I believe each of us come into this world with gifts and talents and special abilities, and likewise with unique challenges. My gift is being a believer. I’ve always believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I’ve always struggled to honestly enjoy or genuinely love reading the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, which is the keystone of my religion – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is my story of how I really gained a true love and personal faith in the power of reading the Book of Mormon, and how through a gift I thought I was giving to Christ on His birthday, I gained a gift that would change my life.
As little kids, one of my favorite memories of Christmases year after year was a tradition my mother centered around Jesus. She placed a tiny manger by our mantle and we were supposed to perform anonymous, random acts of kindness to others during the Christmas season. As we performed these random acts, we were supposed to write on a little piece of paper what those acts were, and put a piece of straw in the manger for Jesus. As those acts of kindness piled up, so would the straw pieces and a soft bed was made for Jesus to sleep in each year. On Christmas morning, before we opened presents, we’d read each of the acts of kindness. It was a beautiful way to remember the Savior during the Christmas season. We’d read things off like “made Mom’s bed” or “did the dishes when it was Stephen’s turn” or “shoveled the neighbor’s walkway” or “sat by someone in the lunchroom who was alone.” I loved how it helped us think about giving gifts to Christ during the celebration of His birth. It made us feel those feel-good happy feelings of true joy and love that are sometimes lost in the shuffle of buying and wrapping and packaging during commercialized-Santa-crazed Christmas.
But my mom realized just a few years ago that this tradition was getting a little harder for her almost all-grown-up kids to achieve. With most of us out of the house, we just weren’t around to write down these acts of kindness and make the tradition as affective as it was in years past. So my mom came up with a new tradition – a similar idea but more age appropriate for her almost all adult kids. One Christmas morning, she got stationary and pens out and asked us to write a letter to Jesus, offering a gift to him the coming year. We were supposed to remember that gift all year, and come the next Christmas, open the sealed letter and reflect on the gift we gave to Christ before writing a letter to Him about the next year’s gift we would give.
I can’t remember the first year’s gift but I definitely remember the second. I wrote a letter to Jesus telling Him I’d read the Book of Mormon each day for the following year. I knew it was a major weakness in my spiritual growth. I felt good feelings when I would read verses of scripture, but I had never actually truly dedicated myself to an honest daily study of the Book of Mormon. I had treated it like textbook – a place to reference for doctrine I believed in. I had even read it cover to cover, but in choppy pieces and totally without focus. But I knew if I was being really honest with myself, I’d never given it a fair chance to change my life. I just hadn’t taken it seriously, and had always treated it like a chore. But I decided that year I would really try to love it.
So for a few days I cracked my Book of Mormon open as I had so many times in the past. I got about halfway through the first section – 1 Nephi – and then life got busy and I forgot. The next Christmas rolled around and I felt pretty guilty when I opened that letter and realized I had cheated Jesus out of the gift I had promised Him, on HIS birthday. And I definitely had a strong belief that I owe my life and all the good things in my life to Him. So I wrote the same exact thing in my letter that year, with an apology and promise to do better.
I’ll spare you the details but basically that year started off as a repeat. Great intentions, but a great effort for about a week before I was back to being bored and too busy. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.
And then my husband and I were asked to go on a Book of Mormon trek (a youth church camp) with a group of 14-18 year old kids as adult leaders. We were challenged months before to read the entire Book of Mormon beforehand, but did I do it? Of course not. I said to myself, “perfect, this will go right along with my gift for Christ this year,” and then proceeded to give a lukewarm effort like always.
But then we got to the Book of Mormon youth trek. And these kids were testifying with full hearts about how reading that book had completely changed their life. They were sharing with a burning fire of truth that they KNEW the Book was truth. And I couldn’t live with myself anymore! I had to know that burning truth too. I felt it, I couldn’t deny it, but I wanted it for MYSELF.
So I went home and was serious about it. Finally. For the first time. I started over and read, and read, and read. I read a hundred pages in just a few days. And it started to happen. It was changing my life. I can’t describe it in exactness because it’s something you can’t give to someone as badly as you want to, they have to do it for themselves. But I can tell you that reading the Book of Mormon daily became something I craved, something I genuinely looked forward to each morning. Quiet, peaceful time to just read about the stories of these people who prepared with faithful hearts for the birth of Jesus Christ for years, and the pattern of those who were obedient to God and happy, versus the pattern of those who were wicked and destroyed. Then humility would set in, people would come unto Christ again and believe in Him, and then prosper and get prideful, and wicked, and destruction would hit again until they found humility and faith in Christ again. Same patterns as the bible, same Christ that so many around the world believe in, but another testament of Jesus Christ that was finally speaking to me more strongly than anything ever had.
The part that hit me the hardest during my first thorough study of the Book of Mormon was in 2 Nephi 2:25 when it said “Men are that they might have JOY!” I had heard that scripture so many times before, but I hadn’t ever really taken it in. So many fears and troubles and hardships plague us that sometimes it seems like we’re just here to suffer! And sometimes it seems difficult to know why God wants us to go through some of the things we have to go through. But that scripture was just the clarity I knew I could cling to through anything. It didn’t say “men are that they might have an easy life filled with constant pleasure.” It says “men are that they might have joy.” I know that we can’t have the sweet without the bitter. I know God wants us to learn something through each trial, and without trials and challenges we can’t stretch and grow. But I know I can trust in Him that His end goal for us is to have JOY. Not fleeting momentary happiness but TRUE joy.
As I’ve allowed this book into my daily life it’s seen me through some really tough times. Some scary, frustrating, agonizing times. In the past few months I’ve dealt with a broken bone, pregnancy sickness and my husband losing his job, all within a few days time. But that peace and burning truth that I get when I read the Book of Mormon helps me in two ways. It helps me because in these stories of people who lived hundreds of years ago, and had faith in Christ even before His birth, and were blessed because of their faith and obedience, I’m inspired to have that same faith. I can’t see Him, but because of Him I can see everything else. And the second way the Book of Mormon helps me is by letting the Spirit of the Holy Ghost into my life in a more abundant way. By drawing close to God each day, I can feel Him close. He can quicken my thoughts, prompt me to know what to do in all things, and most of all, it helps me to know that God put us here on this earth to have JOY. I know that when I have faith in that, and act on that faith by serving others and trying my best every day to live more like Christ, that I’ll find that true joy that my Heavenly Father wants for me.
Thank you Corrine and Melanie.
Corrine Stokoe is the author and curator of popular high-end deal blog Mint Arrow, featuring daily deals on fashion, baby gear, beauty products and home décor. Corrine has collaborated with popular brands like Nordstrom, Kate Spade, Target, Ann Taylor, Sole Society and more. Corrine lives in Southern California with her husband, two year old girl, and is expecting her second baby girl in May. Website / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter / Facebook
Melanie is a designer, teacher, collector of happy, and lover of life. She’s got a dreamboat husband and three little girls that have taught her to find the beauty in a messy, joyful life. She believes that life is for loving and believing, and that the only thing really important is helping others to feel that same eternal joy that comes with love and belief. You can find her here: Website / Instagram / Online Shop