Sunday, December 16, 2012

I was the Crooked-Neck Girl

(The following post is the talk I gave in church today.)

Think back to your first day of 7th grade. For some of you it may be just a few months ago, for some of you it may be decades. Even though it was 30 years ago for me, I remember it very clearly. I was excited and nervous. I was finally out of elementary school! That meant I was starting a new school. Anytime you start a new school, or even a new school year it feels like you get a chance to re-invent yourself. To show the world who you really are or who you really want and hope to be. I was no longer going to be the girl that made a fool of herself on a regular basis, I was going to be one of the cute girls. I had gone through 20 different outfits and found the perfect one; I had figured out exactly how my hair was going to look. I had organized everything in my backpack, and was going to go to school early so I could make sure that I could open my locker and find my classes. With this plan I was convinced I wouldn’t seem like the lost 7th grader, which, of course I was. These were my plans. This is not what happened. After a night tossing and turning, I awoke to discover that my head was wrenched completely to one side…ear to shoulder. I could not move it…not even a little bit. Apparently, I was much more stressed then I had let myself believe, and all of that stress went right to my neck.

I panicked. I called my Mom at work and tried to explain how awful the situation was. She was a school teacher and incredibly busy, and thought I was being over dramatic (which I was on a regular basis.) She told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to go to school, so I got dressed. It took a while. Getting dressed without moving your head or being able to lift it up is tough. Not to mention, all the crying had made my face splotchy and red. How did my hair look? Did it matter? I couldn’t lift up my head…no one would notice my hair. This day was off to a rough start.

The junior high was only two blocks away, but when your head is wrenched to one side it is nearly impossible to walk a straight line. It was a looong walk to school. By the time I got there, I had 5 minutes before the bell would ring. I thought walking was tough…but, opening my locker was impossible. So I had to take my backpack crammed full of school supplies with me, which meant every textbook I received had to be held in my arms. People gave me plenty of room to walk down the halls. I’m fairly certain news about me had spread and they were all thinking, “Watch out…see that splotchy faced, crooked necked 7th grader? She’s run into about 10 people. Stay clear!” In class it wasn’t so bad…I could put my hand to my face and simply look like a bored, aloof teenager. But, when the bell would ring and my hand would move...but my head would not, my disguise was gone. I was certain I had ruined my junior high career. I would forever be known by some horrid moniker like “crooked-neck girl,” or CNG, for short. I thought this one day would define me. Fortunately, I was wrong. It turns out that my friends from elementary school felt sad for me, some even bringing me icy hot and heating pads for my neck. By the end of the week I could open my locker, get to classes and actually hold my head up high. Did I end up with a nickname? Nope…by the end of the week no one mentioned it.

As a teenager you spend a lot of time thinking about what people think of you…and trying to decide what you think of yourself. It feels as though so many people have it together, and you’re just kind of a mess. A vicious cycle begins…the more you wonder about what people think of you the more you begin to notice your flaws…the vast majority of which are only seen by you. As you focus on flaws you forget all about your strengths. This is Satan’s clever trick. The more he can get you focused on yourself and your perceived weaknesses, the less time you think about those around you and the less time you spend building your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

So, Young Women, today let’s break that cycle…at least for a moment and focus on who you really are.

First and foremost you are a daughter of God. This may seem trite because you have heard it so often that you forget what a powerful statement this is. Elder Jeffrey Holland said the following when speaking to the young women in 2005:

“First of all, I want you to be proud you are a woman. I want you to feel the reality of what that means, to know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and an eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make as you grow into mature womanhood. There could never be a greater authentication of your dignity, your worth, your privileges, and your promise. Your Father in Heaven knows your name and knows your circumstance. He hears your prayers. He knows your hopes and dreams, including your fears and frustrations. And He knows what you can become through faith in Him. Because of this divine heritage you, along with all of your spiritual sisters and brothers, have full equality in His sight and are empowered through obedience to become a rightful heir in His eternal kingdom, an [heir] of God, and joint-[heir] with Christ. Seek to comprehend the significance of these doctrines. Everything Christ taught He taught to women as well as men. Indeed, in the restored light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a woman, including a young woman, occupies a majesty all her own in the divine design of the Creator. “

I know that many of you worry that you haven’t reached your full potential, or that meeting the standards and commandments that we’ve been given is too hard. You worry that you are simply not strong enough to handle the problems that come your way, or brave enough to figure out the life that you have been given. Let me tell you simply and clearly that you are enough. You are enough. President Monson has said, that “whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” I promise you that the Lord has called you to be on this earth at this time, in this place, in this family. Because he has called you he has qualified you by giving you the talents and skills that you will need to fulfill your divine mission on this earth. Many of those gifts haven’t made themselves known yet, or they are mere seeds beginning to sprout – but rest assured, you do have the gifts and the power to reach your full potential. To fully access all that the Lord has blessed you with, and to feel and understand the promptings of the Holy Ghost you have an obligation to do all you can to build a relationship with your Father in Heaven.

You are old enough and wise enough to take on the responsibility of seeking out the truth of the gospel and to gain a testimony and knowledge that you have a Father in Heaven that loves you. There have been times in my life where I have felt overwhelmed and alone, during those times, when I have mistakenly turned away from the Lord I have found that anger and bitterness grew within me. But, when I have humbled myself and turned to him for comfort and guidance I am filled with a sense of love and gratitude for all that he has blessed me with. It hasn’t made problems magically disappear, but has given me the strength and courage to work through challenging times, knowing that I am not alone.

Some of the talents, gifts and inspiration you will need will not come from you, but from those around you. Look around this chapel. You are surrounded by men and women who want only to help you succeed. These men and women on the stand behind me love you and pray for you. I love you and pray for you. We want to provide you with the strongest foundation we can give you so that as you enter the world you will do so with a surety that you have a vast support system on which to call for help. When you need it, please call for help. In this ward you will see examples of bravery, courage, humor and kindness that will help you develop into the powerful women you are meant to be. Keep your eyes open and learn all that you can from your loving ward family.

So, if things haven’t gone as you have planned, if you have had your crooked neck days and can’t imagine that people will ever be able to see you for who you really are…today is your fresh start. What I see are beautiful daughters of God, who are loved and valued in ways they have yet to realize. Today is the day you can kneel down and ask your Father in heaven for confirmation that you are his. If you continue to turn to him you will be able to focus on those you can help, instead of your imperceptible flaws. You will have a source of strength to turn to when days seem unbearable. As it says in Isaiah, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” You are enough. You are loved. Never forget this. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to serve you. I know that you are daughters of God and I know that this is His restored gospel.