Shelly was asked to be a guest presenter at the 2020 BYU Women’s Conference. However, as you know the conference was cancelled due to Covid.
Here is the full transcript of the presentation.
Good morning, my name is Shelly Jorgensen and I am here today to share my thoughts on tender mercies of the Lord. Elder Bednar defined the tender mercies of the Lord as “the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.” Further, he taught that “the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.”
Throughout scripture we are reminded of the tender mercies of the Lord. Psalms 69:16 reads, “Hear me, O Lord; for thy loving kindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies”. In Luke 1:78, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, recognized that it was “through the tender mercy of our God” that his son would prepare the way for the Savior of the world. And Nephi testified in 1Nephi 1:20, “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance”.
We need to take time to recognize the Lord’s tender mercies in our lives. Have you experienced these or similar tender mercies?
- A phone call from a friend at the exact moment you needed to talk
- A text to brighten your day
- A song on the radio that spoke peace to your mind
- A visit with a family member that clarified indecision
- A thought that solved a problem
- A story that provided an answer
- A service that relieved a struggle A trial that deepened your ability to empathize
- An answer to a heartfelt prayer
- A strength you didn’t know you had
- Counsel that offered comfort
- Forgiveness you needed to heal
These and countless other moments are more than mere coincidence. They are the tender mercies of the Lord. As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ and humbly choose to follow Him, He will abundantly bless us with His tender mercies.
I am here to tell you today that extreme adversity has been the biggest tender mercy in my life. Now, before you think I am crazy, hear me out.
In order for me to talk about this, I need to tell you a bit of my story. Since it would take me hours to tell you my whole story, I am going to do my best to give you the highlights … just so you can get the idea of the road that I have traveled.
For starters, I grew up in a home without the gospel with an abusive father. My dad was an alcoholic with a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality and would become verbally and physically abusive … most of the abuse being directed at my mother. As I got older, his drinking got worse and so did his explosions.
On Oct. 14, 1985, I was a 15-year-old sophomore, and my sister was a 17-year-old senior. That day our home burned down and our mother died.
Four months later my dad was arrested for setting fire to our house and murdering my mother. His trial was not until the spring of my senior year, but suffice it to say that I have been on my own since the day my mother died. On that day, I lost my mother, home, all worldly possessions, and my family was destroyed.
I didn’t know it, but a week before my dad’s trial, I found out that I was going to be the star witness for the prosecution … they essentially were using my testimony to prove first degree murder. No one of course thought that it might be a terrifying thing for me to do as a 17-year-old who grew up behind the façade of upscale suburban living while hiding domestic violence. Especially since I had to leave court and go home with my dad right after. My testimony was being used to prove that he was not only guilty of murdering my mother and burning the house down, but that he had been threatening to do just that for almost as long as I could remember.
One might think that things couldn’t get worse after that, but they did. Among other things, people started stealing what was left. Our father stole our college money (that was mainly given to us from our grandparents), Other relatives stole money after my dad went to jail. In the end, my dad continued his abuse as his final strike was to was to write my sister and I out of his will 3 months before he died. To make sure we got nothing!
At 15, I was fending for myself and longing for a place to belong again. I wanted nothing more than to have a family to call my own. Fortunately, Heavenly Father has blessed me with incredible friends, and I have been adopted by my friend’s families (many of whom are here today) the dream of getting married in my 20’s and having children of my own, however, wasn’t in the cards. Waiting until I was 41 to finally get married was another challenging trial in my life. It took me decades of feeling un-loveable until I finally met my husband. He is wonderful, and I am grateful for him. Waiting for so many years was very difficult.
In addition to everything else that started in my teens, I also had several major sports injuries to overcome. I had a back injury which required spending 2 months of my senior year in a body cast and a knee injury that led to five surgeries and a subsequent knee replacement when I was 34 years old.
In 2008 I started having abdominal issues and had 4 surgeries by the fall of 2009 only to find myself with pain that the doctors couldn’t solve. The only good news about this at the time was that I was functioning and most of the severe pain wouldn’t last for more than a few hours at a time.
Just when I thought I would be free from some of the most major trials of my life, a new one started. On my honeymoon, I started getting sick every time I ate. This led to another diagnosis and abdominal surgery in October 2011. There were complications from that surgery which resulted in 4 additional operations in 2 months … the last one resulted in the total removal of my stomach. After that, the pain and nausea were worse than before. I found myself bedridden for hours after every meal. The doctors had no answers for me. I felt that this was going to be how I lived the rest of my life … sick 24 hours a day.
And to top all that off, I was also sexually abused by an acquaintance of my parents when I was 11 years old. The abuse happened several times over a 2-week period. At 15 I was raped 2 different times within the same year that my mother died. I never told anybody about the sexual abuse until I was in college because of the shame that I felt.
All along the way, I struggled with many unanswered questions. Why did my mother always go back to my father? Why were we never allowed to discuss our feelings or fears, and why did we have to pretend that everything was okay when it clearly wasn’t? What was the purpose in life? The list goes on …
There were many years of struggle. I suffered with depression and thoughts of suicide. I actually found myself sitting on the edge of a rooftop after my second rape trying to decide if I should jump or not. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of the pain that I would cause to my sister … I loved her more than I loved myself. It took me well into my mid 30’s to finally heal from all of this trauma. I had gone to counseling on and off since my freshman year at BYU, but when I found myself in the habit of praying to die every day because I was so miserable, I started therapy again. This time I did different techniques that totally changed my life. I did EMDR, N.E.T (neuro emotional technique) and neurofeedback. These are all holistic approaches to healing which are difficult to explain because they are so different. N.E.T. worked the best for me. They worked beyond talk therapy for me. It is hard to explain these techniques because they are different. With N.E.T., I felt like I was talking to my spirit. It is as if your conscious mind does not remember everything that you thought and felt as you were going through trauma, but your spiritual / subconscious self does.
This technique helped me uncover those emotions, process them, and finally get rid of them. It was painless and easy, but it took me over 2 years going twice a week to process everything that I needed to process. It was life changing! Along the way, I learned how to love myself and how to use counseling with the atonement to completely heal.
This is just the cliff notes version of my story. Believe it or not there are many other trials and issues that I have had to deal with along the way. If you want to hear the rest of the details of my story you are going to have to read my book Beautiful Ashes: A True Story of Murder, Betrayal and One Woman’s Search for Peace. I hope that what I say next stays with you more than what I just spoke about because this is what matters most!!
I know that it was because of these trials that Heavenly Father was able to teach me the lessons that I needed to learn to become the daughter that He needs me to be. Which, is very different than the daughter I grew up thinking I would become. I know that Heavenly Father has done a better job at molding me through the adversity of my life than I could ever do myself. In order for me to survive all of these trials, Heavenly Father blessed me with so many more tender mercies than I can even list.
First, how many mission presidents have 15-year-old daughters who play basketball and move in mere months before your life’s biggest tragedy and are there to teach you the gospel? The answer to that is not that many. I know that Heavenly Father sent them to Michigan just for me. Soon after my mother’s death I became a fixture at the mission home and loved by my newly adopted family. When most teenage girls stayed up at night talking about boys, Sabrina and I talked about faith and our beliefs about God … and of course boys.
Beyond giving me a safe and soft place to land when my world was falling apart, Heavenly Father blessed me with some extra ordinary experiences with my mother after her death that gave me hope and the strength I needed to continue. The first time my mom came to me was the first basketball game after her funeral. Up to this point in my life, my mother had never missed anything in my life. Toward the end of the first half, I had stolen the ball and was on a breakaway when, all of the sudden, I heard my mother cheering for me from the stands. I took my eyes off the basket and looked to find her, and there she was with her arms waving and cheering me on. At that moment a warm spirit washed over me and I heard my mother’s voice telling me “Don’t worry everything will be okay and I will always love you.” And then she was gone. Of course, I missed the shot and then went into the locker room at halftime thinking that I was going crazy. I told nobody because surely, I would be committed. That night, I prayed that if this was real that could it happen again.
As things at home continued to get worse, I was having re-occurring nightmares and was having a hard time falling asleep. One night about a month or so, after the basketball game, I felt a deep sense of fear and darkness and despair fall over me. As I was lying in bed, I was afraid to go to sleep, and I felt hopeless that I would ever recover from the trauma in my life. As I was on the brink of giving up all hope, a warm light filled my room and then my mother appeared. The spirit of peace and love filled the room and my mother spoke to me again … “Shelly, don’t worry, everything will be okay and I will always love you.” Then the light faded and she was gone but I was able to sleep in peace for the first time in 6 weeks. Again, I said nothing to anybody about this experience. I thanked God for the blessing and this time I knew I wasn’t crazy because it was unmistakable. In my heart, I was hoping that these experiences would continue because they brought so much peace and comfort to me even though I didn’t feel like I could tell anybody about them.
Also, during the Christmas shopping season that year, I was at the mall. My mother was like most women and she loved handbags and shoes. I was passing one of her favorite shoe stores in the mall and I looked inside and there she was standing in the store … I knew it was her. I hurried around a bench that was in my way and when I got into the store nobody was in the store, including the workers. They were in the backroom. I felt a bit foolish until I got to the threshold of the door and the same spirit that filled me at the basketball game and in my room washed over me and I heard my mother say, “Don’t worry everything will be okay and I will always love you.” Again, I was grateful but still unsure if anybody would believe that I had gotten messages from my dead mother.
And if these messages weren’t enough to just show me that my mother was still a part of my life and watching over me, I then heard the story of the First Vision. When Sabrina was telling me about Joseph’s experience in the sacred grove, I couldn’t help but totally believe him. I instantly recognized the similarities of his experiences to mine. Then I knew that I wasn’t losing my mind.
The visits from beyond the veil from my mother continued in many different ways throughout my life and I knew they would because I received a blessing from my BYU bishop as a freshman that said “because of what you have been through and because of how you have decided to respond to that adversity, the veil will be thin for you throughout your life”. It was finally with that blessing that I understood that all of the experiences that I had with my mother were blessings from a loving Heavenly Father rewarding me for my faithfulness. I am so grateful.
The last, but not least, visit from my mother that I am going to tell you about happened 2 years ago. Earlier, I mentioned that on my honeymoon I had gotten sick. Well, I was so sick, I had to quit my 20-year career as an engineer and had to spend every minute of every day sick with no relief or hope for relief. About a year and a half into my illness, I stopped going to specialists to find a cure because there was none. Even the Mayo clinic couldn’t help me. I had to come to terms with the fact that this was my new normal. Because of all the adversity that I had already faced in my life, I knew how to most of the time put on a happy face despite being sick all of the time. At this point, I accepted that I was going to be sick and promised my Heavenly Father that I was okay with being sick. I focused on what I was supposed to be learning.
I had learned a long time ago that asking the question “why” something is happening to you 100% of the time is because you need to be learning something. So, I started asking “what” and “how”. What should I be learning? And how can I use that to help myself or somebody else?
At this point I became totally okay with the fact that Heavenly Father knew what was best for me whether I understood it or not. I spent 5.5 years trusting that Heavenly Father knew what was best. One morning, I was meditating and the peace and spirit that I felt every time my mother came to me washed over me. Then I felt my mother telling me that it was time to get a blessing of healing. I needed to start praying for the gift to be healed, and I needed to go to the temple, observe all of the ordinances, and listen to the blessings available to me. I also needed to fast and pray to spiritually prepare. And I was to pray about who was to assist my husband in giving me this blessing.
I did as she instructed. The day of my blessing, I fasted … which always made me sicker when I broke the fast. I could hardly move because the nausea was so bad that it took me 2 hours to be able to get up from the table to make it to my friend’s house where the blessing was going to take place.
As soon as the anointing of the oil started and hands were placed on my head, I felt a spirit and power move through my body from the top of my head down to the bottoms of my feet. All the pain and nausea, that I felt for the previous 7 years, was completely gone. I am here to tell you that the power of the priesthood is real. I am a living witness of the healing power that it contains. It has been 2 years since that blessing, and I still feel good. I still get a little nauseous after I eat sometimes, but it is manageable and only lasts about 15 mins. The only lasting effect of my illness is constant fatigue which I manage to live with. It was the pain and nausea that were unbearable.
In addition to the above-mentioned tender mercies, I learned the following lessons:
First, I have to say that I know that my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live and that they love me! I have learned that all of those clichés are true … “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” or “We won’t be given more than we can handle”. I know that these are the last words that you want to hear when you are struggling and hurting. However, it is when you are struggling and hurting that you have to find the strength to really believe this.
I have to ask you a question … do you believe Christ? I didn’t ask if you believe that Christ is real or that He lives, I asked do you believe Him? Do you believe that He can do what He said he can … that being, heal you when you are sick or suffering from any sort of trial? After all, the promise of the atonement is not just to pay the price for our sins but it is that Christ suffered for us and because of that He can heal us from anything. The problem is that it is easier to believe in Christ but not believe Him. In order for us to allow ourselves to be healed, we need to trust and have faith that Christ really can do what He promised.
One of the most wonderful things about the atonement is that it is ready and available to help us 24 hrs. a day 7 days a week. All that we must do is learn to put our trust in the Lord and turn our trials over to Him. In Mathew 11:28-30 Christ teaches us what will happen if we allow Him to help us. The scripture reads:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”
What a wonderful invitation and promise. The question isn’t who wouldn’t want to make their burden lighter because I think that everybody does … the issue is how do you do it. I have found is that it takes faith, trust, and a close relationship with and understanding of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
After all, how can you trust somebody to pick you up when you are broken and bleeding if you don’t even know them? This is one of the reasons that we are reminded that we need to read the scriptures, pray, go to the temple, attend our meetings and serve others. These are all ways for us to “learn of me” … learn the nature of our Savior and develop a deep relationship with Him. Because isn’t it much more comforting to turn to a shoulder of a close friend to cry on rather than a stranger?
We are Heavenly Father’s children. He loves us, and Christ loves us. They want us to know them as intimately as they know us. They never leave us to suffer on our own … we are the ones that need to put forth the effort to learn how to hear them, how to turn our sorrows completely over to them and trust that everything will be okay.
I am here to tell you that no matter what happens to you in your life … no matter how bad you think something is … it is okay! No, today it might not be okay per our standards, but as long as you are doing what you should be doing, and doing your best, everything will be okay. It will be exactly as it should be. That isn’t to say that it will be exactly as you want it to be. After all, we do not know all things and, we do not know what is best but Heavenly Father does. We have to put our trust in Him, let it go, and know that in the end we will be okay.
The way that I see it is this … this life is meant for us to be tried and tested, it is designed for our growth. It isn’t in Heavenly Father’s plan for it to be easy street. If it was, then we wouldn’t have a chance to grow. We would never be able to become the people that Heavenly Father needs us to be … notice, I didn’t say the people we want to be. I said this because, again, we don’t know what is best for us and Heavenly Father does. This is important to remember that there is no way for the atonement to work in our lives if we don’t believe 100% in this truth.
Trials and tests are good for us. They often hurt and are hard to deal with, but they are the exercise that our spirits and character need to strengthen us and help us become who we need to be. Think of it like a weightlifter or an athlete. If they don’t go to the gym and do the exercise and lift the weights, then they won’t be in the physical shape that they need to be to perform well. The same goes with us and our character. If we don’t do the “heavy lifting”, then we will be weak and unable to become strong. We will not have the character that we need to fulfill our mission on earth.
I know that this may sound hard to believe, but I can honestly stand here today and say that I wouldn’t change anything about my life. Yes, I wish that many things could have been different and that my mother was here, but I know that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without these experiences. I don’t even know if I would be a member of the church. What I do know is that I have strength that I never knew was possible. I have learned empathy that most people will never have. I have learned that if I truly trust Christ and put everything in His hands, He will carry me.
The worst thing that we can do is compare our problems to somebody else. You may think that someone else has it easier than you, but they really do not. Heavenly Father pushes all of us to our limits. He loves us all the same and wants us all to have the same chance at growth. The differences are just in what the trials are. Our trials are all tailor made to help each of us reach our potential. They are in no means a punishment. They are a blessing because they are opportunities for growth. It is up to us whether or not they become stepping stones or stumbling blocks. We decide if we are going to face life’s challenges and turn toward Heavenly Father or turn away. If we turn toward Him, then we will be carried. If we don’t, then we will struggle.
Remember that life is a team sport … it isn’t the goal to be better than your neighbor … the goal is to be the best you that you can be and along the way help others be the best they can be. Look for ways to develop your Christ-like character and, don’t take much time to feel sorry for yourself. Remember that Christ is anxiously waiting to carry you. Believe Him and know that there isn’t anything that you cannot handle if you “yoke” yourself with Christ.
And the one last thing that I have always held on to is that Heavenly Father is perfectly just and merciful. So, the way that I see it is this … at some point the scales of justice will be balanced. Meaning at some point all of the sorrow, pain and suffering that I have experienced in my life will be balanced out with joy and happiness. However, it isn’t up to me to decide when that happens. I just know that it will. The scriptures promise this. D&C 58:2 says this:
“… he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven.”
I am so grateful for my Heavenly Father and the overabundance of tender mercies that he has blessed me with in my life. I know that He always is watching out for me and that as long as I do what Heavenly Father needs me to do everything in my life will be exactly how it should be. And as my mother said “don’t worry, everything will be okay…” For me personally, life is way more than okay. I have been blessed beyond any measure of adversity I have faced.
In closing, I would like to bear my testimony that I know that Heavenly Father and Christ live and I know that they not only love me but they love all of us. I know that if we put our trust in Christ’s atonement, we can be healed from anything. I learned that if we change our prayers to focus on our blessings and stop worrying about what is going wrong or what we might feel we are missing and hand that burden over to Christ, He will carry us. I know that the Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that he restored the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that if we abide by the principles of the gospel, we can accomplish anything. I know that we all agreed to the plan to come to earth to be tried and tested and I believe that we even knew of most of the adversity that we were going to face.
That isn’t to say that we understood it because that is the purpose of this life but we knew … I knew that I would grow up with abuse. I knew that I would be raped. I knew that I would endure every trial that I have faced and I still rejoiced in the opportunity to be born. Has it been hard? … of course, but I trust my Heavenly Father and that means I know that everything big and small will be worth the struggle. I know that if I agreed to this, that it will be worth it because I know myself and I am no dummy. I also, know that the priesthood is real and it has the power to heal you if it is part of Heavenly Father’s plan for you to be healed. And finally, I know that we have a living prophet today and that if we are questioning anything, we can follow President Nelson and be safe.