September 10, 2017

a summer in review

The air is crisp and my sweaters are coming out of hibernation. Pumpkin spice candles and drives through the colorful canyons are just around the corner ... and I am ecstatic. At the changing of seasons, however, I can't help but take a minute to reflect on what an amazing summer I had this year.

This summer, I read. I read books that enlightened. I read books that entertained. I read books from my childhood. I read books that kept me awake at night because I was so fired up about the ideas that they gave me. These books played a huge role in the development of my soul. For that, I am grateful.

This summer, I ran. I ran and I ran and I ran. Earlier in the year, I set a goal to run a half-marathon and put in some half-hearted effort during the semester to achieve said goal. With my new summer schedule of only working part-time, I found huge chunks of unoccupied time. Running long distances helped me to fill that time, but it also helped me in so many other ways. Running a half-marathon taught me that I can push myself and endure. For that, I am grateful.

This summer, I climbed mountains (both literally and figuratively). I saw the beautiful world that is out my back door. I explored by myself and with people that have become some of my dearest friends. I faced challenges by simply going forward, one step at a time. I learned how capable I am of doing hard things and being able to still appreciate the views that surround me. For that, I am grateful.

This summer, I loved. I loved my missionaries that I had the opportunity to teach in the MTC. I loved my family members and was able to spend quality time at home. I loved my friends and roommates with all of my heart. I hosted karaoke parties and ate completos in good company. I used to have a hard time defining what I like to do ... but I learned this summer that my dearest and deepest hobby is loving others. For that, I am grateful.

This summer, I learned to trust Heavenly Father. Again and again and again, I learn the same lesson. At the beginning of the summer, I had to decide whether or not I would work continue to work for the MTC or if I would quit for the summer to do EFY again. Even though making the decision between two good things might seem like a silly thing to have anxiety about, it was such a difficult decision for me. I ultimately felt like I needed to stay at the MTC. I wasn't sure why, but I knew that that was the decision that Heavenly Father wanted me to make ... even with that knowledge, I cried as I declined my EFY contracts.

However, like always, Heavenly Father could see so much more than I could. I had so many incredible experiences this summer that would have been impossible had I decided to work for EFY. I wouldn't have been able to see my brother in the MTC as he prepared for his two year mission in Poland. I wouldn't have been able to be on our ward Ultimate Frisbee team. I wouldn't have been able to explore or read or run. I couldn't possibly have foreseen those experiences in April when I made the decision, but Heavenly Father could. He knows me. For that, I am grateful.

May 30, 2017

my doors are unlocked

My beat up pick-up truck winks at night ... one of the headlights is broken. The engine sputters and shuts off randomly while I'm driving. The defrost heater works (hallelujah), but the AC is long gone. However, I call it Charity because it's been going for 278,000 miles and it still hasn't failed. Even though Charity is a weird little car, I love her. She's been good to me.

One morning a couple of months ago, I woke up to find that someone had broken into Charity. Nothing was broken, but the scent of cigarette smoke and my more-than-normally disheveled glove box clued me into the fact that an unknown person was rifling through my car.

Creepy, right? I was definitely creeped out by this situation. Someone that I didn't know had been in my car! The incident was a complete surprise to me.

But, at the same time, it wasn't unexpected ... after all, I leave my doors unlocked.

For you city-folk that are crying out in protest, I promise that there is a little explanation to my madness. When I lived nestled into the rolling hills of Missouri, my dad attached the keys to the stick ... because I had (ahem ... have) the uncanny ability to lose everything. I trusted my neighbors, I trusted my friends at school, I trusted the random people of Walmart. So I left the keys in the car and I left it unlocked, often with the windows rolled down.

That habit stuck with me when I migrated to Rexburg. I still trusted my neighbors, my friends at school, and the random people of Walmart. I started carrying a purse (so the keys being attached to the stick was no longer necessary), but I left the doors unlocked. I practically invited people to steal my car as a favor to me ... but nothing happened.

I guess that's why the random betrayal of trust in the dead of night was so unexpected. As I installed a new air freshener and wiped down Charity's cracked windshield, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could either be extra vigilant in locking my car every time I left it ... or I could decide to find renewed trust and keep living my life as if nothing had ever happened.

I'm learning that my heart is a little bit like my truck. It's a little bit battered. It's a little bit weird. But I love it. It's been good to me and has kept me moving for the past 22 years. I engage my heart in everything that I do, a quality that has brought me a lot of satisfaction. I try to keep my heart unlocked and to love the people that I come into contact with as much as possible.

Most of the time, leaving my heart open has brought me more happiness than I could have ever imagined. Loving people has become my hobby. There are times, however, that I wake up to find my heart in a similar condition to my disheveled glove box. The experience stinks worse than the smell of cigarette smoke. The choice that I face after those moments is similar to the choice I faced after the break-in ... I can choose to lock my heart and withhold love ... or to find renewed trust and keep living life unlocked.

You can guess which option I chose in both scenarios.

My truck (and my heart) is still unlocked.

March 30, 2017

adventures in bible reading: bind my broken heart

ACTION ITEM for last week: Prepare to listen to the words of the Prophet by pondering questions that I have and by studying previous General Conference talks.

CONFERENCE IS THIS WEEKEND! It's almost like a Mormon TEDTalk experience ... except three thousand times cooler. I have been preparing myself to listen to the words of the living Prophet and it has PUMPED ME UP. Sure, I have a paper due on Saturday. Sure, I could use the weekend to climb mountains. Even with all of the fun options that studying in Provo has to offer, there is nothing else I would rather do than receive instruction from Heavenly Father!

On a little bit of a different note, I have been LOVING the opportunity to study the Bible more in depth and to apply it to my life. The Old Testament still is a little intimidating, but doing these challenges every week has helped me to understand that ALL scripture is INSPIRED and that Heavenly Father has specific messages for me. If I am willing to look, He has hidden little golden nuggets of inspiration waiting to be found.

A couple of weeks ago, on top of the other challenge that I was in the process of completing, I started to pray for humility. Because I associate humility with people like Job (who suffered quite a bit), the thought of praying for those types of experiences gave me anxiety. However, these past couple of weeks haven't been awful. In fact, I felt that praying for humility was helping me to focus better in every aspect of my life.

Until this past week.

I don't know why, but I was not feeling incredibly motivated. I woke up in the morning, I went to school, I went to work, I studied, I went to bed ... repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I felt a lack of power and divine help. I guess that's how the middle of the semester is for most people, but it felt foreign to me after so many weeks of incredible, spiritually-uplifting experiences.

On Tuesday, I went to class in a similar funk. I was prepared to drudge through the day, to endure. In my Old Testament class, however, I was able to feel lifted from the funk by a scripture from Ezekiel.

FROM EZEKIEL? I have never taken the time to study this book because parts of it are REALLY difficult to understand. In fact, even after studying it for a whole week, parts of Ezekiel are still really difficult. Despite that, I was able to find a truth hidden within all of that craziness.

Ezekiel 34 talks about Christ being a good shepherd. I LOVE this metaphor for multiple reasons. It shows the care and the work that Christ has taken upon himself for MY WELFARE. 

Verse 16 of this chapter beautifully demonstrates that characteristic: "I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up the that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick."

I have seen that in my life over and over again. On days when I feel like I can't do anything more than my little routine, Christ seeks me out and strengthens me. When I have had a broken heart, either from breaking up with a boyfriend or from sin or loneliness, Christ has always been willing to bind me up and help me to start again.

Remembering that truth gave me strength to keep enduring throughout the week. I had a mini-action item after that class of involving the Lord in my struggle to be motivated ... Although this action item seems kind of ambiguous and immeasurable, I have found that as I have prayed for strength and endurance, Christ has stepped in an has strengthened me. I love Him!

He'll do it for you, too. Christ is the good shepherd that Ezekiel was talking about, He is WAITING and WATCHING for you to come to Him so that He can heal you of whatever wounds you may have. All that He asks of you is to come, and then He'll take care of the rest!

ACTION ITEM FOR THIS NEXT WEEK: This week, I am going to study in the scriptures about HOW I can come to Christ more in my life. This may be a stepping stone to another action item that will then involve me APPLYING what I have learned about this process to my life.

March 21, 2017

adventures in bible reading: jeremiah was a ... prophet?

Last week's ACTION ITEM: Pray to have my eyes opened to the blessings that Heavenly Father has given me. Write down a way that I have seen His hand in my life every day.

Heavenly Father is amazing. That's kind of an obvious statement, but it has been reiterated over and over again as I have studied the words of the Old Testament. I love Him! This week, I was better able to appreciate His influence in my life as I took a couple of moments each night to reflect where I was able to see His hand in my day.

It was another week of insanity. I felt like I was running to every appointment, meeting, and responsibility that I had. Usually, I get stressed out of my mind when life gets crazy. Usually, I start losing a grip on everything that I have to do and I am unable to finish anything the way that I want to. Nevertheless, I felt like this past was the best week that I have had in a LONG TIME. I finished everything ON TIME and was able to serve other on top of it! That's the power of Heavenly Father, y'all. (I don't have a southern accent, but I felt a nod to my semi-southern roots would be appropriate there).

This begs the question: Why don't I live that way every day of my life?

I know it's possible! God wants to give us an abundant life, and He will do it if we acknowledge His hand in all things!

The Israelites were a people that were very slow to remember that. This week, I've been studying Jeremiah. Before this week, I knew very little about this major prophet of the Bible. I'm ashamed to admit that I knew the song, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog ... (duh nuh nuh)" and that was about the extent of my knowledge of the words of Jeremiah. My love for this man has grown exponentially as I have learned about his life and the things that he taught.

It turns out: Jeremiah was NOT a bullfrog. He was a prophet right before the people of Babylon took over the city of Jerusalem. The people were incredibly wicked, and they refused to believe that the Lord would punish them for their wickedness. When the Babylonians started to attack them, these people were TERRIFIED ... but their fear led them to rely on false idols and other nations instead of relying on the Lord.

Jeremiah was called during this time to be a prophet (like Elijah from last week's post) to this people. Although he spoke the words of the Lord, he was incredibly unpopular with the people. He preached that Jerusalem would be destroyed and that the people would be scattered for their wickedness ... and the people mocked him and threw him in jail. 

God supported him during his trials, but even so, life wasn't a walk in the park for Jeremiah. At one point, Jeremiah determined that things were TOO HARD and that there was no way that he would continue to prophesy to the people. But then he repents because he said, "his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jeremiah 20:9). God's word was IN HIM! He was a prophet, called of God to guide and direct the people, and he was determined to fulfill that calling.

I am so happy to testify to you that God has once again called a prophet on the earth today. Just like Elijah and Jeremiah, this man receives the word of the Lord to help guide and direct us. In a world of so much chaos and confusion, like the times of Jerusalem's Babylonian captivity, it gives me so much comfort to know that God will not leave us hanging!

Starting this weekend, the WHOLE WORLD will get the opportunity to hear from a living prophet of God (isn't that the coolest thing??). He, along with other leaders of the Church, will give guidance and counsel that applies to everyone in the whole world, regardless of circumstances.

I invite you to hear the words of God through these inspired people. The fact that God continues to speak to His children is a precious truth that I have come to understand through a lot of study and prayer. If you want to know more about WHY I believe that a Prophet really does speak to us today, feel free to contact me! It's my favorite thing in the world, and I would love to share what I know!

ACTION ITEM for this next week: Prepare to listen to the words of the Prophet by pondering questions that I have and by studying previous General Conference talks.

March 14, 2017

adventures in bible reading: open your eyes

Last week's action item: testify to one person a day about God's love for them.

I need to make a confession.

I have the best job in the world. That felt good to get off my chest. I feel like screaming it every time I leave the gates of the MTC. I have been so blessed to be working there. 

For those of you that don't know what the MTC is, it is place of training for Mormon missionaries. You know, the guys that walk around in suits with black name tags all of the time? These missionaries (my sister is currently one of them!) go around living my action item for this week EVERY DAY. Every day, they testify of God's love to every person that will listen to them ... and sometimes even to people that won't. I know that they truly feel of that Godly love because I have felt it myself more times than I can count.

I felt it on my mission ... and I get the chance to feel it now as I teach these missionaries.

Focusing on testifying on God's love this week was another incredible experience. I prayed every morning to find people that needed to hear it. It turns out that basically everyone needs to be reminded of that love every once and a while ... and because my eyes were open for opportunities, I was able to tell many people that I love that God was aware of their needs.

If you need that reminder today, I want you to know that God loves you. He does! And I've learned this week that He loves you despite your flaws and imperfections. He just loves, no strings attached.

This week was really rewarding.

I have a couple of stories in the Old Testament that are "gold nuggets" for me. They aren't very big, but the meaning that they carry changes my life every time I return to them. One of these gold nuggets is found in 2 Kings 6. In this chapter, Elisha (a prophet) is in a pickle with his servant. The Israelites are at war with Syria and are prospering, thanks to the guidance of Elisha. As soon as the leader of Syria finds out that Elisha is the cause of the victory of Israel, he sends an army in the middle of the night to surround the city where Elisha was staying.

Imagine this: you go to bed without a care in the world, only to wake up and find that an entire army is intent on capturing you. I would be pretty nervous, to say the least. Elisha's servant certainly was! He sees the army and cries out to Elisha, "[What] shall we do?" Elisha responds calmly with a pretty famous phrase from the Bible: "Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." 

I can imagine the servant's look of confusion in that moment. After all, they seemed to be completely alone. Elisha knew better, however, and prays that God will open the eyes of the servant. God immediately grants that request, and the servant looks up to the mountains and is able to see that the mountains are "full of horses and chariots of fire". Miraculously, Elisha and his servant escape the Syrian army and continue their respective missions in life.

Isn't that an amazing story? (also, Chariot's of Fire sounds like a great name for a movie ...)

At the risk of being too open, and with that story in mind, I have another confession to make: I close my eyes to God's blessings way too often in my life.

Last week, I insinuated that my life has been crazy these days. Even though the crazy has been building to a climax, it still takes me by surprise every time. Assignments are due way quicker than I initially anticipated, motivation to avoid procrastination is constantly countered by a desire to socialize and have fun, relationships are crazy, callings need magnifying. The list goes on. 

Life is a lot of (often confusing) work, and sometimes I feel just like the servant of Elisha ... half-awake and nervous about the future. 

But I know that God loves me. I know that He will protect me as I strive to do what He asks of me, no matter how large the challenges are that face me. He that is with me is more than any trial, any pain, or any confusion that I might experience. And that gives me confidence in a bright and happy future ahead.

Action Items for next week: Pray to have my eyes opened to the blessings that Heavenly Father has given me. Write down a way that I have seen His hand in my life every day.


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