Have you ever wondered what
is this world’s most pervasive evil? I have. Like me, you might
wonder if it’s bigotry or human trafficking,
substance abuse, or the forced displacement of human beings. And indeed, those are
very, very dark challenges. But you put all of them
together, and what do we find? Hopelessness. I am increasingly convinced
that the growing, pervasive evil in this world is hopelessness,
the collective loss of hope, the growing cloud of despair. It’s what the
adversary delightfully heaps on top of your slimy
sundae of addiction, abuse, sin, trauma, loss, or grief. Hopelessness makes
you feel abandoned and alone, powerless
and pointless, forgotten, condemned,
unmoored, or it makes you feel nothing at all. So how do we ignite hope? What is the cure
for hopelessness? I believe the answer
is connection. Connection is the
antidote to hopelessness. Now, connection has to
do with those deep bonds that join us and provide
life richness and meaning. Connection is both
roots and wings, reciprocity, shared identity. This kind of connection
is not fleeting; it’s not superficial,
not counterfeit. This life-affirming,
soul-saving type of connection has three distinct attributes. It’s real, it’s
meaningful, and it lasts. And I mean real, meaningful,
and lasting connection in four very specific ways:
connection with Deity, connection with your true self,
connection with your family, and connection with
your community. Humans begin to seek connection
from the moment we enter this world, and we never stop. I’ve learned that even in the
times of deepest distress, connection is this lifeline
that helps navigate grief and even learn to thrive. You see, no one wants to choose
a casket for their own child. But there we were, in
a showroom of caskets. Wood or metallic? What color for the lining? What kind of handles? And who would lift those handles
and carry the broken body of my vivacious, intelligent,
beautiful, 21-year-old Doritos-loving daughter? I stood there paralyzed,
questions racing, no answers. My brain could not
comprehend my reality. Alyssa’s last voicemail,
the Young Women’s quilt she was wrapped in, her
endless array of purses. And no one wants to plan
their child’s funeral. I mechanically willed
myself to start while my angel
husband cleaned out Alyssa’s cyclonic apartment
and my best friend washed 10 loads of Alyssa’s clothing. The girl loved to shop. And then I robotically
bought suits for my sons, dressed
in my red jacket, and drove to the mortuary. No one wants to open
their child’s casket for the last time. You try to memorize everything. But your brain is
screaming, “You don’t want this memory at all.” We didn’t want to speak
at our child’s funeral or design our child’s
headstone, but there we were, honoring our
Alyssa, honoring our God, clinging to our faith. I did not want to awaken each
day, each blurry, blurry day after my child’s funeral,
and remind myself that it was actually all real. And hopelessness
began to set in. One memorable night, I sensed
a distinct, cold, predatory darkness, intent on
exploiting our grief, destroying peace,
decimating hope. I pled with God. “I know you have watched your
own children suffer and die. So I need you. I need you to tell me how. How do I navigate this
debilitating darkness of grief? How do I do this?” Gradually, the Holy Spirit
whispered principles to my heart one by one:
“First, seek light. Do something every day to
bring light into your life. Second, be gentle with yourself. This is a new normal. Third, watch for symbols;
they’ll bring comfort. And fourth, serve others,
for they are grieving too.” And I learned these weren’t just
principles to survive or endure grief; they were given
to help me thrive by the One who loves me best. And they were all about
connection–connection with myself, with God, with my
daughter, and with others. Now, other people may be
given different principles, but these particular principles
made all the difference for me. And incrementally, I was
strengthened and peace came. And slowly the ground
stopped shifting and shaking so my feet felt sure enough
to take the next step. Now, I believe the
first principle was provided by the Spirit
first because it’s for a reason. It’s connection 101: seek light. It means going to the
truest source of light. I wanted to know God,
I needed to know God. And I needed to see myself
and others through my Heavenly Parents’ eyes. I wanted to know my
Savior Jesus Christ and feel His grace
so I could heal. I learned that sometimes
seeking light means prayer or a sacred text or a
sacred space, contemplation or meditation, seeing
with spiritual eyes and hearing with spiritual ears. And sometimes
seeking light means being with specific
radiant people or being in radiant natural places
or being bathed in music that radiates in my soul. And yes, even sometimes
a little Aretha. The second principle I
learned is connection with my truest, eternal self. The specific words were,
“Be gentle with yourself.” God speaks to me as my very
best friend would speak to me. And He told me I was standing
at the edge of a new frontier, and I was experiencing a major
transformation, a new normal, and to be as patient
with myself as I would with a child learning to walk. Now, death makes you question
everything–your identity, your existence, your path. So I gave myself space and time
to explore life’s questions. And with time, I
am finding myself more settled and focused. Now, the third guiding
principle I received was about watching for
symbols, and this principle helped me learn how my daughter
and I connect through the veil. Parenting doesn’t end at any
milestone, including death. Alyssa is nearby often,
and we pray for her daily. The scriptures teach us
that angels communicate much like the Holy Ghost, and
I have a new understanding of what that means. And these are some of my most
holy and treasured experiences. And when I’m really
paying attention, I find God provides
sacred symbols in the places I least expect. Sometimes it’s a song
or a flower or an image, but they are always
accompanied by this impression of the divine and an impression
of my daughter’s love. Now, to be honest,
part of me really wrestled with the fourth
guiding principle for some time: serve others. You know, no one
is immune to loss. Grief is both universal
and yet so very personal. I could barely
shoulder my own sorrow and do my best to help
my husband and children. And I feared that the very
idea of helping anyone else might just crush me. So this fourth principle
has been a journey for me. I have a treasured
friend who says, “It’s at our broken
edges that we bond.” We can just be with one
another in our grief. We can just sit, hold a
hand, embrace in silence, and allow the Spirit
to convey love. Let them talk. Assure them they
are never alone. Whether the angels are on this
side of the veil or the other, our God will not
leave us comfortless. His promised Savior provides
peace beyond understanding. Now, I believe we
made connections before this world began,
and our connections are the one thing we take with
us when we depart mortality. Our brains are wired for it. It’s one of our
greatest human needs and essential for our growth. And aside from my
own experiences, there’s a growing body of
social science research on the power of connection. Whether it’s our declining
life span, civic discord, partisan tribalism, political
polarity, epidemic loneliness, substance abuse, self-harm,
suicidality, anxiety, depression, addiction, the
education gap, the wage gap, the gender gap, the
achievement gap, study after study after study tells
us the antidote is connection. So, put simply,
connection restores hope. In fact, more than
150 studies conclude that connection strengthens
our immune system and lengthens our lives. People with a profound sense
of spiritual connection are more gracious
and compassionate, and they flourish
and savor life. Children who are more
connected to family learn higher-order
skills that better equip them to face the
challenges of our world. And volunteers known as
cuddlers in the NICU, they reduce infant stress and pain
and promote brain development and healing with this
simple human connection. And even rats go from
almost 100 percent chemical overdose when they’re isolated,
to 0 percent overdose when they have connected lives. So connection. Call it cuddling; call it
relationship or being in tune, in touch, or aligned, or
belonging, knowing, loving. At its core, it’s
all connection. So let me add one more. People who experience trauma
and then seek connection demonstrate greater
grit and resilience. Let me repeat that: people
who experience trauma and then seek greater
connection demonstrate greater grit and resilience. It’s trauma when a
beloved person dies, and trauma results in grief. And grief doesn’t have
some magic cutoff date. But we can be
resilient in grief, and we can still move
forward with grief. We can still find meaning and
purpose and hope with grief. And the way is connection. Now, what cuts us off
from real, meaningful, and lasting connection? Fear and shame. And whose plan is that? It’s not God’s plan. And it’s not God’s way. A leader in my Church who
devotes her life to solving some of the world’s most
challenging problems, Sharon Eubank, said: “If
you feel that the beacon of your [faith] is sputtering
and darkness is closing in, take courage. … Turn to Jesus Christ,
who loves you still.” Jesus said, “I am
the light [that] shineth in [the]
darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” That means no matter how
hard the darkness tries, that darkness cannot
put out that light ever. You can trust that His
light will be there for you. Now, I’m not the same person
I was before that rainy autumn day, September 23, 2012. Grief has changed me. But because I
sought connection, I think grief has changed
me for the better. My arms still ache to
hold my Alyssa Nicole. But in exchange for these ashes
of sorrow and loss and grief, the Savior has kept His
promise and granted beauty because I sought connection. Because I sought connection, I
understand the refiner’s fire in ways I couldn’t
possibly understand before. Because I sought
connection, I trust God in ways I couldn’t
even fathom before. I’m connected in ways I
never was before with Deity, with myself, with my family,
and with my global community, my fellow travelers. And more than ever,
I am not hopeless. I am here to tell you that
because of connection, more than ever,
I am hope filled. I am not abandoned. I have never been alone. I have power, moored
through covenant to the King of all kings
and my Parents in Heaven. And in this life, that is
roots and wings, isn’t it? That is true identity, and that
is the ultimate connection. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]