Imagine Sunshine

Friday, October 30, 2015

be white hot.

I have been thinking a lot about this idea: embracing experiences in life, especially those we'd rather not go through but have the potential to be really good for our growth.

There are two ways we can go through new experiences (and old ones too, I suppose):

1) Grudgingly mope through it.
OR
2) Embrace it wholeheartedly.

If I choose to embrace thr moments and experiences, no matter how uncomfortable they may seem, I am eventually going to find joy, growth, and happiness. Heck, by choosing to embrace it, I am creating my own joy, growth, and happiness. I'd argue that most experiences in life can become more enjoyable with a change in perspective and thought-process.

I write about this because I have a whopper of an experience ahead of me next week: entering the MTC. Yes, I'm excited to teach others in the field, but entering the MTC  feels a little like entering prison (just being honest ;). At first I was a little mopey about it, but as I've pondered it, I've realized that the only thing that will change my perception and experience of this inevitable occurrence is my mindset. So, I'm going to wholeheartedly embrace it! Living in optimism and wonder is the key to experiencing joy regardless of the circumstance. ()

There are so many incredible experiences to be had in life. I'd argue that the absolute BEST are often unplanned and unexpected, so let us all embrace the things life throws at us, and find the INCREDIBLE in the mundane and ordinary! Or, as a friend says, finding magic in the ordinary. ;)

Embrace it! Live it! Love it! By being bitter about change, we are only preventing ourselves from experiencing the greatest growth possible. We are only preventing ourselves from being as happy as we could be.

(I realize there are really, really hard things in life too, and grieving is SO ESSENTIAL to healing, in my opinion.. I guess I'm talking more about embracing change that we wouldn't originally desire, but has the potential to be really good. Other really hard changes definitely take a lot more time and grieving than simply just changing your mindset. lots of love to all who are going through really rough things. )

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Intervention.

This song is freaking amazing.


Every time, my mind is blown.

The king's taken back the throne.
The useless seed is sown.
When they say they're cuttin' off the phone,
I tell 'em you're not home.
No place to hide,
You're fightin' as a soldier on their side.
You stay a soldier in your mind,
But nothin's on the line.
You say it's money that we need,
As if we're only mouths to feed.
I know no matter what you say,
There's some debts you'll never pay.
Workin' for the church while your family dies.
You take what they give you and you keep it inside.
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.
Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone."
I can taste the fear.
Lift me up and take me outta here.
Don't wanna fight, don't wanna die,
Just wanna hear you cry.
"Who's gonna throw the very first stone?"
Oh! Who's gonna reset the bone?
Walkin' with your head in a sling,
Wanna hear the soldier sing:
"Workin' for the church while my family dies."
Your little baby sister's gonna lose her mind.
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.
Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone."
I can taste your fear.
It's gonna lift you up and take you out of here.
And the bone shall never heal,
I care not if you kneel.
We can't find you now,
But they're gonna get their money back somehow.
And when you finally disappear,
We'll just say you were never here.
Been workin' for the church while your life falls apart,
Singin' hallelujah with the fear in your heart.
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home.
Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone."
Hear the soldier groan, "We'll go at it alone."

It would be easy to look at the song and think they're shunning religion, but I think it's a little more complex than that. I think they're shunning a certain form of religion: worship without actually living it. Worship without pure intent. Worship from the mouth, but not from the heart.

 Tons of scripture immediately come to mind. I think of the Pharisees and Sauducees, who touted their so-called "righteousness" but more than often missed the mark entirely. In Matthew 22:35-40, it says
35 Then one of them [a Pharisee], which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
(The sassy side of me wants so bad to say to those hypocrites, "what now, suckas!" only kidding...)

To me, the gospel is so much more about loving God and man than it is about bible bashing or whatnot. We can read the bible til we're blue in the face (which is important, too) but without going out and living what we read daily....to me is pointless. I love the LDS church so much because the apostles live exactly what they preach; the doctrine is exactly that. Anti-mormons would likely wholeheartedly disagree, but I think they do so without really understanding the doctrine. LDS doctrine is incredibly simple, but also insanely deep. As a member all my life, I am still learning SO MUCH. It is highly layered; gaining understanding of one layer only allows you to dig deeper and deeper into more layers of understanding. And I'm certain understanding can only come with guidance from the Spirit. As we grow closer to the Spirit, we are able to understand more deeply, personally, intimately. And to me, that's exactly what the temple is. This concept is difficult to explain, but if you have experienced it for yourself, you know what I mean; this idea of constant learning and growing and understanding, it's beautiful and incredible.

2 Nephi 28:30:
 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

I think of  Matthew 7:20/3 Nephi 14:20:
Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.

Or James 2:18:  
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 

Fruits are works (in this case anyways...).



Or, one of my absolute favorites, Isaiah 29:13-14:
 13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
 14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this is a gospel of pure intent. It's about the heart. And that is what I think Arcade Fire is saying: make sure to live what you actually preach. The father in the song is a religious man, anxiously fighting a religious war...while his family is figuratively dying from lack of love, attention, time. The people who should mean the most are neglected in the conquest of God. I think this often happens in our daily lives: family is neglected because of work, sports, whatnot... I hope with all that I am that I can never forget the most important people because of something that seems super important, but in actuality is not.


1 Samuel 16:7
Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.
Matthew 6

 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
This is super scatter-brained, but I hope all the random thoughts connect. Who know what they were actually saying when they wrote the song....but this is basically what it means to me. I think that's why it's so freaking amazing to me.

Guernica.

Thought to draw attention to the Spanish Civil war; anti-war.
It has recently become one of my favorite paintings.
I love art that speaks so loudly, so simply.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Birch Girls Gone Wild 2015

This post is definitely a bit over-do....

Anyways, for my memory's sake, here is an over-load of photos from the first ever Birch-girls-only sisters weekend!

these were some BIG leaves.

track town, USA
HAYWARD FIELD!
where dreams come true ;)

our view basically the entire makenzie river trial
walkin to the waterfall
WEIRDOS.
 
pre skinny dip

just chillin on the beautiful oregon coast


 
 

PRE'S TRAILS
 

those trails are diiiir-tay





"ice bathing" in the willamette river






not sure what i'm doing here....








i'll let your imagination run wild on this one...


the end.





Monday, October 26, 2015

A Lesson 3 years in the making: Why I'm serving now, and not then.

I've thought for a long time how to write this blog post. Loooong, loong time.

I guess I'll just start out by saying how grateful I am that God pushes us to do things that we might not choose for ourselves. My life would not be what it is, or what it has been, had he not pushed me to do just that time and time again.

I think back three years ago last month. I remember very distinctly, partially because I wrote it down, but also because it was a pivotal moment in my life. After months of what seemed like an uphill climb, I had knelt down in my small room, and uttered one of the most fervent prayers of my life. I begged God to lead me along, because life seemed almost too much to bear. I promised I would devote myself to Him--to fulfilling His will for my life--all the days of my life. It was my greatest desire, and the only thing I knew would give me the peace I so desperately yearned for at this point in my life. Little did I know what would come only a few short weeks later during the Saturday session of the October 2012 General Conference.

The memories from that day are still vivid. Almost three years to the date, I remember sitting on my couch at Park Plaza, staring at my laptop screen. When President Monson announced that girls could serve LDS missions at age 19, the emotions were like electricity coursing through my veins. I felt like I could have jumped out of my skin (how's that visual for ya). I wrote on that day, "I knew, without a doubt in my mind, that I would be serving a mission. And soon. Very, very soon. I knew that this announcement was an answer to every single prayer that I had uttered in the past year." Only weeks prior I knelt down, earnestly promising God that I would dedicate all the days of my life to Him, serving His people, and fulfilling His desires for my life. I still remember those pleading words, and the urgency with which I prayed.  I wanted, greater than anything ever, to serve God--not just as a missionary for 18 months, but as a disciple of Christ all the days of my life. So, on January 25, 2013 I received a call to serve in McAllen, Texas. I would be leaving on March 13, less than a month after my 20th birthday.
Nineteen year old Emily...so excited to serve.

The months waiting for my call were difficult. There was some miscommunication on the health history part of my papers, so I had to wait several months before they were cleared to be submitted. On the day I found out (December 31st, 2012) that they had finally been submitted, I was grateful. But simultaneously, I felt uneasy. I had waited in great anticipation for months, all the while pouring my soul out in earnest prayer for God's will to be done, and my heavy burdens to be made light. It was a time of both peace and uncertainty. Regardless, I wanted to serve a mission more than I had wanted anything in my entire life. So, I waited, in great anticipation, for that white envelope to arrive.

After a few weeks of eagerly checking the mailbox multiple times per day, it finally came. I screamed in exhilaration when I finally saw it. However, soon after, those very uneasy feelings returned. Actually, on the walk from the mailbox back to my apartment, I just couldn't shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong.

No one wants to feel awful right before they open their mission call. So I knelt down and prayed, call in hands. I wrote in my journal. I studied the scriptures. I watched a beautiful movie on missionary work and the Atonement. Nothing helped, and that lingering feeling of unease remained. I opened my call, only to be left feeling very upset and alone. Not only did I feel a total void of peace regarding the situation, but I had been 1) called to the one place I said I wouldn't go (which I wholeheartedly laugh about now ;) and 2) I had been called to leave months before my availability date! You can imagine the confusion I felt after opening my call, only to feel absolutely horrible when I had looked forward to this moment for all the months prior. The best way I have come to describe it is as a total lack of peace.

For the next three days, I walked around in a cloud of depression. I was physically sick and nauseous, but I couldn't comprehend the idea that maybe a mission wasn't the right thing after all... the thought darted across my mind periodically, until it became all-consuming. I tried to write a letter of acceptance to the first presidency, but it felt feigned.

People had told me I'd feel opposition before serving a mission, but this was greater than anything I could have imagined. People looked at me like I was crazy when I even mentioned not going. I was so confused, stuck, and felt horribly alone most of the time. But without understanding initially, I was also learning a very important, valuable lesson. A lesson that I cherish to this day.

One bishop told me I should suck it up and go, while the other said he thought I should stay. He never felt peace about me going, even from day one. Some people joked about it light-heartedly, without realizing how difficult it was for me. It was at this point in my life when I decided I should stop putting so much emphasis on the opinions of other people. Who really cares what someone else thinks if you know what is best and right for YOU?

After weeks of indecision and uncertainty, I finally wrote my letter of decline. It was difficult, but also easier than kicking down the figurative brick-wall that was leaving amidst such confusion. Sometimes you have to have the faith to say no.

Soon thereafter, peace began to fill my life again.

Peace, Be still. And know that I am God.

Fast forward nearly three years--the best three years of my life. Seriously, the absolute BEST. I grew beyond belief. I made incredible friendships, and achieved new goals I would have never imaged for myself, but were beyond amazing. I got into triathlons, a goal I had desired for years prior, but never had the courage to pursue. I worked on some awesome research, and discovered a new life-path for myself. I dated some sweet boys, met some incredible people, and discovered several new sides of myself. I worked in a nursing home that absolutely changed my life and how I view and treat others. I learned about a few new weaknesses, and tried to make them into strengths. Life was-- despite the certain hardships and trials we must all face--blissful.

In February of this year, the thought of a mission entered my mind again. I felt much peace about it, so I decided to ask God yet again. Upon fasting and praying about a mission, I got the answer no. I moved on with my life, and was certain that ship had sailed. A mission, I supposed, was just not for me.

By the end of April, I had just gotten out of a relationship that I wanted to work, but also knew needed to end. I received a blessing from my bishop who told me that this door had to close for another to open. At this time, I had absolutely no plan of serving a mission, but felt that the new path I needed to go down was one of personal preparation for something much greater and meaningful.

Throughout these past summer months, I was struggling with some serious anxiety and depression. As a result, I was praying more earnestly than at any other time in my life, and having feelings that I would need to soon say goodbye to Provo and the people I love here. This was so weird, because I wasn't going to graduate and leave until the following August, nearly a year and a half away.

While praying one day, I felt the prompting to begin studying Preach My Gospel (the book that full-time missionaries study and teach from). I thought it was a little weird because I didn't feel like a mission was the right thing, and for goodness sakes, only a few months prior I had received the answer to not serve a mission. Regardless, I thought studying Preach my Gospel would be a great way to better study and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every member a missionary, right? ;)

The days passed and, while sitting on my bedroom floor one day studying out of Preach my Gospel, I had the strongest, most distinct feeling, "You should be willing to serve a mission in the future, even if the timing doesn't seem ideal in your eyes."

I definitely didn't feel like I should serve. How interesting though, I thought. Sure, I'd be willing if it were right. (That's what we all say when it's only hypothetical, ha ha haaa).

Let's rewind a little bit: in May, I had received a text from my father at the most random of times that said, "Trust in the feelings the Lord plants in your heart. Go and do as he prompts even if you don't understand those promptings." At the time, I didn't have anything weighing heavily on my mind, but I thanked him for the important reminder. He is always so in tune with my life.

The very next day, however, I had an impression hit me like a ton of bricks. It was INSANE. I knew I had something to do, and it could not be put off. I messaged my father words of great appreciation for his perfect reminder the day prior, to which he responded the following verses:

1 Nephi 7:12
Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

1 Nephi 9:6
But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.

I responded with 1 Nephi 3:7, and agreed with a resounding YES. 
And it came to pass that I, Emily, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

About a month or two after these events, I was working in a mouse lab on campus. I was helping a master's student tag mice ears for her fascinating research on antibiotics and the gut microbiome. Feeling dizzy, I took a break to go eat lunch in the CougarEat on BYU Campus. I sat down with my lunch, burdened by the anxiety and depression I had been fighting for the months prior.

I desired the peace of the spirit SO much. I prayed so earnestly, crying for some guidance and peace, really anything that would take away the heaviness that burdened my heart and made it impossible to feel joy.

As I listened to my favorite talk--the one that never fails to lighten the load and bring peace into my life--I did begin to feel better in that ugly little CougarEat. The video came to an end, and I saw an ad for another video: the one with David Archuleta singing Glorious for the Meet the Mormons movie. I hadn't heard the song in a while, and decided to quickly watch it before returning to the lab. As I watched, my mind wandered. I thought of how much David sacrificed to serve a mission: his whole career, his fame, his family, his education... he gave up it all. Simply to serve God. Would I ever be willing to do the same?

And in that moment, burdened by fatigue both emotional and physical, I knew. I finally received my answer. Peace flooded my entire body in a way I hadn't felt for over a year. Peace overtook every other feeling; it overwhelmed all fatigue and depression and anxiety. All heaviness evaporated. Peace enveloped my soul. It was time to serve a mission. The time was now.

I immediately called my father to tell him. He went silent on the other end, and I wasn't sure why. I listened intently for any sound....and then I heard it. Muffled sobs. I joined him.

He explained that he had texted me about obeying the prompting of the spirit months prior because he knew I needed to serve a mission. He had felt it long before I did, and didn't want me to put off something so important. I remembered 1 Nephi 3:7, the scripture I had texted him in response. I will go and do what the Lord has commanded. A very humbling moment indeed.

Despite my initial willingness, the reality of this decision soon overwhelmed me. What about school? I was supposed to graduate in less than a year. I still had the second half of organic chemistry, biochem, nutritional biochem, and too many labs...  What about work, a job, money? What about triathlons, and the fitness I'd worked so hard to obtain? What will happen to the girl's team? I just bought a flipping bike. What about PA school? I was going to apply the following summer. What about shadowing? Clinical hours? The lab? Who the heck will take over in the lab? Girls on the run? What about dating? Who wants to date a 25 year old girl at BYU (so stupid, I realize)? And the ultimate kicker...all my friends will have graduated and be gone in 18 months. I'll come back to BYU...completely alone.

All these worries and more FLOODED my life. I teetered back and forth between going, and staying. For weeks, if you'd asked me if I was going to serve a mission, my answer would have varied with the day. My answer was as varied as were the foods I ate for lunch each day. Some days I'd be certain I was going, followed by several days of uncertainty, ending in a day I was certain I'd stay. Too much roller coaster for me. Truly, the timing did NOT seem ideal in my eyes. But isn't that what He had warned me, only a few short weeks earlier? Be willing to serve a mission in the future, even if the timing doesn't seem ideal.

During this time, I learned an incredible amount. An overwhelming amount. I feel so grateful that the Lord taught me SO MUCH during this pivotal period in my decision making.

I learned, as it teaches in Mosiah 24, what it means to cheerfully submit to the will of the Lord. Despite the incredible persecutions and burdens the people of Alma were forced to bear, they STILL remained faithful to the will of God. The did not only obey His will when it seemed completely unfair, but they did it cheerfully. I think we can all learn an important, humbling lesson from these incredibly faithful people. I certainly did. (you can read an incredible talk about this very topic right here, by elder maxwell in 1980).

I learned so much about the Savior, His apostles, and the people He taught. I gained so much love and respect for them, and the sacrifices God asked them to make. At times I felt like Peter, who started to sink when he focused on the troubled waters (fears) rather than solely on Christ. Only when I focused solely on Christ and His power did my fears subside and could peace reign in my life.


 I think of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-30, who was asked by Christ to sell EVERYTHING he valued in order to serve God. I can't help but think that Christ was asking Him to abandon not just his physical possessions, but also his career, his personal goals, etc... Would our faith waiver as his did if Christ asked the same of us? I know mine did initially, but I am so grateful for a God who pushes us to do what is best and right time and time again. He does this because He loves us deeply, beyond our understanding.

 I also think of Christ and His apostles. In Matthew 4:18-22, Christ asked them to abandon their nets—and I assure you that this was not a simple thing. The nets represent their livelihood, their investments, their commitments. The reward was not entirely promising. BUT THEY DID IT. They left it all to earnestly and devotedly follow Christ.



 In 1 Nephi, Lehi was asked by God to blindly leave Jerusalem and all his worldly possessions. This was a great sacrifice for his family--not only to leave their things, but also their home and friends and opportunities and careers. But I feel like I can understand, if only a little, how they felt. I am so grateful that God has asked me to leave now, when it feels very much like a sacrifice, so that I can learn what it feels like to temporarily give up nearly all I value in total devotion to Him and the covenants I have made. To me, sacrifice is how God tests our willingness to truly keep our covenants and FOLLOW HIM WHOLEHEARTEDLY.

As I learned these things, I realized that there is much more to God's timing that I had originally understood.  I gained a deep gratitude that God was asking me to serve a mission now--when it seemed very much like a sacrifice--rather than would it have been so much easier three years ago. I am grateful He could teach me this important lesson about sacrifice, consecration, and choosing to pursue His will for my life, rather than my own. Words can never express how grateful I am to learn these things now. After I humbled myself, talked with my gung-ho bishop, and started my papers, I never looked back. Of course, there were moments of serious doubt and frustration, but here I am today. He never left my side.

After five weeks of hesitation, three weeks of paper work, and three more weeks of waiting, I received my call to serve as full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I received it on the Tuesday night after Labor day, and opened it on a beautiful Wednesday morning atop Squaw Peak, surrounded by some of the greatest friends I could ask for.

We biked to the top of a mountain to open my call, a dream I had had for a long time. Thanks friends for biking up with me:) You guys are the BEST, and I really mean it.

I was again called to the Texas McAllen mission, only three years later. As I opened my mission call this time around, peace enveloped my soul. There was only peace.

So maybe this isn't "soon, really soon" like I had originally thought. Or maybe, in the whole scheme of eternity, 3 years really is "soon". Maybe 3 years is only the blink of an eye to an all-knowing, all-loving God. Maybe the things we worry about most--the things that cause the greatest stress because we desire them the most--take the most time because they're really the most important. Maybe we need to slow down, stop stressing, and instead give our lives over to the Master artist, so He can sculpt our short lives into something more beautiful and meaningful than we could ever create by ourselves. I love this quote so much:

"I have struggled to banish the mortal desire to have things my way, eventually realizing that my way is oh so lacking, limited, and inferior to the way of Jesus Christ. . . His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. . . Can we love Jesus Christ and His way more than we love ourselves and our own agenda?" - Sister Marriott

I too have struggled to change my way of thinking from what I want, to trusting that God has a beautiful, personal plan in store for those who follow Him. But, over the years, I have learned that the greatest happiness can be achieved by fully submitting ourselves and our lives to Him. Only then can we experience the greatest joy and peace available in this life.

I also love Matthew 6 so much. It says,

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?


Be humble enough to ask, but also faithful enough to act. This life is glorious, and will only get better as we choose His path and His will over that of our own.

If there is anything I have learned, it's that life really never goes as planned. Or at least mine hasn't, for goodness sakes. And, in the words of Al Fox, "Not once have things gone the way I had in mind, which can be really difficult at times- you have those fleeting thoughts of if God truly cares about you, or if He actually listens to your prayers and knows you- but how grateful I am that they did not go the way I had in mind. Because they have been profoundly better."

And it is so true.  We are not meant to live comfortable lives. As disciples of Christ, we are meant to live for something much greater. I hope we can all courageously choose the greater path that He has lovingly laid out for us personally, individually, and uniquely. This life is an incredible one, and I know that for those who follow Christ wholeheartedly, the best is truly yet to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Few there be that find it.

I love this painting so much. It evokes so many emotions.
The original was donated to the Newport Beach LDS Temple.


Matthew 7

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

(Return of the) Awkward and Awesome, yo

...in no particular order from the past 6 months.

Awkward

- where the 60 pound dog (who thinks she's a tiny human) chooses to plant her tush

- crying through half your farewell talk....and subsequently making every single human in the room cry, too. cursed genetics

- re-learning how to drive/park/chauffeur/etc. at the ripe age of 22

- phone calls to the MTC in only spanish....i was doin' swell until they asked me to tell the story of joseph smith... humility is a blessing. i'm comin' for ya, tejas.

- 5 pairs of glasses somehow getting completely lost in the mail....thanks warby parker for taking that $500 charge off my credit card. YIKES.

- showing my brother how to ride a bike trainer while wearing a skirt...let's just say, he saw a lot more than how to ride a bike. decent coverage: just one more blessing of wearing garments. coulda been real bad.

- Home wards: gotta love 'em for a little ego boost. my first counselor was busily telling me about the five coolest guys he's ever met and wants to set me up with when my old sunday school teacher walks past--mid conversation--and says, "hey, the guy i want to set you up with is in europe, but when he's back we gotta get this rollin'!" my life is never dull. count your blessings, folks. or just go on a mission, then it stops. completely. 
- on this same thought: introductions in home wards. please excuse me while i hide in the corner.

- how filthy rich i could be if i responded to all the emails in my inbox titled "$15 MILLION USD CONTACT AGENT IN USA!!!!" ...seriously, i'd be a Centillionaire. i could bathe in million dollar bills. word of advice: don't give your email away while visiting eastern africa, even when they confess their undying friendship.

Also, this (although I'd classify this more as terrifying than awkward...):
 



 










Awesome
- saving $780 on a two-years supply of contacts... (suckaaaas)

- snorkeling in 60 foot deep water off the coast of la jolla..i feel like i now understand what it feels like to do somersaults in outer-space

- sweeet bike rides with the bro

- lunch dates with the above-mentioned brotha

- sweeet runs with the other bro

- mcdonalds with the above bros, plus one more (i'm lovin' it...seriously though, their new grilled chicken guacamole pico burgers....MMM)

- celebrating the birthday of the only bro not yet mentioned with the entire family at Killer Pizzza

- swimming with seals who like to play "chicken"

- feeding geribaldi an entire bag of frozen peas

- buying five pairs of sweeet running shoes for the price of one... (suckaaaas)

- thrift store pants: originally $250, bought for $15 ... (suckaaaas)

- magical runs through the hills of poway with my sassy sister and sunny, the adventure pup (see above photo)

- bike rides with my other sister just before sunset

- SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN MID-RIDE. so nice.

- waking up to a very eager pup (see above photo x2), excited to begin the day

- snuggles with the nieces and nephews so they can sleep well that night (no, not the 23 year old one)

- skinny dipping in the colorado river, poway lake, utah lake, deer creek, silver lake, and a magical unknown waterfall in the forests of eugene, orgeon

- prayers answered in the most perfect, incredible, personal ways; ways that only a perfect, incredible, personal God could do

- Sneakily making cakes with the brotha and leaving them in the black of night to scare the sista

- The following conversation with a temple worker who overheard me talking about a mission:
 Girl: OH! I'm going on a mission too!
Me: No way! Where?
Girl: McAllen, Texas!
Me, as my eyes fall out of their sockets: YOU'RE KIDDING ME, RIGHT?!!
No she wasn't kidding me. She reports the same day, too. Bonkers.

- OH, and this day:
I LOOOOVE THE TEMPLE.



...& somewhere in between:
- splits with the sister missionaries....awkward only in the best of ways;) i do love those girls!


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Celebrating Covenants: Hello, Texas!

“If your heart is not singing the song of redeeming love, return to your covenants. Celebrate them. Covenants help make a difference in the lives of others. They make the choice of righteousness easier. I humbly pray that our covenants might become a greater source of celebration and strength in our lives.” Bonnie D. Parkin

I am so grateful for the opportunity I have today to share with you my feelings on covenants. To me, everything in the gospel revolves around covenants. They are an incredible source of strength, peace, and power in our everyday lives. I am so grateful for everything that Sister Johnson said before me; her thoughts on the sacrament were beautiful and touching. Today I will be talking about 1) what covenants are, 2) how we can keep them, and 3) the incredible blessings we are promised as we do so.
I want to first ask you, why does God have us make covenants and ordinances?
My first thought was because they are saving covenants & ordinances: baptism, the temple endowment and the marriage sealing. The keys of the priesthood allow us to make these eternal covenants; covenants have “enduring force and validity because of the sealing power” (p. 85, The Holy Temple). The sealing power is more than the ability to bind the marriage between a man and woman in God’s temple; it also allows all ordinances and covenants to endure beyond the grave, to become eternal (p. 98, The Holy Temple). Additionally, covenants help us to put off the natural man, a godly task that requires continual attention. Lastly, God has given us covenants because He loves us deeply and wants to bless us in greater abundance when we obey than He could otherwise. I will talk more about this later.

When studying Covenants, it is important to remember what is taught in Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Remembering this will allow us to learn and grow in so much greater abundance. If you don’t understand something—like a covenant or the importance of them—don’t just give up. Study, ponder, ask God and He WILL give you answers in His timing according to what is best for you (James 1:5).
So, what is a covenant?
A Covenant (noun) is a mutual agreement between two or more persons to do or refrain from doing certain acts (or promising to do others); as a verb, it means to enter into a covenant or formal agreement, to agree formally or solemnly, applied especially to an engagement entered into with our Heavenly Father.
What is an ordinance?

An ordinance is an outward, symbolic expression of an internal covenant that we are making. For example, the ordinance of baptism is symbolic of spiritual rebirth and cleansing from sin. When we are baptized, we are spiritually reborn as sons and daughters of Christ: But what does this mean? it means we covenant to always remember Him, to take His name upon us, and to strive to live as He would all the days of our lives, to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those who stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18). We covenant to sacrifice, to give all we have and are to God's purposes. to pray, to live the gospel, to obey His will. And possibly above all, we promise to obey the greatest of all God's commandments: to love God and Man with all our hearts and souls. To me, my temple covenants are just a deeper understanding of this original, central covenant made at baptism. 

In turn, we are promised to always have his spirit to be with us, or as it says in Mosiah 18:10—he will pour out his spirit (his guidance, his love, his strength, his knowledge) more abundantly in our lives. Those who live with this continual blessing know how incredible it is: the power, strength, love, guidance, and reassurance from above can be a steadfast anchor and powerful, guiding force in our everyday lives. 

How do we live them?

Elder Enzio F. Busche once told a story about couple who was terrified of being baptized, but when told that LOVE is the promise we are making, their fears subsided. He said to them: “I can see that you have learned to love the Lord and understand the basic principles of the covenant which you are about to make with him. Now the Lord wants you to take the Spirit, which will be given to you as his gift after baptism, and make it the greatest objective of your life—to let this Spirit be unfolded within you to its fullness of power. Thus, the Lord wants you both to love one another with an even deeper, more sensitive, caring love—a love of a new dimension that is different from the way the world knows—even to such a dimension that you will be overwhelmed by your insight, your patience, your caring, and sensitivity so that you will both be filled with a new dimension of joy and peace.” This simple promise filled them with excitement and eagerness to fulfill this covenant.

Elder Busche has also said, You want to be good and to do good. That is commendable. But the greatest achievement that can be reached in our lives is to be under the complete influence of the Holy Ghost. Then he will teach us what is really good and necessary to do.” Of course, we know that God wants us to love, and lift, and edify, and teach, but just as the covenants we make are universal in that we ALL make the same ones, how we keep them, to me, is deeply personal. It all depends on our personal lives, what we are capable of, our understanding of them, etc. To me, keeping a covenant is a day-to-day, minute-by-minute decision. They are kept in the small details of our lives; covenants are very deep, personal, complex things, and how we choose to live them is also. As we get older and understand these covenants more personally, our devotion too will deepen. As our devotion deepens, our actions to keep them may be different, and become more involved.

TO ME, sacrifice is one way to keep covenants, and the one I want to focus on. I first learned this principle from my father, by his daily actions and how he chooses to treat others. My father spends many nights out serving people, not according to an official calling but according to God’s timing and plan in a different way. He serves "the least of these" with greater love and eagerness than any other man I have met. He has rescued countless individuals from drugs, gangs, violence, addiction, and other powerful forces. He has brought them into the gospel, and taught them the beauty of Christ's atonement. He is the epitome of selfless service. I encourage you to have the faith to do God’s will, whatever that may be in your life, even when it feels initially like a sacrifice, or burden, or not ideal, or nearly impossible. I know from experience that when we obey the will of the Lord for our lives, we will experience the greatest happiness possible. 

SACRIFICE
The Atonement is the great and eternal sacrifice at the center and core of the gospel. The ordinance of the sacrament is reminder of the Savior’s Atoning Sacrifice, and enables us to renew our covenants weekly. When we partake of the sacrament each week, we sacrifice a broken heart and contrite spirit (3 nephew 9:19-20), meaning we are humble and receptive to the will of God and have deep sorrow for sin, along with a great desire to repent. As it states in D&C 97:8:
Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me. 
We observe covenants by sacrifice—every sacrifice the Lord shall command in our lives.
“Only by aligning our will with God’s is full happiness to be found. Anything less results in a lesser portion. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s alter. The many other things we ‘give’, brother and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. It is the only possession which is truly ours to give.” - Neal A Maxwell, Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father, 1995

I think of a story found in the Holy Temple by Elder Packer. A couple was asked to immediately come to Salt Lake to be interviewed. When they arrived, they were asked if they would serve as mission presidents for three years outside the country. Upon hearing this, they looked at each other, and then back to Elder Packer. Without hesitation, in humble agreement, they replied that they would. With only 11 days to settle their business and personal affairs, they responded to this call (p. 165). 

Keeping our covenants takes COURAGE and FAITH. As Elder Packer states, "What does a person do when he/she is asked to set aside every personal interest and go away for three years on call of the servants of the Lord? That depends on how he regards his covenants. … We are here to be tested. … Are there men and women and children in the world who will turn aside all they hold dear to respond to a call from the Lord? Is there such dedication in the world?… We covenant with the Lord to devote all our time, talents, and means to His kingdom.” In other words the LORD ASKS US TO SACRIFICE because this is how our wills become more aligned with His. Isn’t that the basis of all our covenants: to always remember Him, to keep His commandments, and to follow Him wholeheartedly, no matter how difficult the call or timing may initially seem? 
How I Learned this for myself

Nearly three years ago to the date, I knelt down and promised God I would do His will ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE. I yearned to serve a mission, submitted my papers, and received a call to serve in the Texas McAllen Mission. However, upon receiving this call, I knew without a doubt He needed me to stay in Provo, and decline the call at that time. After much trial, God asked me to NOT serve a mission when it was all the wanted. So I stayed. I decided to have the faith to NOT serve. Meanwhile, I learned SO MUCH. I grew beyond belief. I made incredible friendships, and achieved new goals I would have never imaged for myself, but were beyond amazing. And then, in the midst of all this and the beautiful life God had helped me to create, He suddenly asked me to leave to go serve Him as a full-time missionary. Some may not understand this, but I will never forget the feelings I had when I knew this. Obeying God's timing is part of obeying His will.

I fought the feelings for a while, but eventually humbled myself, started my papers yet again, and never looked back. I was again called to the Texas McAllen Mission, only three years later.

During this time, I related to several individuals in Biblical History. I gained so much love and respect for them, and the sacrifices God asked them to make. I felt like Peter, who started to sink when he focused on the troubled waters (fears) rather than solely on Christ. Only when I focused on Christ and His power did my fears subside and could peace reign in my life.

I also think of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-30, who was asked by Christ to sell EVERYTHING he valued in order to serve God. I can't help but think that Christ was asking Him to abandon not just his physical possessions, but also his career, his personal goals, etc... Would our faith waiver as his did if Christ asked the same of us? I know mine did initially, but I am so grateful for a God who pushes us to do what is best and right time and time again. He does this because He loves us deeply, beyond our understanding.

I also think of Christ and His apostles. In Matthew 4:18-22, Christ asked them to abandon their nets—and I assure you that this was not a simple thing. The nets represent their livelihood, their investments, their commitments. BUT THEY DID IT. They left it all to earnestly follow Christ.

In 1 Nephi, Lehi was asked by God to blindly leave Jerusalem and all his worldly possessions. This was a great sacrifice for his family. But I feel like I can understand, if only a little, how they felt. I am so grateful that God has asked me to leave now, when it feels very much like a sacrifice, so that I can learn what it feels like to temporarily give up nearly all I value in total devotion to Him and the covenants I have made. To me, sacrifice is how God tests our willingness to truly keep our covenants and FOLLOW HIM WHOLEHEARTEDLY.

I invite you all to ask God what you can do to further your covenants with Him. It is a uniquely personal thing, and it is also important to remember that there is a time and a season for all things. Not everyone is asked to serve a mission, and not everyone is asked to give up EVERYTHING like our pioneer ancestors. But I am certain there is more we can do to keep our covenants with Him. I don’t say this to overwhelm the already stressed—I say it because I know that when we do the will of the Lord for our lives, He will bless us abundantly. We will receive an added measure of strength, peace, and capacity. I invite you to ask God, in great faith, what He would have you to do. At this point in your life, it may be as simple as changing how you interact with your coworkers or treat your children, or it may be as drastic as leaving to serve a mission. I definitely did not expect a mission to be my answer, but I know that as we promise to dedicate all the days of our lives to Him, WE WILL BE BLESSED ABUNDANTLY. Of this I am absolutely certain.

The Promised Blessings of Covenant-Keeping People

God promises us blessings when we obey them and He will NEVER falter in keeping His promises. As it says in D&C 82:10,I the lord am bound when you do what I say, when you do not what I say ye have no promise". We are guaranteed these blessings as we make and keep sacred covenants; God will always keep His side of the agreement, it is only we who can waiver.

It says in 1 Nephi 14:14:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.
We live in a very confusing world—just look at the very difficult political questions we must decide from today—but being true to our covenants we have made can bring us both POWER and PEACE even amidst incredibly difficult and confusing circumstances. Bonnie D. Parkin continued in her 1995 talk Celebrating Covenants, “Covenants anchor us to solid ground, which, amidst the storms, makes our promises not only meaningful for eternity but vital for today. Have your covenants moved you to sing the song of redeeming love?” She continued, "What are the rewards of covenant keeping? Gentle-hearted King Benjamin said: because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ….and under this head ye are made free (Mosiah 5:7-8). and we will ‘be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that [we] may have eternal life’” (Mosiah 18:9). 

Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of Elder Nelson, has said, "My dear sisters, as covenant keepers out covenants change everything in our lives--for the better. They change our identity and ultimate destination. They change the road we're traveling on through this life. As covenant keepers, what we want out of life; what we are willing to spend our time, energy, and money on; what we think is entertaining; what we think is appealing; ALL CHANGE. As covenant keepers, our desire to be someone the Lord can count on increases exponentially! No matter what He asks us to do. As covenant keepers, how we feel about the Savior changes forever." In other words, our covenants have the capacity to change who we are at our very core, in order to become more like Christ.

My favorite promise of all: covenant keeping will help you recall the One with whom you’re yoked, and your burden will be lighter. What an incredible blessing during this often difficult life. 

Sister Parkin continues, "Covenants help me focus on the big picture and not just the immediate…I humbly pray that our covenants might become a greater source of celebration and strength in our lives; that we may walk uprightly and steadfastly, that when we most need the Lord’s hand, it will be there waiting warmly."

In a similar address by D. Todd Christofferson, he has said regarding covenants, “Keeping covenants with God gives us the power to smile through hardships, to convert tribulation into triumph, to be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and to bring to pass much righteousness.” Continuing, he says, "Covenants produce the faith necessary to persevere and to do all things that are expedient in the Lord...as we walk in obedience to the principles and commandments of the gospel of jesus christ, we enjoy a continual flow of blessings promised by God in His covenant with us. Our covenant commitment to him permits our Heavenly Father to let his divine influence, 'the power of godliness.'"

Remember: there is always hope if we have slipped in keeping our covenants. "The Savior so wants us to fulfill our promises that He has provided an everlasting Atonement. If your heart is not singing the song of redeeming love, return to your covenants. Celebrate them" (Bonnie Parkin). 

Mosiah 4:11-12 states,
If ye do this ye shall always rejoice and be filled with the love of God...and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of Him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
I know of no other way to achieve this blessing than by striving to keep our covenants. They are the definition of truth, and abiding by them is the ultimate way to achieve strength, peace, and joy in this life. Our covenants, as we grow in understanding them, truly encompass all that the gospel is. As President Monson has said, “[Covenants] are a passport to peace in this life. They are a Liahona of light to guide you unerringly to your heavenly home."

I am so grateful for the opportunity I will soon have to dedicate my entire life to serving God and teaching His children. I am so grateful to teach them about how to find happiness and joy, how to peacefully weather the storms of life, and how to access the incredible power of the redeeming Atonement of Jesus Christ. He is the center of this gospel. I testify of His redeeming power, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen


** funny note, I was reading back on my journal and found that on May 3, 2015, I wrote, "I need to study covenants more diligently as I prepare to receive my endowment!" So crazy how 5 months later, I definitely was able to study them more diligently. ;) Timing, my friends, is often everything.