Melanie Walker grew up in Parker, Idaho with four sisters and three brothers and attended South Fremont High School.
Melanie met her husband, Kim Walker, on a blind date set up by a mutual friend and they were later married in the Idaho Falls Temple. They are the parents of eight children, three boys, and five girls, and have 19 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
She enjoys her large family, reading, exercising, hiking, horseback riding, shooting, riding motorcycles, playing the piano, and working in her yard.
Melanie has served in a variety of church callings including counselor in a Relief Society, Relief Society teacher, primary teacher, Sunday school teacher, primary pianist, ward chorister, Gospel Doctrine teacher, and twice as a counselor in the Young Women, where she currently serves.
Pre-devotional Discussion: On the discussion board, share about a time in your life when a trial became a stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.
Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. I am honored and humbled for the opportunity to address all of you today, and I pray that I will have the Spirit with me, to speak the things the Lord would have me say, and the Spirit will be with you, to hear it, for I testify that I know the Lord can and will help us through life's trials if we will put our trust in Him and move forward in faith.
In order to put this in some kind of order, I thought I would share first with you the story of a woman I have known my whole life. Maybe some of her struggles will mirror some of yours or someone you know and are close to. The story starts like this: her challenges in life, unbeknownst to her, started when she was just a six-year-old little girl, unaware of the problems that were soon to be placed in her path by no decision of her own. Through the choices of someone else, she was placed in a state of sexual abuse that would last for about the next two years of her life. This created a change in her that her parents could see but could not identify why. According to her parents, she became angry, not as outgoing and fun-loving as she once was. They identified this with starting grade school but did not find out till almost 20 years later that the change in her had come from this abuse. The abuse stopped when she was eight years old, just before she was baptized. Her abuser thought if it was stopped by then, the damage would be corrected, but by then it was too late; the damage had already been done.
This created in her, an incorrect perception of how she needed to obtain love and attention. By the time she was 14 years old, she was sexually active, and pregnant by the time she was 16. She dropped out of school her sophomore year to get married and said goodbye to her childhood forever. She now was a child raising a child. Her parents had tried to talk her out of getting married so young. They wanted her to finish school and had offered to adopt her child as their own so that she could have the opportunity to finish, but she knew best. There was nothing they could do to convince her otherwise. She wanted out of the house and was going to get out one way or the other.
The next few years would show the delivery of a little girl, followed by a divorce, then a remarriage to the same man--who was and still to this point was a major drug addict--followed by three more children.
This time was very difficult for her because, as I had mentioned, he was a drug addict and became even more emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive, so the support that was needed was not available. I do not have the time in this devotional to even address a portion of what that all entailed, only that it was an extremely difficult time in her life. This time the marriage would end for good, with her husband being unfaithful. She was finally done. She could not handle any more and filed for divorce in 1988. She felt like the world had been lifted off of her shoulders, but like so many others that have fallen into abusive-like patterns, she had too, and jumped right back into another relationship with another guy who didn't have any better habits than her ex. And before long, he was slowly moving in, little by little.
She was working for a grocery food chain and had a good working reputation. She succeeded at pretty much any position that she put her hand to, but her personal life was not all what she wanted it to be. Then one day a situation happened to her that changed her whole life and put her back on the road to her Father in Heaven. She was checking out groceries, and a person came through the line next to her that would change her life forever. She went home that weekend and had an experience that helped her understand personally what Alma the Younger went through.
Alma 36 reads:
"But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
"Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept His holy commandments.
"... Yea, and in fine, so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror....
"And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
"And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world."
It was at this time that she immediately got all of the belongings together of the guy she was in the relationship with and took them next door to his friend's house, where his jeep was parked, and distributed his belongings back to him. She was afraid if she did this any other way, she might lose her nerve and not go through with it. After cleaning up in the material sense, she located the bishop over the area where she lived and made the appointment with him so she could clean up in the spiritual sense. By this time, she had been inactive for about 10 years. She knew there was a chance that she could be excommunicated, but it didn't matter anymore; all she wanted was to get her life back in order and right with the Lord. The kind of life she really wanted was never going to happen if she kept living the life she was. She needed to jump in with both feet and use the Atonement in her life, to whatever end, or beginning, that may bring. She knew she was not ready for the blessings of the kind of marriage she wanted to come into her life at that time, but she would be ready for those blessings in the future, if or when the opportunity would arise again.
So, in case you have not guessed, the young girl in the story is me. I say "is" instead of "was" because I want to claim all parts of that experience that has played a major role in who I am today. It continues to play a significant role in how I live through the choices I make in my life every day.
My appointment with my bishop proved to be an amazing experience. I likened it to one of my favorite scriptures during that time in my life, for I spent many hours in them. I had a hunger to feel of the Spirit and the sweetness of the Atonement working in my life on a daily basis.
Enos 1 reads:
"And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins....
"And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
"And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed."
The struggles increased for a while because the devil does not want to let go of someone that he has had so much control over. Sometimes the battle was almost too much to bear, but I was blessed with a very loving earthly father, who at times would give me a blessing daily so that I could resist the temptations and craziness that my previous life had helped create for me.
C. S. Lewis has a quote that describes how I used to feel about life, but now I know better because I have had experience on both sides. It reads, "A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.... A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in."
My dad was my hero! He had been quite sick most of my life and almost died one night, but he shared with me a blessing that was given to him, stating that his life was to be extended for three years so he could get the rest of his family in order. The rest of his family was me. He passed away a year after I married my spouse, who sits with me here on the stage today--three years total after the blessing he had received.
The topic I have chosen to talk about today is "Conversion in the Fires of Affliction." I chose this topic because if we choose God in our afflictions, and we don't turn away from Him, He will sanctify them to our good, and our conversion will deepen and become stronger and stronger.
I had finally received my patriarchal blessing, and many other wonderful experiences had started to take place in my life, but I still doubted my worthiness to enter God's holy temple. I was kind of being silly yet very serious in the prayer I offered upon entering one day. I prayed that if I had not yet repented enough for what I had done, "Please let the men at the recommend desk not let me in. Please let them feel that I am not worthy to be here." Well, I made it past the first desk, so then I was praying that one of the workers may have a feeling that I shouldn't be here. (Do you ever find that you hold on to sin or mistakes to re-punish and re-punish yourself, making it a tool for the devil instead of using the Atonement as a tool from God?)
What I was hoping for was some validation that I was in good standing with the Lord, enough to be in His holy house. I was doing initiatory work that day when, out of the blue, the temple worker asked me if I was okay. I didn't answer right away, so she followed by asking me a very inspired question. She asked, "Have you taken proper means to take care of the sins of your past?" I about fell over. How did she know what I was praying for? I knew right then I was getting an answer to my prayers, just like l had asked God for, validated to me by one of His servants. I said to her, "Yes." Then she said something very profound to me in that moment that changed my heart. She said, "Then let it go!"
Alma 36:21 reads, "Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy."
When they say that there is opposition in all things, I knew in that moment exactly what that meant to me, for in that moment no words could describe the joy I felt. I knew I had taken the proper steps for repentance, and it was time to "let it go!"
During the next seven years, I would marry my husband, here with me today, and we would have two more children together. This would now give us six children, and we had been praying on a regular basis for the blessing to have our first four sealed into our family. This seemed like a blessing that would never happen, but the Lord works in mysterious ways and works other people's bad choices for the good of others. My ex had committed a felony, and his probation officer had contacted me to state some stipulations that I would like put on his probation decree. I requested that he pay his child support and medical obligations that were to the amount of about $6,000, or give up his rights as their father. It came as a great blessing to our family that he chose to give up his rights, and our family was sealed on February 18, 1995.
That was a great blessing that turned out to be even more amazing than we would have any idea, for later that year, on September 12, at about 4:05 in the afternoon, the Lord would call our oldest son home.
This is a picture of Tyler with his buddies the day before he was taken home. He was seven years old when this happened. Remember I had said that we were sealed as a family on February 18, 1995. That just happened to be his birthday. He was so excited that we were finally being sealed, and to have it happen on his birthday was an amazing, tender mercy from the Lord.
He was on his way to join his siblings over at the elementary school we lived across the street from. The kids had gone over there many times to play after school on the playground equipment they had there. The neighbor boy was driving back to his house with a propane container his dad had sent him to the store to fill. They had eye contact with each other, and so the boy thought he was safe to continue on his way when my son bolted across the road. I had been resting on the couch when I heard the noise and went to the door to see what had happened.
I stepped out on the porch to see the neighbor boy running my direction down the road. My first thought was he had just wrecked his dad's pickup into the telephone pole, but soon realized he was running to our house. He cried out, "I just hit your son. Call an ambulance." At that very moment, I knew what it was like to have the Holy Ghost with me. He immediately strengthened me in a way I knew was not my own. I had complete clarity of thought and made the call to 911 to get the ambulance on its way. Then I called my husband at work to get him on his way home. I proceeded out the door to where a crowd had now gathered around my son.
The principal of the school was there and asked me if I would like for him to give our son a priesthood blessing. I just remember feeling so relieved that he would offer, and quickly agreed. The words that were pronounced upon Tyler, I know for me, made the outcome something I could accept. He said he would live until proper medical help arrived; at that time, the Lord would decide whether he was to live or die. In that moment, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind the Lord was in control. I needed this peace in my life, especially now, because I was seven months pregnant with our seventh child.
I had found the boy that had hit him, and all I wanted to do at that moment was to help him. I knew in that moment the pain and fear he must be going through was one test I would never want to experience. I held him and told him I did not blame him. Somehow the Holy Ghost worked a miracle in us that day, and my heart, through the Spirit, was filled with forgiveness and compassion for him.
I returned to Tyler, and as I knelt beside him, I knew that he was gone. It was at that moment I came to realize what we feel when we are around others is their spirit, for at that moment, my father, whom I was very close to but who had died a few years prior, was behind me. I felt his presence so strong there was no doubt in my mind he had come to take Tyler home.
For me, this loss was full of many tender mercies and spiritual experiences. Some are too sacred to share, but I will tell you this: I came to know the Comforter personally, and I know there is life after death and that our Heavenly Father is in all the workings of our lives.
The young boy that hit him went on to serve a mission and, while out in the mission field, wrote a story about this experience. It was published in the March 2000 issue of the New Era. The talk is titled "Can I Be Forgiven?" He and his family are dear friends of ours to this day, and I know that, for me, this part of my testimony has been deeply rooted, for it would need to be, because in February of 2009, our second son was called home.
This is an age-progression picture of the boys, done by a family friend. They were only three years apart in age, almost to the date, Tyler being born on February 18, 1988, and Trevor being born on February 17, 1991. They were very close and would play together all the time.
When Tyler died, we could not get Trevor to sleep in his bed for three years. We would keep him with us or one of his sisters until he fell asleep, then put him to bed, only to find him on the landing at the top of the stairs just outside of his bedroom.
Trevor was a good boy, the kind, I feel, that most parents would want to claim as their child and be proud of. He was involved in orchestra and sang with a singing group in school called the Bel Cantos. He was a straight-A student and loved the gospel. There were many times on a Sunday that we would wonder where he was, as the rest of us were watching a TV program, and he would be off reading the Ensign, still dressed in his Sunday clothes.
Five days after his 18th birthday was a Sunday. He had just had his priesthood interview with the bishop and been found worthy to be made an elder. Now it was just waiting until stake conference came to ordain and sustain him with the rest of his friends that were becoming elders at the same time. He passed away the very next day on the way to school. The roads had been terribly icy that morning, and he lost control on the road. He slid into a telephone pole. Again, I get the call that no parent wants to hear once, let alone twice.
At first, I felt, "Okay, we've done this before; we can do it again." I felt his presence with me every day, having many more spiritual experiences with this trial, but something seemed to be changing this time. After about three months, I found myself getting angrier and angrier with the Lord. How could He take another son? I found myself slipping into depression, but even more than that, I was having anxiety so bad that I couldn't even fall into a deep sleep. It seemed like everything that I had ever been through was haunting me now. There was fear and panic, literally 24/7. This went on for about three months, to the point that now I was becoming suicidal. My husband was begging me to get on some anxiety pills, for fear of what was going to happen to me. I took time to pray about this decision and was told this was not the way the Lord wanted me to handle this. I was to learn my source of strength was to come through Him.
About this time, my husband had given me a book titled The Infinite Atonement, by Tad Callister. I didn't get into it right away; in fact, it took me about another month to pick it up and start reading it. But once I did, it had such a profound impact on my life. For the first time ever, I realized the Atonement was so much more than a process used for repentance. I realized that the Atonement was literally part of Jesus Christ Himself, with all the enabling powers of His grace that He gives to us in our weaknesses, if we will but submit to Him.
Ether 12:27 reads, "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."
2 Corinthians 12:10 reads, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
There are two stories addressed in the Bible: one is about Moses; the other, Enoch. Both were men of God, and both happened to have the same weakness. They were both slow of speech and wondered why the Lord had chosen them to be mighty instruments in His hands. The Lord promised both He would put into their mouths the things which they needed to say at the time that it needed to be said. Moses doubted and was given Aaron to be a spokesman for him. Because of this, Moses's weakness never became a strength. Yes, it's true that God still performed mighty miracles through Moses, but the weakness of speech was never taken from him. Enoch, on the other hand, did not doubt the Lord would fulfill His promise, and he became mighty in speech. So mighty and great were the words of Enoch, he would speak and mountains would move out of their place.
Moses 6:34 reads, "Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me."
Through much prayer and learning, the anxiety and depression were lifted. I learned different coping skills through obedience to the Lord, and my conversion deepened again. I am learning that the Holy Spirit can teach in any given circumstance if we will open our hearts to listen and ponder, especially in the toughest of times, when we feel we are being pushed far beyond our capacity to stretch.
I took the opportunity to hike two amazing hikes with my daughter this year. One of those hikes was Table Rock.
I had always heard of this place, but this was my first attempt at this hike. I never hurt so badly at a physical event in my life. My muscles started cramping about four miles in, with three miles left to go. I found out I don't like straight-off edges and slippery, rocky slopes. I found myself at times clinging to rocks, not able to move from the fear that was setting in. I thought to myself, "This is beautiful right here. I bet the top isn't that much grander." I asked a couple of people coming back down how it was, and their comment was they wanted to quit. But they were so glad they didn't, because it was amazing.
Then something inside starting saying, "What if this is symbolic of your journey to the celestial kingdom?" Am I willing to settle for something less? I kept praying for divine help to work through the pain and the crippling fear I was experiencing, and then came this life lesson. I had made the decision to do this hike. I did not want to fail. If I did not look ahead or behind and I only focused on what was in front of me at that very moment, keeping a prayer in my heart, I was able to move forward one step at a time until I pulled myself over the top of that rock.
The view was breathtaking, literally, and I could not hold back the tears of accomplishment. I could do hard things and was all the better for it.
Brothers and sisters, our lives are meant to be full of weaknesses, hardships, and trials, but we always have a choice to make them our stumbling blocks or our stepping-stones. Just like Joseph in the Bible. All that he went through, he could have cursed God, but he chose to praise and honor God, and by so doing, all of his trials were sanctified to him for his good, and he became a savior to his people. I would like to leave you with one of my favorite scriptures that to me depicts the very gospel in action and God's willingness to bless us if we will practice it.
Alma 26:22 reads, "Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing--unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance."
I know that whatever challenges or trials we are faced with, whether they are physical weaknesses, personality quirks, addictions, same-sex attractions, gender issues, low self-esteem, or mental health challenges, the Lord gave all of us the same directive, for He is no respecter of persons, and He is a God of order. We are to align ourselves with His will. Whatever that takes on our part to do is very personal and between the individual and the Lord, but I know we can choose to do hard things and have those trials sanctified unto us to our complete conversion unto the Lord, to make our stumbling blocks, whatever they may be, into our stepping-stones, and return home when our time here on earth is finished.
I love my Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. That we may all return to live with Them again is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.