31 January, 2015

This Week's Gratitude Post

It's funny how certain music from certain eras of your life will take you back, making you remember and feel things you haven't in years. I started listening to my really old albums tonight while I was studying, once again, for the GMAT and Falling Into You, an album by Celine Dion came on my iTunes. I haven't listened to these songs in FOREVER. And suddenly I remembered how I felt, as a little girl getting this album for my birthday.

I was obsessed with music as a girl, still am, and this was only my second album. When I opened it I think I screamed cause I was so excited. And so many good memories along with that one came flooding back: belting out "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" in the car with my mom, listening to the entire album and dancing with my sisters for hours pretending to film music videos, and teaching myself the beginnings of songwriting by picking apart the chord and lyric structure.

Then I remembered sitting on the floor, the boom box my dad gave me playing the album for the thousandth time probably, and the second song, "Because You Loved Me," started playing. My mom came around the corner of the hallway and through the door of my room and said that if there was a song ever written that described how she felt about my dad, it was that one. She began to tell me how everything good in her life came from the love she shared with my dad. That no matter how imperfect they both were, and all the mistakes they made and would surely make in the future, that she was the wife, mother, and person she was because of the appreciation, confidence, support and safety she found in being loved by my dad and loving him in return.

I realized tonight thinking of these memories just how much these little things impacted the way I viewed life, not only at the time, but also strengthened me and determined how I would face the challenges I experienced later. A dear friend, who I actually ended up dating, once said one of the things he loved most about me was the fact that I didn't give up on anyone. And I don't because I come from two parents that never gave up on each other, no matter what challenges they faced. I'm so grateful for that.

21 January, 2015

A Day I’ll Remember Never To Forget

I’ve been preparing to take the GMAT so it’s taken a couple days to find the time to sit down and write, but I want to remember how incredibly wonderful it was to see the first of my sisters get married to a wonderful man and companion in the temple this past weekend.

We’re super close, my sisters and I. As kids we used to say we were the three musketeers. We even later added to our group our own “d'Artagnan,” our younger (and only female) cousin on my dad’s side. We were always close, but became even closer after losing our mom as teenagers.

The last ten years we banded together, looking after each other, supporting each other, through everything. And I mean, everything. My sister just younger than me was my rock of support when I thought I would break, my youngest sister was my home base where I could run to for safety to regroup, and I was their guardian and protector jumping in to save the day when anything went wrong. We each filled for the others the place, the gaps, where our mom once stood in our individual lives. We were each other’s teachers, examples, best friends and even at times, each other’s perceived worst enemies. But that’s what it truly means to be sisters, right?

My role as I said was to guard and protect. I got used to defending and preserving their freedom and opportunities. Making sure our circumstances or challenges in no way hindered our potential to reach goals we had always had: to get an education, to do something we love, to be financially independent, secure and happy. And one day, as Latter-day Saint women, to marry in the temple and have a family too, if that was the Lord’s plan. This was a role and responsibility I took very seriously.  

Then this last year, after we’ve all graduated, gotten jobs, etc. my sisters have gradually and quietly come into their own. It wasn’t until a bridal shower as I sat back watching my sister interact for the first time in this new world and adventure she was embarking on that I suddenly thought, “Wow, who is this incredibly strong, capable and confident woman sitting next to me?” It wasn’t the girl I shielded in my shadow anymore. Without even realizing it, she had grown up right before my eyes. And into the kind of woman my mom had hoped we would each be.

When her wedding day came I couldn’t help but tear up sitting there in this absolutely heaven like room we call the sealing room, a room found in LDS temples, watching her hand in hand with her now husband making promises of real love and commitment for time and all eternity. She was absolutely radiant. The joy in her eyes struck me as I watched her step through and close this difficult chapter of loss, despair and discouragement; having never given up, having held on to us as we held onto her to make it, and now she was moving on. I realized watching her that suddenly now, we did it. We’ve made it. And now she is my example of hope, strength and courage the way I have always tried to be hers.

08 January, 2015

A Star To Follow

Stake Conference Talk 12/28/2014

The first part of what I have been asked to speak about today is what has influenced my testimony over the last year, when I thought about it it's even been the last two years. I can tell you the strength I have quite recently realized I have, and have been leaning on a lot lately, has been built on small and simple moments of obedience to what we tend to call in our meetings, the basics. It always seems to be the answer doesn't it? Pray, read the scriptures and go to church. You would think that after serving a mission those basics would come naturally… and not feel, well, boring or repetitive... but sometimes it can be like a checklist we've already marked off but still feel incomplete or failing in. What I want to share with you all today, is that is in our power to change. And the restored gospel provides all the tools, for each of us individually, to do so. All you need to do is pick your star to follow.

When the wise men, or great men of the East, sought to find Jesus Christ they followed a star. They didn't know exactly how it would lead them or exactly where it would lead them to, but they knew it to be a sign of God and they faithfully followed it. Now when they got to Jerusalem, as can be seen in Matthew chapter 2, they stopped in to see Herod and asked for directions. Note, even in biblical times wise men stop for directions. Herod didn't know, but his chief priests and scribes consulted the words of the prophets, the scriptures, and told them to continue on to Bethlehem, the City of David. We don't know from where the wise men came, but we can gather if they needed to follow a star to get from where they were coming from, it wasn't close. Whether it took them days, weeks, or more likely months to get to Bethlehem, they didn't give up. They found Him. 

When you stop and really think about this story, that we have heard repeated, much like the basics I referred to earlier really… you realize all the work it must have taken to prepare for this one moment in their lives to happen. As we know from D&C 88 :13 all things in life, even nature and the power of God, are governed by the laws. Things don't just suddenly appear; that star didn't suddenly appear in the sky. It was prepared and it's appearance prophesied all done knowing that these wise men were the kind of men that would specifically be looking for it. Now God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so what preparations has he laid specifically for you to see the light and hope of the gospel in these latter-days? What "star" has He specifically prepared for you to follow?           

I love this quote by President James E. Faust, "A patriarchal blessing from an ordained patriarch can give us a star to follow, which is a personal revelation from God to each individual. If we follow this star, we are less likely to stumble and be misled. Our patriarchal blessing will be an anchor to our souls, and if we are worthy, neither death nor the devil can deprive us of the blessings pronounced. They are blessing we can enjoy now and forever." And I can tell you, this year my patriarchal blessing has been a guiding star for me. A patriarchal blessing as President Ezra Taft Benson said, is "personal scripture to you." Did you catch that word, scripture… it's one of those basics we keep hearing about. But not always the one we first think of.

When I feel lost and confused, I don't think of the stories of how this person or that person suddenly opened the scriptures and the first verse they read on the page they opened to had their answer. Sure it can happen, but the Lord knows me personally and knows I don't work that way. I need to work things out, find my answers, even talk it out. So instead I have a list of favorite scriptures, that I consistently add to, to go to when I feel like I need the Spirit's help, direction or even just comfort, and at the top of that list is my patriarchal blessing. For me, that blessing is my catalyst. Every time I read it I am reminded that The Lord knows me personally, has prepared this journey for me and is there walking it with me. Every time I read it, I am compelled to pray (there's another one of those basics again,) to pray to the Lord personally, with all I'm feeling at that moment which usually includes a lot of love, frustration and impatience, but that's what He's there for. To listen, to comfort, and through the Spirit to guide, sooth, and encourage. For me, that encouragement usually includes patience.  

But what if you've read your blessing and just don't get it. It seems vague or confusing? Now if you have a pen and something to write on I want you to pull them out. While studying and preparing this talk I found something really cool that when I applied it to my own blessing made it come to life for me and certain things I still needed right now stood out that haven't before. I want you to write this down and apply it to your own blessing when you get back home. You're going to get out a few sheets of paper. At the top of the first page you are going to write "Blessings", then half way down that same page you're going to write "Counsel", then at the top of the next page you're going to write "Warnings" and half way down write "Covenants and Promises." Now you're going to go through your blessing line by line and pick out the things that fit into these different categories.

Blessings: These are identified as gifts from Heavenly Father. They are not subject to any future performance in that they are given to you as a child of God. As long as your life is in harmony with the principles of the gospel, these blessings will be given to you at the time the Lord dictates. They will read similar to: "Friends and associates will be raised up unto thee in time of need." or "You are blessed with the gift of discernment."

Counsel: Instance where counsel is being given will read: "Be faithful…" "Be diligent…" "Continue…" "Thou shalt…" "Endeavor to…" or "Use this ability to…"

Warnings: There will generally be only a few or none in this category. The wording of these lines should make them clear. The important thing is that when warnings are given, they must be carefully noted and impress them upon your own mind. Examples may be, "Sister, never…" or "Do not…"

Covenants/Promises: These statements can be identified as statements where a blessing is mentioned which is connected with certain things you must do to receive the blessing; some examples would be: "They friends shall be a special blessing unto thee… inasmuch as thou shalt select for thine close associates those who are righteous" or "if thou wilt give of they time and talents unto the building up the Kingdom of God… thou shalt gain a certain testimony that Jesus is the Christ."

When I mapped out my own patriarchal blessing this way the night before last I didn't just remember how personally the Lord knows me but how personally he prepared this blessing for me to help me in my specific journey. When thinking of the challenges I'm even now facing, I felt motivated, strengthened, like I had a direction to go in again. And I felt how personally my Heavenly Father and Savior love me.

Mapping out my blessing like this led to the second part of what I was asked to speak on, how I'm going to use these experiences to strengthen me going forward into a new year. I began to use what was there in front of me, this map, to set goals. After praying for guidance, I reread and pondered the counsels and warning. Then read the page of covenants/promises. Then I started to write down the areas I feel I can work on at this time in my life and the things I can do to keep moving forward in my life. Then started to set time bound goals to make these things happen. 

President Kimball has given this advice: "It is true of all of us that as we progress spiritually, our sense of belonging, identity, and self-worth increases. Let us create a climate in which we encourage [members] of the Church to have a program of self- improvement. It ought to be a practical and realistic, one that is determined personally and not imposed upon them. Yet it ought to cause them to reach for new levels of achievement. We are not asking for something spectacular, but rather... to find real self-fulfillment through wise self-development in the pursuit of righteous worthy endeavors."   

One thing I know from everything I've learned is that we all have individual paths and destinies prepared for us by The Lord. We can't compare where we are to where we think others are. Especially as single adults. Instead, as we accept who we are, knowing the Lord loves us and more than that, he knows our potential. Just like David, a shepherd boy with very little experience. Or Saul, of one of the "least" of all families of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe of Israel, who wondered and even asked the prophet in 1 Sam 9:21 when he sought him out, "wherefore then speakest thou so to me?" They weren't chosen because of the great men they were, but for their potential to listen to The Lord, to obey and serve Him, to be magnified. You are no different. I say these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who knows us and loves us and is there to guide us, amen.