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Insight Archive

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For My Brothers and Sisters

As I was serving in South Carolina, my companion and I went to the Catawba reservation. We went there for a specific purpose of checking-up on one of the members of the church. She had some issues with some of the church standards, and wasn't following them. Also at this point, she had been recovering from a recent surgery and was told she might have cancer in her colon. This woman, only sixty-some years young, seemed quite over-whelmed at the recent blows in her life. As we talked, the conversation lead into talking about her family. Her oldest brother, who was about 82, was still living. He has an incredible story. We talked about how he came close to becoming a famous singer. He was chief of the Catawba Nation for a long time. He had sacrificed many good "big" things for better small things. She spoke of how much he looked after her, and no matter how weak she was; he was firm in his positions. Of him, she said with great excitement, "I have met many good people in my life, but to me there is none greater!"
I suppose this story is dross to those who have not had the opportunity to have siblings. I suppose this story means nothing to those who have not gone through trials with their siblings. But for me, as she shared with us her opinion of her brother, it took everything I had to hold back tears. I imagined myself in that situation when I am older. For a moment, I placed my little sister in place if that sister, and me in the place of her older brother. She was giving into weaknesses, but her brother remained strong. The spirit taught me my duties, and brought to my mind the question, "was her (my little sister's) big brother remaining strong, as she gave into weakness?" came to my mind. "When I am older in similar situations, will my opinions create peace for my siblings? Will my brothers and sisters value my opinion, and look to me as an example?"
"I will bring [my people] through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried..." (Zechariah 13: 9)
"picture-ception" A small picture
of me at the beginning of my
adventurous life.
Just as silver and gold need to be exposed to high amounts of heat and stirred up a bit to become pure, our lives were stirred-up and exposed to high temperature trials from a very early age. I reflect back to a time when we were children, still small enough to be held in our mother's arms. Not much is remembered then, but I do remember flashing red and blue lights in the night. I was too young to understand what was going on; and before I knew it, I was in the arms of an unknown stranger. He was wearing a dark uniform and we were headed out of the door. Fear because of the unknown clenched my heart, and the only thing I could imagine to do was to cry to my protector, and my guardian. I screamed her name, but it didn't work. I remember I could see her, but I could not go into her loving arms. This stranger took me to one of the cars with the flashing blue and red lights on top, and placed me in the front passenger seat. Another stranger placed a strange looking pale baby behind me in the same car.

Despite all of his strange appearances, I recognized him. He was my little brother. My yelling and screaming scared him to the point of crying. The driver, the man who carried me to the car, was tired of hearing two screaming children who had just been ripped from their mother's arms, so he gave us golden stickers in the shape of the badge he wore on his outfit. This silenced my brother, but I refused to be comforted by some piece of sticky colored paper. Not much is remembered by me after that. Just that somehow we ended up together in the same foster homes... 
"And now it came to pass that Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children... he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them..." (Mosiah 24: 8-9)
My brother and I had been together since a young age.
After the ordeal of foster families, my little brother, our younger sister, and I had been adopted by a single mother who had two daughters of her own, both are older than I am. My sister, being the youngest, didn't experience the same amount of trials as we did. Almost as soon as we got there, burdens were placed upon us. To begin, small chores like walking, feeding and cleaning up after the dogs; then, dish duty. Burdens were slowly placed upon us until we were doing ridiculous things. One such instance occurred when I was on the other side of the house, sweeping. Suddenly, I heard my, now, oldest sister cry out, "Sheldon!" I swept the pile into a place where it wouldn't be re-scattered, next to a wall, and placed the broom in a position where is would protect this pile. Then, I heard again, "Sheldon!" I walked into the living room where my oldest sister sat watching the television. She looked at me and said, "There you are. Would you get me my cup?" as she pointed to the coffee table before her. I saw a cup, with ice water in it, on the direct opposite side of her. I remember thinking to myself, "you have two legs you can get it yourself" (which I was told by her and her mother on multiple occasions). "Please," she said as I looked at her with a dumbfounded, yet frustrated expression stamped on my face. So, I walked the rest of the way there, stretched forth my hand and gripped her cup. Then, I turned, while I was in that same position, and handed it to her. Without so much as a thanks, I turned away to resume my previous duties. I thought as I was finishing up my sweeping, "she could have just leaned forward and grabbed the cup herself, and she calls me lazy" (Which was the least of the names they would use to put us down). To continue to add to this abusive, neglectful, and ridiculously burdensome situation we were now facing in our lives, our freedoms were severely lacking. We could not go over to a friend's house after school. Despite the fact they wouldn't be there when we got home. We could not go to a friend's birthday party on the weekend. Even though they would be gone for days. This was what my brother and I called captivity. In an e-mail he sent to me a little while back, he called them, "chains." 
"And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people. And it came to pass that they departed out of the valley, and took their journey into the wilderness." (Mosiah 24: 23-24)

No, we did not run away from home (though the thought did cross our minds once or twice). Frankly, we were too afraid. If we did such an action, we knew we would be put back with her when we were caught. We had many ideas of what we could do to get out of there, but not a single one would work without harming us. We found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. During my freshman year in high school, there came a point when she desired to cut our hair. She owned a pair hair clippers she used to do it. One Friday, she left to do what she did (which was not good, or exactly legal), and gave us an assignment to find the hair clippers before she got back. We searched the entire house for them, but we couldn't find them. When she returned we were punished, and forced to search for them again. I am sure denial began setting into her mind when we mentioned we couldn't find them in the house. From the time we returned from school, to sunset we searched for them. We thought for sure that she would give-up and postpone the search until the next day, but she didn't. She insisted that we continue to search for them. For the next few hours, we wandered around the house still searching for these lost clippers. I grew tired, and my patience was wearing thin. The same went for my little brother. He approached me in the midst of my "searching" (at this point I had just given-up) as it was nearing mid-night and said, "This is [ridiculous]. I want some sleep." I told him, "me too, but she won't let us sleep until we find those clippers." He replied, "But we haven't found them, and it is almost mid-night. Maybe we should go to grandma's. You can tell her, 'I'm going to grandma's and I am taking Sonny with me.' Then we can just walk and not look back." In my fear, I looked at him and said, "why don't you just go to her and tell her 'it's getting pretty late, why don't we go to sleep and look for them tomorrow.'" He looked back at me and said, "she won't do that." Then, I looked into his tired, fear stricken eyes and told him, "if you do that and it doesn't work, I will go say that." So, with his confidence in my promise, he walked to her, in the hallway. I couldn't hear the conversation, but he came back with sorrow and disappointment in his wearying eyes. He came up to me and said, "It didn't work. It's your turn." I, full of fear, had the full intention of not following through with the promise. His disappointment was obvious. Then, we went our separate ways to continue "searching" for these lost clippers. While we were doing this, he continued to prod me to keep my end of the deal. I took five minutes of his prodding, and then I looked into his loving eyes. I thought to myself, "my brother is going to look back to this moment. I might as well try. She fears me just as much as I fear her..." So I walked to a point where she could see me, keeping in mind distance from her maximum reach, and told her, word for word, "I'm going to grandma's and I am taking Sonny with me." Then, without so much as a second look back, we walked to the door, opened it, and walked swiftly to our neighbor, her mother. All we heard was mumbling behind us as she slowly walked behind us. We reached the door and knocked, loudly. There was no answer. As I was standing there and as our adopted 'mother' approached, I pondered back to the moments when her mother said we could come to her if there was any problems. Of course, there was many, but this was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was small in comparison to all of the problems, but one nonetheless. The door didn't open, and she was at her mother's the driveway. I knocked, frantically, a second time. She was at the porch. "Go back home," she declared. With a shaky voice from fear, and courage, I replied, "No!" Taken aback from my sudden defiance she said, "Go back home. Get to sleep." I said, "No!" About this point, the door opened and her mother stood behind the screen door. "What's going on?" My "mother" said, "Don't worry, they are just tired, I was trying to get them to go back home and get to sleep." To this, I replied, with that same shaky voice on the bring of crying, "That is NOT HOME." She was more surprised at my comment than at my defiance, as a result she asked, "What are you talking about? Yes it is." I could not tell whether or not she understood, or just didn't want to believe what I was said. "No, it isn't! A "home" is where you are supposed feel safe. That is not home." She grabbed my scared brother's arm, looked him in the eyes, and pulled him toward her and the house and said, "Let's go." If it weren't for the courage of his older brother, he would have left. But, he stood his ground, fearfully. I looked courageously in her eyes. At this point, I was far more angry than anything; and frustrated because it was out of my nature to do all of this. Due to this confusion, and mixing pot of emotions, I walked passed her with tears in my eyes, to a nearby field, which I knew really well. I found a quiet secluded spot and sat down and "released" all of the feelings I had holding back. I sat there until my logic overcame my emotion; and when I came to, I stood in the darkness to see a familiar flashing of blue lights. I walked calmly to the house where my little brother was...
"I also remember the captivity of [my family]; for I surely do know that the Lord did deliver [us] out of bondage..."(Alma 29:11)
My brother sent to me, in an email, "I know what you do. You're a servant. You traded [insert adopted "mother's" name here] chains for another." To this, I replied back, "I won't argue with you. But, I do want to ask you a question to ponder. Aren't we all bound by chains? Smokers are bound by their addiction to cigarettes, Porn addicts are bound by images, sexaholics are bound by their carnal desire to pleasure themselves, greedy people are bound by their hunger for money, prideful people are bound by what others think about them. In all of these scenarios, the addictions control those who are bound. If I am bound, I am bound by the most wonderful being in the universe, my Father. He knows best. If I am bound, I have seen so many more blessings than if I was bound by something/someone else. Perhaps I did trade the chains [insert adopted "mother's" name here] bound me with, for another load, but this load is lighter (Matthew 11: 28-30). It is far more easy to bear. There is none of the over-bearing weight... that came with the other chains. But, can you say the same for the chains by which you are bound? Are you free from guilt? Are you free from shame? Are you truly free from people's judgements, hunger for money, thirst for carnal pleasures, and yearning for harmful substances? I testify that I am a servant... Why do you think you looked up to me? Why do you think I had the strength to support you? It wasn't me, but He who bears my load, so I can help you bear yours..."
"Yea, and he has also brought [us]... out of bondage and captivity, from time to time even down to the present day; and I have always retained in remembrance [our] captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, [our] captivity." (Alma 36: 29) 

My brothers and sisters, I share these experiences out of love of an older brother, to remind you of the captivity we've faced, and are facing, in this life. But, what are we going to do with this newly gained freedom? Are we going to trade it for the same chains by which we were bound? Or are we going to bind ourselves with different chains with the same weight? My invitation to you is to reflect upon your current life. Are you doing all you can to keep those chains of bondage on your shoulders, or are you trying to remove them? It took many years, but my prayers were answered to get me out of bondage. The Lord always remembers his covenant to free His people. I lovingly testify, in the name of pure love Himself, Jesus Christ, amen.
"they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God." (Zechariah 13: 9)

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