Far From Home

IMG_3448Look what I found! Orchids hanging from the wedding bouquet my mother in law lovingly designed for me when I married her son 14 years ago. Last week I remembered a conversation I had with her while planning my wedding. She thought it would be lovely to include this flower in my bouquet and that it would complement the white roses. At the time an orchid meant nothing to me. Now it is a beautiful reminder of God’s hand in my life, also in the lives of the people around me.

After this memory surfaced I went to the spare bedroom in my house where there is a closet full of keepsakes and crafts, and pulled out a box of old photos. You know, the kind taken on film and developed in a lab. I lifted the gold lid off a small square box and flipped through my wedding photos. There they were, the symbol of what my life would become. But at the time this photo was taken, these orchids were merely a symbol of untapped potential. I still had a very long healing journey to make, and there was still much to be determined.

My journey has been made up of these little treasures. Some call them tender mercies, others say miracles. Sometimes so small and seemingly insignificant, they are easy to miss. They are only for the tender heart to find. “[B]y small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise” (Alma 37:6) When one comes to a full and deep understanding of how the Atonement is uniquely designed for our individual trials, then even the smallest details of our lives make perfect sense.

It’s easy to imagine God is with us in the big moments—happy when we make some amazing step forward, or there to pick us up during a devastating trial. But then the details are overlooked. He is in the details and often speaks to us through the actions of someone else. My mother in law, who opened her heart to me, must have been moved upon by the Spirit, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. She included a significant flower on a significant day that God knew would bring me comfort 14 years in the future.

This finding won’t bring about any major change in my life. Some may call it simply a coincidence. For this moment, it is a whisper from my Heavenly Father that He is thinking of me while I am far from home.

Restoring Virtue

After a lot of hard work, countless hours at the keyboard, serious soul-searching, and many highs and lows, I’m finally ready to share my book, Restoring Virtue, A Testimony of Healing Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. (Amazon, Createspace)

Restoring Virtue is about how I was able to access the Atonement as a way to recover from the effects of childhood sexual abuse. How I changed a traumatic experience into a life full of blessings, happiness, and service. Essentially, this book is my testimony of God’s love, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and every other good and correct principle.

Restoring Virtue Front Cover

Two years ago a combination of events aligned perfectly causing me to see my life with more honesty and clarity. My book describes these events in detail and how writing my story influenced the final step in my healing process.

The still small voice, just a whisper, planted the desire to write my testimony. The more I wrote the stronger this prompting became until it consumed my thoughts. I had to write. I had to get it out. I felt like Parley P. Pratt when he described reading the Book of Mormon for the first time. “I [wrote] all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred [writing] to sleep. As I [wrote], the spirit of the Lord was upon me … My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life.” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual. Chapter Six: Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. 79-88. Print.) 

This is not my first experience with the healing power of words. I’ve kept a journal since I was 15 years old. Even before God, the first place I found hope was in my journal. In its pages I said all the things I wanted to say out loud but was afraid to. Restoring Virtue is the culmination of 20 years of journal entries.

This book is not about standard treatments such as counseling, medication, or other common resources. It could be for someone who has explored standard treatments, but still feels like something is missing. Really, it’s for anyone who contemplates their relationship with God and is open to hearing how someone else experiences His presence.

The orchid on the cover is a symbol of my healing process coming to a close. I experienced a tender mercy when a spike emerged from the orchid sitting on my kitchen windowsill the same week I began writing my story. It grew as my story grew, as if being fed by my testimony. After a period of blooming, it then died the week my story was complete. Like the orchid stores up its energy to bloom from beneath the ground, my testimony grew from the darkest trials to become something beautiful, something new, and bright.    

“Every time rain clouds hang on the mountains and the sun shines from the west, a full arcing double rainbow stretches over my backyard. A token sign of God’s promise. Evidence that with the perfect combination of trials and hope, a testimony is born.”

I did not write this book for or against anyone. It’s about me and I found great spiritual healing while working on this project, but I didn’t write it even for myself. Not to get gain, attention, or profit. I wrote my story so God may speak to another one of His children through my words. So other victims of abuse may experience hope.

I’m so grateful for the people who crossed my path during the past two years. My guardian angels who kept me moving forward on the right path. For an amazing editor, Sarah Belliston, who generously gave her time and support. Also for the cover art and formatting by Rebecca Belliston. She also arranged a beautiful piano solo of my favorite hymn, Nearer My Savior to Thee, as a companion to Restoring Virtue.   

I don’t know where this book will go or where it will take me, but I know I’m in God’s hands now. I’ve made many mistakes throughout my life. I’m trying to do better and be better.

Against the Wind

Every spring I grow sunflowers from seed. I get a thrill watching these gigantic flowers bloom. This warm loving prairie plant actually does quite well in the long Alaska summer days.

This year I knowingly started my seeds four weeks ahead of schedule. It was my turn to teach a group of preschoolers the lesson “S is for seeds”. Each child planted a sunflower seed in an organic pot to take home. I used what was left over for my own starters. One week later seedlings popped up and three weeks later they had outgrown their small 3 inch pots. I knew my sunflowers struggled with their roots restricted. The small pots dried out quickly making the plant wilt, but at night cold winds blew and temperatures still dropped to 38 degrees. Planting the sunflowers outside was risky. 

I decided to brave the weather. I dug a few holes in my backyard and put the seedlings in the ground. As soon as I did, the stems drooped over and the leaves sagged. I wasn’t sure if they would survive the night.

When I woke the following morning the first thing I did was peek out the window to check on my sunflowers. They were still alive. Their leaves looked sad, but the stems had managed to hold up.

Over the next week the cold winds continued to blow at night. In response the stems of the sunflowers grew thicker and stronger until they stood straight and firm. The leaves stretched out and reached for the sun.IMG_3014

My struggling seedlings caused me to think about how I respond to the winds of life. I’m not someone who immediately knows what to do in times of trial and despair, but given time I will always respond by strengthening my testimony. I’ve grown stronger over the years, but it has not stopped the winds from blowing—winds of doubt, fear, wickedness, short sightedness. I just don’t get knocked down anymore. 

“Remember an unfailing, continual, ever-present source of peace and comfort is available to you. It is the certainty that your Father in Heaven loves you no matter what your circumstance, no matter what winds of trial, turmoil, or tribulation whirl about you.” (Scott, Richard G. The Sustaining Power of Faith in Times of Uncertainty and Testing. lds.org. General Conference, April 2003. 29 June, 2015)

Now, given several months to recover, my sunflowers are full and healthy and whole. There are no more signs of the adversity they faced as seedlings. Flowers are forming inside a tight cluster of foliage.

I, too, am full and healthy and whole, with no trace of the adversity faced as a child. While winds continue to blow, the suns warm rays feed and rain falls from heaven to nourish me: the light of Christ and the love of God. I stand straight and firm and reach for them.  

“I testify that faith in God and in His guidance through the Holy Spirit will sustain you in an increasingly more challenging world.” 

“Your exercise of faith builds character. Fortified character expands your capacity to exercise faith. Thus, your confidence in conquering the trials of life is enhanced. And the strengthening cycle continues.” (Scott, Richard G. The Sustaining Power of Faith in Times of Uncertainty and Testing. lds.org. General Conference, April 2003. 29 June, 2015)

Making Peace

I know I’m jumping ahead, way ahead, to the final step—making peace. The word peace is usually associated with healing because peace signifies freedom from anxiety, pain, and fear. It signifies the end of suffering, a place of healing, a state of being. Peace is on every victims’ quest for healing. 

It’s called making peace because there is a formula that must be followed to achieve and maintain peace.

Emilism: The formula for living without fear: Gratitude is the attitude, service is the key, peace is the gift.

This year with my personal focus on living without fear I’ve been praying for things I’ve never prayed for before. Mainly, to be blessed with a grateful heart.

No matter what life brings it’s a gift to walk the path of mortality discovering spiritual treasures along the way. In all of eternity there is nothing that compares to this little blip of time. It is the end and the beginning, if there is such a thing. This life ends a period of probation where we lived in the presence of God and begins the refining process, opening the gate to personal growth.

A few years ago I read President Hinckley’s book, Standing for Something. In its pages I found one of these spiritual treasures. He said, “Gratitude is a sign of maturity. It is an indication of sincere humility. It is a hallmark of civility. And most of all, it is a divine principle … He [God] can touch the hearts of His children of all lands for good, and can bring into play those forces that lead to peace and justice and human happiness.”(Hinckley, Gordon B. Standing for Something. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000. P 106, 114. Print.) Gratitude is the attitude. Gratitude because surely the good outweighs the bad, and the bad merely a stepping stone which, if crossed, becomes a bridge to stronger faith and greater blessings. Being able to walk the path of mortality with a grateful heart brings the kind of happiness that proves steadfast in the face of any trial.

As a young teen my mother taught me this sound principle: the best way to forget my own troubles is to serve others. Her wise council has been taught by many mothers and is something I am only beginning to understand.

Last August I was asked by church leaders to participate in helping build relationships in my community through service. Since then service has taken on a whole new meaning. I’m not just helping my church, but I’ve found my life’s purpose and passion—to help other women who have experienced sexual violence experience love and hope. “The privilege of serving in the cause of the Master can bring great satisfaction and inner peace.” (Faust, James E. A Growing Testimony. Lds.org.General Conference, October 2000.7 April 2015)  

At Christmas time I organized a service advent calendar for my family. We had fun delivering cookies to the local fire station, bringing hot coco to school teachers, or simply giving a compliment to a friend. At an already busy time of year, some days these acts of service were hard to fit in, but those were the days I experienced the most gratitude—when it was a sacrifice. We wanted to keep a good thing going, so set a goal to do a service project every month this year. Hours spent in service is bonding time for my family, but the truth is you don’t even need to leave your house to do service. It can simply be thinking about someone’s needs before your own.

In the traditional 12 step program the last and final step is giving back to the community. Service is an important aspect of the Atonement and I believe signifies a true change of heart. Service is the key. Service because a heart that knows the joy of salvation yearns for others to experience the same, without persuasion or force, but through the power of an abiding testimony of God’s love. When I serve I feel grateful to be an instrument in God’s hands.

I’ve also prayed for forgiveness. Not because I’ve committed any serious sin, but for the ways I fall short, the things I can’t change and don’t understand. For times I let go of my gratitude and distance myself from God. He never goes anywhere, but sometimes I step away.

I’ve been trying to recognize how fear clouds my judgement. When I find myself down or discouraged, I ask myself two questions: What do you really need and what unhealthy behavior are you doing to prevent you from getting it? Usually the answer is I need peace, and I’m behaving in a way that would only numb my emotions, but not bring back my precious peace.

Following this formula brings perspective and keeps me moving forward, leaving no more room for fear. Nothing about life has really changed. People around me still make their own choices, I still struggle with the things that are hard for me, but I’ve found a formula that works. Peace is the gift. Peace because it clams the storm. Because I can’t survive without it. Because even when I am not happy with what’s happening around me, peace is there to steady me. 

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

The Biggest Lie I Ever Told

I hate navigating crowded stores and parking lots during the holidays, so most of my family’s Christmas presents are purchased through the internet. Adding to the steady stream of packages are those from family who live out of state. I’m not always sure what’s inside the packages waiting in my mailbox, or who they are from. Unlike some people who spend the weeks before Christmas snooping for presents, I don’t like to ruin a surprise. So I’m not sure why I impulsively ripped open the padded envelope I found in my mailbox the week before Christmas. I pulled out a book and read the cover, Hush, Moving from Silence to Healing After Childhood Sexual Abuse, by Nicole Braddock Bromley.

It may be surprising to know that during the twenty-three years of my own journey I never read one book on healing from sexual abuse. I’ve done much of my own writing and journaling. I’ve spent a lot of time praying, soul searching, and studying the scriptures, but other than short news articles and clips, I’ve avoided diving into someone else’s experiences with sexual abuse. There is a reason for this, I’m afraid to face possible triggers, and frankly, sometimes I just don’t want to know what I don’t know. But my sweet husband has proven to be quite intuitive over the years we’ve been married. So when he told me he felt impressed to purchase this book for me, I knew I needed to read it.

I was right. The first two chapters took me back to a place I don’t enjoy visiting. I did experience triggers, but mostly I experienced a tremendous amount of guilt. Why guilt you may be wondering? Because it took me so long to heal, so long to find the answers—way too long. I can see the path to healing so clearly now, but I feel stupid that I didn’t recognize it a long time ago. I feel sorry thinking about the Emily of the past spinning her wheels, drowning in self-doubt. Why was so much time spent? Because of my lie.

The answers did finally come, but only in moments when I was desperate, when the pain got so unbearable that I felt compelled to make a change. Never because I was proactive in taking charge of my own healing. Again, it was because of my lie, “Don’t talk about it. You’ll upset them.”   

“Identifying the lies that fuel our fears can help us find the courage to tell” (Braddock Bromley, Nicole. Hush. Chicago: Moody, 2007. P 34. Print.). This simple line written by Ms. Bromley made me realize how much power I’ve given this lie. I’ve always recognized its influence, but for the first time I put it into words that helped me identify how this lie fueled my fears and stifled my healing process.

At this point I’m way past telling—I did that a long time ago. The fact that I am a survivor of sexual abuse is no secret, however, I hesitated to reach out to the people around me and ask for what I needed in order to heal. Ms. Bromley highlights five needs that every survivor is searching for: the need to feel safe, the need for trust, the need for balance and boundaries, the need to be understood, the need to feel complete.

I am what you may label a “people pleaser.” This is a part of my personality that I’m very cautious about, a part I don’t fully understand or know how to balance. Nevertheless, I avoid conflict at all costs. I’ve always cared more about making other people feel comfortable than about those ever aching needs. My lie caused me to believe it was wrong to actively search for healing because this meant upsetting the delicate balance of feelings, or what I pretended was peace—another lie I told myself.

I appreciate the message of this book, Hush, which is that God is the source of all healing. It’s a book for someone who is searching for something in additional to traditional counseling. Searching for the kind of healing that only comes through a relationship with God, but is unsure about what steps to take. Ultimately, that is my message as well and I hope that is conveyed in the things I write. And regardless of my lie, and my personality flaws, in the end I found the place I needed to be because God provided what I needed to heal in the ways I needed. That’s a long story for another day. For now it’s enough that my lie has been revealed and can be turned over to truth. Maybe the fact I’m breaking my silence now makes some people uncomfortable, but I can’t live my lie anymore. I will continue to add my voice to the many other survivors out there.         

I don’t want to leave the impression that this book had a significant impact on me, but it did provide some helpful insights. Insights can be gathered from many sources along the path of life, helping us gain vital understanding of who we and of God’s presence.  

“For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you here with” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12)

Healing Words

I could go the rest of my life without hearing the words, “I don’t want to take sides,” or “ I don’t want to know the details,” words that ultimately convey, “I don’t care,”—I’ve heard them all. It has been my experience that most people would rather turn a blind eye than make a stand and support a victim of sexual abuse. The secrecy surrounding this issue makes it difficult for people to talk about, or even speak a kind word of support.

A well known quote from Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Zen monk) gives this insight, “Compassion is a verb.” These words cause me to stop and ponder the meaning of compassion and its application in my life. Verbs are words that express action, or a state of being, they are doing words. This quote suggests that compassion is more than just saying you care, it’s showing you care. In order to make compassion a verb you must embrace it, you must do it, you ultimately have to be it. As an extension of this quote I would add that love, hope, and faith are also verbs. You must take action in order to obtain these things. God’s words are clear, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Words mean little when they are not accompanied by action.

Over the years I’ve spent countless hours in my local chapel. This is a place I’ve done a lot of pondering whether it’s filled with hundreds of people, or just me and the sound of the organ. Last week during our Sunday services I began looking around at the members of our congregation. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many of them. Each carries their own set of trials and burdens. Some have suffered great losses: health and mental disease, the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage, addiction, and more. Living the last days in this temporal world proves uniquely challenging for all of us.

In the past I’ve sometimes shied away from other people’s trials for a number of reasons. First, I did not have the capacity to take it in because I wasn’t healed myself. Also because, I will confess, at times I’ve felt bitter that I did not receive the love I so desperately needed. Maybe I unintentionally withheld it from others, or I simply spent most of my life shutting people out. Now that I’m making a conscious effort to no longer live in fear I don’t feel held back by these things.

A powerful example of Jesus Christ’s perfect compassion is found in Mark chapter six. His response to the death of His beloved friend, John the Baptist, taught me a great lesson. John was martyred after almost a year of imprisonment. Jesus Christ was subject to all the infirmities of this life and I’m sure felt deep sorrow over this loss, as any of us would. But His time to mourn was interrupted by the multitude that followed Him. “And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). Being filled with compassion Christ set aside His own burden to spiritually feed His flock. Even when his disciples encouraged Him to send the multitude away, He went on to perform another great miracle by also feeding their physical needs with five loaves of bread and two fishes. This is the lesson: that compassion born of the pure love of Christ requires the sacrifice of your own burdens. It is impossible to fully understand another person’s burden when you are consumed by your own.

So what should you say to show compassion for a victim of sexual abuse? The answer is simple: “It’s not your fault.” “I love you.” “I believe you.” “I have faith in you.” Victims who are allowed to openly express their feelings and are received well experience greater healing. Loving words, hopeful words, accepting words, honest words—are healing words.

It is extremely difficult for victims of sexual abuse to talk about their experiences. Their abuse is not their whole story. There is a whole person inside desperate to be known. Victims don’t want to be treated like they are broken. They need hope, they need to be empowered. If a victim comes to you it may be helpful to ask yourself why this person is confiding in you. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and trust to reach out. Most victims are looking to express their pain, or are asking for help, or looking for approval. They want to be reassured that it’s okay to talk. For a victim of abuse being heard equals freedom.

“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light: Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:8-9).

This scripture in Mosiah is often referenced when teaching about compassion with focus on the need to comfort, mourn, and bear one another’s burdens. However, there is a second and equally important part to being called His people. We must also stand for truth and righteousness—stand as a witness of God.

Throughout his ministry, President Gordon B. Hinckley continually encouraged the LDS people to rise above and be good for something. “In this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity, above indifference. You can become involved and speak with a strong voice for that which is right.” (Hinckley, Gordon B. Stand Up For Truth. Provo, UT. BYU Devotional given September 17, 1996. 10 January, 2015)

It is important to recognize there is a difference between making a moral stand and making a stand against a person, in this case, the perpetrator. The truth is the perpetrator needs healing as well, but it should never come at the cost of the victim. Making a stand or giving your support is not about picking sides, it’s about standing for truth, for healing, for repentance, for the Atonement, for God.

There is no such thing as neutral—there is truth, and then there is silence. Silence only increases isolation of the victim, suppressing those healing words, and prolonging their healing process. My words may not be perfect, but this is my hope: to be something, to make a stand, to be a voice against abuse, not against any person, but a testimony to pick God’s side.

Identifying Fear

I never believed in anxiety attacks until I experienced one for myself. About nine years ago I had a friend from high school come up to the last frontier to visit me. We had a blast sightseeing all over Alaska until we made a trip into Denali National Park that I will never forget.

We were handed a sack lunch by the tour guide and found a seat on the green bus that would be taking us on our six hour tour. The driver gave a lengthy safety speech before we set out on our adventure. I found it curious when he talked about the extensive drivers training he received, and when he kept reassuring us there had never been an accident on a tour. Naively my excitement remained intact as we set off down the dirt road.

About two hours into our trip I could see the road ahead climbing the mountain side into what is known as Polychrome Pass. It looked steep and apprehension began to grow in my gut. That apprehension turned into out right FEAR about half way up the mountain side. My breaths were cut short and I was sobbing as I held on for dear life at every turn, which all adds up to my very first anxiety attack.Polychrome Road

At the top of the climb the bus pulled over to allow the visitors a scenic view. I couldn’t have cared less about the beauty Alaska had to offer at that moment. I was shaking all over when I stepped off the bus and sat down on a nearby bench. It took 30 minutes for me to calm down and for my breathing to return to normal.

I was convinced of my impending death that day, and for days after every time I closed my eyes I could see myself falling from the mountainside. This experience taught me what a powerful and paralyzing influence fear has on our minds and bodies.

The phrase “fear of fear” has been returning to my mind over and over for months. I have been searching my heart for the meaning behind this thought. It seems like every time I find myself in a struggle with my weaknesses they can be traced back to this hateful four letter word: fear.

Emilism: Fear is the gateway for all of my weaknesses to surface. 

Every negative emotion can be traced back to fear. I’m insecure because I’m afraid of rejection. I’m defensive because I’m afraid of letting go. I shut down because I am afraid of the truth. Every time I let my guard down, fear comes in and sweeps away my confidence. Fear paralyzes my life, keeping me stuck in the same repetitive cycles.

There is a scriptural reference that says money is the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). I would venture to say that fear is the root of destruction. Fear is the root of my destruction, and I have stared it right in the face more times than I can count. “And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell” (Moses 1:20).

Since that day in Denali I have not had any recurring anxiety attacks, but I have noticed the anxiety building in my heart over the past few months. Maybe I am afraid of letting God be in the driver’s seat. Life feels so much like that mountain side full of treacherous paths, never knowing what is beyond each twist and turn. If you can get over your fear and trust the driver, there is a valley of beauty to behold with brilliant mountains, rivers, flowers, and other wildlife. The only thing that can be seen when your heart is fearful is the stitching on the green leather seat in front you. The blessings of life can only be seen through lifting up your eyes and seeing over those cliffs to behold the glories of God’s creations. “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvations of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13).

I counted at least 87 scriptural references for the phrase “fear not,” and most of them in the context of God speaking comfort to His children. Fear not little flock, I am with thee, it is God, give head unto my words, you are mine, let your heart be comforted, fear not what man can do, be not dismayed, I will save thee, the Lord thy God will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, doubt not, be courageous and valiant, the kingdom is yours! God is there to hold your hand (Isaiah 41:13), but not until all the fear drains away will you truly feel His presence.

My husband gave me a priesthood blessing earlier this year. The Spirit prompted him to say that the day would come when my children would be the only thing that matters to me. I imagined that day to be in my distant future, but it has come sooner than I expected. The Atonement has cleansed my life in a variety of ways, but now my healing process has brought me to a point where I feel completely drained of every emotion this world has exposed me to, including the fear that has prolonged this process. At first this brought a sense of emptiness, until I realized the only things I truly have in this world are the people who are tied to my salvation and know my heart, my greatest gifts of love—my eternal family. I began to pick up my head and see over the cliffs to what life could be, a life without fear.

Looking out I see a path of service if I take this opportunity to let God fill the space the cleansing has left with Christlike qualities. “Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:33). I’ve had little glimpses along the way, but now it is time to embrace the spiritual gifts of life.

Video of Polychrome Pass:

My 18 Year Old Me

Last week after the kids settled down, my husband and I went to Dairy Queen for a romantic getaway. Now I am revealing how cheap we are, but I do love an Oreo Blizzard; maybe because they come with one of those long handled spoons that make eating ice cream so much fun.

While we were sitting in the booth next to the lit up neon DQ sign, my husband asked me, “What would you tell the 18-year-old Emily?” Without missing a beat, the first thing that popped out of my mouth was, “I would tell her not to invite her abuser to her wedding.” I found it curious this was my gut reaction, but the more I thought about it I realized this response was about setting boundaries. Inviting my abuser to my wedding was a decision I let other people make for me.

I hear people talk about setting boundaries all the time, but what does that even mean? I’m a sensitive person, so the idea of setting boundaries has always sounded kind of selfish to me because it makes me think of phrases carrying an attitude such as, “I don’t care what you think”, or “Don’t tell me what to do.” I actually do care what the people who love me think, and I want to listen to the guidance given by people I trust. So is it possible to set boundaries with people and still keep an open, loving, and humble heart?

God has boundaries set upon righteousness, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31). Although, this boundary does not restrain His power, wisdom, and knowledge. God sets boundaries with His children, they are called commandments. Yet those boundaries will never limit His limitless love. The only thing that ebbs and flows with our ability to keep those commandments is our own happiness. So, as we are all striving to become closer to God, I would say that it is possible to set loving boundaries.

I have to preface with pointing out this is something I am terrible at, which is why I have been spending so much time thinking about it, but the conclusion I have come to is that anytime we place our happiness in someone else’s hands, we have just crossed a boundary. Setting boundaries means making faith based decisions and not letting other people dictate your self-worth.

I would tell the 18 year old me, “Do not spend your precious energy on defining yourself upon other people’s limited perspective. Someday you will be whole, but that will come through the effort spent turning to God. He carries the blessing of rescue and healing.”

Emilism: Do not let other people hijack your happiness! 

I talked in previous posts about my desperate need to defend my story to people who will never understand. I have let too much happiness slip through my own hands waiting for other people to save me. I have let my relationships with people be determined by my insecurities and fears. I have let gossip cause me to doubt the spiritual healing, promptings, and answers given me from God. I have spent too much time worrying what other people think when I already know what God thinks of me. I already know He loves me and that He is proud of me. There is none other than the one who can see deep down into my soul—the soul He created, who can give the validation I need.

I’ve wondered if I would be like Job. If everything this world had to offer was taken from me, would I still be happy? Have I put conditions on my happiness? God’s love will never be taken away so if you set the conditions of your happiness upon Him, there will never be a need to fear what men can do. My path will no longer be a treacherous one. I don’t have to be afraid of having my happiness stripped away because it is nourished through an infinite power.

Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you don’t care about people, it means you are filled with Christ like love towards them, knowing the love that nourishes your own happiness extends to others. In every way setting healthy boundaries improves relationships because you can have an open heart without fear.

As I let God into my heart, I find boundaries of freedom, love, hope, and happiness. The world’s opinion of me is cast away and negative influences dwindle into nothingness. Recently I’ve been learning just how much power I have over my own happiness, and its reward—a greater and more constant sense of peace.

“He teareth me in his wrath, who hateth me: he gnasheth upon me with his teeth; mine enemy sharpeneth his eyes upon me. They have gaped upon me with their mouth; they have smitten me upon the cheek reproachfully; they have gathered themselves together against me…Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure…Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God” (Job 16:9-10,17,19-20).


I just began this journey and I have finally been defeated! Let me explain.

I have fought the fight for 23 years, my own fight that is. Every one of those 23 years I spent trying to prove myself, trying to defend my story, and trying to show I was worth loving. I always thought I could do it myself. I thought I was strong enough. You could say I have won because my healing process is complete.

As my healing process came to an end I could see the finish line. I thought when I made it everyone would be cheering for me. But as I crossed the line, breaking the ribbon across my chest, it was strangely quiet with only a few cheering applause: my parents, my husband (my biggest fan), and my best friend. As I looked around, I was confused. These people had been there from the beginning of the race. Where was the rest of the world?

One of the biggest surprises, or lessons I learned when I got to the end, is that no one else changed. I never proved, defended, or earned anything in the process—at least not from the world. For the people who don’t want to, or don’t have the ability to see the truth, there will never be anything I can do, good or bad, to prove myself in their eyes. Even at the finish line, there are still some people who choose to see me as broken, and others who simply cannot understand the journey.

So, I give up, I surrender, I am defeated. Although, I have not surrendered to any person, I have surrendered to God.

I feel defeated, but in truth it is humility because it is my own pride that keeps me holding on to my story. God has lifted so many burdens from me, but not until I was ready to let them go, not until I was defeated. I cannot follow the path God has provided for me to fight for virtue, to fight for His children, His daughters, while I am still fighting my own battle. I have to put a stamp on my own story and close that chapter of my life. It is just some story that happened to someone, somewhere. There is no longer any need for me to defend it. It is complete. I can let it go with confidence because I know that I am whole. No one can touch me now.

Emilism: It is finished! And only God knows it all.

Letting go of my own will is something I have learned many times over, but recent experiences have solidified this in my heart. My Savior is the only one that can fight the fight for me, and He has. Now I will fight the fight for Him, hoping to help others experience the healing power of the Atonement.

“Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the kingdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:5).

Shepherd’s Care Forum

“I am learning how hard it is to build the bridge from the idea of taking on a cause, and actively doing it.” ~Emily

Today I had the privilege of attending the first organized Shepherd’s Care Forum, dedicated to helping church leaders and clergy members address and respond to domestic violence and sexual assault. With close to 45 various faith-based organizations and/or resource agencies coming together to discuss these issues, I am overwhelmed with information, but mostly with how many people of all faiths and backgrounds are serving in our community, working together as God’s hands to save His children. The Spirit was with us in the conference room at the Criminal Justice Lab today. Being able to connect with my community was a reminder of how often I let myself get caught up in my own little bubble of understanding.

Richard Irwin, Chairman for CDVSA and Executive Director of Anchorage City Church, opened the seminar with his vision of a brighter future for our state, “My dream is that there wouldn’t be little children hiding in the dark. That they would be able to maintain the innocence they were born with, and they would grow up to be healthy adults, raising healthy children”. Sadly, our states staggering statistics would say this dream is still far from being realized.

Presenter Brad Myrstol, Director of Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center for UAA, provided those statistics stating, “Domestic violence and sexual assault are the most important crime and justice issue in our state”. Richard Irwin (CDVSA) added, “This is one of the most crippling issues of our state.” Almost half of all Alaskan women (117,685) have experienced intimate partner violence, and more than one in three (91,725) have experienced sexual violence during their lifetime. (For more research and stats, visit UAA Justice Center)

With these alarming statistics you may be wondering, What can I do? Virginia McCaslin, the program manager at AWAIC said, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

Covering a wealth of topics today, it is impossible to share all the information discussed in this forum. I will try to include some important points of the day within the three goals of CDVSA, safety, prevention, and accountability.

1) Safety. Be trustworthy. Know how to respond to victims. Virginia McCaslin (AWAIC) advised to first, believe them. It takes courage and strength for a victim to come forward knowing they are in danger, and not knowing what kind of help will be available. A victim must be validated in order to feel safe taking the necessary steps towards healing.

Second, reassure they are not to blame. If we recognize sexual assault as trauma, we can know how to respond appropriately. Participants discussed some words associated with trauma: pain, fear, lasting impact, unexpected, injury, horror, helplessness, confusion, etc. There are many different types of reactions to trauma, any of which are perfectly normal. Presenter, Joshua Arvidson, Director of Alaska Child Trauma Center at Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, encouraged us to work with victims and help them reset trauma triggers by understanding the world as a safe place.

The third thing advised was to get victims in touch with resources. No two experiences are the same, nor are two journeys to healing. Getting victims in touch with resources will help them decide the best steps. However the one thing every victim has in common is the need to feel safe throughout the healing process.

2) Prevention. Be proactive. Be part of the solution. These are some statewide prevention programs:

The 4thR is for relationships. This program focuses on reducing violence in schools as.

The Green Dot Campaign teaches bystanders how to safely intervene. This program offers on site training for elementary age school children up to adults in the workplace.

The Talk Now, Talk Often campaign was developed by parents and caregivers in the state to encourage communication and healthy relationships that can be carried into adulthood.

Girls on the Run integrates running to develop self-respect, healthy lifestyles, responsibility, optimism, and other core values.

The Stand Up, Speak Up offers tools for teens to develop healthy relationships.

Alaska Men Choose Respect is a media campaign that offers information, networking, and tools for men to work together to end violence.

Coaching Boys into Men offers a program to train coaches, school administrators, parents or other community leaders in raising the next generation of boys to understand respect.

COMPASS: A Guide for Men was created by ANDVSA as part of the AK Men Choose Respect campaign. This training is for adult men mentoring young men ages 13-18 and teaching them through example how to live respectfully.

Look for training opportunities in your area. There are some great events coming up in October for Domestic Violence Action month. Know what resources are in your community, or at least know someone who knows the resources.

3) Accountability. Be responsible. CDVSA funds eight and oversees fifteen batterer intervention programs that focus on accountability for perpetrators, but we can all take accountability collectively for our community. The consequences of what is happening in our families and communities would prove that abuse is a serious problem. Expose the problem because abuse thrives on silence. In the forum we were asked to think about what each of us can do within our own sphere of influence.


There are many things we do to protect ourselves and prepare for a healthy future. We have medical insurance for injuries, college degrees to ensure a well paying job, food storage and savings plans, we even have fire escape plans for our homes and workplaces, but how many of us take the necessary steps to protect our families from sexual assault? Talk to your kids about the signs and dangers. Help them identify trustworthy adults they can talk to if they find themselves in a threatening situation. Know who to call and where to get help.

STAR Crisis Line 907-276-7273

AWAIC Crisis Line 907-272-0100

Although this was an amazing opportunity, and extremely educational, all I wanted to do when I got home was cry. Halfway through the day Richard Irwin asked me if I was overwhelmed and I cheerfully said, “No, this is great!” But by the end of the day my anxiety level was high to say the least.

I definitely experienced some of my own triggers during the day, which is a reminder that I need to stay in constant prayer that God will protect me along this journey. While talking about responding to victims I thought of all the times I reached out for help and was shut down, or found people’s reactions to be more damaging than helpful. When the OCS case worker, Travis Erickson, talked about the seven cases of infant deaths due to child abuse or neglect that crossed his desk during a one month period, all I could think was what God must be feeling when He looks upon His suffering children in this world. I am learning how hard it is to build the bridge from the idea of taking on a cause, and actively doing it.

When I knelt to pray with my husband and three beautiful children tonight, the words of gratitude held more weight. I often express gratitude for my family, my home, my testimony, and the experiences I’ve had with the Atonement, but today those blessings seem more valuable than all the riches in the world.

“There is no wrong time to start the healing process.” Keeley Olson, STAR