“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 1:25), and may I add women also. Isn’t it important to note here the word “might?” In all things we have been granted the mighty gift of agency. But with great blessings come even greater responsibilities. Anxiety, depression, and other mental and emotional inhibitions that can weigh on our happiness are at an all-time high, but it is my belief that the Lord has so graciously given us all sorts of tools to enable us to combat the heavy darkness that can befall us as a result of our circumstances, focus, or attitudes. Let me share a bit about why I believe happiness truly is a choice.
In May of 2010, events led me back to the church after several years of rebellion. I was so grateful to begin that rebirth in my life that I literally jumped up and down in tears and joy upon hearing that I had regained full membership later on that year. It was honestly one of the happiest moments of my life. Though I will never say I am proud of the many horrific sins I had participated in during my time away from the light, I will say that those memories definitely granted me perspective. It wouldn’t be rare to hear me say “Even on a bad day, it’s still a great day.” For after coming back to church, I realized that even during one of those days where everything seemed to be going wrong, all was well and much brighter than my best day without the gospel. Life was grand, and I couldn’t be happier! Or so I thought.
Just over 3 years later, after much effort in remaining faithful to my Father in Heaven to the best of my abilities, I had married in the temple. My husband and I both received comments from the temple workers that day that they had never before seen smiles as big as ours on a wedding day. We believed them. We had both been through quite a refiner’s fire up to that point in our lives, and had made many, many sacrifices to get there. It was a joyous day, and there is no doubt that angels had been leading and guiding us all our lives. We were simply meant to be. However, life seemed to again take its toll…
It wasn’t even a year and a half later that we were literally torn apart. On more than one occasion in that short sixteen months I felt I was safest staying in someone else’s home for an evening – sometimes a week, and at one point a few weeks… But, the morning of January 29th, 2015 is one I will never forget.
I had just given birth to our first child a few weeks earlier. Our little Coraleen Rose was born on January 6th. She was healthy and beautiful, and absolutely perfect in our eyes. She was a miracle child, and we both knew that. I instinctively knew she was meant to come exactly when she did, but had little clue as to why until later. But on that morning of the 29th, when police knocked on our door, after my husband Wes had already left for work that day, I was in panic. Loads of Kevlar-wearing officers piled into our tiny apartment, and my brand new baby was asleep in her room. I didn’t want to leave her alone, but the detective ensured me she would be safe as he escorted me out into his car for questioning. I had been left with little information, save that my husband was being arrested for murder that day. Wow…let me tell you, that phrase alone sends a wife into a very long-lasting shock. It took months to really embrace that reality. Months.
After a while of trying to get used to my new life as a single mom of a newborn, and living with friends who took me in in a heartbeat, I prayed to know the Lord’s will for my life. He counseled me to move from my home state of California to be with my sister and her family in Orem, Utah. I was not too happy about His answer because I loved my sunny state, but I obeyed nonetheless. It didn’t take long to see His wisdom, because not too many days after moving I was in such a dark place that I was about to end my life. Had it not been for my sister, I would not be here today, and my poor daughter would be going through life without a father in the home and without a mother on the earth. But after that being the second time in my life I came that close to ending it, I was led to repentance and brought to humble prayer. “Just please help me understand, because I don’t get it!” was my prayer, and boy did He answer. And He hasn’t stopped.
The story goes on. That was almost three years ago now, and I have never been granted so much perspective before in my life. The Lord has truly opened my eyes, expanded my understanding, enlarged my heart, swelled my spirit, and so, so, so much more! But, what I can say is this: happiness is a choice!
Despite the darkness in my life, I truly tried my hardest to be happy. No, I didn’t always succeed, but I definitely tried. At one point I had seen an old friend who was surprised to point out that I was happier then, with all the chaos in my life, than I had been as a young single adult.
There is nothing that can keep us down, Sisters. I bear a solemn testimony that everything we need to feel real, true, lasting joy is found within the gospel of Jesus Christ. No, not every day will be perfect in our sight, and that is great – it helps give us the opposition necessary to gauge where we are striving to be. Women are that we might have joy. Through my own immense trials, I found real joy in deep scripture study. I found real joy in getting lost in the precious moments with my daughter – dancing with her, singing with her, feeding her, playing with her, teaching her. I didn’t focus on “what if.” I focused on the blessings. I also found real joy in maintaining temple worthiness and attending often. I found real joy in fervent prayer on my knees – pouring out my heart to Heavenly Father in tear-filled gratitude, envisioning my Savior in doing so. And for these past couple years, I have truly found real joy in bearing my testimony often – sharing my love for the beauty and truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for my love of my Savior, and gratitude and reverence for His atonement.
Those are just a few of the tools we have been so graciously given to assist us in finding happiness every day in this life, no matter what the circumstances. As President Russell M. Nelson has stated “My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.
“When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, which President Thomas S. Monson just taught us, and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”
It is my prayer that those of us who struggle to find joy may remember these inspired words from one of our modern-day prophets, and it is my hope that my story can uplift in some way as well. In the sacred name of my Brother, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tiana Swank is a happy stigma-free LDS prison wife, and mother of one, who loves to share her special testimony of the gospel, and messages of faith, forgiveness, and family on social media. She enjoys touching hearts around the globe by spreading hope, light, and love. She is a speaker, blogger, and entrepreneur. Tiana simply desires to make the world a better place and believes we all have the capability of making it so.