Thursday, December 13, 2012

At a Peak

Hello, all!

I was talking to my dad the other day and he mentioned that I haven't been posting as frequently on my blog. I told him, "I've been a little distracted." And he laughed and said something along the lines of it being easier to glean from trials and challenges when writing posts for this blog. Well, I'm hardly in the middle of a challenge, but I am in the middle of change.
Next spring, I get to marry my sweetheart, Stephen. (: It's been an up and down journey for the both of us, but I couldn't be more overjoyed at the prospect of spending eternity with this man.

And so, even though I'm not in any particular sort of trial, I am constantly taking a step back and seeing where I can improve. I feel like at this point in my life, I'm holding a magnifying glass up to everything to make sure I'm where I want to be. These next few months will entail me making promises to Stephen and to the Lord and I want to make sure I recognize the meaning and honor those promises.

I've been thinking a lot on the idea of consecration. We, as a people of God, promise to consecrate ourselves wholly to Him. And in the middle of so many blessings in my life, I'm finding that consecration is the one well I can stay humble enough to continually draw from, regardless of how awesome or terrible my circumstances may be. This subject has particularly humbled me lately because the more I understand what God has given me, the more I understand what I can give back to Him.

First, I find scripture study, prayer, and temple attendance to be the most accessible ways to consecrate myself to God. I can give of my time and energy to learning more about this life and the next and as I marinate in the teachings of God, I can let those teachings permeate my life and hopefully extend to others. The doctrine of the Church is so simple, and yet, it is so piercing. I know that by continuously saturating my life in communication with my Lord, I will find deeper and deeper ways to connect with the doctrine and allow it to change my actions, attitude, and spirit.

Second, I've recently seen how I can better consecrate myself to the upliftment of those around me. Just today, I was talking to a very dear friend about all of the updates in my life. I'd found that all of the matters we discussed were eternal matters. Gleaning from the first area of consecration, I'd allowed my interactions with my friend to be permeated with what I'd learned from my worship. I didn't realize this was the case until my friend sent me an email after we'd finished talking. I was so grateful to get her words of appreciation and encouragement and to realize that when I marinate myself in the gospel and then reach out to my brothers and sisters, I can increase my testimony as well as uplift those around me. Today was such a beautiful experience!

Lastly, I'm constantly striving to find ways to consecrate myself to the building up of God's kingdom. I think that's why I came back to my blog today. This is one of the few ways I feel like I can bear my testimony and testify of the realness of God and His gospel. All of these areas of my life are very fresh in my progression of experiences and lessons learned. I feel like I have such a long way to go before my God can rely on me to stay steady and go forth uplifting others and building His kingdom. However, this week has been so wonderful, I've seen the potential I have to do that, so I had to write it down. Because what better lessons to learn in times of joy than how to give and receive more of it? (:

I am very blessed right now, and I hope to continue progressing in spite of what may come in life. I hope to remember these blessings and the feelings I've experienced this week so that I will always feel the desire to aspire higher. I love this gospel, this church, and this Heavenly Father who loves us all so deeply that He is "giving away the secrets of the universe" so that we may become like Him and He will give us "all that He hath" (Neal A. Maxwell).

Happy End of Finals to all of you in school, and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Submitting in Gratitude


It's been a couple weeks, but I'm back with some new ideas swimming around in my head. I've been thinking a lot about the concept of gratitude, not necessarily because of Thanksgiving, but because I've had the opportunity to interact with some people who are grateful for most everything. In one scenario,  we were moments from starting a Divine Comedy show and several things were falling apart. I found myself starting to cry. Until a friend took my shoulders and told me, "You don't need to take all the bad that could possibly come of this and make it your fault." And he was totally right! I tend to do that a lot. I worry, and I see how things could improve. Oftentimes, looking for improvement is wonderful; it's what gets us to change. But there is a difference between divine discontent and "walking around with an umbrella waiting for it to rain" as Wiz Khalifa says.

My title has the word submission in it because this week I've come to see gratitude as a form of submitting to God. In Sunday school last week, someone mentioned having gratitude in order to be more like Christ. She mentioned even just finding the little things like how tasty your SpaghettiOs are that evening.

Now, I've been in Provo a while. I've seen both sides of the coin. I've talked to people who seem to live in another world. They are nice and sweet and often very naive. And I've seen those people be the topic of conversation among cynics who have to interact with "those people" every day in the Mormon land of Provo. I'm often in those groups of cynics who scoff when someone expresses joy at seeing a streetlight come on or something similarly minute. But I've realized that there is power in even the most seemingly stupid kinds of gratitude. Gratitude isn't measured by the worth of something we're grateful for. It's a mindset. It's a way of thinking that always includes God's hand in our lives. That is why it's important. So, in truth, gratitude is a way of submitting to God. We acknowledge His hand above our own and we praise how merciful He is.

No wonder gratitude is a commandment! When we express thanks, we remember God. We get out of our daily mindsets and think on a higher plane. Most importantly, we get in the habit of recognizing our relationship with God. We are humbled when we see how small we are. We are enlivened when we see how much He does for us.

So, I'm on a mission to make my life a more grateful one. I'm weaving in Neal A. Maxwell's talk, "Settle This in Your Hearts" because it's been piercing my heart as of late, but I think it applies here. Anything that we need to stop doing or (more often) start doing in our lives requires diligence and commitment. As Brigham Young says, "Some do not understand duties which do not coincide with their natural feelings and affections. … There are duties which are above affection" (Journal of Discourses, 7:65).

Sometimes it is hard to be grateful. Obviously, I understand this. But having gratitude when we're wont to expect the worst or to see some way that we're getting gipped is a real triumph! It reminds us Who is in charge and that there is more to this life than ourselves. What an unnatural but much richer mindset to be in! Maxwell illustrates this idea of becoming richer beings when he says, "Heavenly Father is only asking us to lose the old self in order to find the new and the real self. It is not a question of losing our identity but of finding our true identity!" I think about this a lot. I know I have the potential to be warm, loving, open-armed and generous. I've had sacred experiences where I've seen someone I could become and I know I can get there. Moreover, I'm motivated by these experiences because being that kind of person is the real deal. It's a person living abundantly and enjoying every moment, rather than the hand-picked times when I can't see anything going badly.

Lastly, this kind of gratitude more easily allows us to bless the lives of others. "Most omissions occur because we fail to get outside ourselves. We are so busy checking on our own temperatures, we do not notice the burning fevers of others even when we can offer them some of the needed remedies, such as encouragement, kindness, and commendation. The hands which hang down and most need to be lifted up belong to those too discouraged even to reach out anymore" (Neal A. Maxwell). If we get into the habit of seeing the bigger picture and recognizing God's hand in our lives in every little thing (even if it seems minute or stupid) we will also see people more clearly. We will notice a need for us and will see how best to fill it because we're already in the habit of communicating with God. See how cyclical this is?! Gratitude is the ice breaker when it comes to growing closer to God. Once we establish gratitude, we can become more fluent in God's ways of communications and thus see how we can improve ourselves and help those around us.

I think it is important to recognize anything when it comes to the goodness of God. It reminds us of why we're here. It reminds us of Who sent us. It reminds us of a way of life that is so much richer than our own. And really, when it comes to being a little more grateful, why the heck not?

I hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving and I hope we all can see God in our lives more frequently.

Love to you all,

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Faith is a Decision

Well, as is often the case, I was given a suggestion for spiritual nourishment this week that gave me a lot of food for thought. Dale Sturm gave a talk on BYU-Idaho's campus this last January entitled, "Faith is a Decision." His main point: "Sometimes you have to get moving before you will feel the Holy Ghost's confirming influence.... Faith is a decision, an action, before it is a feeling."

I've realized today that it's time to commit myself wholly to a higher purpose. As someone in church said today, a committed heart searches for a solution. An uncommitted heart searches for an escape.

I've been contemplating this concept a lot this week. I have to drop a class because I simply do not (and will not) have the time needed to keep up with the course load and get anything out of it. However, I realize that I'm putting other things (like my job) above this class. If I really wanted to turn around my performance, I could do it. However, my heart is not committed to Western American lit. right now, and instead, I am seeking for a solution to my job with Studio C. It's been a rather disheartening week because I've struggled in knowing where my commitments lie, but I've made my decision.

Similarly, I've been feeling rather dead inside in terms of spiritual decisions because I've been looking for an escape. I've realized that asking "What lack I?" or "What do I need to improve?" "can be a glorious opportunity... But make no mistake, it won't necessarily be easy or pleasant or convenient" (Sturm). But today, I've realized that it's time to quit stalling and to work on the individual traits that can help me be more Christ-like. The thing is, I've come to this decision many times before, but doing it in my everyday life is arduous and it's hard to remember how to act like Christ when it really matters. Dale Sturm quotes C.S. Lewis in his talk and says, "The cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning." He explains the quote by saying, "What we have to get through is nothing more dramatic than Monday morning. What we have to get through is the mundane, the common, the relentlessly routine, to get to the blessings. Sometimes the trial is actually in the insistent ordinariness of the day-to-day."

I've realized that it is easy for me to come closer to Christ in times of trial and big decisions, but my biggest struggle is to seek Him out in the day-to-day, and I've come to understand that I need to seek Him out, otherwise I start feeling a numbness over time that is a result of living too easily, and letting my circumstances toss me to and fro until I'm dissatisfied with everything because I've stopped pursuing anything.

I feel like I've been going in circles with these posts, but I think it's because the Lord won't let me move on until I start acting like a disciple. So here is where I map out my game plan.

1. I need to become more acquainted with what Heavenly Father specifically wants me to improve on right now. This can be done in reading the scriptures more thoroughly, conversing with Heavenly Father in prayer, and reading my patriarchal blessing. I know that as we become more acquainted with our patriarchal blessings, we'll become more acquainted with who we can be. God does not motivate us through discouragement, but, rather, through seeing our potential, recognizing the possibility of its realization, and understanding the steps to get there.
I've started getting the feeling (and it just strengthens every time I ponder about it) that I need to work on my relationship with others. I need to focus on uplifting those around me and helping them feel the way Christ feels about them. It is so very important to exhibit charity toward our brothers and sisters, but breaking that down, it is important to see everyone as immortal beings with endless potential. This is when progress is made in the building up of God's kingdom. We get nowhere by limiting others' capacity and positive influence.

2. I need to use my gifts. Dale Sturm references the scripture passage where the rich man asks Jesus "What lack I yet?" And recounts how Christ gave this man a personal diagnosis of what could help him overcome himself to be perfect. Sturm then goes on to say, "Bound up in that invitation for God to give us a personal diagnosis is both the painful revelation of our lack, and the very gifts of God that will allow us to overcome it." God has given us weaknesses and strengths, and we can use our strengths to overcome our weaknesses! What a wonderful realization!

Marvin J. Ashton gave a wonderful talk in which he listed gifts that we may not consider:
Let us review some of these less-conspicuous gifts: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost.
There are gifts in this list that seem so far from me, but there are also gifts in here that I feel make up who I am, innately. These innate gifts are not instilled in me by accident. I may as well use them to continue perfecting myself.

3. I need to find peace. I've been reading over my own patriarchal blessing and I'm surprised at how often it mentions my happiness and peace with life. You can tell it's been a while since I've read over my blessing (at least with a searching heart) because I'd realized that this was not where I was. I've been overwhelmed and dissatisfied with many things in my life. The words of Jeffrey R. Holland rang true to me this week when he said, "The Lord has probably spoken enough such 'comforting words' to supply the whole universe, it would seem, and yet we see all around us unhappy Latter-day Saints, worried Latter-day Saints, and gloomy Latter-day Saints into whose troubled hearts not one of these innumerable consoling words seems to be allowed to enter. In fact, I think some of us must have that remnant of Puritan heritage still with us that says it is somehow wrong to be comforted or helped, that we are supposed to be miserable about something."

This is where I started to feel the fire of motivation in myself. I know we often hear the prescription: Be happy. And it can be so easy for me to raise my hackles when someone throws that phrase around flippantly. There are many people who struggle with depression or even the drowning sensation of mortal challenges, and happiness is not something so simply obtained that one can just be happy. However, there is rest and peace and joy found in our Savior, Jesus Christ. There is hope and mercy and happiness. I know that this life is a time to celebrate. I have so much to be grateful for. I should step back and recognize all that is going well for me and all that my Heavenly Father has given me so that I may consecrate my life and give back to Him.

Anywho, this post may seem very stale or like a repetition of posts before it, but the thing is, getting out of physical/emotional/spiritual ruts often requires the simple and repetitive actions we know so well: praying, studying scriptures, attending the temple, and letting our higher aspirations govern our immediate actions. I'm hoping that I can continue fueling this fire and that eventually I will see more of who God wants me to be in myself. For now, I know I have the right desires and I know I'm making the right decisions. Hopefully this cycle of deciding-->acting-->feeling will continue to snowball this flame inside my heart that lets me feel God's presence and continue to come closer to Him.

I hope all of you are having a wonderful weekend and wish you an active week. Love to you all,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Get up

So my realization last Sunday was that I had the power to overcome these weaknesses that keeping popping up in myself. I can do hard things. This last week, I've been content. I've been happy and anxiety-free because I know that things will work out. My weaknesses aren't dark clouds of crap overpowering my life. They are stepping stones, and if I take them one at a time, I will become the person I need to be. It was a healing week for me.

I gave a talk on Sunday about getting up and reaching the potential in us, so that will be my post this week. As a sidenote, however, I'm realizing how dangerous it is to glide by in life and not pursue passions. I'm taking it easy right now with my thesis finished and I'm seeing that idleness can crop up when we don't actively look for ways to improve ourselves and uplift those around us. It should be a constant consciousness. That's my new thought for the post. I'm still munching on it so it's a little unformed, but here is my talk:

Today I wanted to speak on reaching our potential and becoming who God wants us to be. That’s why we’re here, but it can be so easy to forget in the ups and downs we experience every single day. President Uchtdorf put it well this General Conference when he said, “Our Heavenly Father sees our real potential. He knows things about us that we do not know ourselves. He prompts us during our lifetime to fulfill the measure of our creation, to live a good life, and to return to His presence. Why, then, do we devote so much of our time and energy to things that are so fleeting, so inconsequential, and so superficial?” Recently, I’ve been humbled in this realization. I feel like everybody knows the truths of this gospel. We know why we’re here. We know what we have the potential to become. Sometimes, though, we lose momentum. We get caught up in the trivial and we don’t feel the motivation to aspire higher. So, through my talk, while you won’t necessarily be learning anything new, I hope that your hearts will feel the power of this concept. Because it is when we feel the truth of the gospel that we actually live it.
Developing Christ-Like Attributes
Neal A. Maxwell says that, “For the serious disciple, the cardinal attributes exemplified by Jesus are not optional. These developmental milestones take the form of traits, traits that mark the trail to be traveled.” So our accomplishments and our progress are not necessarily measured by life events. Rather, our progress can be measured by the traits we’re developing that help us become more like our Savior. When I think of my life being measured by who I am, it makes me realize how I’m doing and where I’m going.
This is where I could talk for hours about the characteristics I need most in my life. But I felt like I should focus on one particular trait that I think will help us become more like Christ than any other pursuit. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says, “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.” The idea of meekness is generally very quaint and nice, but not sought after. Yet it is Christ’s defining characteristic. It is the process of submitting our will to the Father’s and consecrating our performance unto Him. It is the ability to recognize our weaknesses and put them aside for something better. It is the essence of Christ’s love, power, and attitude. Meekness is a peace of mind. As Neal A. Maxwell says in his talk, “Meek and Lowly,” “The ‘rest’ promised by Jesus to the meek, though not including an absence of adversity or tutoring, does, therefore, give us the special peace that flows from ‘humbleness of mind.’” This humbleness of mind is the key to meekness and it is the key to overcoming challenges and progressing. When we are meek, we understand the role of God in our lives, and can thus use our experiences as stepping stones rather than burdens, so that we can become more like our Savior.
How to Change Part 1: Feeling Desire to Change
So how do we change? The first step in becoming more like God is being meek and humble enough to desire to change ourselves. Quentin L. Cook spoke about this in General Conference. He references Alma 5 when discussing the desire to be like God. Alma 5 Verse 9 says, “And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.” Verse 26—”And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”
How to Change Part 2: Exercising Agency
This is the feeling I mentioned earlier, when we feel the truth of the gospel, our souls can expand. Isn’t that an awesome way to describe it? Have you ever felt that expansion when you resolve to be better? Our minds comprehend more truth, our spirits seek more correction, and our hearts feel more love—both from our Heavenly Father and for those around us.
The second step in becoming more like our Heavenly Father is to exercise our agency and act! In Alma 5:33, it says,  “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.” By being meek and humble, we can feel the empowering effects of the Atonement to act—to change our attitudes and behavior and become more like God.
Application: How to Improve Ourselves
So what are some things we can do right now? First, like it says in Alma, we can use the Atonement. Elder David A. Bednar said, “I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us.” A couple weeks ago, I felt like all of my discouragements were culminating into one big mess. I was so upset because I’d become a creature of circumstance rather than a creator of circumstance and I wasn’t anywhere near the person I wanted to be. So last week, I hit my low point. I didn’t know where to begin to improve myself because there is so much to do! I prayed hard for help and was reminded of this principle that we can use the Atonement simply to have the power to start acting on our improvements! So I started praying simply for the ability to change because I didn’t have that power in myself. And then, miraculously, my weaknesses didn’t seem like an overwhelming blob taking over my life, but more like small steps I needed to climb, line upon line, to come closer to my Heavenly Father. It was so encouraging, and this is how our Heavenly Father sees us. He motivates us by showing us who we can become. Brothers and sisters, the power of the Atonement can help us not only cleanse ourselves from sin, but it can put us in the mindset to manage ourselves. It can enable us to overcome our weaknesses one trait at a time.
Another important step to improving ourselves is to keep open our communication lines with God. When we pray and read the scriptures with full and searching hearts, we allow God’s spirit to be with us in the moments when we decide how to act. One way I’ve been able to gauge my spiritual progress is by recognizing when I’ve stopped looking for divine guidance every day. I promise you, brothers and sisters, when you look for promptings from God each day, you will find them. As Elder Maxwell said, “It is clear that [Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ] are giving away the secrets of the universe!” We have access to these sacred truths if we keep our eyes open and hearts prayerful, we’ll recognize them when they come and have the desire and the power to act!
Third, we need to attend the temple. All of us know the feeling after coming out of the temple where all of our temporal concerns seem so insignificant. The temple is a place that reminds us of our most important tasks. President David O. McKay said, “I believe there are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning of the power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives.” I know that if we keep the temple central in our lives, it will only be natural that we become more and more like our Savior.
Lastly, we need to keep it up and continue to build on this process of improvement. Elder Bruce C. Hafen said, “‘Endure to the end,’ we say, as if that means relaxing in some eternal rocking chair… But it’s not quite that simple. On the contrary, receiving the Holy Ghost marks the beginning of our real spiritual growth, not the end of it. Baptism and the Holy Ghost only let us enter ‘in by the gate.’ Then the Holy Ghost leads us along the ‘strait and narrow path’ of becoming sanctified disciples—not as passive spectators but by our straining every spiritual muscle, drinking in the power of temple ordinances, and feasting actively on Christ’s words to nourish us in becoming ever more holy. And the long-term goal of that journey is to become like Him.” Brothers and sisters, this discipleship is not a passive lifestyle. But how wonderful it is that even though we are so far from perfect, Christ invites us to be like Him. And just by inviting us, Christ is telling us that perfection is possible. I know we can become perfect, brothers and sisters; someday, we can be as our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. I invite you to search your heart and find traits you would most like to develop right now. Use the Atonement and continue to reignite that desire in you to be better. “Don’t ignore the impulses that come to you to rise above yourself into a higher and more beautiful world” (Eyring). I promise you that you will be amazed at the person you can become.

Have a wonderful week. Do something that stretches you, and know that God loves you and will help you reach your potential if you turn to Him with full purpose in your heart.

Love you all,

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Seeing Through My Pavilion

Woof! What a week! I feel like I need a moment to simply SLKDGW##*RDLKJR(FEE)DF(*#R%!

On the outside, this week's been fun and not anything too crazy. We had a Divine Comedy show, my mom came into town, I did homework. Yes, yes. But inside, I feel like I've failed in maintaining any Christ-like qualities about myself. I feel like I've checked off every thing in the NOT column of this list:
Courtesy of Noah
I have had such a hard time not getting frustrated, jealous, dissatisfied, self-concerned, condescending, impatient, easily offended, ungenerous, and irritated and I didn't realize why it was so easy to be mad when everything was going just fine.

I've come to the conclusion that this week has been a humbling week, because I came home from church today, received some disappointing news about something very stupid, and promptly went into the bathroom to cry in the shower. As I stayed curled up on the floor of my bathtub, I realized I wasn't crying so much about this disappointing news as I was that I had let myself become a creature--rather than a creator--of circumstance. I had reacted to negative situations negatively and hadn't tried very hard to keep the Spirit with me in all of my interactions so that I might be able to uplift others and consecrate my performance to the Lord. I realized this distance between my goals and my reality and it was making me incredibly sad.

However, I'm writing this after emerging from a very long shower because I came to some realizations while in the shower that have filled me with hope and humility. Certain experiences this week have helped me realize my potential for good. I've seen some glimpses of who God wants me to be as I've tried to be better in looking for that potential person.

First: An experience in Divine Comedy helped me realize that this group is an immense blessing. It's fun and allows me to be creative and to have a core group of friends with whom I get along so well. They've become my family. More than that, though, it is an opportunity for me to help others and in experiencing the Spirit through a sense of humor, I've been more observant of the Spirit in my life. I followed some promptings this week concerning someone and was so glad that I did. I realized that my role in this group is more than a participant along for the ride. I'm now more sensitive to experiences linked to this where I can be more helpful, and that's blessed me with experiences to experience. It's a wonderful cycle! (:

Second: Today during church, I was pulled out of Relief Society and asked to give a talk next week. The topic can be on anything I want, which is always fun but a little intimidating. I went through the next two hours (we have backwards church) thinking about what my talk could be on and started looking through Neal A. Maxwell talks because he really does it for me. (: I felt like I should look under the topic of meekness and came across the big talk I always come to by Maxwell, "Meek and Lowly." Perhaps this prompting was merely meant for myself and I'll speak on another topic completely, but this was what I needed to see at that moment.
"If sufficient meekness is in us, it will not only help us to jettison unneeded burdens, but will also keep us from becoming mired in the ooze of self-pity. Furthermore, true meekness has a metabolism that actually requires very little praise or recognition-of which there is usually such a shortage anyway."
While this was a bit of a harsh wakeup call, it successfully woke me up. I realized that I'd been so self-centered this week. I'd looked for praise and recognition in every conversation and I was often left unsatisfied with myself when I felt unappreciated. What an ugly vice, eh? As Jeffrey R. Holland put it, "Envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment! To say nothing of the chagrin in the end, when we find that God really is both just and merciful, giving to all who stand with Him 'all that he hath,' as the scripture says." This mindset doesn't crop up in those terms, which is what makes it so sneaky. I mostly found myself thinking, "Did I do something wrong? What can I do to make this person think better of me?" I thought I was being concerned and trying to nurture my relationships, but in reality, I was seeking validation for my own insecurities. Stupid sneaky Satan.

Third: I know that by recognizing the cause for all of my frustration, I can better overcome it. It was a wonderfully peaceful place I came to while praying in my bathtub. I realized that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I can act and change my habits. I begged for help and felt the peace of the Spirit in my heart. As Maxwell says,
The "rest" promised by Jesus to the meek, though not including an absence of adversity or tutoring, does, therefore, give us the special peace that flows from "humbleness of mind." The meek management of power and responsibility relieves us of the heavy and grinding chains of pride; however glitzed and polished, they are still chains... Meekness also contains a readiness that helps us to surmount the accumulated stumbling blocks and rocks of offense; we can make stepping stones of them and achieve a deeper and broader view of life. (Maxwell)
The whole time I've been pondering on this, I've thought about Henry B. Eyring's talk, "Where is the Pavilion?" I've put myself under my own pavilion of insecurities and selfishness, but I know that God sees through my pavilion and knows who I am capable of becoming. He is constantly reaching out for me to build upon my experiences and become as He is. He knows that I can become a force for good in the building up of His kingdom and he knows that I can help others do the same. I've known this about myself, but I re-experienced feeling the truth of it today. As Eyring said, "If you go for the Lord to bless others, He will see and reward it. If you do this often enough and long enough, you will feel a change in your very nature through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Not only will you feel closer to Him, but you will also feel more and more that you are becoming like Him."

I am immensely grateful that my Father in Heaven is so patient with me, even when I'm not very patient with myself. I'm grateful that I can recognize the source of ultimate happiness and that through Christ's Atonement, I can not only change, but have the power to act to change. What a wonderful God we have who lets us see the good we can become.

Love to you all. This week is going to be a wonderful, purposeful, spiritual week.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Feeling It

Hello! How are you this chilly Monday morning? Our roommates and I have decided to limit our electricity use during the winter, so we're bundling up and Mal and I get to sleep in the coldest corner of the house. Actually, it makes me super excited for the holidays! Cold weather always makes me think of trick-or-treating, Thanksgiving turkey trots, and Christmas. This is the best time of the year!
Anywho, I wanted to post today because while listening to General Conference this weekend, I realized that I need to be more engaged in my gospel studies. I've discovered that posting blogs about my questions and experiences helps me to get my thoughts out there and it also helps me look for things to learn every week. I guess it puts me in a more receptive mindset for the inspiration God's waiting for me to receive. So I'll be posting every week and hopefully get more engaged in the gospel and more active in developing Christ-like qualities.

Today, I want to discuss the talk that put me into this mindset. Well, there were many (such a good session!), but I'll save the others (especially Jeffrey R. Holland's) for when I have a bit more stamina. (: Today I'll be discussing the message I took from Quentin L. Cook's talk, "Can Ye Feel So Now?" It really got me thinking. I decided to open Alma 5 and look at the advice Alma gives:

Alma 5:9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.
 26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
 33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.

These past few weeks, I've felt a little distant and almost apathetic. I know the Church is true. I know my Heavenly Father loves me and watches over me. I know I must be kind, obedient, and diligent. I know that Christ's way is the easiest way. But all of this seems very thin and trite when you don't feel the power of these statements. I know this, too. It's so easy for me to get distracted and pursue other things that don't make me necessarily better. I have become immersed in the "thick of thin things" as Thomas S. Monson puts it. And I am in desperate need of an inner fire. That's why these verses stuck out to me so much.

First, I had to reflect on this question, "Can ye feel so now?" I realized that I knew it, but my heart was stretching to hold onto something it hadn't felt in a little while. So I made a list of the qualities I should be striving to develop and how I could re-instill a sense of desire and excitement about the gospel. This is a wonderful work! We have temples on earth and the priesthood and prayer and the respect and love of an Almighty God who knows us, loves us, and has confidence in us to build up His kingdom. We know how to be truly happy. Not temporarily happy, but eternally joyful. We have agency to choose this path, which instills more joy in us because we see how much we are growing! What a wonderful plan this is! It truly is the plan of happiness and it is in effect by an all powerful Being who knows we can do it.

It is here where I get a sense that my soul is expanding. What a wonderful image! I feel so full and bright inside! I feel the hope of the gospel and know that this is how it feels when we look to Christ. We live. We can more fully appreciate our circumstances and more ably help build up the kingdom of God. We can consecrate our time and talents more willingly and feel the joy of aiding our Heavenly Father in His work. WE CAN DO SO MUCH! And with the Atonement of our Savior, we have the power to do it! He will help us know what to do, and He will give us the power to act.

This is what God wants for us. He does not want us to go through life based on obligations and minimums. He wants us to live abundantly. He wants us to experience the edifying, individualizing, and immensely satisfying effects of the Atonement and Christ's amazing grace.

I was talking to a friend the other day who mentioned that he wanted to only do things in his life because he loved doing them. So, when he read his scriptures, he wanted to read them because he loved them. He wanted to pray because he loved it. He wanted to do his homework, his job, and his church calling because he loved them. This is a rich way to live, and it doesn't mean your circumstances need to change. Rather, if you can allow your soul to expand and feel the song of redeeming love, you will feel a sliver of what God feels in being our Heavenly Father. I get little glimpses of it from time to time, and it is the most beautiful insight I can have into the eternal.

This is the beginning of a journey for me. I want to be excited. I want to pursue, expand, and sing! I want to lift others and create my own circumstances. I want to love and experience life as God would have me do it. Thus, I should probably take care of a few things:
  • Prayer: This is a no-brainer. I read an article in the Ensign this week about prayer in the Book of Mormon and it made me realize that I should be taking this time to revel in my communication with God. The article recommended that you pray in private, that you kneel, that you pray vocally, you express gratitude, and that you pray for others. These are simple things, but I realized I'd been getting lax in my prayers and mostly praying for the few things I most wanted. However, prayer is a time to improve ourselves while communicating with Heavenly Father. We can receive answers, but we can also feel love, peace, and pressure to aspire higher.
  • Scripture study: Nobody ever got anywhere with one-sided conversations. I'm a speech junkie and listen to a lot of talks by the Brethren, but I have a harder time opening my scriptures and studying what God wants me to learn. How blessed are we to have these?! They are rich with comfort, answers, and advice.
  • Temple attendance: I love the temple. I love it so so so so much. It is God's house. It is a house of prayer, fasting, faith, learning, glory, and order. We can come nearer to God in the temple than almost anywhere on earth. Why don't I go every week?!
  • Personal interactions: I will always struggle with this. I know that I have the potential to become a warm, loving woman who can help bring others closer to God. This is difficult for me to keep in mind all the time, however, and it is much easier to focus on being witty, likable, and looked up to. My relationships are opportunities to build others up and strengthen them. I have the power to show others a little bit of what Heavenly Father sees in them. That is why we are all here together, helping each other out.
I have a lot more to work on, but these are the things that I think will jumpstart my heart so that I can feel close to the Lord and like I am working side by side with my Heavenly Father to prepare His kingdom. This life has so much to offer us. Let's not waste it!

I also want to open up to you guys who stumble onto my posts. What do you do on a daily basis to keep the fire of the gospel strong in yourself? How do you continue to strengthen your resolve? How do you feel the truth of everything important?

Woof! Long post today, and it might seem rambly and incoherent, but I'll keep this up for myself mostly. I know I need some motivation and if anyone else is in the same boat, let's start feeling it now. (:

Love to you all,

Friday, September 14, 2012

Three Epiphanies I Finally Noticed

Friends! How lovely to see you again! It's been a while, and much has happened.

First--I'm defending my thesis September 26. You can find an electronic copy of it on the BYU Library website after we get all the paperwork done (if I pass the defense, that is). (:

Second--I teach a comedy writing class now. Love my class. Love my job. Love my life.

Third--Some thoughts have been going through my head as of late and I thought I should share them here before I forget.

It's been an interesting couple of months. I've helped create a television show called Studio C that will air on BYUtv October 6 at 4pm. It will then air regularly Monday and Friday evenings. I'm picking up the last year of my masters program, and I'm teaching what I love: comedy. Yet, for some reason, this time in my life has felt a little flat. I don't mean flat in the sense that not much is happening. As you can see, plenty has happened in my life, but even in times of circumstantial flatness, I think, as Neal A. Maxwell says, "Patience helps us to use, rather than to protest, these seeming flat periods of life, becoming filled with quiet wonder over the past and with anticipation for that which may lie ahead, instead of demeaning the particular flatness through which we may be passing at the time."

No, I've had those moments, and I'm grateful for them. I'm grateful for the time I've had to reflect on how to better myself and then find the resolve to do it. Now, however, I've found myself concerned with the “thick of thin things.” One trap in particular I fall into is the trap of riding the tide of contentment. I feel like life has been good to me lately, but that doesn't help me progress. Instead, I end up dabbling through the humdrum and ending each day sufficiently, but not satisfied.

I realized this error when I'd discovered something I've greatly desired would not be given to me. This is not, like my usual desires, a temporal or selfish desire. This is something powerfully eternal and inspiring. I've prayed for it every night since the beginning of the year and have searched and studied diligently for it. But I don't have it just yet. It was after being temporarily denied this great desire of my heart that I realized I've neglected to live the desires of my heart. I've slackened and stayed in the rut of casual living.

Again, I fell back on Neal A. Maxwell. His talk, "According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts" helped me recognize that “what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.” Sure, I've wanted this specific blessing in my life for a long time, but I don't have to halt my progression while I'm waiting. If I wait upon the Lord, I know it is not a passive state of mind in which I do nothing until something happens. The whole reason I had this desire to begin with was so that I could have a greater relationship with God and feel His presence more strongly in my life. Why can't I continue that journey right now where I am?

So, I share with you part one of my epiphanies this week: I needed a stronger desire in the right direction to become who I truly am meant to be. If I am to be building up God's kingdom here on earth, I'd better well prepare myself because the winds of life can only take me so far without some paddling on my part. I know what is true. I know what this gospel is about, but I need to connect to these principles with the passions of my soul in order to motivate myself to mold my natural self more like God's perfect Being. As Brigham Young said, “It is evident that many who understand the truth do not govern themselves by it; consequently, no matter how true and beautiful truth is, you have to take the passions of the people and mould them to the law of God” (in Journal of Discourses, 7:55).

Part two of my epiphanies is that I must ACT on my desires. So much frustration has been circling around in my own head, and yet, I don't do anything outside my head to change my circumstances. HELLO? I feel like life is telling me, "What's your dilemma, Whitney? Oh, well have you prayed about it? Have you studied it? Have you sincerely put forth effort to change your daily circumstances in all of your interactions with others? Hmm, well I don't really know where to go with that...."

Of course, I know the solutions to my frustrations. Thomas S. Monson gave a wonderful talk called "Life's Greatest Decisions." In it, he described a group of Tahitian fishermen. “Brother Baudin, who then spoke French, of course, but little English, was trying to describe to me the secret of the success of the Tahitian sea captains. He said: ‘They are amazing. The weather may be terrible, the vessels may be leaky, there may be no navigational aids except their inner feelings and the stars in the heavens, but they pray and they go.’ He repeated it three times: ‘They pray and they go. They pray and they go. They pray and they go.’ There is a lesson in that statement.”

This is not a time for hibernation. Rather, this is a time to press forward. I know there are questions in my life right now and situations in which I'm very uncertain. But by golly, they still happen. And I may as well continue forward. I have the power to gain Christ-like attributes and invite others to do the same while on my journey here and that's really all I can do. That's all I can control--but that's a lot of control. That is the power of God instilled in me to change. That is the the respect God affords me through His Son's atonement. It is the reason we are here.

Now, this is the third epiphany that I've come to re-realize: Christ's Atonement does not merely allow us to get back to heaven, but also demonstrates that God wants us to feel strengthened and wants us to see the change we can make in ourselves. He has given us the Atonement so that we can see how far we’ve come in this life. He’s given us the Atonement so that we can build a relationship with Christ that will build us up to where He is. As Brad Wilcox said, when we rely on the merits and grace of Christ, "We do not discover—as some Christians believe—that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much."

We have been blessed with so many gifts. We have the power to bring people to Christ. We have divine attributes that only strengthen when we rely on our Savior, Jesus Christ. I know, I know that we are strongest and happiest when we act as witnesses of God. I know that when we rely on God, life's problems do not seem so insurmountable. His way really is the easiest way. Feel the love and respect our God has for you because He knows the potential of what you can become. His love and strength is at our reach if we will but look, and if we utilize our God-given strengths, we will change others' lives. Most importantly, we will change our own.

Hope all is well and that you're seeing the strength of God in your daily actions.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Thou Shalt" Commandments

Hello friends!

There have been a few things stirring in my brain these past few weeks, so I decided now was the time to type them out.

Recently, I've noticed a disturbing trend in my life. I'm in the middle of several situations at once that require a lot of time, studying, and focus, and I've made myself a rigid schedule to follow some deadlines. I've never felt so productive this entire summer and it delights me to see how many aspects of my life are successful and noteworthy. I feel like all the events that I have control over are going better than I could have ever planned and am extremely grateful to my Father in Heaven for blessing me with these academic and occupational opportunities. However, I've noticed a lag in my Christ-like interactions. I have this checklist of attributes from Neal A. Maxwell's talk, "In Him All Things Hold Together" and more and more, I find myself drifting away from many of these good qualities. It is so easy for me to become sarcastic, condescending, easily offended, tactless, easily irritated, and judgmental, and these qualities come without my knowing it. I've come home several times in the past few weeks thinking, "That wasn't a very nice comment I made to so-and-so tonight," or wondering "Why am I so irritated by so-and-so's actions toward me?" It's a terrible habit, and I need to stop.

Yesterday, I read Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl as one of the books on my reading list for my thesis defense. I'd read it years before, but I'd forgotten what an impact it had had on me at the time. The title character is a homeschooled girl who comes to a public school and completely changes everyone's perspective about life--for a while. She changes the narrator's perception for the rest of his life. By the end of the book, I was crying. I'd realized that life could be so much more beautiful if I looked for all the beauty. As Neal A. Maxwell says, if we emulate Christ's generosity, "we will be living abundantly and not just existing."

Speaking of Maxwell, he also mentions in this talk, "The Pathway of Discipleship," that we should pay more attention to our sins of omission. As Maxwell says, "It is very often the sins of omission that keep us from spiritual wholeness because we still lack certain things...Yes, the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission? Or how often do we make personal confessions of them to God?"

I've listened to this talk recently and realized that I may not be idle or unchaste, but I'm failing to be meek, humble, gentle, long-suffering, merciful, and gracious, and it is not enough to merely follow the "thou shalt not" commandments. Maxwell goes on to say:
One way of looking at the "thou shalt not" commandments is that these prohibitions help us to avoid misery by turning us away from that which is enticing but harmful and wrong. However, once we are settled in terms of the direction of our discipleship and the gross sins are left firmly behind—"misery prevention," it might be called—then the major focus falls upon the "thou-shalt" commandments. It is the keeping of the thou-shalt commandments that brings even greater happiness. True, as the scripture says, "Wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10), but neither is lukewarmness full happiness. Failing to be valiant in Christian discipleship will leave us without significant happiness. Therefore, our active avoidance of wickedness must be followed by our active engagement in righteousness. Then we can come to know true joy—after all, man is that he "might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).
This perfectly describes what I'm feeling right now! My life has been completely lukewarm. But I want to be living abundantly rather than simply existing. This life is not just to exist, it is to live!

So, I pray for guidance in all of my conversations. I pray that my love for the Lord will not just emanate in my personal scripture study, but in my actions, my conversations, my daily doings. As D&C 108:7 says, "Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings."

In every interaction, I pray for the Spirit of God to stay with me. I pray for the strength to not only think, but to act and react with the Holy Ghost. I've started some projects of my own to show some friends of mine how much they mean to me (in the ol' Stargirl fashion), but I hope this motivation will become much more than projects; I hope this will become a way of life. Abundant life.

Love to you all,

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In the Moment

A short post today. Really just an idea I wanted to elaborate on. This has already been a topic of some discussion, but I thought I'd write my thoughts down and see if anyone else wanted to join in on the conversation.

I’ve been reading up on devotionals about the idea of preparing for the purposes we’re placed here for. D&C 64:34 says, “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” The first thought I had when I read this just now was, “Well, I have a willing mind and heart.” But then I realized, I have a willing mind and heart right now, when I’m studying. When I’m alone in my pondering moments, I’m willing to do anything for the Lord. I’m willing to mold myself into whoever the Lord wants me to be and will choose anything that brings me closer to Him. However, when I’m in the midst of my daily actions—when I’m with friends, in class, working, etc. it's so easy to forget where I should submit my will. It’s so easy to forget who I can be in the moment of who I am. So how can I keep my daily actions in line with what the Lord would want of me? How can I be more patient in the moments requiring patience? How can I be more loving, warm, holy, accepting, meek, supportive to those I’m interacting with while I’m interacting with them? How can I be less selfish, attention-seeking, jealous, impatient, frustrated, harsh, judgmental, and condescending in the moments when I’m most tempted to act in such a manner?
I suppose I know the answer. I have to persist in marinating in the gospel. These quiet moments of reflection are my moments in the mountains. They are to fuel me for my daily interactions, but they’re only effective if, while I’m in my daily interactions, I’m constantly keeping the Lord in my mind and heart. That is why this discipleship is not a passive one. I need to mold my character into Christ’s by constantly thinking of Him and centering my actions around Him. When I am faced with a decision (and every reaction is a decision) I must first pray to the Father that I will be filled with His spirit and act according to His will. In the moment I’m being tested, I must pray to be filled with strength to be more like Christ. The important part is remembering to pray for it.
This is an ongoing struggle for me. I so desperately want to refine myself to become like my Savior. And I feel like I can become like Him, but it is so easy to compartmentalize my life when I’m actually living my life. That is my life’s journey, I suppose, to gain the qualities of Christ in my actual daily living. I pray for help in this journey to remember the covenants I’ve made, especially in the moments when Christ's qualities are most needed, when I am tested in day-to-day living.

If any of you have thoughts/advice/similar experiences, I'm up for gaining a three-dimensional view of this issue because I think it's the issue that matters most in mortality.

Happy Fourth of July. What a wonderful time to be alive!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

With Purpose, For a Purpose

Hello, friends!

It has been a few weeks since my last post. I've been working on another project in the meantime, yet I have had plenty of spiritual experiences since and feel it's time to write them down.

First, I'd like to share an experience that happened today in Sacrament meeting. Our bishop stood up to bear his testimony before opening it up to the congregation, but this Sunday was different. He told of a story from last year where he attended a church meeting with all of the apostles. At the end of the meeting, President Boyd K. Packer asked that the apostles share their testimonies, so each one did. When they were finished, Packer approached the pulpit again and said, "Those were very nice stories, and I'm aware of the Spirit being here because of them, however, those were not testimonies. Now, I'd like each of you to get up again and bear your testimonies." My bishop told us, "Brothers and sisters, after that, the meeting changed completely." He then invited us to share what we knew to be true and promised that we would receive the answers to our fasts if we bore our testimonies that day.

My goodness, what a wonderful experience to be a part of! I cannot remember feeling the Spirit so strongly in a Sacrament meeting. Person after person got up and shared their knowledge of the gospel. After hearing "I know...," "I know...," "I know...," one could not help but feel the power of our ward and the testimonies within it. I had the great opportunity of bearing my own testimony, and in stating the words, "I know," I received guidance in my testimony that has proved to be a sweet experience for me. I can tell you that I know this gospel is true and that God does hear and answer our prayers.

With this in mind, I'd like the majority of this post to be my testimony. I've been on a kick recently about our purpose here on earth and how to manifest that in our daily actions. Our daily actions are what make up who we are, what characteristics we acquire, and how we are progressing. It is in the Now that we make these decisions. As Neal A. Maxwell has said, "There can be no agency avoidance. No decision is a decision. Delay is a delusion, and that delay always discards the holy present. It simply throws it away."

I'm in the process of striving to receive revelation for myself on a particular subject that is very important to me. This fast Sunday, I've studied talks on the subject and have prayed fervently for an answer. I feel like this blog post may also help in my process of receiving revelation, so please bear with me if some of this seems less accessible, though I'll bet you can relate to at least some of the questions I've been asking.

I recently read a talk by Richard G. Scott called, "Finding Happiness." In this talk, Elder Scott states, “The intent of your Father in Heaven is to lift you from where you are to where he knows you will have eternal purpose and unspeakable happiness. By using the talents, abilities, and latent capacities developed in the premortal existence, he will lead you through growth experiences here on earth.”

This life is an experience of joy. We are here in mortality because our Heavenly Father wants us to attain the highest degree of glory and happiness for all of eternity. What a wonderful fact! How blessed we are to know this of our mortal journey and our Heavenly Father! However, in order to obtain that happiness, we must expand our souls (Alma 5:9) and gain the characteristics needed to become gods. We are here for a purpose; we are here to progress. This discipleship is not a passive lifestyle.

Elder Scott posed some questions that made me reexamine my daily actions in relation to my eternal goals. He said, “I am confident you have the intention of doing all of the right things. Yet I wonder, are you doing them as fully and as completely as you are capable of doing? That is not an accusatory question. It is one asked in sincerity to help you, if needed, to open your eyes and evaluate each day’s decisions to confirm that what you are doing will lead you to where you most desire to be... Your goals are noble, but you decide by the choices you make each day whether they will be realized or not. A knowledge of truth is of little value unless lived in full measure."

The reason we are here can be realized daily. We can access our God daily and know what He would have us do to continue building up His kingdom. It is when we act with purpose daily to follow His counsel and refine ourselves that we will truly be surprised by who we can become.

Brothers and sisters, I have had some experiences this year that have struck me hard. They have been difficult challenges that have forced me to examine my plans, my confidence, and my spirit. Yet, I cannot express how grateful I am to my Father in Heaven for blessing me with these experiences and with the tools to utilize these experiences in the most effective way possible to develop a stronger relationship with Him.

As of late, I have come to feel the power of our purpose here on earth, brothers and sisters. Our Heavenly Father has specific goals and plans for each of us. He has given us characteristics, talents, people, callings, jobs, and interests that are specific to us. He expects us to take these blessings and expand them. He expects us to marinate in the words of God and to live lives that radiate with light and truth. He expects us to gather His sheep and to bring as many of His children back to Him as we can. He expects us to be as He is.

Do not waste the present. I have gained a fresh testimony today of the importance of these moments now and how we consecrate our time for the building up of God's kingdom. Every day can be filled with revelation--personal revelation that God means for you. If we search for these messages, hunger after them and watch for them in our scriptures, prayers, temple worship, and interactions with others, we "will be overwhelmed with gratitude to find that He has come to trust [us]" (Henry B. Eyring).

I am so grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost and the opportunities we have to receive these promptings from our Heavenly Father. I want to share one last quote from Neil L. Andersen's talk, "Preparing for Your Spiritual Destiny." He says, “Personal revelation received through the gift of the Holy Ghost guides us through the unforeseen in accomplishing what we are here to do.”

Brothers and sisters, may we rely on the Lord to travel through the unforeseen and may we recognize for what purpose we are here on earth. I promise that every time you re-recognize your purpose, your perspective will shift, and the mountains you found before you will turn into molehills. You will find the strength of Christ from His atoning sacrifice to conquer any challenges that stand in your way. Because you are here for a purpose, and if you remember that in all your daily actions, you shall not fail.

Thank you for letting me share these thoughts. I know they are true, and I feel the power and love of God as I figure out, piece by piece, just what He has in store for me.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Living Abundantly Rather Than Just Existing

Hello, friends!

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for me. Not much has happened in terms of life phases, but I've found myself changing into several different people due to my circumstances, and I've realized that I should take charge of myself.

I don't normally consider myself a brash, curt, or sassy person. I dislike confrontation and awkwardness more than anyone I know, but these past couple weeks, I've been so irritable at work. I've felt like it's been okay to be brash with someone because I'm wanting to deliver a good product. Ironically, I've felt like this product could uplift other people, yet in the making of this product, I haven't uplifted the people right in front of me.

Of course, I knew from the moment I opened my mouth that I'd be humbled pretty soon. And then I listened to some Neal A. Maxwell on the way home this week. His talk, "The Pathway of Discipleship," gave me some important things to think about. Maxwell said, “It’s interesting that those who have eyes single to the glory of God are those who see the most of reality.” And the reality of this life is that “in each of life’s situations, large or small, therefore, if you and I will bring fixed principles and strive to be more like Jesus, including emulating his generosity, then we will be living abundantly and not just existing.” The overall message I took from this is that I have the power to live my life, rather than to simply exist. And life is lived most abundantly when we are following Christ.

I am still learning from this experience. In my mind, I was perfectly justified for my actions. This is a different version of the same lesson I learn all the time: We must be creators rather than creatures of circumstance. I can't let my situations dictate my actions because I am practicing to live a higher law. If I am to be more like Christ, I can't simply go with the flow. “These attributes emerge from a consciously chosen way of life; one in which we deny ourselves of all ungodliness and we take up the cross daily—not occasionally, not weekly, not monthly” (Maxwell). This life is an active pursuit rather than a passive experience.

What caught my attention first as I listened to this talk was when Maxwell said
True, as the scripture says, ‘Wickedness never was happiness’ (Alma 41:10), but neither is lukewarmness full happiness. Failing to be valiant in Christian discipleship will leave us without significant happiness. Therefore, our active avoidance of wickedness must be followed by our active engagement in righteousness.
And I realized that I was not happy, even though I had every reason to be. Every part of my life that I have control over is going well and I am very blessed. Yet recently, I've been lukewarm in my life experiences and merely trudging through them.

This drudgery is the difference between sins of commission versus sins of omission. Maxwell says:
Yes, the avoidance of wickedness remains ever important, but the sins of omission also represent a haunting failure. How often, may I ask you, do we speak about the need for repentance concerning our sins of omission? Or how often do we make personal confessions of them to God?... It is very often the sins of omission that keep us from spiritual wholeness because we still lack certain things.

Gah! Of course! How often do I focus on what I should be doing rather than merely avoiding what I shouldn't be doing? In order to improve my character and become more like Christ, I can't simply not be mean or not be idle or not be prideful. I also have to be kind, loving, hardworking, and humble.

After being hit over the head with the humbling fact that I needed to change, Maxwell then moved onto how we can motivate ourselves. This is always how God works when refining us. He doesn't discourage us with all that we lack, but, rather, encourages us with all we can become. “Will we… remember our true identity as we move through daily life? How much sin occurs because people momentarily forget who they really are?” We are children of a Heavenly Father, and thus have the potential to become like God.

Maxwell mentions the importance of everyday choices:
“It takes faith to persist in doing good, particularly quiet good, for which there is no recognition. Otherwise, why bother? Therefore, faith in Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation is needed not just for life’s turbulent, traumatic moments but also for daily life’s seemingly small but nevertheless defining moments.”
I forget so often that I can be better in the seemingly small situations of my life. I have the choice to uplift those around me rather than to simply exist. “Conversations and decisions in which we engage, even if they seem small, expose the heart and the mind and their furnishings. Brigham Young once said, ‘You cannot hide the heart, when the mouth is open’ (JD 6:74)” (Maxwell). Every experience can become a refining moment that brings me and those around me even closer to Christ. I just have to keep my eyes and my heart open to these experiences and recognize them for the refining qualities they possess.

At any rate, I have much to improve upon, but this is a new experience demonstrating the same lessons for me. Every day is an opportunity to instill divine habits in my character, regardless of the situation. “We are immortal individuals whose constant challenge is to apply immortal principles to life’s constantly changing situations. With this perspective we can improve our daily performances because we have fixed our gaze on eternity and its great realities” (Maxwell).

We are immortal individuals! This means we should not be content with mortal characters. I have the potential to become perfect, to have loving-kindness, and to strengthen those around me.

I think my first mode of action in being a better disciple of Christ is to give this coworker a break and to help him feel loved and encouraged. Well, technically it's Saturday, so I guess the first thing I'll do is spend this time with my family at my niece's dance recital. But I can still prepare myself for Monday. (:

Love you all,

Sunday, May 6, 2012

On Loving-Kindness, and Becoming Like Him

Hello all!

After some wonderful comments from some of my previous posts, I looked up Elder Maxwell's talk, "In Him All Things Hold Together." Though I suggest you listen to it while reading along. Thank you, Noah. It's been a fascinating instrument in my life as of late.

As some of you know, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Israel this last week. It was quite a trip. But the most awesome and inspiring experience was my visit to the Garden Tomb.
While standing inside the tomb, I was struck so powerfully by the gift Christ has given all of us in His suffering, but more importantly, in His success and triumph in atoning for us and overcoming death. I saw in myself a tiny glimpse of what He sees in me. It is why He undertook so great a task to begin with. How can I let Him down?

It's interesting, though, because I didn't immediately come to these conclusions. I had all these feelings welling up inside of me, but it wasn't until I was home, now, this morning, that I've been able to study this out and come to that conclusion. That is a further witness to me that this life is a journey we must make. If we are to become like Him, we must act on our divine impulses and work through the path of mortality.

Elder Maxwell says, “For the serious disciple, the cardinal attributes exemplified by Jesus are not optional. These developmental milestones take the form of traits, traits that mark the trail to be traveled.”

This weekend, I've been slowly coming to the realization that there is one quality I need to acquire (which will require work and effort) in order to further my journey. I've seen this quality shining out from some individuals recently and I realized that it is my journey to find this quality in myself: loving-kindness.

Maxwell continues on this phrase:
And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men. [1 Nephi 19:9; emphasis added] 
Ponder the term loving-kindness. It is a special word, used in David's plea after he sinned so grievously:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. [Psalms 51:1; emphasis added]
This trait is the defining trait of Christ. It is the reason He descended below all things. It is the reason He volunteered so humbly to save all of us.

There are other traits as well. Elder Maxwell lines them out for us. We are to be:
  1. Meek and humble--not self-concerned, dismissive, proud, seeking ascendancy. Blessed are the meek because they are not easily offended. Besides, those who "shine as lights in the world" have no need to seek the spotlight! (See Philippians 2:15.) The world's spotlights are not only fleeting, but they employ inferior light!
  2. Patient--not hectic, hurried, pushy.
  3. Full of love--not demanding, dominating, manipulative, condescending, or harsh.
  4. Gentle--not coarse, brusque, and vindictive.
  5. Easily entreated--not unapproachable, inaccessible, and nonlistening.
  6. Long-suffering--not impatient, disinterested, curt, easily offended. There are so many people in the Church, brothers and sisters, waiting to be offended. And it doesn't take long. If one has a chip on his or her shoulder, you can't make it through the foyer, so to speak, without getting it knocked off.
  7. Submissive to God--not resistant to the Spirit, counsel, and life's lessons.
  8. Temperate (self-restrained)--not egoistic, eager for attention and recognition, or too talkative. In your life and mine, the great moments of commendation and correction have come usually in one-liners.
  9. Merciful--not judgmental and unforgiving. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall know the caress of causality as their forgiving mercy restores others to wholeness! Though God is perfected in the attributes of justice and mercy, we read that, finally, "Mercy overpowereth justice" (Alma 34:15).
  10. Gracious--not tactless, easily irritated, ungenerous.
  11. Holy--not worldly.

Whew! What a list, eh? But also, what a wonderful outline of our Savior. What a beautifully compact description of our mortal journey.

For me, I've realized that loving-kindness is something I need. I've been motivated not by the overwhelming feeling of lack or insufficiency, but by the tiny glimpses of loving-kindness I've seen in me that I know have the potential to become a strength if I refine and sharpen these tiny, almost invisible traits. God does not motivate us by discouragement, but rather, encouragement and showing us the potential people we can become. Thus, I know I have some homework ahead of me. In my scripture study, in my daily interactions, in my attitude towards service or towards people I don't know or understand very well, and most importantly, towards people I know very well. So well, that loving-kindness has slipped between the cracks of our aging associations.

As Maxwell says, even though our traits are so far from being as developed as Christ's, “he of fullness clearly and kindly beckons us to develop that greater likeness in our lives which precedes fullness. It is that likeness that will give us the light in our lives so that we might, as Paul says, 'shine as lights in the world.'... And as we emulate him, by developing likeness in these attributes, he will bless us and magnify us for his purposes.”

How wonderful is that? “How marvelous it is, even given the great distance of the trek... that he beckons us to develop this likeness so that one day we may have fullness with him. It is the journey of journeys. Nothing else is even remotely comparable to it in its importance” (Maxwell). Again, Maxwell says, “[Christ] has said to us, 'What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am' (3 Nephi 27:27). What an invitation! And implicit in that invitation verifies the possibility of its realization.”

Gah! I'm so overcome with gratitude and ambition at the same time. We are to become perfect. This is not a fuzzy guideline, it is a requirement. We can't dwell with a Heavenly Father who is perfect if we ourselves are imperfect. It literally would not work. We must become as Christ is. But Christ invites us to do this, so we can do it!

So, while I have a lot of work to do, I am inspired and motivated to press forward. Elder Maxwell says at the end of his talk, “I salute you for who you are, but, more important, for what you have the possibilities to become.” I don't know what will happen to me, or what I'll end up doing in this life, but I do know who I want to become, and that's all I have control over.

Brothers and sisters, I know we have the potential to become even as Christ is. We have the potential to bless each other's lives. We have the potential to be loving, humble, meek, submissive, patient, long-suffering. But it is we who must make this journey. Thank goodness we don't have to do it alone, because Christ has already overcome our journeys on His own.

Look for revelation every day. I was on the plane ride home from Israel when I was struck with the realization that I hadn't been seeking for my Heavenly Father's guidance every day for a long time, and I realized that I'd missed some opportunities for further refining and guidance. It was then on the plane that I re-remembered how imperative it is to search the scriptures, plead in our prayers, and ACT in our daily routines to become more like Christ.

We can do this! It will be a long journey, but stay focused. Look to other examples in your own life. And develop a relationship with Christ. You will start to see characteristics arising out of you that you had not thought possible. You will begin to see the transforming power of the Atonement as you gradually become more like our Savior. Use these as guides along your journey. It is how each of us can measure our progress to becoming even as He is.

Love you all,