In the Bible-based TV show called The Chosen, there is an iconic scene where Mary Magdalene encounters the Pharisee Nicodemus. When he expressed shock and amazement at Mary’s remarkable transformation, she explained, “I am redeemed… I was one way, and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him.”
Like Mary, I also have been completely changed by Jesus Christ. I am not who I used to be – and I am so thankful for that.
It doesn’t matter where you’ve been.
In order to understand the change that I have experienced through my conversion to the gospel, you need to understand a bit about who I once was. I was the product of a broken home, where my early years had been defined by a litany of issues including addiction, mental illness and other challenges.
I often felt both unloved and unlovable… and I was certain that if God existed at all, He had forgotten me completely.
I was nearly 13 when I found Jesus Christ. I would love to tell you that I recognized the truth of the gospel immediately and that my nature completely changed in the twinkling of an eye… but that would be a lie.
My conversion was a struggle. I was fascinated by the ideals and the doctrines of the Church, but they just didn’t seem relatable or realistic to me because of my own broken earthly experiences.
So, for years, I wrestled back and forth with conflicting beliefs and my own bad habits. I struggled to bring my life in line with the gospel. I tried, I really did… but it’s hard when you’re young or when you’re the only member in your family or when you’re trying to change lifelong habits and worldviews. Change is possible, but sometimes it can take a great deal of time. We have to be patient with the process.
Unfortunately, about two years after my baptism, a sister in my ward started a petition to remove my records from the Church. She thought I was taking too long to get it together and she worried that I was a bad influence on her children, so she barged into the Young Women’s room with a clipboard and told me that she was going to pass the petition around Relief Society to get my records removed from the Church.
I will always when the bishop explained that the Church is a theocracy, not a democracy, and that members can’t vote people off the island…
…and I will also always remember the sinking, sickening feeling that I didn’t really belong in the Church, that I was too broken, too traumatized, too far gone to ever fit into the Kingdom of God… so I left.
God never gives up on anyone.
In the nearly 20 years since then I’ve learned firsthand that there is no brokenness that God cannot make whole, no trauma that He cannot help us overcome, and no distance that He will not travel to redeem His precious children.
Heavenly Father showed up for me in miraculous ways. Although I wandered for a time in dark and dangerous paths, He never abandoned me. He placed the right people along my path at the right time, to bring me back to Him.
The journey was treacherous and it certainly wasn’t easy. I ended up in juvy for a while. I wound up pregnant at 17. I made a lot of bad choices, even after I started trying to be good again… but no matter how far I wandered into that darkness, God never stopped loving, never stopped caring, and never stopped trying to bring me back into the light.
He rescued me.
And He will rescue you.
And He will never stop trying to rescue the ones you love, no matter how far they have wandered…
Because God doesn’t give up on anyone.
My choices made my life harder than it had to be, but Heavenly Father guided me back through that darkness. He brought me a young man who, despite having struggles of his own, has an unshakable testimony that has anchored us both for the last 17 years. Together, David and I have five children who I love more than I ever thought possible. Although the journey wasn’t easy, and we had to wrestle a lifetime of bad habits and addictions and weaknesses, we eventually made it to the temple to be sealed together. It took us almost 10 years, but we made it there.
When you look at our family now, you wouldn’t find even a hint of who we used to be. We go to Church every Sunday. All seven of us love to serve and speak up and participate. We go to the temple regularly to do ordinances for the family members we’ve searched out. We do our best to reflect God’s love to those around us… because we are all madly in love with the gospel of Christ, which saved us and changed us and made us more than we could ever be on our own.
And to be clear, I don’t say any of that to boast.
The only good decision I ever made was to get out of the way and let God prevail in my life. It’s all Him. It’s just that sometimes, late at night, when the rest of my family is asleep and the house is quiet… sometimes I lay awake, just utterly amazed at how a broken, messed up wild child like me ever ended up with a life like this.
It’s about His Grace, not our goodness.
Like Mary said to Nicodemus, “I was one way, and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him.”
My journey back to Jesus is a story of grace, forgiveness, and conversion. It was not easy. To wander from the gospel is to choose the harder path… but it is always, always possible to return.
Along the way, I had to unlearn a lot of false beliefs that I had about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, so that I could get to know them as They really are. One of the most stunning lessons I learned was about grace.
In my youth, I mistakenly believed that the gospel was about perfection and that I needed to follow every rule with exactness before Heavenly Father could love or help me. Grace felt out of reach, like something I had to earn but would never quite qualify for. I knew I couldn’t be 100% perfect at everything right now, so I constantly felt like a failure. It felt hopeless. I was trapped in shame and always overwhelmed because I couldn’t get everything perfectly right.
But that’s not what God says at all.
That’s just another one of Satan’s lies, designed to distance us from the love of our Heavenly Father.
In reality, the gospel is all about forgiveness, repentance, growth, change and beautiful, blessed new beginnings. It is about relying on Jesus Christ’s divine power and grace every day so that He can make us so much more than we ever could become on our own.
One of my favorite talks of all time is “His Grace is Sufficient” by Brad Wilcox. In it, he describes an interaction he had with a BYU student who was struggling to understand grace. She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best… Who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”
Brad responded with an object lesson. He took a blank piece of paper and drew two dots: one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. He then challenged her to draw the line between our part and God’s. Is it here? Is it there? Where’s the line? She wavered a bit, unsure where to draw it.
Brad eventually explained, “The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”
The student replied, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”
Brad responded, “Oh no, you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap… Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His.”
Grace does more than save us. It changes us. As Brett Sanders once said, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.”
Not because we’re earning anything, but because we are showing gratitude that He gave to us freely what we could never earn on our own. We change because we love Him, not because we owe Him or because He demands it of us. Lasting change comes from love and gratitude.
Grace gives us both the motivation and the strength to change, to become who God wants us to be. It is available to all of us, right now, regardless of where we are along the covenant path.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen wrote, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts.”
Elder Wilcox added, “Grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch.”
Loving God will change your life.
When you really understand the doctrine of grace, it puts the entire gospel into perspective. It allows you to see Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ differently. The commandments become loving guidance instead of oppressive rules. Repentance becomes joyful, not shameful. The entire tone and experience of the gospel changes when it is viewed through the lens of grace.
This transformation can be incredibly freeing. It allows you to stop wondering if you’re good enough or if you’ve done enough or if you’ll ever be enough. It allows you to free yourself from the crushing sense of inadequacy that comes from Satan. It empowers you to reject feelings of shame that would keep you trapped in self-hatred. Grace can free you.
And grace motivates change, because it allows you to start asking yourself the questions that really matter. How do I thank God for what He has done for me? How do I share His incredible love with others? How can I be better today? Who can I serve today? How can I bring His light into the world today?
Because when you receive a gift like grace and you really, really feel it… it changes you. It sparks that deep soul conversion that completely transforms you. And once you experience that, you can’t help but share it.
Experience grace for yourself.
So how can you experience grace for yourself? It’s easier than you might think.
First, you need to learn. Learn all you can about who our Heavenly Father is, who Jesus Christ is, and how much they love you. Learn about what they’ve done for you and why. Study all their attributes, but especially grace.
Second, try. Make an effort to become more like Them. Pick one principle and act on it. Don’t try to do it all at once. Don’t make it complicated. Just pick one thing and work on it. Try to become 1% better every day.
Third, repent every day. Failure is inevitable. Everyone fails. Heavenly Father is not surprised by failure. That’s why He provided us a Savior and the opportunity for daily repentance. Repentance is something I used to dread because it felt like a punishment. I worried that I was annoying God when I apologized for the same mistakes over and over again… but after years of practice, I know firsthand what President Nelson means when he talks about “the joy of daily repentance.”
“Repenting is the key to progress. Pure faith keeps us moving forward on the covenant path. Please do not fear or delay repenting. Satan delights in your misery. Cut it short. Cast his influence out of your life! Start today to experience the joy of putting off the natural man. The Savior loves us always but especially when we repent. He promised that though “the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed … my kindness shall not depart from thee.”President Russell M. Nelson
As President Nelson points out, Satan delights in your misery. I’ve learned firsthand that shame is Satan’s favorite tool. You cannot make progress when you are trapped in an endless loop of self-hatred.
Guilt is the knowledge that you’ve done something wrong, but shame is that gnawing awful feeling that traps you in misery. Guilt will tell you that you are a good person who did a bad thing, but shame will tell you that you are a terrible person who never does anything right. There’s a big difference there.
You cannot make progress when you are weighted down with shame. Shame paralyzes you and tells you that you’re not worthy, that you cannot improve, and that you are wasting your time. Shame is a lie. It does not help you; it only holds you back.
When you make a mistake, and you will, you need to repent… and then you need to let it go so that you can try again. Like President Nelson said, “Satan delights in your misery. Cut it short.” In other words, take all the necessary steps to fully repent and then let it go so you can try again.
And… that’s it. That’s the three-step secret sauce to experiencing grace and developing a deep and lasting conversion. Learn. Try. Repent. Rinse and repeat. Learn, try, repent. Learn, try, repent. That is the cadence of our lives that will bring us closer and closer to our Heavenly Father and to who we are meant to be.
The heart of the gospel is simple.
My dear friends, I know there are days when the list of things we feel like we need to do feels overwhelming. There are so many good things that are worthy of our time: family history, ministering, service projects and so much more.
But the core of the gospel is simple. We don’t need to overcomplicate it. Learn. Try. Repent. That’s really all it takes. I’ve learned firsthand that Heavenly Father is far more concerned with the direction we are facing than the speed at which we are moving. As long as you are really trying, you’re going to be okay.
The 2023 Youth Theme boldly declares, “I can do all things with Christ.” The theme song has some of the most beautiful and profound lyrics I have ever heard. It says, “When I’m sinking in the waves, If I reach out for His grace, He will rescue me. I can do all things with the Savior by my side. I can climb to greater heights and find the strength I need.”
I know this is true. I know that Heavenly Father lives. I know my Savior, Jesus Christ, lives. He rescued me when I was lost, and I have witnessed His miracles in my life over and over again. His Grace is real. It has changed me, and it can change you, too.
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