Friday, January 04, 2013

Happy 2013!

2012 was a great year: med school graduation, an amazing trip to Costa Rica, overall good health and security. But 2013 is going to be even better.

A few weeks ago I spoke in church about having hope even when in grim circumstances. I slaved over this talk for almost a month and by the time I delivered it, I had rewritten it at least a dozen times. If you read to the end, you might figure out why 2013 is going to be an awesome year...

A Perfect Brightness of Hope
Good afternoon. For those who don’t know me, my name is Emily Raymond. I moved to Boston eight years ago with my husband, Scott, so he could pursue an MD/PhD. He graduated last spring and is now in the first year of a five-year residency. While Scott has been studying and working, I’ve done a lot in Boston: I worked at a biotech, filing papers and drawing illustrations of brain perfusion monitors. I worked at a publishing company writing newsletters and pamphlets for businesses. I worked at several web sites reviewing digital cameras and writing electronics industry news. I’ve taught fitness classes, I’ve run every race from the 5K to the marathon, and I currently nanny a two-year-old. But most of my time has been spent with our two children, 7-year-old Bruce and 3-year-old Phoebe.
I have been asked to speak about hope, specifically on the meaning of the phrase from 2 Nephi 31:20 that says we should have a “perfect brightness of hope” and how we can have this hope even when facing grim circumstances.
This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the past few months for various reasons. Two friends of mine have gone through significant trials lately and their hope and faith remains unshaken despite the grimmest of circumstances. I saw a friend from my former ward at October’s Stake Conference ; her 2-year-old son is undergoing treatments at the Dana Farber Cancer Center for a very rare form of cancer that has a 10 percent survival rate.
Little progress has been made over the past few months and he now faces a risky surgery that will leave him permanently disabled, at best. Yet when I asked my friend how she was holding up, she told me of the outpouring of love and support people have shown her and her family. She told me of the miracles that she and her family have witnessed and the gratitude she has for a loving Heavenly Father. She still maintains hope that her son will make a full recovery.
Another friend of mine has a set of 4-year-old twin boys, one of which was diagnosed with cancer at three years old. After a year-long roller coaster ride of fear and hope, their doctors told them there was nothing more they could do. My friend wrote on her blog, “Today we learned that despite the many battles that Keith has won over the last year and a half, our sweet little boy will ultimately lose his war with cancer. The news is crushing. We continue to believe in and hope for a miracle in his final hour, while simultaneously praying for the strength and understanding to accept the will of God, even if it’s not our own.” Keith passed away shortly after she wrote this, and my friend’s hope is now that she will be able to see him again because of the Plan of Salvation.
With the steadfast examples of my friends in mind, I have been facing my own challenge in the past few weeks that has kept me toeing the line between hope and fear. Don’t worry, it’s not cancer – but I’ll get to that later. My past experience and statistics tell me I have good reason to fear, but I am doing my best to not only be hopeful, but to have a “perfect brightness of hope.”
Nephi says we “must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men” (2 Nephi 31:20). I think when we think of hope, we often confuse it with its relative, optimism.
Indeed, Wikipedia says that “hope is the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life.” But this seems to be a naïve hope, one that does not last beyond events and outcomes.
I believe that the “perfect brightness of hope” that Nephi talks about can only come from Jesus Christ. This kind of hope allows us to see beyond events and life’s circumstances. It isn’t blind optimism that ignores the past or statistics. It acknowledges that bad things happen in life, but that in the end Jesus Christ will right all the wrongs, soothe all the grief, calm all the fears, and take away all the pain.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that this kind of hope “is tied to Jesus and the blessings of the great Atonement, blessings resulting in the universal Resurrection and the precious opportunity provided thereby for us to practice emancipating repentance.”
It is the kind of hope that I have been clinging to for the past few weeks. I mean it when I say that I truly appreciate receiving this assignment to speak on this soul-churning topic. I have more fully studied how to maintain hope, which is just what I need to be doing right now, according to Elder Neil A. Andersen.
In his October conference talk, Elder Andersen said, “How do you remain steadfast and immovable during a trial of faith? You immerse yourself in the very things that helped you build your core of faith: you exercise faith in Christ, you pray, you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, and you serve others.”
I want to focus my comments on exercising faith in Christ, praying, pondering the scriptures, and serving others. I think exercising faith in Christ is perhaps the trickiest when going through a trial. In the adult session of Stake Conference, a single sister raised her hand and tearfully asked leaders how she could have hope when she was getting older, was still unmarried, and felt like her chances for eternal progression in terms of having a family were waning. Sister Camie Conde from the Stake Primary responded with some inspired advice: “Keep doing what you are doing. The Lord is preparing your future. He knows where you are and where you are going.”
I feel like I have read this over and over again, reminding myself that Heavenly Father loves me, has a plan for me, and that if everything isn’t okay tomorrow it will be made okay through Jesus Christ’s Atonement.
Communicating with Heavenly Father is a wonderful gift that we have been given: Prayer helps me maintain hope. It strengthens my faith, reminds me of what I have and am grateful for, enlightens my understanding, and can help me make changes in my life. A few years ago when I was going through a particular trial, I was praying for the situation to change (Heavenly Father, please make this go away!). More recently I have been praying that I will change. I have been asking God to strengthen me so that I will be accepting of His will, whatever it may be.
Reading and pondering the scriptures is helpful in maintaining hope. Two weeks ago, Chris Gillespie taught a Sunday School lesson on the last few chapters of Mormon. He talked about Moroni, Mormon’s son, and his terrible situation, which Moroni recounts in Mormon 8:2-5:
“And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.
And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfill the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not.
Therefore, I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not.
Behold, my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof. And behold, I would write it also if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.”
And so while Moroni lived in this awful circumstance, how could he have hope? He didn’t have much hope for his present lonesome situation, but he still had that “perfect brightness of hope” that remained in Christ, as evidenced in Mormon 9:21:
“Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.”
Moroni could have prayed for a boat to take him away or a companion to be with, and it appears that he had the faith to have that granted him. But his perfect hope was not in his present circumstance but in Jesus Christ – and he knew that his words and last works of his life would have an impact that would last for many centuries. It seems that Moroni, although very lonely and often sad in the latter stages of his life, found hope in the service he provided to future generations.
I have also found that service, while helping others, builds my hope. At times when my hope dwindles, I have found that taking someone a meal or driving someone to the grocery store helps me feel God’s love in a very real way. Being an instrument in His hands gives me greater purpose.
I have needed this strength from service, prayer, and exercising faith as I have faced my most recent challenge: I found out that I was pregnant 9 weeks ago. This is usually a joyful event for people; I am really happy about it and it’s exactly what I want, but my reaction also includes fear from bad experiences in the past. Before I had Phoebe, I had three miscarriages and each one served up a new flavor of grief. My successful pregnancies – Bruce and Phoebe – ended six weeks early and resulted in lengthy, stressful hospital stays.
So while every day I hope that this little baby will get comfy and stay awhile, my past haunts me into a state of guarded optimism. I realize that by sharing this, I could very well be opening myself to a world of pain, but I’ve also learned from the past that I could use a support crew regardless of the outcome. So come the New Year, I will probably need a hug or a kind word either way.
I hope that this works out, but I honestly don’t know if it will. I do know that Heavenly Father exists, that He loves me and has a plan for me, and that He sent Jesus Christ to atone for my sins, sorrows, and pains. I know that He has helped me through grim circumstances in the past and that He will be there whether I have a baby in July or whether I miscarry tomorrow. This is where my hope lies: not that everything will go my way, but that Christ will be there to comfort me when it doesn’t and celebrate with me when it does.
I testify that as we exercise faith, pray, and serve, we will look to Christ with a perfect brightness of hope. I say these things in the name of the one who brings us the truest form of hope, Jesus Christ, Amen. 
So it did work out!!! I am now 13 weeks along and this little baby is still kicking around in there. I am breathing a big sigh of relief now that I'm past that ugly first trimester. I'm going to enjoy the next few months before things get crazy during the third trimester. I am due July 16, but if this baby follows its siblings' footsteps, it will debut sometime in early June.
The kids are ridiculously excited. They both want a boy, mostly because of a cheesy song from Phineas and Ferb. I'll be happy either way, but I'll admit that I'm biased toward a boy too: less inner-family competition for Phoebe and more manly connection with Bruce. Scott thinks another girl would be fun, but he is clearly not envisioning the teenage years. He also picked out a few names - Zoila for a girl and Perseus for a boy - again, not thinking about the teenage years. 

Clearly, we have a lot to work on before June.

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Blogger Strong Clan said...

2013 is going to be a SUPER year! Congrats to you and your whole family. Praying for you. Praying that he/she realizes what a plush life she is going to have and should get really comfortable inside your awesome belly.

12:53 PM  
Blogger ellen said...

I knew it at the first sentence! Now I'll go read your talk.

11:41 PM  
Blogger ellen said...

Now I'm teary after reading your talk. You are awesome, Emily Raymond.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Chandra said...

How wonderful! I'm so excited for you!

10:28 PM  
Blogger stephasauri said...

Congrats Emily!! What a perfect talk subject to stew over for a month. I am so happy for you and pray that all goes well!

6:22 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Great News and awesome talk! I'm wishing you easy and wonderful (and full term) pregnancy. Happy New Year to you and the family!

9:53 PM  

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