August 6, 2016

EFY in review

Basically every sentence I say now begins, "When I was at EFY, I learned ..." I heard one of my summer lessons summed up beautifully in a talk by Ezra Taft Benson: "Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace."

Isn't that the most beautiful promise EVER? Like I insinuated in my last post, my summer has been pretty amazing and life-changing. I've tried to lose myself in the service God and of the youth that I have worked with all summer, and in the process I have been able to see these blessings in my life first-hand.

He deepened my joy. I love to be happy. I love it more than anything in the world. Recently, I have been thinking more about the meaning of JOY. Joy is different than happiness. Joy is eternal. I feel like I have been able to experience that deep emotion more than I feel like I deserve this summer. Each week, I am surprised by the depth of joy I can feel as I am silly with the kids. Even more surprising and rewarding is to watch kids come closer to Christ. Although each week has been so very different for me, joy is definitely a common denominator throughout all of the weeks.

He expanded my vision. I have loved the EFY program for as long as I can remember. Each day is filled with super fun and spiritual activities, a combination that helped me to realize that I LOVED the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I didn't realize until I became an EFY counselor, however, just how inspired every part of EFY is. As I danced with the kids and yelled at Games Night, I saw how these seemingly temporal activities were calculated to help the kids have a wonderful spiritual experience on Thursday. I realize now that IN MY OWN LIFE, every single thing I experience is calculated to bring about my own happiness. Every wonderful and every hard thing is designed to help me grow!

He quickened my mind. This summer, I was humbled to come into contact with so many wonderful kids! They taught me sooo much about the gospel and inspired me to live my life better. Many came from broken families or had issues loving themselves. Others faced health challenges (both physical and mental). Others faced crises of faith. I was so grateful for God's help in the moments that the kids revealed these problems to me. Through the Spirit, I was able to discern the needs of the kids I worked with and help them to find answers to their answers and questions.  I am pretty inadequate when it comes to solving problems on my own ...I know that I could NOT have done that by myself. I have come to learn that Heavenly Father KNOWS each and every one of us! He is aware of our fears and doubts and will help us!

He strengthened my muscles. My achy muscles and constant state of tiredness came as a surprise to me after my first week of EFY. As a counselor, I spent the entire summer herding kids to locations, running around to make early morning meetings, and playing games of Ninja to pass the time. All the while, I was trying to do it on 5 hours of sleep. Some days, I felt like I couldn't possibly have the energy to make it through the day. I need naps. I need rest. One of my favorite scriptures filled my mind daily, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength..."I prayed and prayed and prayed for strength, and I got it. Heavenly Father has helped me to exude energy throughout the entire summer. Divine intervention is the only explanation. I could NOT have had this energy without him.

He lifted my spirits. EFY is not only physically taxing ... it is extremely emotionally and spiritually taxing as well, I remember one week when I was in Tacoma, I felt emotionally spent. I lay in bed one night and just cried and cried because I felt so inadequate and so burnt out. I felt isolated (probably in part because I was living in the basement all by myself ...). I felt like I was not reaching my girls. As I poured out my feelings to Heavenly Father in prayer, however, I felt an emotional strength and stability come over me. Hope waved over me again and again. I woke up with a determination to put the past behind me and to face my challenges with grace and dignity. That week, I was able to see the Lord's hand in every little detail. So many prayers were answered and I was able to finish the week recharged for the rest of the summer.

He multiplied my blessings. Holy cow. I don't know if I can adequately describe how BLESSED I feel to have worked for EFY. I feel like every day was filled with so many blessings ... I don't even know where to begin. Heavenly Father answered my prayers ... and sometimes he just responded to my thoughts and the desires of my heart. For example, one week, I was having a hard time bonding with a couple of the girls in my group. I prayed to have an opportunity to be able to talk to them on a more personal level ... Heavenly Father gave me that opportunity -- although it was in a way that was surprising to me.

That week, I had a hard time getting my girls to understand the EFY dress standards. We had to come back to the dorms several times throughout the week to change into more appropriate clothes. Each time, I was pretty annoyed with the long trek that we had to make, but I tried to make use of the time to talk to the girls and to get to know them more. I realized only after that week that Heavenly Father had given me those standards-check journeys as an answer to my prayers from earlier in the week.

Other times, I would get to a spot only to realize that some of my girls were missing. Being left behind somewhere is a terrible feeling (at least from what I remember of being left at school as a child), but losing a kid is worse. I would pray fervently to be able to find the missing girls and then started to walk ... usually a couple of minutes after I offered that prayer, I would find the missing girl. It was such a miracle to me!

I could tell hundreds of stories like those ... I'll spare you for now.

He increased my opportunities. I went to EFY expecting to have an awesome summer and then to return to BYU-Idaho in the fall. It took one week of EFY for Heavenly Father to lift me up off of that path and turn me 180 degrees. I was sitting in a morning meeting one day when I felt the promptings of the spirit saying, "Laney, you need to apply for the MTC as soon as possible." I tried to push that prompting away ... because, first of all, getting into the MTC is SUPER competitive. Second of all, I didn't have any idea how to even begin the process. But I felt the prompting come over and over again. "Apply, apply, apply ..." I told Heavenly Father, "Okay, I'll do it ... but You need to help me to know how to do it."

The week ended and I headed home with intentions to look into applying. No sooner had I walked in the door than my roommate, Sara, told me that the MTC was hiring Spanish teachers for the fall ... and that she had connections with several people that could help me to apply. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? That was such a direct answer to my prayers! I was able to finish my application lightning quick. I took time off of EFY to hop up to the MTC for interviews. They were prompt in responding and now, 8 weeks later, I am in the last stages of the hiring process.

I am not sure what the outcome of this whole experience will be, but I am SOOO grateful that Heavenly Father inspired me to apply! I have learned so many cool things about my own capabilities and about the Gospel. I have taken steps to move down to Provo in the fall and to transfer to BYU in the winter. I have seen so many doors open in my life that I would have never been able to imagine had I not listened to that prompting. His vision is so much greater than my own!

He raised up friends. It has always been super easy for me to make acquaintances in my life. I am a queen at small talk. Making lasting, deep connections with people has always been a little bit harder. I am so grateful for the true, life-long friends that I was able to make at EFY. The counselors that I worked with each week became some of my best friends as we worked together to unify the kids. The leaders that I had were so candid and open and real that it was never hard to be vulnerable and to reveal who I really was at my core when I was around them. I was able to date one of the best people I have ever met in my life for a little bit and it was such an awesome experience! I am so grateful for those relationships that I made! Heavenly Father put so many individuals in my life that I feel were there for a SPECIFIC REASON, no matter how long I was able to know them or to what level I was able to get to in our friendship. What a special blessing for me to have for the rest of my life!

He comforted my soul and brought me peace. Yesterday ended up being one of the hardest days of EFY. I reached a point in the day where I was brought to tears. I felt like I couldn't be the counselor I needed to be for my kids because of outside circumstances that were breaking my heart. Before I went out to rejoin the kids, I washed my face and put on makeup to cover up my distress, but I couldn't get the feeling out of my heart. I looked at myself in the mirror and said over and over again a mantra that I have taken up this summer: "I can do hard things. I can do hard things. I can do hard things." I can forget about myself for a couple of hours. I can be happy for a couple of hours. I can pull myself together. I prayed for strength and the ability to do what I felt like was the impossible. And then I went.

It was a miracle. I felt a comfort that burned in my heart for the rest of the night. That burning started off like a purifying fire and dulled to a subtle peace that warmed me throughout the night. I did the impossible. I was completely present for my kids. I was happy. I didn't feel distressed anymore. Instead, I felt an assurance that I was going to be okay. I felt the peace that comes from knowing that Heavenly Father helps everything to work out, no matter what. Yesterday wasn't the only time that I was able to feel that peace, but in that moment, I was so grateful for an understanding God that helped to heal my heart in rapid time so that I could continue to do His work. He is just so GOOD.

EFY has been such an incredible blessing in my life. The lessons I learned this summer have left me a completely changed girl. Heavenly Father's ways and thoughts are so much higher than my own; He knows so perfectly just what needs to happen in my life to ensure my eternal happiness. I continue to be committed to WHATEVER he has in store for me! Although my future is pretty uncertain right now, I am excited to see where Heavenly Father will take me!

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