Saturday!

I love Saturdays when the house is buzzing with chores being done.  The kids often complain at first, but once we get some music going and everyone joins in, the whole house seems to cheer up.

Josie perked up when we found a chore she could do.  Isn't she the best duvet cover buttoner you have ever seen?  

Somehow this turned into a photo shoot.  Josie got to be the star of the show, of course, because she is the only one in the house who squeals with joy when I get out my camera.

I love her.  She makes life much more fun.






Finding my Faith

Fear isn't the right word.  I am not afraid to post this.  But I do have some hesitation.  I hesitate that I will come off too "churchy".  I hesitate that I will come off as proud or having ulterior motives.  I hesitate because I know I have friends who do not share my beliefs... But I do have had this knocking inside... it's telling me that I should post it.  The knocking tells me that I might have a friend out there who needs to hear it.  Even if it is just one person who can feel the spirit of what I am trying to say, it is worth it.  I love my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I know I have a Father in Heaven who is aware of me.  I have not always felt this way.  I went through a time where I didn't know if anything I thought I knew was true.  I never thought that would happen to me.

This is taken from a talk I gave in church last month.  Thankfully, I have such a loving ward that as I looked around at their faces, I knew they would not judge me for showing my weaknesses.  I was nervous to share this from the pulpit, but I knew if I were to say this to any one of them one-on-one, they would probably wrap me up in a hug. 


I am thankful for my husband who sat with me many times as I expressed my concerns, and yet, never wavered in his faith.  He is also the one who said to me, when my faith was most lacking, "Just keep doing what you are doing.  Don't stop now.  Don't turn your back on the church."  (I've always known he was my guide and my light!)  

I am so thankful for my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I am glad it points me and my family in the direction of Christ.  It leads me to the things that make me happy in life.  And although my faith seed is still growing and may not be "proven" in this life, this is the path I choose to walk.  I love my Savior, and I will not betray Him.

Maybe you know the person who I feel this "knocking" for.  Please share with anyone, if you feel the "knocking" too. 

-------------------------------------------------------

When I was a little girl, my mom used to read picture books to me all of the time.  One of my favorite things she would do was substitute my name for the name of the main character.  Suddenly, instead of goldilocks tasting three bowls of porridge, Crystal was.  Instead of Cinderella trying on a glass slipper, Crystal was.  For me, it brought the stories to life.  I would like to insert you into a story like my mom used to do for me. 
  
In the story, you get to take the place of Jacob in 2 Nephi 2.  

Once there was a boy named Jacob. Jacob was born to goodly parents.  In fact, his father was a prophet.  But his life wasn’t easy.  Jacob was born in the wilderness, probably in a tent.  Some of his brothers were rude.  His family didn’t always have a lot of food and sometimes they didn’t know which direction to travel.  

At this point in the story, Jacob was facing another trial.  His father lay on his deathbed.  I imagine Jacob leaning in closely to hear the final words his father will ever say to him.  His father says,

And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.
 Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.

In this verse of scripture, the word consecrate means “to set apart for a sacred purpose”. 

To explain to Jacob how his trials could be for something good, Lehi uses his last breaths to express the existence of God and Jesus Christ.  He describes Heavenly Father’s plan.

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

In studying the counsel Lehi gave to his son this past week, and praying about what I should talk about, has lead me to prepare a talk based on my experiences over the past year.  This is difficult for me to do, and despite knowing inside what I needed to talk about today, I had a resisted for much of the week.  My greatest desire is to be a mouthpiece for the Lord and hopefully allow an opportunity for the Spirit to speak to you… whether you relate to my story or you know someone who is struggling.  The adversary whispered to me throughout the week that I shouldn’t tell my story because I will be judged and look weak, but as mentioned in the last general conference, “

“The Church is like a big hospital, and we are all sick in our own way. We come to church to be helped.”

I went through quite a long a period of time in my life when I was not having personal scripture study.  When I was in seminary as a teenager I had like a three year streak of reading my scriptures daily.  I had a little chart where I could mark off the days I had read.

College came and I moved out on my own.  I fell out of the habit.  I was so busy and my daily schedule was not as consistent as it was when I had a curfew and lived with my parents.  Not to say that I never read the scriptures, I just wasn’t in them as consistently.  I did not feel like I was struggling spiritually. 

Over the next ten years life continued and I have been very blessed.   Taylor and I were married in the Mount Timpanogos Temple.  We were blessed with three adorable and funny kids, Gavin who is six, Josie who is three, and Mason who is one.  Despite the business of life we have done our best to attend our meetings, serve in callings, attend the temple, pray often, and keep the Sabbath Day holy.  The one thing that I really let go of was personal scripture study.  My scriptures opened time to time… its part of participating in church, serving in callings, giving talks, and putting kids to bed.

Here is the problem though…  Road bumps came… and I was not spiritually prepared for them.  I had been going through all of the motions.  I even had this image in my head of me being a tree bearing this good fruit and doing all of these good things, but I was not nourishing myself spiritually by reading the scriptures.

A couple of my road bumps, maybe some of you can relate to this:

I had a couple of friends on facebook who would lightheartedly mock the church and it’s members.   I blocked their posts from my feed, but I sadly, I did feel a little ashamed.   I felt kind of embarrassed like I fit this “Mormon mom cliché.”

I also had friends or friends of friends who were leaving the church, some of which openly denied religion and it’s place in our day and age and even the existence of God.  In my efforts to disprove them, I found myself lingering on words they had said.  My curiosity in reading their comments and points of view had done damage in my heart that I couldn’t seem to repair.

My testimony was shaken.

I started questioning everything. 

My testimony was shaken so much that I wasn’t sure if I believed in God or even Jesus Christ. This pains me so much to think about now.  This is not something I am proud of.  Thing two beings in all of the universe that I should have the most reverence and love for, I shut out.  I let the mocking, skepticism, and judgment of man cloud my eternal perspective. 

I wanted my knowledge back, but I just couldn’t with the efforts I was making.  I knew there were times in my past that I felt this way, and I was clinging to those moments.  A lot of you have maybe even read some of my moments on social media.  I like to share those things with people and I feel like I had had a lot of them, so I just held onto them and that was all I had. 

I kept fishing around with trusted friends and family. I would ask them, “How do you know there is a God?  How can you possibly say the word know? 

I remember saying to my husband, “K.N.O.W.  How can you say know?”  I was so obsessed with this concept that I had to know.  And if you have someone who comes to you  like that, Taylor is a good example.  No matter what I said or what struggles I told him at night before bed, he always would tell me, “Crystal, I know this is true.  I don’t care if you leave the church.  I don’t care if you don’t believe in God.  I will never do that.  I know this church is true and I know that God lives.”  And every time he gave me his testimony, it was enough to get me by day to day and just kept me hoping that I could feel that way again someday.

Despite all of this “talking” and efforts, I just felt numb.

It’s weird feeling like you don’t believe in anything.  There is no need to pray.  I just stopped. 

Soon after that, my family went on a vacation to Huntington Beach, California, with some friends.  On the long drive over the desert, I discouragingly wrote in my journal:

This has been a month of doubts.  I keep running over things that make me think and question.  I don’t know if I will EVER be able to bare testimony again.  I don’t know if I will EVER feel that way again. 

As I wrote, I felt so low; yet, at the same time I was trying to convince myself that I was on a journey to becoming a “truer” version of myself.  I didn’t want comfort, I wanted truth. 

We are told in the scripture I read earlier about captivity and death that comes from heading to the devil, I thought that only applied to the eternities, but for me, captivity and death had already begun.   Not physical captivity, but mental and spiritual captivity.  My mind went in circles all the time.  I was often paralyzed with fear about things that, with an eternal perspective, don’t seem so scary.  I hesitated to speak or teach of Christ.  Satan had a grip on me and I am sure he was so proud. 

President Henry B. Eyring taught:

“The spirit who led the rebellion in the world before still opposes the plan and wants you to be miserable. He wants you never to find your way home again. That enemy of your soul knows you and your goodness. He knows that if he can turn you away from walking in the light, he can both capture you and stop you from helping others along the journey. He knows how good you are and your power to teach and influence hundreds of Heavenly Father’s children in this life—and thousands over the generations that will follow your path. If he can get you to wander away from the light on your journey, he can do harm and bring misery to many.

I am so glad to tell you that this is not where my story ends.  Little did I know, but I was just about to come upon a new beginning.

On our way home from California, I recorded this:

I keep having experiences that point me to the existence of God.  I feel like sometimes it is easy in the good times to forget or doubt him.  There are so many other things to occupy our minds.
Gavin got lost in Huntington Beach while thousands of people surrounded us.  Everyone in our party seemed to go and search the water.  I, too, went that direction immediately, but in my heart I prayed, “Heavenly Father… if you are there… please!  Help me find my son!  Please keep him safe.”  In that moment my worries about my faith ceased.  I have faith.  Why else would I be sincerely reaching for Him in this moment?  Why would I feel something there?  Immediately after reaching the water, filled with breaking waves and many strangers, “something” inside of me thought clearly, “He is not in the water.”  I ran as fast as I could through a long distance of hot/thick sand to the parking lot.  I couldn’t remember where we had parked, so I assumed Gavin wouldn’t know either.  I looked a bit and ran back to the camp.  I looked for Gavin’s shirt and hat.  I knew he would have taken those off first if he had gotten in the water.  In my glance, they were nowhere to be found.  Immediately, I RAN – even faster than before back to the parking lot.  I ran up to the food stand and asked if they had seen him.  I stopped a jogger and asked him to look for a child fitting the description as he ran down the boardwalk.  Soon after that, I saw Charlie (*a friend of ours who had been searching) carrying little Gavin in his arms from the parking lot to the camp.  I ran to them and when reunited with Gavin, I sobbed.  I sobbed and I sobbed.  I didn’t know if I would hold that little body, alive and well, again.  I knelt in the sand as I hugged him, I quietly prayed with Him.  I prayed to the God who was so merciful to me when I had been so distant, “Thank you for keeping my son safe.”


This experience was a small building block for me.  I clung to this experience. I started to pray more often.  I prayed that I could have my testimony back.  I prayed to feel the burn.  I kept reviewing times in my pastthat I had felt that way and clung to them.

I remember one day, as I came to church, walking through the chapel and nobody was in here.  The sacrament had been cleaned up, but the white cloth was still laying there.  So many times in my past I have looked up at the sacrament table like it is now and I have heard you can think of it as Christ laying in the tomb.  When I walked through the chapel and the tablecloth was just laying there empty, I had one of those burning feelings like, “Christ is alive.  He was resurrected and He lives now.”

I also remember one Sunday Abbey and her sister, April sang in church.  They sang, “Search, Ponder, and Pray.  I remember feeling the Spirit so strongly that I think I got up and had to leave because I couldn’t stop crying.

Brant gave a talk and what I took from it was not to listen to the voices on facebook or people who might be discouraging you about the church.  I remember feeling the burn. 

I want to read one more experience from my journal that happened soon after that.

As I walked up to the temple today, just entering the grounds, I felt peace.  I felt Heavenly Father’s love and assurance.  He is not angry with me for the way I have been feeling.  He is glad I am making efforts to regain my faith, just as I would feel if one of my children came to me sad, sorrowful, and repentant.  
           
During the session, the word “organized” stood out to me.  I thought about the organization of the earth and our universe.  I thought about the planets orbiting, the constellations, the phases of the moon, the rotation of the earth, the distance from the sun.  It’s not an accident.  It is organized. 

My spirit is starving and in need of serious repair.  I need to feast upon the scriptures.

After this temple experience, I started made a greater effort to consistently have personal scripture study.  I pulled out seminary study manuals.  I set aside personal quiet time.  I journaled whenever I had an inkling of the Spirit.  Instead of listening to Pandora while folding laundry, I turned on conference talks. 

I made sure not to miss any meetings, sacrament meetings, stake conference, adult sessions, regional conference, general conference, the Christmas Devotional.  I took notes on any talks I heard.  Many of them were given by people who are here today. 

I made a greater effort to keep the Sabbath Day holy.  Instead of allowing my kids to watch their normal cartoons on Sunday morning, we turned on Meet the Mormons, Mormon Messages, or For Little Friends.  As for myself, I felt like I had been keeping the Sabbath Day holy, but I tried to look for ways that I could improve.  One thing that I would always do on Sunday was check my email and find the new ad for Target.  I kind of looked forward to seeing the sales and if there was anything I should buy this week.   It wasn’t that I would shop online on Sunday, but that was kind of my normal thing.  I even did that as a kid on Sunday, we would look through the ads in the Sunday paper.  I realized that for me personally, I need to stop doing that because when I do that, I am showing heavenly Father a sign that I am not using the Sabbath Day to focus on Him or our relationship.

I wanted to show Heavenly Father that I was willing to make sacrifices and efforts in order to feel his peace and holiness through the spirit.  I didn’t want to be numb anymore, I wanted to feel. 

Harrold B. Lee said,

“Now, remember that your testimony won’t come in a dramatic way, but when it comes, the tears of gladness will water your pillow by night. You’ll know, my beloved friend, when that testimony comes.

Day by day, I started to become healed.  I started having moments.  I started feeling the Spirit again.  My prayers for more holiness and a testimony were being answered.  I didn’t have to wait until the eternities to start feeling liberty.  I was already feeling it in my life.  I could already see how this adversity was being made sacred.  I was studying more and learning more than I ever had in my life.  With these new eyes, I found a new enthusiasm for the gospel.  I wanted to share my successes and discoveries with others.  I finally found the courage to talk to friends and even strangers about the Book of Mormon because I didn’t want anyone else to have to go without the word of God. 

My personal scripture study was literally answering my prayers.  One night, I flipped my scripture pages out of turn and stumbled upon Alma 32.  The Spirit warmed my soul as I read verse 21:

 21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

Faith doesn’t mean I have to have a perfect knowledge.  Faith means that I hope these things are true.  Maybe I had my testimony all along.  Maybe I was stronger than I thought I was. 

President Eyring also said this,

“It is by faith that you can lay hold upon every good thing. I pray with all my heart that your faith will be increased that you are a (child) of a loving God. I testify to you that you have been one of the valiant ones to reach the point where you now are in this journey of life. Just as you are marked as a target by the enemy of righteousness, you have been protected and watched over by your Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They know you. They know all of the forces and individuals around you. They know what is ahead of you. And so They know which of the choices you make, which of the desires you decide to satisfy, and which of the circumstances around you will make the most difference in keeping you walking in the light. I testify that by the Spirit of Christ and by the Holy Ghost, you may walk confidently in whatever difficulties will come. Because you are so valuable, some of your trials may be severe. You need never be discouraged or afraid. The way through difficulties has always been prepared for you, and you will find it if you exercise faith.
You must have faith to pray. You must have faith to ponder the word of God. You must have faith to do those things and go to those places which invite the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost.”
The lesson I would hope that you can take away from my talk today is this:  The primary answers work.  Pray.  Read your scriptures.  Attend your meetings.  Keep the Sabbath Day holy.  They are not abstract things that help other people, but won’t help you.  Those things really do help.  Don’t be like me and just pick three of them that you like or are used to.  Do all of them so you don’t wither away spiritually and then when a road bump comes, you fall.  I was only missing one of those things and it was enough to allow me stumble.

I believe the reason all of these primary “tricks” work because they give us consistent reminders of who we truly are.  Knowing that makes life easier and more joyful… just according to plan.  Bringing them all back into my life was enough to start my healing process. 

What I need to remind myself is best explained in the teachings of Harold B. Lee,

“Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; it’s as fragile as an orchid; you have to recapture it every morning of your life. You have to hold on by study, and by faith, and by prayer…
That which you possess today in testimony will not be yours tomorrow unless you do something about it. Your testimony is either going to increase or it is going to diminish, depending on you.”
And going through that time that I thought I would never be able to bear my testimony again, I can tell you that the start I had was I hope these things are true.  But, you know what, I can say I believe these things are true.  But what I feel these days and in the moments I get is more that believe.  It’s more than saying I believe it will rain tomorrow.  Now I feel like I can step it up one more and say I know these things are true.  It’s not because I have Heavenly Father and Jesus standing right here in front of me, but because when I look back on my experiences, I have to use a better word than believe.  I hope that as I shared my experiences today, you can know.  That you can know the church is true and that God and His Son exist and have a plan for us. 

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Utah Wedding Photography, Andie & Eric Formals

Andie and Eric were married at the Springville Museum of Art yesterday.  Andie was the tiniest little bride I have ever seen and looked stunning in her wedding dress.  This was the first time her fiance, Eric, saw her in the dress. 
More pictures to come of their ceremony!















Newborn Photography, Baby Christian

My friend, Amy, just had her third baby boy!  
I am dipping my toe back into the water of newborn shoots.  I have decided that I am definitely a bigger fan of this lifestyle newborn shoot.  For me, it is so much more natural trying to coax and pose the baby for hours on end.  I enjoy doing it much more, and it even seems less stressful on the mother who just delivered a baby a week prior.  Plus, I feel like it more accurately catches what a newborn is like and how mother and baby interact.  It was fun and I wouldn't mind doing more like this in the future for those who like this style. 







Wedding and Engagement Photography

This slow photography season in Utah has given me to chance to catch up on something I have been wanting to do for a while.  I have hardly posted any of my wedding work, because I can tend to be a perfectionist, and I want to present my work in the right way.  I finally threw my hands up and whipped up this slideshow with selections from about six of the weddings I have shot.  Although I still have plenty of learning to do, I am happy to see the work I have done and feeling proud of the progress I have made.

Click here to see my wedding gallery!

Westlake High School, Senior Pictures

This guy is graduating this year and I had the opportunity to take pictures of him.  Track is one of his passions, so we decided to document that in part of the shoot.












Suicide: I lost my friend, too.

Dear Young Friend,
I know that you do not know me that well, but I heard about your friend today, and it broke my heart.  I am sad for him.  I am sad for his family.  I am sad for everyone involved.  But you, being his friend, pulls at my heart strings and floods my mind with memories.

I remember the day it happened to me.  It is burned into my mind vividly.  I arrived at school and headed for my locker and friends, just like any other day.  I was cheerful, but I quickly noticed that friends around me were somber.  Finally, one of them mustered the courage to tell me what had happened.  First period was a blur.  Did I even believe this was true?  It can't be true.  He is funny.  This must be a joke.  At lunch, I went home, and finally had the space and comprehension to feel the true emotion of it.  I buried my head in my hands and sobbed... and sobbed... and sobbed.

At age 15, I had never experienced a loss like this.  I had attended a funeral once, for a great-aunt, but that was my only experience with death.  This was different on so many levels.  He was young.  He was my friend.  He made the choice.

I tried to sleep that night, but was so afraid and physically pained.  My head, aching.  My eyes, dry and swollen.  I was not scared of my friend, but in the fear of the darkness and the depth of the night, I kept imagining him there, almost haunting me.  Afraid and hurt, I pulled the covers over my head and cried most of the night.

Days and weeks went on.  That initial fear subsided, but the sadness resided in my mind.  Other emotions were present to keep it company:

Guilt often crept in.  What should I have done?  I should have been a better friend.  This is my fault.  If only I would have...  

Sometimes anger interrupted.  He is so selfish.  How could he do this to everyone?  How could he do this to me?

The sadness stuck around.  I miss him.  I wish I could talk to him just one more time.  I wish could hear him laugh.  

Through all of this, I also felt confused.  I believed in Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the afterlife, but what does this mean when someone breaks one of the greatest commandments in their last moment of mortal life, "Thou shalt not kill"?  Was my friend... my funny, smart, artistic, tender-hearted, light-blue-eyed friend... going to hell?  What happens in the afterlife to people who commit suicide?  Will I see him again?  What will it be like?  What will he be like? Will God give him mercy?  He was only 15!  He may not have been in a healthy state of mind.  He struggled.  

I felt like I was getting information about this from all different directions.

At school, I overheard some girls talking about him and passing disrespectful judgement.  That hurt my heart badly.

In the many years following the tragedy, I have heard the world express and bicker over what they believe about suicide and God's judgement. Most of it has felt incorrect to me.

There is one place, though, that I have found assurance and peace.  It is through studying and pondering the teachings of the church.  The most comforting words have come from a message given by Elder M. Russell Ballard.  He is one part I really like:

"Not long ago I was asked to speak at the funeral of a dear friend who had committed suicide. Knowing the person and the circumstances as I did, and researching the doctrine on the subject, I had some difficult moments in preparing for my remarks. I know that any fully rational person who contemplates suicide must realize what a terribly selfish act this is. Peace came to me only when I recognized that only the Lord could administer fair judgment. He alone had all the facts, and only He would know the intent of the heart of my friend. I was reconciled with the idea that a lifetime of goodness and service to others must surely be considered by the Lord in judging the life of a person."

I don't know what the situation was with your friend, but mine suffered from depression.  The most touching talk was given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland about this last year in General Conference.

Lastly, Young Friend, I want to tell you what experiencing this tragedy and heartache as a teenager lead to.

I looked up.  When I was in the busy halls of my high school, I tried to look people in the eye, smile, and say hello.  You NEVER know what people are going through.  Be kind.

I fell to my knees.  Some moments were so dark and so lonely that I felt like nobody understood me.  Even my parents didn't get it.  The only person I felt I could turn to was a loving Father in Heaven and understanding brother, Jesus Christ, in prayer.

I studied.  Because of all my questions, I had more of a desire to learn about the afterlife and the atoning sacrifice of the Savior.

I wrote in my journal.  Writing was (and is) very therapeutic for me.  It is also a good way to remember how you feel and what you have learned.  I still have those journals and love having captured that part of my life.  I hope it will make me more empathetic when the times come that I am raising my own teenagers.

I grew up.  I honestly feel like this was one of the major turning points in my life.  I look back and there is a clear split in the way I acted and thought in my teenage years between before and after this tragedy.

Let me be CRYSTAL CLEAR, in no way am I ensuing that this loss was a good thing or the right thing... nor am I saying your experience is or should be just like mine.  I am just, hopefully, helping you understand that this trial can make you a stronger, more caring, more faithful person.

When it had been ten years since his death, I drove to the cemetery and stood in the snow by his grave.  I thought about him and wondered what he would be doing now, if he were still alive.

I also thought about me... How time had changed me!  I thought about my confused and sad 16-year-old self who used to stand in this exact spot and cry.  My perspective has changed so much.  He was so young when he died.  Just a child.

Now I had a son of my own.  My thoughts rush to the pain his mother must have felt in losing her child.  Suicide is so tragic for those left behind.

It has been now thirteen years.  Sunsets remind me of him, as well as some other close friends or family members who have passed since then.  I still blow my friend a kiss when I drive past the cemetery where his body rests.  I feel at peace.  I believe my friend has been learning and growing beyond the veil, and my hope is that he is at peace too.

Young Friend, I pray for comfort to come to you and anyone else who loved your friend.  Hang in there.  Remember to pray always and look up.

Love,
Crystal

Art by Greg Olsen