Thursday, July 25

Just Wanting to Write

First off, this really applies to me:


Anyways.  I really just... feel like writing people sometimes, you know?  This blog is a nice place to do that.  I don't even have to think about who I'm writing to.  I just get to write and complain and wist away and no one can stop me.

Mwahaha.

I started another job this week.  I get to wear scrubs (which, I dunno about everyone else, but they make me feel way cooler than I actually am) and do assembly line work.  It is strange to be putting in full time.  At first I felt really trapped - I mean, I am gone from 7-4 every day?!  Will I have time to live?!

And of course, it turns out that, yes, I totally still have time to live.  And watch the rest of Downton Abbey, apparently.  (Except I had the end of the 3rd season spoiled for me, and now I don't want to finish it.)

I still haven't read any books.  This comes as a shocker for me, because in those wicked selfish moments on my mission when I'd be thinking longingly about life after service, I always pictured myself reading.  Perhaps the enormous number of books, movies, and crap I need to "catch up" on is overwhelming.  But I definitely need to get reading.  I am going to go renew my library card and start back on track.

I was thinking today about a moment I had when I was serving.  It was in January 2012... not long after I'd started out.  I was trying to fall asleep, lying awake about 2:00 am.   I was having an anxiety attack, (not uncommon for me during those first months), feeling overwhelmed about what I'd taken on and how much I didn't want to be there, reeling in mental and emotional circles.  For the first time I really recognized it in myself--selfishness.  Utter and complete.  I wanted to go home.  I wanted to call my mission president and ship out.  I wanted to retreat.

I kept trying to come up with a scenario in which that would end up well.  And in the end, I realized that there wasn't one.  Elder Holland reminds us that "a gift was given in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary.  If we say we've been sent by Him, we better have evidence of it by having a taste of it."

I was having my own taste.  And I realized that I had reached a point of no return, so to speak.  I was either serving for myself... or for God.  I was either motivating myself... or allowing those I love to motivate me.

Suddenly I thought of my younger siblings - both prospective missionaries themselves.  Could I face them, having given up?  Could I give them any excuse to give up themselves?

I thought of Jesus Christ.  I felt as though he were watching me, silently, waiting for me to make a decision.  One which He knew I would make.  Because he knows me.  Perfectly.

And it was with anxiety-strewn submission that I drifted off.

And I never looked back.

I don't know if every missionary confronts such feelings.  Surely there are those who are already pure in ways they need to be.  I needed to be humbled.  And sorely.  But the Lord directed me.  And now I can better trust that he will.

I cannot say enough how desperately I needed to serve.  I still cannot quite believe He let me.



Sunday, July 21

Homecoming

Again, some requests for my talk, so here ya go.  :)  Thank you to all who came!  I was grateful for the praise and support, etc etc.  I love you guys.  :)

NOTE: Some parts were left out because I was short on time.  

I’ve been asked today to speak about covenants.  I have a problem with narrowing down topics, so you can imagine how this week has been for me.  I have given a lot of thought, and I hope that something in what I say will help you to improve your own commitment to God.  I’d like to talk first about what covenants are, and then about some of the things that keep us from living them.  

What are Covenants?
A covenant is defined in the Bible Dictionary as “an agreement between God and man, an accord whose terms are set by God.” (see Bible Dictionary, “Covenant,” 651). Elder Christofferson explained that “In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments.”  There is nothing more valuable to us than the promises we make with God.  They are our only hope in this life and in the next.  They are the only way we can apply the Atonement of Jesus Christ to our lives.

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi exclaims “my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death” (2 Nephi 11:5).  Nephi clearly knows from experience that covenants are precious.  He recognizes that if we shall “bind [ourselves] to act in all holiness before [God], […] glory shall be added to the kingdom which [we] have received,” a promise given in D&C 43:9-10.  

Application of Covenants
Missionary work is all about covenants.  It is loving people and desiring to invite and direct them to the proper means to make covenants.  I asked several of the recent converts I knew as a missionary to share with me how making covenants has influenced them.  I got a variety of answers.

A woman who has been a member for six or so years said: “they make me accountable, and bring me closer to the Lord by being obedient.”  

Another said: “My family has been questioning me recently about how I could choose so quickly to change my lifestyle so drastically, but I always knew that Heavenly Father has our best interest in His heart. Remembering the covenants I made at Baptism is what brings me hope in times of trial, love in times of sadness, and happiness in every moment. I don't know exactly what covenants are made in the temple, but I know that they are not only life-changing but life-directing, too.”  

Another mentioned that her friends had all told her that she was changing.  Some were not very pleased with what was happening.  But her home had become a sacred place, and her countenance was visibly brighter each time we saw her.  She has been baptized for a few months, and her two children as well.  They have bound themselves to their Father in Heaven.  And that is something tangible and powerful.

These Sisters had a wonderful understanding of the blessings of making covenants.  We know that they bind us to God.  They help us to be accountable and obedient.  They direct our lives.  I was reading last week in the patriarchal blessing of my great-grandmother.  A phrase stood out to me that said: “You are destined to live long upon this earth to fulfill the measure of your creation, and you will be permitted to enter into the sacred precincts of the temple of our lord – there to receive your sealings and anointings and blessings that will qualify you for the work before you.  […]  Inasmuch as you will permit your heart to turn unto the Lord in supplication and in promise, you will ever be inspired in your labor of whatever name or nature it may be.”  

This is a very direct promise, and I know it is applicable to each of us.  We all have an eternal destiny, and our covenants qualify and inspire us to follow it by means of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.  But only, notice, “inasmuch as [we] permit [our] hearts to turn unto the Lord.”

Now, I grew up in the church, and it gets really easy to pass over words that I know fairly well, but don’t actually know the definition of.  Intercession.  Eschew.  Wrought.  “Inasmuch” is one of those words, so I decided to look it up.  Inasmuch means “to the extent that”.  So, going back to the promise, we read that we are rewarded for keeping our covenants “to the extent” that we turn our hearts to God.  

Letting God Help Us
The Lord can only work with as much as we give him. This is vividly apparent on a mission.  The Spirit’s presence is proportional to the effort we give in our studies and the diligence we give each day as we go out to teach and find.  Every little bit of obedience helps, and every little bit of disobedience hurts.  

It is up to us to “permit”our hearts to turn unto God, so that we may unlock the blessings of our covenants.  It is completely our choice.  But the adversary knows that we want to live righteously and to keep our covenants.  So he comes up with subtle ways to turn us away from them, because every little bit of dedication he can turn away from God has an effect and opens the door to further distraction.

We have a beautiful little ash tree in our backyard.  It is a few years old, and it is just getting big enough to sit under and enjoy the shade.  It looks green and healthy.  The other day mum and I were working on a project, sitting under the tree, when we noticed strange brown things sticking out of the bark.  We could tell that they were from some kind of bug.  After a bit of research, we realized they were empty pupal cases, left behind from moths.  The “lilac-ash borer” is a type of bug that lays it’s eggs on the bark of a tree in the winter.  When they hatch, the larvae burrow into the bark and tunnel through to find nourishment and warmth.  In the Spring, they emerge as moths and leave behind the casing that we’d found.  We had a specialist come and see what could be done, but he explained that the damage had been going on for a few years.  The tree was going to die unless we would spend hundreds of dollars spraying it with chemical treatments each year for the rest of it’s life.  

If we had known what these borers were and been looking for signs of them, we’d have noticed.  The little holes and breakage in the bark is clearly visible to someone who is looking for it.  But the tree doesn’t look sick in any other way.  It is continuing to function.  But, likely, it will die in the next few years.  

Too often, we live our covenants in similar ways.  We see and feel no indication of decreasing faith and obedience, but opposition is always there.  The adversary is very cunning in trying to keep us from reaching our full potential as covenant children of the Lord.  I’ve come up with four subtle “traps” that we fall into regularly which keep us from fully living our covenants.

Wasting time.
This trap has become horribly apparent to me since I’ve gotten home.  The nice thing about being a missionary, is that many of the things that I get caught wasting time doing are not allowed.  Many people lament the time they keep spending on social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Pinterest.  A news article I read referred to Pinterest as “digital crack for women”.  These days there are many appealing and addicting opportunities to waste time from video games to endless hours of reality TV and cartoons.  The brethren of the church speak of this frequently.  

In his talk “The Perfect Leader,” Spencer W. Kimball says: “Jesus also taught us how important it is to use our time wisely.  This does not mean there can never be any leisure, […] but there must be no waste of time.  […]  Time cannot be recycled.  When a moment has gone, it is really gone.  The tyranny of trivia consists of it’s driving out the people and moments that really matter.  […]  Wise time management is really the wise management of ourselves.”

So what happens when we waste time?  Often, the first thing we miss out on as we rush around to do all the important things we could’ve been doing, is reading our scriptures.  Or going to the temple.  Family history.  We feel too busy to do these things, because we put so much emphasis on unimportant distractions.  Like Pres. Kimball said, we are held hostage by the trivial things we spend time doing.  In the temple we make covenants of consecration.  We cannot consecrate wasted time.  One of the simplest ways to insure that we are living our covenants more fully is to be aware of how we spend our time, and set specific goals to improve.  

Self-Centeredness.
Second, we have the trap of being self-centered.  I always think of David and Bathsheba with this one.  No matter how righteous he had been, he faltered, he put his desires above his covenants, and he turned from his course.

The story of David is a powerful example to us.  No matter where we are at in life, (much like our ash tree), we are susceptible.  That is because we are FALLEN.  And we have to remember that, accept that it’s part of our experience here, and be constantly on guard.  The fallen man is an enemy to God because he is focused on himself.  He is the opposite of everything Jesus Christ exemplified.  Elder Bednar gave a beautiful talk about the natural man in the MTC when I was there.  He directed us to, quote: “get over yourselves.”  A huge part of our covenants is “getting over ourselves”.  Again, as a missionary, I had to remind myself of this often.  If I was ever feeling low or frustrated, or homesick, it was because my thoughts and my heart were on myself.  Mother Teresa said: “One thing will always secure Heaven for us – the acts of charity and kindness with which we have filled our lives.”  

Discouragement.
There is a big difference between Godly sorrow and the guilty nagging worthlessness that Satan tries to bring us to.  Discouragement and doubt are things that never have and never will come from our Father in Heaven.  He directs and guides us, but He will never depress us.  We need to learn from Nephi’s example in 2 Nephi 4.  After his father has died, he writes what has been referred to as “Nephi’s psalm.”  I’m grateful this section is included in the Book of Mormon, because you can see the adversary trying to discourage Nephi, and how Nephi reacts to it.  Nephi says “oh wretched man that I am!  Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.  I am encompassed about-“ not because of Godly sorrow, but “because of the temptations and the sins that so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4:17-18).  

He recognizes the source of his discouragement, and he promptly rejects it with testimony and prayer.  The sooner we can realize where our own discouragement is coming from, and turn to Heavenly Father for love and peace, the sooner those effects will be cast away.  If we become so burdened, our faith wavers and fades just when we need it the most.  We must always seek to make and renew our covenants- God has always made a way for the earnest and willing soul to return to him.  We can’t let our past mistakes prohibit us from living our covenants now.  

Desensitization.
Elder Scott said: “You cannot be passive in life, or in time the natural man will undermine your efforts to live worthily.”  I think this trap is one of the most dangerous because it is the most subtle.  The very nature of being desensitized keeps us from recognizing or acknowledging what has happened.  Perhaps the lyrics of my music aren’t going to drive me to swear or commit a sin.  Maybe I’m not going to become a homicidal maniac because I’ve been killing Zombies for a few hours straight.  But we have to be careful.  We are blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost.  He is with us as long as we are worthy.  But how much of his influence are we willing to sacrifice so that we can fit in or be entertained?  That is really the question here.  This is kind of a convoluted example, but when I got back, I tried sincerely to keep up with studying the Scriptures for an hour a  day.  As time went on, and I began to get busier, I found less and less time for studying.  At first I felt badly, but that feeling faded and I kept making excuses.  This week, because I was giving a talk, I began studying a great deal more.  I started earnestly seeking to increase my understanding of covenants.  And immediately I felt light I hadn’t recognized was missing return to my day.  

I have had a lot of rough spots like that.  We lose sight of how wonderful it feels to be obedient, and it is all but impossible to recognize, except under the guidance of the Spirit.  Think for a moment about the movies you watch, the music you listen to, the ways you spend your time-can the Holy Ghost be with you?  One of the reasons we are commanded to abstain from drugs and alcohol is because we are less sensitive to the Spirit under such influences.  But what about the entertainment we indulge in?  
I’m not calling for a total revamp of anyone’s life, but we all need to be increasingly aware of whether or not our decisions are inhibiting our capacity to feel the Spirit.  “If ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, … ye must perish” (Mosiah 4:30).  Our covenants become of less and less vitality when we indulge in the things of this world.  Our perspective becomes increasingly skewed.  

I’d like to add a disclaimer.  I speak of each of these traps from personal experience.  I see them each and every day in my life, whether in the moment or looking back on a week.  Often, I fall into them.  The trick is how quickly we can realize it and get out.  If you’ve thought of anything you can personally do to improve your commitment to keep your covenants, I invite you to take it to the Lord.  Remember, he gives us weaknesses that we may be humble and turn unto him.  Being susceptible to any of these things is no difference.  If you recognize that you are having trouble with a particular temptation, then you can know for sure that Heavenly Father is prepared to help you change.  He doesn’t bring weaknesses to our attention unless we are prepared to face them.  He wants us to become better, not discourage us.  

One of my dear friends in Wisconsin bore a similar testimony.  In a month I saw her and her dear husband transform from inactive members to powerful, faithful servants of the Lord.   She said: I am happier knowing what heavenly fathers plan is and how I can strive with my husband to get back to him and get to the celestial kingdom where he wants all his children to be with him. Its not by any means easy but with a prayer in my heart for guidance and the power of repentance I can work on his and my plan to be the daughter, wife, friend, companion, and sister I am to be. I am a work in progress. Because of the covenants I made with my heavenly father I can stay focused on my goal and be obedient.  


We are all “works in progress”.  It is our decision to determine how quickly that progress can occur.  I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, July 15

RM

Well that was a long break.  Sorry about that.

I still feel unsure about what to write.  Being an "RM" is an interesting position, mostly because you jump back into what feels like an old itchy life that doesn't quite fit anymore, and you have to figure out exactly where your mission calculates in.  Each day it seems less and less in your control.


On the flip-side, I will say without hesitation that things are going very well for me.  Marvelously well.  I already have two jobs, a place to live, and friends/family who are eager and excited to be with me.  I can already see the habits and desires I had as a missionary affecting my life, and it is incredible!  Who'd have thought that everyone was right?  

I have had many other "RMs" give me advice.  From what I can gather, I will suffer considerable discomfort for the next six months, and I need to be patient with myself.  We all know how well that is going to work out... I feel a little like cookie monster.  "I want normal life NOW."

I guess I need to just keep working on that formula and try to ignore the feeling that I should have it together by now.

All is well.  :)