On Thursday night I went visiting teaching. If you aren't LDS (Mormon), I'll give you a little background. If you are, feel free to skip this part.
In our church, we have a women's organization called the Relief Society. There are three purposes of this organization: 1) Increase faith and personal righteousness, 2) Strengthen families and homes, and 3) Seek out and help those in need. As part of fulfilling those purposes, we have what is called visiting teaching. To put it simply, we are assigned a companion (there is power and strength in numbers) and are asked to visit specific women in our congregation each month. As we visit these women, we focus on meeting their needs (physical, emotional, etc.) and being a spiritual strength to one another. Ideally, we become friends who really and truly care about one another. When visiting teaching is done right, it is a very fulfilling and uplifting experience on all sides and a truly inspired program.
This month I was assigned a new companion and my list of people to visit changed. I went with my companion to visit a lady who hadn't had visiting teachers come in a long time, and she also hasn't come to church in a long time. We were a little nervous to visit her, but we had an amazingly fantastic visit. I could write tons about what I learned just about the process of visiting teaching that night, but that's not what I'm writing about. I want to write about what I learned about hardships, strength, and vulnerability from this particular visit.
In this post, I will refer to my companion as Ashley and the lady we were visiting as Melissa (not their real names).
As we chatted and to get to know one another, Ashley said, "Melissa, I want to know what has been your hardest trial along with your greatest success in the past month." Melissa thought for a second, but she didn't come up with anything right away (and let's be honest, she probably felt very on the spot). Ashley asked me if I would start. I thought for a second, and then I felt the Spirit burn within my heart, and I shared a very recent story that I will summarize here:
You all know that I've had a hard time lately. Ben recently moved to TX to start his new job, and I've been back in Arkansas fulfilling my responsibilities at school (and learning about more porn, more lies, and having very uncomfortable disclosures, so...). To say it has been hard is minimal. The past month has been among the most hellish of any month since I've been married and have faced the world of porn and infidelity. I didn't go into details with Ashley and Melissa about what is going on in my marriage other than simply saying we are having a really hard time, and he has done some pretty bad things to our relationship, and I would be warranted in getting a divorce if I really wanted to right now. So with that and everything that has happened recently, I've put a lot of thought and prayer in making a HUGE decision. That decision was to resign from my teaching job. Teaching has been my dream since as long as I can remember. But because I've been so depressed this whole school year, and I've given so much time and energy to my school and my students, and because my relationship with my husband is suffering so badly (along with other stressors such as finances, medical, infertility, and so on), I feel that I have to quit right now. It's brought a lot of heartache and mourning (but as my counselor-friend pointed out just yesterday, I need to mourn this stuff and also realize that mourning is different from regret. I don't regret my decision, I'm just mourning my losses right now). Making the decision to quit and move to TX at the end of this month is one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. Telling my principal was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I'm anticipating something even harder: telling my students. They will be heartbroken because, not to brag or anything, they love me. I'm a great teacher, and I have a way with teenagers. I love them, and they love me. So this is just really hard.
But this exhaustingly hard experience has also been my greatest strength this month. I feel strong in the process I've taken to make this decision. I feel strong in my faith in God and my ability to follow His plan and give my will over to Him. I know I'm doing the right thing for God, my future, my relationship with Ben, and my mental/emotional health. I know I need time right now, and I don't have that time while I'm giving my all to my students.
I feel strength surging through me. I know God is giving me strength and peace as I take these baby steps closer to Him. I know without a doubt I am doing the right thing even though it is scary and hard.
As I talked to these women about my hardship and strength, we all felt the Spirit very strongly in the room. As Ashley and Melissa both told their stories, I discovered something. I've already known this, but it was very validated by the Spirit that night: Our hardest times can lead to our greatest strengths and the greatest blessings. Both Ashley and Melissa's hardest trial and greatest strength were related, just as mine were. I thought it was amazing how each one of us were thinking of two stories to share--one hard and one strengthening--and we all three ended up sharing one story that incorporated both of those elements.
It's true that our hardest times can lead to our greatest strengths and blessings. Haven't I seen that over and over? Because of this trial (the porn crap) in my life, I have gained strength I never knew was possible at my young age. I have a strong testimony of and strength in the Atonement. I have strong faith and ability to understand the Spirit and follow God's will. I'm not perfect by any means, but I know I have grown in insane amounts over the past three years. This trial has also given me great blessings, not only in my strength, but particularly in the friendships I have formed as I have sought healing. And a stronger vulnerability in my marriage. Stronger hope in my marriage. Stronger understanding of the gospel. Everything good is directly related to the bad and hard. I can't hate this experience because if I hated it or wished it away, I wouldn't have all the good I have now.
I said at the beginning of this post that my visiting teaching experience on Thursday taught me about hardships, strength, and vulnerability. Here is what I learned about vulnerability: Vulnerability is crucial. It's simple, but listen to how I learned it.
As I said, Ashley and I didn't know Melissa at all. She hadn't been to church in a long time, and she hadn't had any visiting teachers visit her in an even longer time. We started with small talk and asking the usual questions. But then Ashley boldly expressed very real things. She talked about her "pet peeves" with visiting teaching and promised Melissa that she would not be that kind of visiting teacher to her. As she talked, she said, "We are now officially friends. I'm not ever going to ask you what we can do for you when we visit you. Because we are friends, and when friends are in need, we tell each other. And when we think our friends are in need and they haven't told us, we act on it anyway." As she talked, both Melissa and I cried because of the spirit and light Ashley carried as she was vulnerable with Melissa. With that vulnerability, we all had an instant bond and an increase in trust.
The other part that taught me about vulnerability was the question Ashley asked during the "getting to know you" chatting: "Tell me about your hardest trial and your greatest strength in the past month." That opened up a very honest, vulnerable, and spiritual conversation. We got to know one another on a much deeper level than I have ever experienced on a first visiting teaching visit. I left that house feeling a bond with both Ashley and Melissa. I left feeling trust, not only in them, but in God.
I'm working on vulnerability in my marriage. It's hard because my trust has not just been broken, it's been shattered. But I'm finding as I am vulnerable with my husband, even in the smallest ways, it mends something broken in our relationship.
There is power in vulnerability. Granted, it's hard. It's so hard to be vulnerable, open, and honest when your husband has been a liar and a sneak. There are many levels of vulnerability, and it works best when both people are vulnerable with one another. Right now I'm being a surface level of vulnerability with my husband. But I know that our relationship can't grow stronger without that vulnerability. As we are both vulnerable, I feel things mending and strengthening, and it gives me hope for my marriage in the future.
This visit taught me a great lesson. Sure things are hard right now, but I am counting my blessings. And sure, sometimes I have no clue what to do with my relationship with Ben, but I have tools to use, and I'm learning the power of vulnerability. Things are good. They are hard, but they really are beautiful.