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I believe in a God who knows and loves me as He does everyone. I believe that His love for us is not dependent on our actions, our belief, or our situation in life. More than anything, I want to share that trait.

I believe that God is the source of goodness and doesn’t send bad things to the world—that the bad things and events come because of mortal life, our own bad decisions, and others’ bad decisions. I believe that, in general, the commandments lead to a good and happy life—that their purpose is to minimize the hardship and hurt in the world. I especially love the word of wisdom and see that as a great witness of God’s love and wisdom. I believe that God understands why we doubt, fear, and end up messing up a lot. I think it saddens Him because He knows we are sacrificing something good that we can’t see for some momentary fix. I have felt His love after I messed up and tried to come closer to Him again. I have felt redeemed and close to God after periods of neglecting that aspect of life. I believe strongly that family relationships and other deep relationships are necessary and important for us in this life. Learning to love and care for each other is one of the main points of life.

I believe in God because I have received answers to sincere prayers at key times in my life. My faith, like that of many kids, started as blind desire to be a good kid. I had a strong sense of spirituality and was the one in my family to ask for family daily scripture study and family prayer, even when I was a little girl. I felt security in the ritual of prayer and comfort in feeling that I was good and worthy because I did the check-list of things throughout high school, when many kids rebel. I believed that God would protect and keep bad things from my life because of my diligence and faith.

My faith was simple, but not mature. My real conversion occurred later, when my beliefs were called into question. When I had followed the protocol, bad things did happen. My senior year of high school, I suffered severe and frequent migraine attacks that robbed me of my vision, caused excruciating pain and uncontrolled vomiting. Sometimes the migraines would rob me of two or three days a week. The days between, I felt weak and fearful of another attack. I lost many of the successes on which I had based my self worth—my school, athletics, and violin performance.

First, I didn’t think it was fair that, even though I took good care of my body, I was sick all the time. And second, I didn’t think a just God would let that happen when I was praying with all my might for him to take the sickness away. Since God didn’t take away my illness after months of praying for only that, I concluded that either there was no God or He didn’t care about me. I felt alone. I stopped praying.

There were quite a few months of feeling miserable, both because of my health and because I was mad at everyone who was healthy. I was pretty much the opposite of what I wanted to be in every way at that point: not healthy, not kind, not fun, and certainly not believing or ready to sacrifice anything for God or anyone else.

At some point in the year, I was reading a novel by Olive Burns called Cold Sassy Tree. In it, a grandpa was explaining to his grandson his observations about God. He told him that often God doesn’t physically take away hard things, but if you pray for spiritual gifts to help you get through things, like patience, strength, or feeling God’s love, He comes through with those gifts. I remember underlining the words in the book and thinking about them.

The next time that a migraine struck me, again I hurt and I felt alone. I prayed asking only two questions to God—first—if He was there and if he loved me. I felt God’s love—like the emotional response that you feel when you get a hug from your mom after you’ve been away for a long time. It was such a change from the anger and hurt I had been feeling. It was evidence for the existence of God and of His love for me.

I have since had even greater challenges and there have been times when I didn’t have the heart to even turn to God as I should have. But eventually when I have gathered the emotional strength to turn to Him, I have received His comfort, either through a person who was inspired to help me or through a feeling of comfort.

But believing in Christ isn’t only about being comforted when you need to be comforted, it’s also about following Him and using His sacrifice to become better. My belief in Christ gives me a concrete standard of goodness. And when I don’t measure up to that standard, Christ’s sacrifice allows me to lose the part of myself that doesn’t measure up. It allows me to look at myself and not be limited by my current identity. When I find a selfish motive or I say something defensive or unkind, it is Christ who said, “Go and sin no more.” His words tell me “You can be better than that.” God is not like the rest of the world. He won’t remember the past if we rely on Christ, and change. So, my identity is not stuck in my faults. I can drop them to become better.

So—my childhood understanding of faith was wrong. There is no magical world where if you believe in something, suddenly, without effort, you have no problems and become this great person. It is believing in Christ, following his standard of goodness, letting Christ’s sacrifice allow us to change and forgive life’s troubles as they come that will allow us to become better. I’m just trying to be a little better one day at a time.

God is real. I am grateful for Christ’s sacrifice that allows me to come back to God to feel his love, be forgiven, and start over. My belief gives me power to heal, and to improve.

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Emily Bates is the daughter of two of her heroes: a mother and a father who both gave countless hours to teach her. She had attentive professors at the University of Utah where she earned her Bachelors of Science in Biology and minor in Chemistry. She attended Harvard Medical School where she completed a PhD in Genetics. Her dissertation work identified modifiers of neurodegeneration in Huntington’s disease. Dr. Bates completed her postdoctoral studies at UCSF school of medicine where she established a genetic model to study migraine. She is now an assistant professor at Brigham Young University in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Her lab uses genetic models to study human disorders: migraine, cancer, and birth defects.

Posted June 2011