By Nicole Marie Hilton, January 26th, 2020
We each chose to follow Mother Eve into Satan’s fallen, painful world. We knew for a time we would forget our true selves and be captive to pain and possible abuse. Why would we choose this? Why would God allow it?
When I was 14, my life was hanging on by a thread. I felt at any moment that thread would unravel. I was afraid I’d break my promise to Heavenly Father — take my own life and be gone forever. I had already planned out and nearly executed my suicide hundreds of times since I was raised from the dead in fourth grade (an occurrence I hadn’t told anyone about). I had gone to the cliffs edge, or nearly jumped off a bridge, or considered falling upon a knife so many times I lost count. I felt utterly alone and isolated, and I was living in almost constant fear. I had also developed an eating disorder and several addictions, which made my life all the more hopeless. I had no one to confide in, no one to turn to. No one would understand me; no one would believe me, and besides, I was too ashamed to even try confiding in anyone.
I remember traveling with my family to northern Utah for a family event, and we attended church on Sunday. Unbeknownst to my parents, I left the young women’s class I was supposed to be attending and went outside. I crossed the parking lot and crossed over a hillock on the far side to enter a small wood.
I walked through the trees a little way and fell to my knees in some long grass. I prayed, “Heavenly Father, are you there?”
I paused, waiting for an answer. The birch trees around me were still. A bird chirped somewhere. I gripped my hands together tighter and said, “I know you’re there…I’ve always known you’re there. Although you don’t seem to be interested in answering me, I still keep on trying to talk to you…because that’s apparently how much faith I have, right? Or maybe it’s just stupidity.”
I opened my eyes when my sixth sense told me someone was listening in. Someone with a presence and power which were infinite. But there was no comfort offered from this “someone”—nothing. It was as if He were there, but He was giving me the cold shoulder. It was the same damn story every time.
The voices whispered, He’s punishing you…
I pressed on. “I don’t understand what’s happening in my life…”
You deserve everything you’re going through…
A mix of emotions welled up inside of me—depression, fear, frustration, shame, anger, even rage. I screamed in my head, yet whispered out loud as hot tears dripped from my lashes and nose, “Why do you seem to hate me so much? You love everyone else, don’t you? They all have normal lives, with normal problems, but me?? Something is wrong with me. And I can’t figure it out for the life of me! No matter how hard I try! And guess what? You are silent. For all the preaching and teaching in church, for all the promises they tell me—that you are a LOVING God, who CARES ABOUT ME, who will actually LISTEN and ANSWER my prayers—YOU DON’T! WHY do you hate me so much? I probably pray and read my scriptures more than all the other girls in my Sunday school class—combined! And You know it! And what good does it do me, huh? Well, guess what?! I HATE YOU!!! I HATE YOU, GOD! I KNOW YOU’RE UP THERE, AND I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME, AND NOW HEAR THIS: I HATE YOU, AND I’LL NEVER FORGIVE WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME AND FOR FORCING ME TO ENDURE THIS LIVING NIGHTMARE! I want to come home! I hate you! I hate you!” And with that I fell down, my head in my arms, sobbing.
My heart was already shattered in so many pieces, I was surprised it could break even more.
* * *
I lay in my bed in the corner room on the fourth floor of the hospital after a full day of physical therapy, chatting with my new elderly friends, a bariatric treatment, and utterly failing the Wii Fit game I had played at the behest of everyone on the floor. My balance score had come in dead last, behind all the eighty-year olds with broken hips…and this is a former gymnast talking. We all had a good laugh about that, and I had walked back down the hallway—without my walker—with my heart at peace. While I was still far from okay, I was definitely improving.
While the day had gone well so far, it took a turn for the worse when a “specialist” showed up. My mom had taken a break from where she worked downstairs to see me. I was sitting up in bed, and we were admiring the newest bouquet of flowers one of my friends had sent. It was full of cheerful daisies and orange spider mums, and sunlight lit up the petals so they glowed.
Then the lady came in. She looked so official in her lab coat, I thought I had to trust what she was saying—although my gut feeling told me to turn down her offer. She informed us she was trained in testing paraplegic and quadriplegic patients, to see what the chances were of them walking again. We were unsure of the test, but I agreed to it.
She uncovered my legs, and informed me that “this would sting a little.” Then, she proceeded to jab five- inch long needles into my left leg—inserting them into my nervous system. Then, she wiggled them around as they were attached to a device and computer screen by the bed, which recorded the data I was feeling.
While I was already feeling nerve pain all over my body, this jacked the pain up to the levels I felt at the moment I had broken my back—it literally felt as if I was burning to death.
I was already at a level 9 pain before the lady walked in—I mean, come on…really?
I tried to control my screaming, and hold still. I swear I’ve never been that brave in my life. She jabbed in even more needles, and wiggled them in just the worst way imaginable—right in the nerves—over and over and over again. I almost called her a Nazi.
After what seemed like hours, she took all the needles out and gave us this little sigh. Then, she left. The test did me no good, and I never received any data from it, but it left me with puncture wounds and sobbing in my angry mother’s arms.
Funnily enough, while I write this with resentment now, back then in the hospital I promptly forgave her after I had recovered a bit. Perhaps that was the final test.
* * *
I remember that night so clearly. The room had a muted blue sheen to it—as if the moon and stars were influencing the lighting in the hospital. The cleaning crew had been in while I was out eating dinner, and had swept and mopped, cleaned the bathroom, and changed the sheets of the bed. My flowers were moved around and replaced again. The cards and posters friends had made for me smiled from the walls and reminded me of how many were praying that I would be made whole again.
I had gingerly gotten into bed after brushing my teeth and washing my face, and I looked forward to having both my Mom and Dad visit before I attempted to fall asleep for the night.
“Hello, sweetie,” my Dad said, his face beaming as he kissed the top of my head. Then he grabbed a couple of chairs and set them up at the foot of the bed.
“I thought I’d read you a little article tonight. That okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
He whipped out BYU magazine, which had been rolled cylinder-like and stuck in his back pocket. He turned to a page and started reading. My mom was checking the bandages on my legs, but then after seeing they were okay, sat down next to my Dad.
The article was about when the Prophet Joseph Smith was confined unlawfully in Liberty Jail. My family and I are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Liberty Jail is sacred to us because we hold it in remembrance as a “temple-prison”. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explains temple prisons in his article this way: “every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through that difficulty. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace.” He further says that, “You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worse settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.”
As I listened to my dad read that, I felt the Spirit strongly. A mix of images flew through my mind—they started out blurry, but then became clear. I saw Joseph Smith as a young fourteen year old, walking into a grove of trees, kneeling down and praying, and then the visitation of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ; two figures in white appearing directly above him, brighter than the noon-day sun. It was all in my imagination, but I saw it clearly—then it was juxtaposed next to another set of images I had shut out of my head for years—images of my fourteen year old self walking into a grove of trees, kneeling down, then crying out in anguish. I felt again the overwhelming feelings of despair and confusion as my prayers went unanswered. I felt all the anger as I cursed God and swore I would never forgive Him for how my life had played out.
After seeing these images pass before the screen of my mind, I snapped out of my reverie and listened to my Dad continue reading. He was reading the words Joseph had cried out to God while imprisoned in Liberty Jail.
“O God, where art thou?
How long shall thy hand be stayed…?
Yea, O Lord, how long shall [thy people] suffer…before…thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?”
My Dad continued reading, but I didn’t hear any of the words. The Spirit entered into my heart with such force, it felt like an ocean of knowledge had been poured into me. I saw my life flash before me in Technicolor—I saw all the bullying at home and on the playground, the sobbing late into the night, all the confusion and loneliness I felt, the running to books and addictions in order to cope, my near death experience in fourth grade and all my brushes with suicide thereafter, my brave struggles at making friends and trying to be “normal” during my teenage years, and the breaking of my back and feeling like I was in a prison of my own making. I saw that there were reasons for all these things. While I did not know the deepest reason for it—it was still hidden from me—I was going through those things to fulfill one of the purposes of my life. Laying there in that hospital bed, I surrendered for a small moment to this message: your life is about suffering. I had kicked against it. I had screamed and railed at God about it. I had tried to get out of it. I had been afraid of it. But with the Spirit’s guidance, a part of me accepted it.
I realized that it didn’t mean I had done wrong, or that I had deserved it, or that it was pointless, or that it was going to be endless. The Spirit told me in an instant: I requested and was ordained to this task—to suffer and overcome the suffering in order to understand, and then to help others.
My Dad was still talking, but I couldn’t hear a single word. The entire room went from being cast in blue, to a bright shade of fiery white. I felt a holy being enter the room to my right, and I sensed him stepping towards me, gesturing towards my head. Liquid fire started at crown of my head and felt as if it were poured dripping down over my entire body. My body’s sensation of feeling the fiery nerve pain disappeared into the most heavenly sensation of fire and unconditional love I’ve ever felt in my life. As the liquid light reached my toes and I stared into my parent’s faces, I thought they might see me burst into light, or ascend into heaven.
Right then, I saw Joseph Smith in my mind’s eye. He was in the dank and dark basement of Liberty Jail, suffering in body, mind, and spirit. My heart went out to him, and I felt an overwhelming feeling of love for him.
He cried out to the Lord, “O God, where art thou?…”
I heard the Lord’s response,
“My son, peace be unto thy soul…”
But then, the response was directed towards me.
“My daughter, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”
Tears started streaming down my face. I was in a burning furnace of heavenly flame, and I had received a message directly from my Savior. I felt all of my suffering for my entire life turn into the sweetest joy I had ever known. I thought, I forgive you, God—for everything. This makes up for everything.
Then the spirit whispered, God would not put you through a refiner’s fire if you were not worth refining.
I looked into my parent’s faces. They were weeping freely, feeling but not seeing anything. I thought, I surrender. I will suffer whatever you want me to suffer—your reasons are pure and perfect. Take me wherever you want to take me.
Then I felt a strong and very real flesh-and-blood hand on my left shoulder and heard the words:
Your body is now a temple prison.
Then I felt a strong and very large hand from a different being on my right shoulder and heard:
This is your first Liberty Jail experience.
I knew, if I turned my head one iota to the right or to the left, I would see a hand there. Love radiated into my shoulders from those two strong hands. I stared forward, in so much bliss that I had no desire to turn my head to the right or to the left. I was content.