This blog post contains mature themes dealing with abuse that may not be suitable for all readers. Reader discretion is advised.
At age 48, I sit reading my most prized possession. It’s worn from years of holding it too close to my panicked heart, yet the messages within it never fade. This gem holds 531 crinkled pages and tear-stained margins that my searching fingers never tire of exploring. It is a source that has never left me wanting.
I’ve began yet again reading the words of father Lehi in my beloved book, The Book of Mormon. His words are magical to me. In fact, each prophet who speaks to us through this book always seem to be speaking directly to me, addressing my current problem. At this time, I can relate to Lehi when he shares a dream he had with us. About his dream, Lehi says, “I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste” (1 Nephi 8:7).
As I reflect back on my own history about forty years earlier, I recall one of the first pivotal points in my life where my choices could have actually swung toward life or death. For me, the wilderness—or the path of life upon which I traveled—seemed too dark and dreary to endure any longer. I had a choice: live in pain or swallow some pills. There where all kinds of colorful capsules scattered about our filthy kitchen table. I knew drug addicts that took the white one when they wanted to go to sleep. One in particular would ask for the blue one when she wanted to wake up, the red when she had a headache, and yet another when she was sad. The answers to all of her problems laid carelessly among the dirt and scum on that four-legged rickety old table.
I knew if I took seven of the white pills—seven because that was how old I was—I would fall asleep, finally painless, and never wake up again. I could go to heaven, a place I knew existed because there were times when the pain of my abuse was too much to bear. At those times, it seemed my little spirit would float above my body, away from my bruised, bleeding flesh and the pain and agony to a place that was peaceful, pain-free, and where I felt loved. What I did not understand was why I had chosen to come to Earth. Why, why would I choose to come to Hell when I had lived in a place so peaceful, bright, and happy?
I’ll never know if it was my great-grandma who lived beyond the veil or perhaps the same person Lehi saw in his dream, “dressed in a white robe…” (1 Nephi 8:5), who whispered in my ear to walk away from those pills; that the answers people found in those pills where very temporary and actually created the monsters they had become. I listened to that soft, sweet voice and decided instead to walk up the street to my beloved creek bed.
I found refuge outside the walls of our abusive home, solace in an outdoor sanctuary I called “The Creek.” This haven had a particular rock formation that held the hot Oklahoma sun’s heat in it even in the cool early-morning hours. It was the one place the world offered warmth and comfort for me. After a rough night with little sleep, I could often fall into a peaceful rest here. This particular day, I offered a plea to the heavens. Remembering this today, I feel a connection to Lehi as I read that he too needed comfort and sought it in by sending prayers to heaven: “I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me . . .” (1 Nephi 8:8). I too begged my Father in Heaven to help me understand. Why, why would I choose to come to Earth when heaven was so perfect?
As I drifted peacefully off to sleep, I felt the love of God surround me. Almost hugging me, bringing me a comfort that penetrated deep into my heart. That feeling has been embedded within me, forever changing my heart, mind, and spirit. After I received this answer to my heartfelt, pleading prayer, I could never again look at life with the same warped perspective I was so used to.
The answer to my earnest prayer came to me exactly how a 7-year-old would understand it: in the form of a story.
A long, long time ago—so long ago it can’t be marked,
An energetic, very enthusiastic spirit sat upon her father’s lap.
“A…Choo!” Her father sneezed.
Her questioning eyes looked up at the half-grin upon his knowledgeable face.
“A…Choo…!” his nose wrinkled strangely.
Searchingly, she asked, interrupting his third sneeze, “What’s that feel like?”
Her father kindly answered, understanding her need, “Well, it kinda tingles.”
She watched his distorted face straighten out and then smile again. Desperately longing to understand, she plead, “What’s that feel like?”
“Hmm…” Her father pondered the question lingering within her. “It kinda tickles,” he chuckled, knowing that she would not know what that meant either.
She felt a warmth consume her spirit as she watched happiness dance across her father’s being as she had so many times before.
“Tickle…What’s that feel like?” she eagerly asked.
His sneeze was a bit drawn out (and perhaps a little exaggerated).
“Oh, it feels so good that it almost hurts.”
Once again, she felt the consuming warmth flood over her
at the sight of her smiling father.
“Good… What’s that feel like? Hurt, what’s that feel like?”
Sincerely, he answered,
“I have prepared a place for you that you may know these things.
You too will have a body like mine.
You’ll learn, you’ll grow, you’ll know for yourself
the pleasures in a sneeze, the joy in laughter…”
Excitedly, she jumped from his lap. “A body like yours?”
“Yes.” His smile covered his face.
“Where? When can I go?” she asked.
The warmth that covered her at the sight of her father’s smile burned—
Wow, she hoped every feeling that she would
ever have would feel exactly like this!
“They won’t, honey.” Her father read her thoughts.
“For the place you must go will be very cold.
There will be happiness and joy,
and hardships you must bear.
Challenges will help you grow.
I cannot stand beside you.”
She hopped back up onto her father’s lap, reluctant to leave his warmth.
Afraid to stand alone.
He smiled sweetly, understandingly into his daughter’s eyes
that looked up at his nose with questions.
“There is no other way for you to know
but for you to go out on your own.
Don’t fear… A Savior I shall send for you
to guide and show you the way.
For back here you shall sit,
and then you’ll tell me what a sneeze feels like to you.
Follow in Christ’s footsteps, and I shall send you a gift from above.
It shall remind you of our love and of your heavenly home.
The one feeling that you know now shall abide with you down there.
When you feel my smile warm your soul, you’ll know you’re heaven-bound.”
“Here’s a message, I’ll share with you—
please tell the others.
The eyes that I will give you will be veiled—
they cannot see me.
Your ears shall hear the whisperings of destruction.
So, my dear, if you want me to be near,
close your eyes and plug your ears, and fall upon your knees.
Within your prayer you shall feel my smile warm your soul.
For each good decision made and brought to me,
my smile shall encourage.
Follow My Son.
Warmth and peace lingers in each of His steps,
and so shall they be with you.
Remember my words.
Remember my promise,
for they are for each of you.
My children, heaven’s not so far away.
It’s just behind closed lids and plugged ears.
A strait and narrow gate.
I beg of you, my child, come bask in my warmth.
Tell me, what does a sneeze feel like to you?”
When I awoke that day, it seemed I had matured a hundredfold. I couldn’t wait to share with my family, as Lehi did, “…that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8:12). I walked back home with new determination that day. I so badly wanted to share with my family what I had just learned. But just as not all of Lehi’s family followed him, not all mine believed what I had to say—except for my twin sister.
That day, we discovered not only the truth to our existence but the truth to the divine power we had within us. Suddenly, we saw truth in a smile, in a helping hand—the resources the Lord had put all around us to help us escape the prison that we were born into. Teachers, neighbors, and police officers became my closest friends and my mother’s addiction’s worst nightmare.
By the age of 9, I knew I had the power to stop my mother’s abuse. I couldn’t change my mother’s bad choices, but I could change the way her choices affected me. What my mother did know to be true was that she had to take me and my sister out of the situation that we were in or she would surely end up in a prison cell of her own making. After we reached the age of 9, our mother never again involved us in her nightly rituals.
Though the things I have heard, seen, and felt will forever haunt me, I still know I have the power, as a daughter of God, to hold onto the “Rod of Iron” (1 Nephi 8:19)—my beloved book, the word of God, and remembering the answers He has given to me. I can choose to have a happy, peaceful life of my own making despite others’ bad choices. I can continue to “partake of the fruit… Yea, and [behold] that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen” (1 Nephi 8:11).
When life hands me challenges, I’ll grab hold of the words of the prophets and fight through all the dark and dreary wildernesses that I come upon. I learned at age 7 that I could do it.
Shawna Smart is dedicated to raising and uplifting others by sharing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. A survivor of neglect and abuse, Shawna's story of overcoming trials and trauma is an inspiration to all who hear it. She is grateful for the opportunity to share her experiences via LDS Blogs as well as on her own site, Strength in Adversity.