One sunny winter day we found Justin, outside an apartment complex and dizzy with fear. He shifted and jerked, his head moving with every sound of wind, every crack of twigs, and his brown eyes darted from one balcony to the next. He didn’t trust. He couldn’t trust. Even the feet beneath his legs were wobbly as he motioned for us to sit. I’ve never seen someone so attuned to their surroundings.
After taking a seat on the semi-warm concrete ledge he told us of his past. Justin was alone, and at the age of fifteen truly believed was starting a family. But that’s just it—why today his palms were sweaty, his head twisting with every dart of a breeze—it turned out to be a counterfeit.
Gang life, thug life, all of it, was to pretend there was a family, to have everything that equals happiness so close to the real thing that it tricked him, and he wasn’t about to do it again. He taught me that Satan is the great counterfeit. He takes lies and makes them look like truth. It can feel so convincing, but what Justin came to find—can actually be the exact opposite, leading further away from the truth.
We taught him of God, we showed him prayer, we answered his questions, eyes still darting, still unsure, and that’s when he taught me; what it means to be a Gang member- gang leader, and someone who works in the dark.
He listened and in that was scared, I wasn’t sure why, but then he said it “How do I know this isn’t a counterfeit?” One foot up and ready to leave, to run, to wander in the streets of Colorado Springs without a home, gang, or family. He was in hiding from starting one of the largest gangs in America. Something that began so innocently, looked so similar to what he did not have, and had become the epitome of evil.
This was something he told us he KNEW he would go to hell for, and amongst the catching rays of sun that disclosed his identity, he was racing and sweating for the death, which could soon follow such an appearance.
But there was something inside Justin greater than fear, it was the desire for faith.
When you leave a gang you don’t just leave and start over, if you’re like Justin, you know too much, you’ve done too much. If you leave, your “family” will find you and kill you. He didn’t want to die, he knew somewhere inside that he would pay for the murders, the rapes, the bloodshed, robbing, violence, which for a 19yr. old was quite a record.
As he listened to our story it brought back the memory of starting the gang; a family, a home, counterfeit.
What an interesting way for me to learn. He knew exactly what the world held for him, where it would lead him, what it had promised, and there was nothing left.
We gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon, invited him to read it (he had about a 1st grade level after teaching himself to read), and we would meet again, same place, with a set date and time. The visits with Justin were beyond converting, from the power he said he felt from the Book of Mormon, to his kneeling, weeping prayer of repentance to God proclaiming “All I want is you now, all I want is you.”
He found the real thing, the opposite of counterfeit—Peace.
When I see counterfeit today I am reminded of Justin and the seriousness of where that path leads. It may look “intellectually stimulating” or “liberating” even “transcendent” but where is it really leading? Is it a “family” or is it really a “gang”?
A distraction leading away from the peace of being tied to God. Freedom that is an illusion, that takes no searching and struggling for, a path leading away from what is most dear and precious—God’s family.
Everyday I pass a sign hung from an apartment building with the words painted “PRAY FOR PEACE.” It is up there no matter the season. I think about it each time I pass and wonder what inspired that person to hang the sign.
A week ago we took a trip to St. Louis to be with my husband’s family. It was nice to be out of the city and into the quiet suburbs. I was searching for more “peace” in my life and felt this was the answer to my situation. Long hours of being with my entire little family, laughing, talking, enjoying no responsibility, I felt like I had reached true peace.
When we arrived back in Chicago I prayed earnestly to find that peace again back here at home. The answer I received came over a weeklong period and was surprising.
Part of the answer came when visiting a historic structure in Illinois. The building was a “symbol of peace” allowing visitors to sit and find peace within its walls. As I climbed the stairs to enter the edifice I don’t know what I was expecting to find. When I walked inside I saw a large room, a gorgeous ceiling with intricate architecture and empty chairs in the middle of the room.
There was a note that said the room was to be used for peace and prayer.
Walking back to the car I was confused as to why I felt emptiness instead of peace. It was a gorgeous building, a quiet place—isn’t that the definition of peace? What more peace can you have in the world? And that was just it, what they offered was all the peace that the world can offer, and though it is beautiful and nice—it is hollow.
I started to feel sad for the lack that I felt when inside a place made for the feeling of peace. It was then I realized where the true peace comes from, and can only come from, the atonement of Jesus Christ.
It is the peace that that everything is all right no matter how bad it gets because He came and overcame spiritual and physical death for us, we are not lost! He is truly our only hope and only salvation. The only true peace we can have that lasts of outside of quiet rooms and pretty buildings. Even in tragedy, war, and crisis we literally can find peace.
It is through our promises, or covenants, we make with God that connects us to the atonement in our lives. It is how we “use the atonement,” it is how He saves us.
Going to a building where covenants are made brings real peace, participating in covenant making brings real peace- making promises to God that we will follow Him and Him making promises to us that through doing so we can have peace in this life and peace in the life to come are what make temples a house of peace.
I found that there is no peace outside of covenants, because without covenants we would be saved physically after this life-but not spiritually. Without covenants we would not be with our family again, we would not be with God again. Covenants are what bind us to God and Him to us.
This week I realized that all the peace I could hope for is found in the promises I have already made.
This month for my scripture study, I decided to focus on obedience. Coincidentally, this video was just released about obedience, conveniently on the day that I am supposed to blog :)
Particularly as I have gotten older and entered the workforce, I have routinely been asked how I appear to be so happy or calm. I know that the apparent peace in my life can largely be attributed to the fact that I try my best each day to be obedient to the commandments of God. This feeling cannot be replicated or duplicated by any other manner of living. Imagine if you were to keep all the commandments of God. What do you think the result would be? How do you think your life would change? I know the potential benefit obedience has in my life, and that is why I try to live each day with a renewed desire to be more obedient than before. Not because I'm an "good-two-shoes" or a "teacher's pet" (although I will say that being on the good side of authority figures is never a bad consequence of rule-keeping ;) ), but because of the way that it enhances my quality of life.
One of my favorite scriptures, from the time I was little, is found in the Book of Mormon. Alma 41:10 reads, "Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness."
I know that God has give us guidelines to help us live our happiest life, because He is our Father and He loves us.
Last week, my mom, my aunt, and I went to see the movie Still Alice. The movie centers on the life of Dr. Alice Howland, an accomplished professor who’s diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The first scene in the movie is of Alice and her family celebrating her birthday. At this point in time, she has no idea that in a matter of months she’ll be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As I watched this opening scene, all I could think was, “she looks so happy.” Because I had read the book Still Alice prior to seeing the movie, I knew what fate awaited this cheerful character.
The movie was especially touching because my Grandma Daly suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and I watched the disease totally change her. It was sad to watch and sad even now to think about. But as I left the movie theater last week, I was inspired by my grandma and by the fictional Alice Howland. I was inspired to enjoy life now, to be more cheerful, and to be more grateful. As I lay in bed that night, I reflected on what a true divine miracle each life is.
A couple days ago, I came across a blog by someone who observed the fatal drowning of a fellow beach goer while on vacation. The author of the blog commented that he’d always been annoyed with the saying “live each day as if it’s your last.” He remarked that surely if this were his last day on earth, he wouldn’t spend it doing work. But he can’t just give up working entirely. As he observed this tragedy, however, he realized what that mantra encourages individuals to do is to live each day with gratitude.
Sometimes (okay, most of the time) life can be stressful. There are always obligations and demands placed on us. Yet, despite the stress, we must choose to be cheerful. We don’t know how long we have to celebrate life here on earth with those we love. Just today as my mind was reviewing a number of stressors in my life, I thought to myself, “Meghan, be grateful you can experience stress. Doing so means you’re alive and you have a life worth caring about.”
My grandma’s birthday is coming up on March 9. If she were still alive, she’d turn 81 this year. Her life is a legacy of service and love. My desire is to emulate her legacy and more fully reverence being alive by remembering and appreciating the blessing of life today and each day.
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