was born in Sacramento on March 7, 1950. If you have had a chance to see some of her childhood photos, you might have noticed that she was a character from the beginning.

 

Her sisters always joked about her having “middle child syndrome”. Jacki teased back by insisting that her youngest sister was always the favored one.

 

Jacki loved to rollerskate. When Jacki was a little girl, she didn’t have the kind of skates children have today. She had the kind that she would clamp onto her shoes and then tighten with a key. And she would spend hours roller skating up and down the sidewalks in her neighborhood.

Normally, a little girl of 6 or 7 years old rollerskating wouldn’t draw much attention. But at this same time, Jacki had developed a burning desire to be a cowgirl. And she had already taken steps toward being a cowgirl by wearing western attire, including cowgirl hat and cowgirl gloves, which she insisted on wearing at all times.
So she made quite impact as the rollerskating cowgirl in the neighborhood.

Jacki got a nice new bicycle for her 8th birthday… at which time she turned into the bicycling cowgirl in the neighborhood, because she was still wearing her cowgirl outfits.

 

Jacki loved to jump rope with her Grandpa McDonnell turning the rope for her. She loved her grandpa very much and he would take her to the park for the pony rides (a big treat for a budding cowgirl).

She attended at Hollywood Park Elementary, Joaquin Miller Jr. High School and graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School in 1968. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree from CSUS in Computer Science.

 

Jacki loved computers, and she was skilled not only in computer applications, but also in programming. Jacki never had the problem of being intimidated by the compute, as many people are. She always saw it as a tool to do things better, faster, and connect to more people.

Jacki began her career at Rainbo Bakery, and she worked there for 23 years doing various jobs, including: company dispatch coordinator for bread deliveries, accounting, and company supply coordinator for many offices in Northern California. To these other offices in California, Jacki quickly became known as the “GO TO Girl” in Sacramento if you needed to get things done.

 

Even though Jacki was committed to her work, she never allowed it to consume her life. Her priorities were always firmly rooted in her family, her faith, and her own personal development.

She never stopped learning new things and practicing and perfecting her skills. Jacki loved to knit, largely because it was something that she could do for other people.

 

She wanted to make sweaters and hats and afghans for everyone. She especially loved knitting baby blessing blankets for her great-nieces and nephews. She had recently started one for her newest great-nephew and was hoping to finish by his blessing.

 

In the kitchen, Jacki was always cooking up something new. She loved cooking shows on television and she had her favorite chefs that she just had to watch. And then she loved trying the new recipes.

I was fortunate enough to stop in to see her one day after she had tried a new recipe for BBQ ribs. Her parents talked about how good they were and I just had to try them. But Jacki wasn’t having any of the ribs.

 

There were many foods that Jacki couldn’t eat, but it never stopped her from cooking for others, and she found great joy in seeing others enjoy her cooking.

 

One of her specialties was Lemon Meringue Pie. She learned the secrets of perfect pie crust from her grandmother. And soon, her family could never get enough of Jacki’s lemon pies.

 

She took great pleasure in making her family gourmet meals, and it was always exciting for them to find out what she had made for them to enjoy when they would visit. Jacki’s parents especially appreciated and loved the meals she prepared for them. They say they will miss that

Jacki loved acting. She appeared in a few local plays and church produced roadshows. Her family is very proud of her accomplishments in this area.

 

Another of Jacki’s many hobbies were her potted plants. I got to go water some of them a few times when she was out of town. She loved to see the beautiful flowers outside of her windows.

However, just like the meals that she prepared but couldn’t eat herself, she couldn’t fully enjoy her potted flowers because she was allergic to the fragrance. She found a solution to this problem recently, and one of her last projects was to plant cacti in her little blue and white containers.

 

Jacki was fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. She loved the words of the prophets. She studied her scriptures daily. She amassed a huge library of every church magazine and reference material. And she knew where to find information on gospel questions. Family members and ward members would often call Jacki for stories and scripture references when working on a talk or lesson. And Jacki always knew just the right place to look.

 

I teased her once about not needing her collection anymore because the church has it all online and she should just get rid of it. She got a huge knowing smile on her face and replied, “No, they only have the stuff AFTER 1970.”

 

Jacki loved to serve, and she has served diligently in many callings, including primary teacher, Relief Society Teacher, Stake missionary, genealogy indexing coordinator and name extractor, among many others.

 

Of all her callings, Jacki said she got the greatest joy from her latest calling as Secretary in the Primary. She loved the children so much and felt privileged to help nourish their testimonies of the Gospel that she cherished.

 

In October, our ward had the Primary Sacrament Meeting Program. I got to sit next to Jacki right on the front row and watch as she followed every word of the script on the edge of her seat, giving a happy thumbs up to the kids after they delivered their parts or sang a song. She would coach them or reassure them if they paused or seemed scared. When it was over, Jacki gave a huge sigh and looked exhausted. She had given all the strength she had during that meeting, and she looked so proud and happy.

 

Jacki also taught early morning seminary classes to High School students. I was one of her students.

 

This was the first of many times that Jacki was instrumental in changing the direction of my life.

 

There have been a handful of critical times, when Jacki Larsen was clearly a tool in the Lord’s hand to swoop in and dramatically alter my life.

 

This first time was when I was 15 years old. I was silently battling depression and I didn’t feel like anyone knew I existed. One morning at six o’clock, after I was dropped off at the church for seminary, instead of going to class, I went into the chapel to be alone. I vividly remember lying down on one of the pews in the darkness alone and feeling the tears fall into my ears as I pondered taking my own life.

 

After about an hour, I heard the groups of laughing teens leaving the building. And I then I heard Jacki turning out the lights in the rest of the church. I expected that the next thing I would hear was Jacki locking the doors and leaving, because there was no reason that she would come into the chapel.

 

But then a stream of light shined across the ceiling of the chapel as she opened the door and looked inside. She shouldn’t have been able to see me lying there, but sure enough, I heard her footsteps approaching. I quickly tried to dry my eyes and Jacki seemed surprised to find me in there.

In her wisdom, she didn’t ask me any of the questions I expected would follow: “why weren’t you in class?” “What are you doing in here?”

 

In fact, she didn’t ask me any questions at all. To my shock, she sat down on the pew in front of me in the dark and just started talking about her own life. She just shared herself with me. She even made me laugh.

We sat there for an hour, and she was probably late to work, but not once did seem rushed or even to care what time it was. I left there feeling like there was someone who cared about me. That’s when Jacki became my friend. And that’s exactly what I needed at that time in my life.

 

Jacki was extremely proud of her nieces and nephews. She was interested in every part of their lives, and wanted to be a part of their activities.

 

She loved to travel. She was a wonderful travel companion for her mother and they traveled around the country, and Europe, and Australia.

 

When her parents went on their mission, Jacki took care of their house. She continued to do this when they moved to Elko, NV for 19 years.

During this time, the First Ward became her family in Sacramento. She loved her Ward family and was grateful to be a part of it.

 

While I was on my mission, Jacki wrote me faithfully to keep me updated on what was happening in the ward.

 

In later years, I fell away from the church. But Jacki wouldn’t leave me alone. She was a nag and she was stubborn.

 

She was also very tricky. She kept calling me up and telling me that she was hosting a Family Home Evening group and she needed me to be a part of it. I always refused.

 

One time she called me and said her group was going to meet and they were going to share stories about their missions. She needed me to come and tell about some of the spiritual experiences that I had.

 

I told her that I was not going to go to some family home evening with a bunch of desperate singles. She assured me that it wasn’t like that and it had nothing to do with setting up couples.

 

I finally agreed to go. When I got there, I discovered that Jacki’s “group” consisted of three people. Me, Jacki, and a girl I had never met before… And whom I ended up marrying.

 

Over the years, other people would come and go in Jacki’s group. Some of these people became my closest friends. Jacki’s home became the center of activity for many of our ward’s singles.

 

One evening while we were hanging out with Jacki, she mentioned that her house was right in the flight path of airplanes landing at Executive Airport. She said she was sure that someday something was going to fall from a plane and crash into her house. She said she heard that sort of thing happened all the time. She was very serious about it.

 

Naturally, the rest of us had a lot of fun over the next few months, sneaking over there in the middle of the night and sticking things in Jacki’s front lawn that looked like they could have fallen from an airplane, or a spaceship, or even a meteorite. Jacki was always fun to tease.

 

Jacki always had a positive outlook about her health problems. Even while having cancer treatments, operations, and dialyses. She always felt she would get better. And she almost always did, until her heart just couldn’t pump anymore.

 

Her philosophy was: “You will always have pain but suffering is optional.”

 

Even up until the very end of her life, Jacki was helping other people. Me included.

 

Recently, I was going through some difficult things. Jacki could tell something was wrong. I got home from church a couple of weeks ago and I had an email from Jacki saying simply: “Spill it. I can tell something is wrong.”

 

So I told her. I would like to read part of an email that she wrote to me just four days before she passed away.

 

She wrote: “So what can I do? How can I help you? Can I make dinner for you and Dorene? Or can I make some meals for your folks? We should go to breakfast or lunch sometime soon so you can have someone to talk to. You know, with all I have gone through this year, I feel blessed to have seen ALL the blessings Heavenly Father has given me because of what I am going through! So someday I hope you will also be able to smile and be at complete peace, no matter what difficulties happen! I KNOW the Lord will help you in the form of a miracle! You are a faithful son of our Heavenly Father and I know He will help you. Maybe not right now or in the way you would like – but in the end you will see this is all a blessing!”

 

This is the kind of faith that Jacki had. We are all better for having crossed paths with this choice Sister. She was always an example to those around her.

 

No matter how sick she was, or however much pain she was in, she didn’t let it show. One thing about Jacki that many people will always remember is that whenever you asked her how she was feeling, she would smile and say, “Just Peachy.”

 

And that’s exactly what she was.

 

 

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“I am encompassed about”

The Book of Mormon begins with Nephi, the son of the prophet Lehi, recording the story of his family fleeing the wickedness of Jerusalem.  Throughout the record, Nephi appears to be perfect.  When his brothers express doubt, he boldly reminds them of the power of the Lord and the miracles that have been done in the past.  When his parents lose hope and murmur, Nephi is the one who restores the proper order of things.  Angles swoop in to protect Nephi when his brothers harm him.  It seems like Nephi can do no wrong. He never gets discouraged. And nothing can stop him.

The image that Nephi paints of himself is one that I can look up to and aspire to be like, but not one to which I can easily relate.  Nephi doesn’t seem like anyone I know.

But then something happens.  Nephi’s father dies.  Suddenly he has much more responsibility and the mantel of authority rests firmly on his shoulders.  His brothers immediately begin to murmur again.  Up to this point, whenever his brothers murmured, Nephi seemed thrilled to chastise them and teach them about the Lord.  But now it is his duty.  He says he felt “constrained” to talk to them about the things of the Lord (2 Nephi 4:14).  The other time when he said he was “constrained” was when he didn’t want to kill Laban, but the Spirit commanded him to.  It seems like Nephi was feeling the burdens of his new calling, and I imagine he was grieving because of the loss of his father.  Of all the trials and tribulations that Nephi had experiences, I believe this time was the most stressful and difficult for him.  

Why do I believe that?  Because his normally optimistic and faithful writings take a turn into something else.  Suddenly we see a side of Nephi that we didn’t know existed.

 

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

 

I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

 

And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.  (2 Nephi 4:17-19)

Okay, I know how this makes me sound, but I joy in Nephi’s agony.  Is it a sick form of schadenfreude? I don’t think so.  I’d rather believe that I can finally relate to Nephi.  Instantly I can relate to his feelings.  

Allow me to express in my own words the feelings that I share with Nephi, following his train of thought:

Why do I do what I do, when I know what I know?  God has helped me throughout my life.  He’s been there for me whenever I needed Him.  And yet, I am a sinner.  I am ashamed of myself and my heart aches because I am weak and fall to temptation.  

 

My sins are a strait jacket that keeps me bound while I thrash around and fight against it.  I am helpless… powerless against the temptations that are all around me.

 

When the Spirit fills me and I start to feel the warm light of God shining upon my face, when I thrill at the joyous events of life and the beauty around me, I remember my sins and I groan in agony and withdraw back into darkness where I feel like I belong.

 

And yet, I know my trust is in God.  I know He has protected me and guided me each day of my life.

 

I feel like Nephi understands me.  It’s like he peered into my heart and mind and wrote down what he saw. And then he builds my faith and encourages me to do better with his words that follow:

O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercywhy should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

 

And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

 

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

 

Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

 

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

 

O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?

 

May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!

 

O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.

 

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

 

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I asknot amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rockof my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.  (2 Nephi  4: 26-35)

Like Nephi, I am encompassed about by my sins.  But I have hope in my God, and I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ is my hope.  I trust in Him.  

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