I love to come home to a house with flowers in full bloom to greet me on the front porch. Our former house had a porch that got direct sunlight all day. Because of the constant light and heat, it made for a difficult time in keeping the flowers alive. Even if I watered them daily, the dog days of August in New Jersey would fry every variety I planted. Nothing seemed hearty enough. Then I discovered red leaf wax begonias.
The red leaf wax begonia took to the heat and sunlight very well. As long as I watered them every day, they would last the entire summer. I planted them in large navy-blue pots that sat on our light blue porch that had a white front door and navy shutters at the window. The red flowers burst like an Independence Day celebration lasting for months. The colors were so vibrant and happy; it inspired me to keep them well maintained. I even swept the porch more regularly to keep the appearance clean and bright. I knew I had found my flower of choice. Red-leafed begonias would return next year.
And so I planted some again in the pots on the porch and went about my regular routine in caring for them. I even planted a row in the ground along the side of the house near the garage. After all, with such success on the porch, how hard would it be to maintain a few more plants? These were in the shade most of the day. They were in moist soil. They received water from the rain. They would be much easier to keep alive than the other ones, with less work. While I cared for the ones on the porch as I had the year prior, I all but forgot about the ones on the side of the house.
By the end of the summer I had two very different types of flower beds. The flowers in the pots on the porch were huge and bursting with color. The ones on the side of the house were small, dull, and seemed to do nothing to beautify my home. Without realizing it, I had been conducting an experiment all summer long—not just an experiment of gardening but one on my testimony of the gospel.
A good seed needs good nourishment
A testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a precious gift. I will never forget the time when I received this gift for myself. I had been searching for the truth concerning spiritual matters for most of my life. Tiny seeds of faith had been planted in my heart when I was a child—seeds of faith concerning my Heavenly Father and his plan for the happiness and salvation of his children. I never doubted the love Christ had for us, a love so strong he was willing to die for us. In a way my trust in the Lord was the good soil needed to cultivate the seed of faith—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At an early age the seed was planted in good soil.
That seed lay dormant until the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came into my life. Their message awakened that seed, nourished it with the fullness of truth, and helped it to become a fruitful tree, strong enough to grow tall despite the elements of contention and fear that fought (and continue to fight) against it. The message of the gospel continues today to be constant nourishment to my soul.
The flower beds reflect the seasons of my testimony
It has been twenty-five years since that seed blossomed for the first time. Much has happened since then. Trials of faith have taken their toll on my heart in many ways. When I look back on the decisions I’ve made in life, I can see clearly how the two flower beds are a reflection of my faith. At times I flourished in the good word of God. I had a young testimony but I was also faithful in feeding it daily with prayer and scripture study. I replenished it with the sacrament weekly. I served diligently in various callings, magnifying my resolve to stay dedicated to the truth. I attended the temple regularly. When the world tried to tempt me to break my covenants, I turned away. When people ridiculed me for my testimony I ignored their bigotry. I nestled under the protective wing of the restored gospel—it never failed me. I enjoyed the blessings of this protection even when the storms of life seemed to rage endlessly on.
Yet other times, I’d been distracted with the follies of life. I slacked off a bit in my daily spiritual preparations, thinking I could get away with a few days without praying or a few days without reading the scriptures. I had also experienced times when depression, heartache, and life’s blows weighed me down so heavily, I’d forgotten the sweet spirit of the gospel and the blessings of peace that it brings. Anger, pride, and envy had clouded my vision and led me to dead-end pathways that were bleak, dark, and hopeless.
What does a testimony look like?
It is one thing to say “I am a faithful follower of Christ.” It is quite another thing to look like one—and I don’t mean in the manner of dress or physical makeup. The looks I am talking about are the actions of one’s life that reflect a dedication to something higher than oneself. Being spiritually fed and spiritually healthy generates a glow that others can feel, even if they cannot explain what it is. They may say, “She’s always smiling,” or “There’s something about her eyes that shine,” or “You can always count on him for a kind word.” Like the healthy begonias on the porch, they cannot help but reflect the spirit within. In contrast, what happens to a testimony when it’s not nourished regularly? It becomes like the begonias on the side of the house—small, dull, of no worth to anyone. They just sit there—and so do we when we are not actively engaged in a good cause.
Can we see His image in your countenance?
One of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon is the 5th chapter of the book of Alma. The prophet, Alma, is speaking to the people and he asks a poignant question. “Can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenance?” There have been times when I’ve wept with joy over this scripture, having a feeling of gratitude as I’ve felt the Savior work through me, care for me, and bless me as I aligned my actions with his. Likewise, there have been times when I’ve read this scripture and wept at the shame in my heart, when I could not see a reflection of the Savior through my actions. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all experienced this to some degree. Thankfully, if we are feeling sorrow for our shortcomings, we need not fear. The Savior of all mankind has a never-ending promise through his atonement, that we can have a “mighty change of heart”, we can be “spiritually born again”, and we can hear his voice calling to us, “Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth.”
The Atonement is our never-ending nourishment
The scriptures teach us, “If a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd.” (Alma 5:41) Our Savior recognizes a repentant heart. He is willing to forgive all, always. The promise is sure. “And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate…for the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand.” (Alma 5:57, 58). The Lord never turns away from those who sincerely repent. On the contrary, the nourishment of the gospel of Jesus Christ is given to all who desire it. The invitation stands true. And when we partake, our countenance will shine and blossom with His spirit—a reflection of the nourishment from his good word. We can be vibrant, hearty, and full of life, similarly to the begonias on the porch. We can be of use to our Savior. Our testimonies can shine in our faces through our good works, if we give it the regular care it needs to survive.
Nanette O’Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.