I watched a small boy, who looked about 7 years old, approach the front of the chapel, clinging to his mom. I saw tears in her eyes, and her face was red from crying. Bending down from the behind the podium wall, I saw as mother's spoke to one another crying together. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I saw the mother lift up the back of the boys shirt to show scars from a massive, and at one point, life-threatening burn. I would later find out that this little boy had been around 2 years old when something on him caught fire in the kitchen, and how his brave siblings fought against the flame, rolling him around and around to try to extinguish it.
I am sure I would have been touched by this story, no matter the circumstance. But what makes this story amazing is that the woman behind the podium wall was Stephanie Nielsen. I am so blessed to have been in her presence as she testified about the Atonement.
As I watched this exchange between Stephanie and this mother, I felt the spirit testify to me of how she has become a walking testimony of faith, perseverance, endurance, and love. I am not sure how many witnessed this exchange, but it moved me deeply and stirred in me something I have started to remember recently. Hope.
During the question and answer session at the end of her remarkable and heartfelt story, Stephanie along with her husband Christian, answered the many questions of our students. Similar questions worded differently came left and right. It was as if the students wanted more or thought there was some looming, untold secret of how she was able to get through and survive, or how she is/was able to find happiness, or how she and her husband radiate such an incredible spirit together.
The answer was always the same: the Atonement.
I thought about being 20 again, and how much I lacked understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and how I could actually use it....everyday. I thought about these young students searching for meaning and truth, and trying to figure this out for themselves and how they can apply the Atonement.
During my Great Depression of 2009, I remember having a conversation where I was asked if I considered using the Atonement to get me out of this awful rut. Before this particular conversation, my confidants/mentors/heroes always asked questions like, "have you prayed about it?" or "have you gone to the temple" or "have you spoken to the Bishop about your concerns?" or "have you served someone today?" These are all fantastic questions, but none of them had ever said it quite so eloquently...."have you tried using the Atonement to help with your concern?"
That was the first time I really took the opportunity to know about the 'enabling' part of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and discovered that this act is not just for the repentant, but for the sufferer and bearer of burdens.
The talk, Atonement and the Journey of Mortality by Elder David A. Bednar, says, “It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice,
that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the
grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise
through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the
atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not
be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling
power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and
exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”
I am not an expert, and will be the first to admit that it is not natural for me to first see how I can apply the Atonement to my current trial/burden/challenge. One thought said during the visit from the Nielsen's was this powerful reminder. In response to how the Atonement helped her get through all the emotional, spiritual, and physical pain, to paraphrase, she and Christian said: in trying to apply the Atonement, most think that they should try to figure things out and then fill the gaps in with the Atonement, when in actuality, it should be the other way around. We should try to figure things out with the Atonement and then fill in the gaps with other things.
I am honored to have been present to hear these wonderful words of encouragement and wisdom. I feel I am a better person having had this reminder of hope. I am blown away by the determination of a couple who has chosen to share their story, regardless of the physical and emotional toll it takes for them to share this message over and over again.
A week ago, I was asked who my heroes are. I knew of the Nielsen's story before, and had seen a recent video on Youtube. It wasn't until recently that I thought how because they are sharing this message of hope to the whole world - that is what makes them heroes to me.
Artist: Yongsung Kim