Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Women's Conference Talk by Sara Simmons Hicks

I gave this talk at BYU Women's Conference Thursday, April 30, 2015
This talk does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of BYU.

We all have moments of clarity in which we see what we really want. One particularly poignant one for me came in January of 2014 when I looked into the perfect face of my new granddaughter Lindi. I saw all the love of generations of mothers, daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters looking into my eyes and I felt something deep, profound and ultimately, life-changing.

As I held this precious baby, I knew that I wanted to be there for her. Really be there for her. I wanted to help her feel joy, I wanted to play with her, I wanted her to know that her grandma loved her and would do anything for her. At that moment I felt trapped in an uncooperative mortal frame. I had a body that was wracked with pain, no energy, and was shrouded in obesity. All the reasons, excuses, shame, and disappointments didn't matter. This perfect little child needed me. The real me. The joyful, happy, fun, and spiritually in-tune me. Someone who could give her love and guidance. Someone who could run, play, hike, swim, sing, and dance with her. Someone who could help her feel her Savior’s love.

For years I had prayed for help. "Heavenly Father, please help me to lose weight. Help me to be strong. Help me to stick to my diet plan. Help me to hate carbs." I had tried mantras, visualization, listened to weight-loss cd's with subliminal messages telling me how much I loved vegetables. I worked my body into a frenzy of exercise. I over-worked it; I injured it; I damaged it; I tried liquid diets, high carb/low-fat diets, low/carb/high fat and protein diets, HCG, fasting, The Up Day/Down Day diet, Atkins, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Overeaters Anonymous, and many more. I can't even remember everything I've tried. They all ended the same. Sara, face first in noodles, french bread, pudding, chocolate, ice cream, cookies, candy, pie, and every yummy thing I could get my hands on until I had gained back all I'd lost and more. I dieted myself into obesity. What started out as an insecure teenager trying to lose 5 pounds she didn’t need to lose, ended as a 49 year-old woman more than 100 pounds overweight.

My prayers started changing after Lindi was born. I began to really ask for guidance. I searched for answers everywhere, but was no longer willing to just try anything anyone suggested. What did Heavenly Father want me to do? What was his plan for me? My moment of clarity was followed by others. I REALLY didn't want to drop dead of a heart attack. I wanted my husband and children to stop being frightened of that happening. I wanted to have the strength and energy to serve the Lord better, to go on missions with my husband. I wanted my attitude toward food to be changed from a pleasure seeking thing to a survival thing. I wanted to find the real me again. Last year, I felt a prompting from the spirit that I needed to attend BYU Women’s Conference, and for the next couple of months I came up with excuses why I didn't need to go. But, my dear husband kept encouraging me to attend and so I did.  

My friend and I were parked by the stadium and that walk up the hill to the Marriott Center was the hardest workout I had done in a while. In the opening session I waited in anticipation for Sheri Dew to begin speaking. Her topic was grace and as she spoke, I felt the spirit light my body on fire! I instinctively knew that the answers I was seeking were within my grasp. Understanding of this precious principle enlightened my mind.  “The key to unlocking the power of His covenant sons and daughters is His covenant sons and daughters learning to unlock the power of Jesus Christ.” Imagine the Savior in Gethsemane. In that unparalleled and unimaginable act of His infinite atonement, see in your mind a great conduit of light, power and joy being created. In His greatest agony, think of the joy He must have felt for us! That we, His own brothers and sisters could be saved, redeemed, and justified. Through our own obedience and righteousness, we can plug into that source of power, and when we do this, the possibilities for growth, change, and joy are endless. Sheri Dew quoting Elder Bruce Hafen said, “Grace is the divine power that enables us to handle things we can’t figure out, can’t do, can’t overcome, or even manage on our own.” I certainly couldn't figure out or overcome my weight and health problems, despite a long and grueling effort. I felt a jolt of electricity as Sister Dew said these next words. It was one of those moments that the perfect chord in perfect harmony sounded and my mind and heart were completely open to the inspiration that was now flooding in. I am paraphrasing her, “If there are times you think, “I can’t handle for one more day, the urge to eat brownies at midnight!” you are not alone! The Savior’s divine empathy is perfect, so he knows how to help us. With His help, you can resist temptation. With His help, you can become your true self.”

I felt hope beginning in my heart. I felt the gentle voice of the Spirit whispering to me things that I could do starting right then. All throughout that day, I kept receiving inspiration from the spirit. In a later session, Elder Bruce Hafen and his wife, Marie, also presented on grace and the Atonement. This statement clarified the concept of grace for me. “In terms that apply both to forgiveness and to the other conditional blessings of strengthening and perfecting, Nephi said, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Some people think this means the Lord won’t help us until we have totally exhausted ourselves. But the larger doctrinal context makes clear that “after” in this verse means “along with”—His grace is with us before, during, and after, we do all we can.” He is with us THE WHOLE WAY! What a concept!!

That night, my husband and I discussed the things I had learned and felt that day. After he fell asleep, I lay awake long into the night pondering on all I had heard in the talks and by the whisperings of the spirit. I began to pray. As I poured out my soul to Heavenly Father, I found the courage to pray as I never had before. “Please Heavenly Father, I will do ANYTHING you tell me. I will exercise my faith and I will trust that through Thy grace and power, I can do anything you ask of me. Please tell me what to do. I know that I am weak, the very weakest of all, but I know that through Thee, I can have weak things be made strong.” While insomnia claimed me that night, inspiration poured in. Sleep did not come until 2 hours before I had to be up to attend the 2nd day of the conference. A fortuitous text and some tough love from my dear friend in Washington woke me up and convinced me to drag my somewhat uncooperative body from my bed and get myself back up to BYU to, as she so eloquently stated, be there for my friends who wish they could be there and can’t! 

That day was like the one before. I was receiving messages from the pulpit and from the Holy Ghost. I took notes on everything I was getting and felt so much hope. It was different too. In the past, starting a new plan would fill me with feverish excitement and misplaced optimism, leading me to make rash financial or dietary decisions which never turned out well. There was a peace and serenity about this experience that convinced me it was coming from the right source. I ran into my sister-in-law Patti that afternoon and we chatted for a bit and like a lot of women do, we talked about losing weight and keeping it off. Patti is a beautiful example of how to do this. She is the mother of a dozen delightful children and she maintains her ideal weight. She said that before she goes to bed each night, she decides exactly what she will eat the next day. The idea of planning each night and being prepared for the next day really hit me as sound advice. Not only could I have the proper food on hand, but even more important, I could prepare myself spiritually the night before so that upon awakening, the strength and power I would need to start my day off correctly would already be in place. This has been crucial to my success! I also make time for some morning spiritual feasting as well. In fact, I nibble throughout the day. But, the desire to do that is nourished by my nighttime study.

Over the next few days I formulated my plan. I prayed over each and every single thing. If I did not receive a yes from Heavenly Father, I didn't incorporate it. The no’s were as interesting and important as the yeses. I prayed about exercise and received a, “Not now.” That surprised me. I’d always start a new program with punishing workouts, sore muscles, and general unhappiness! In fact, I did not receive a prompting to begin exercising until about 4 weeks into my program and even then I was only prompted to walk, slowly at that! Not that I had any alternative at that point! I asked Him if I should weigh myself and how often and got a, “No, you can trust me.” What a relief!! My ability to obsess over the scale is legendary. Through these answers I realized again how compassionate and kind our Father in Heaven is. He was rescuing me from myself by teaching me how to avoid obsessive thinking, unnecessary pain, and a host of other unhealthy habits I’d developed over the years. He gave me my especially tailored for Sara, food plan. He taught me how to control my thoughts by turning to Him, and that my only job was to be obedient to what He told me to do and to any new promptings I received.

One of the promptings I received was to read the Book of Mormon, “Everyday, everyday, everyday!” as Elder Pearson told us in conference. This, above every other thing I do, has made all the difference in the success, happiness, and the peaceful nature of this incredible journey. Anytime I find myself tempted, feeling weak, or not wanting to eat on my plan, or angry, lonely, bored, or sad, I pick up my phone and read in The Book of Mormon. It works! Every single time, it works! Heavenly Father loves us so much he gave us this incredible tool to transform our lives and get close to His son, our Savior Jesus Christ. “Because I want to be like the Savior and I can. I’m reading His instructions, I’m following His plan. Because I want the power his word will give to me. I’m changing how I live, I’m changing what I’ll be! Scripture Power, keeps me safe from sin. Scripture power is the power to win. Scripture power, every day I need, the power that I get each time I read.” 

There are 3 easy things that help me to stop food thoughts, self-criticism, or anything of a negative nature that comes into my mind. The first is to pray for His grace to give me strength and power. Second, I read the Book of Mormon, and if I can’t do that then third, I sing a hymn. My go-to hymn is How Firm a Foundation. If I’m in a public place with people all around me, I hum it quietly. This is a very effective way to get through Costco without grabbing chocolate and caramel covered macadamia nut clusters. I apologize for inserting that tempting image into your minds but I need to impress upon you the incredible power in the hymns! So there you have it! Pray, read, and sing!

The spirit prompted me to start my reading in Ether. I didn't know why, but as I read it became clear. Through the fervent prayers and faithfulness of the brother of Jared, his family and friends are spared having their language confounded at the tower of Babel. God tells him to gather his family, friends and all their supplies and head to the valley northward. Once there, the Lord talks to the brother of Jared in a cloud and tells him that He will go before them and show them everything that they should do. This struck me so powerfully, I began to weep. I knew the Lord was telling me that he would lead me along. I may not know the course of the journey I was taking, but He would lead me and I could put my trust in Him. 

After the Lord leads the Jaredites through the wilderness, they arrive at the seashore. The Lord tells the brother of Jared to build 8 barges to carry them across the great waters. He shows him exactly how to build them so that they will be tight and so that water cannot get in. As I pondered this, I thought of Nephi and his family and their journey into the wilderness. Their experience was very different than the Jaredites' experience. Nephi's family went through rebellions and hardships and actually took twice as long to reach the sea. The Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship and He instructed him exactly how to build it. It was nothing like the brother of Jared's barges, yet Nephi's ship took his family safely to the promise land, just like the barges safely took the Jaredites there. We all have our own unique ship for the journey. It will not be quite like anyone else's. If I turn to the Lord, he will show me the way and will help me to build my own perfect ship to carry me to my promised land of physical and spiritual health. 

Our Father in Heaven is the master physician. He knows our bodies and our spirits. He knows our weaknesses and our strengths and He knows how to help us reach our physical and spiritual goals. I know that reaching my physical goals would be impossible without making it a spiritual journey as well. Listen to His voice and He will craft for you the perfect vessel to help you reach your righteous desires. One amazing thing for me this year is that I’m no longer tempted to try those incredible diet plans that I see on magazines in the supermarket, or buy that fantastically expensive product that my friend swears by, or to purchase gym memberships that go largely unused. I have also learned that if it comes from the Father it will be simple, relatively inexpensive, and readily available. 

Don’t confuse the term simple with easy! It’s the hardest, yet most simple thing I've ever done. But, here is the miracle. He has carried my burden. He has made it light indeed. I truly have not felt it on my back. Just as Alma’s people could not be immediately rescued from bondage, neither could I. They learned to rely on the Lord for strength, so have I. They had to suffer consequences for their former wickedness, so have I. 

At some point on your journey, you may hit a plateau. It’s then helpful to reassess everything you’re doing. Am I following the plan God gave me with exactness? In Alma 37 he is talking to his son Helaman about the Liahona and how it worked for Lehi’s family according to their faith in God. Because miracles were worked by small means they were sometimes slothful and forgot to be faithful and diligent. Then those marvelous works ceased, they did not progress in their journey, and they were afflicted with hunger and thirst! But, if they gave it strict heed it would point them in a direct course to the promise land.Obeying with exactness will put wind in your sails and propel you forward. So will reaching out to others and helping them on their journeys by easing their burdens.

It is essential to focus on gospel principles and doctrine. If I have a day where I stray a little, rather than beat myself up or think endlessly about why I did this or ate that, I get into my scriptures and those missteps become non-events. Quoting Elder Boyd K Packer, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” Don’t allow mistakes or impatience to put you at war with yourself. The mind must be mastered before any positive physical change can occur. In Alma 31:5 it states: “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” We must embrace the love and peace available in The Word to end the destructive war, encouraged by Satan, which goes on inside of our own heads. Cling to the word and claim the power that is there for you in His holy scriptures!

That we may improve in both physical and spiritual health is my prayer and my passion. May we follow Moroni’s clarion call to come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.