Be Specific

In sacrament meeting this past Sunday, a couple just came back from Warsaw, Poland after serving as the mission president and mission president’s wife for about three years. They spoke, and again I could feel the energy and enthusiasm concerning missionary work that I’ve been feeling so much lately. I feel so blessed to be able to watch and hear about these wonderful missionaries traveling abroad and being able to teach a gospel which they love so much.

The Nielsen’s, left me with this piece of advice that I’m going to try to apply to my own personal prayers, which have been somewhat lackluster as of late. They advised to be specific to the Lord. Tell Him not just what you need, but what you’re going to do in return. Their example was a pair of sister missionaries. They would prayer for a new investigator or a family to teach, and in return they would tell Heavenly Father where they were going to be at what time. It was a combination of faith and works that allowed them to have success in teaching the gospel, especially in such a different place.

Be specific to the Lord. I know sometimes I have the tendency to give a vague, “Dear God, this is what I need, I’ll do what I can to get it” sort of prayer, which becomes redundant and not very personal after a while. This week, I’ll definitely ask for his help with transitioning back into a school routine, and in return offer something specific.

Advertisements

Focus on Christ

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the new school year about to begin, and where and how I want to improve. This semester, I’ll be taking New Testament, and so to go along with that, I recently purchased “Jesus the Christ” by James E. Talmage. I’ve only gotten through the Introduction, so I don’t really have any thoughts on it yet, but I saw it as a springboard for my focus this semester: Christ.

As I talked a bit about yesterday, it sometimes seems religion gets in the way of the gospel. In trying to be a better person, I overlook the real reason why I read scriptures/pray/etc and merely attempt to do so for ego/reputation/etc. But I don’t need to motivate myself that way; in fact, it’s probably better not to (as it does come off a little shallow and narcissistic). The perfect motivation and the perfect example is right here. It’s Christ. Focusing on Him, learning from and about Him, that is how I’ll become a better person. And I probably need reminding of that often.

Image

Progress

Goodness, blogging is hard. Like, really hard. I definitely admire all of those faithful bloggers who post something on a consistent basis. The progress of this current project pretty much summarizes how most of my projects without a grade attached usually end up. Which, I suppose is as good a lead in as any into my thought for today. . .

A few weeks ago, at fast and testimony meeting, I wrote down a quote from someone. He probably doesn’t realize that I jotted down his words to save for myself, that his simple testimony impacted me particularly, probably because he was about ten years old. I was surprised at this bit of wisdom, how it came so suddenly and yet so simply. 

Progress, no matter how small, is still progress.

And he was so humble in his delivery. I can still hear his earnestness in his quiet voice. And, I have to admit, I thought of this poor neglected blog, and my inconsistent scripture study and overall study habits. But this post is a step.

I have had a lot of projects in the past. A lot. They range from novels to graphic novels to art installations and other such craziness. But  I only have a few completed works and even fewer revised. I must get bored or distracted, or some combination of the two, and abandon it and move on.

Sometimes I treat consistent scripture study or temple attendance as a project. I’ll have an inspirational lesson or a fantastic General Conference weekend, and I’ll be super motivated to do everything perfectly and have check boxes to fill in and new journals to fill up with profound thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with lists or new notebooks; they have a lot of potential. But for me, the project almost got in the way of the spiritual aspect. I’d gotten so caught up in the creative/logical/motivational part of the project, that I’d neglect the real reason I was doing this in the first place. And I’m not exactly sure how to overcome this. I should have better motivation for scripture study, an earnest desire, like that boys earnest desire to share his testimony with me. It shouldn’t be about keeping up pretenses or even sharing my thoughts with the world. I just need to stay humble, buckle down, and do it. Habits are hard to make, but progress, even in the smallest degree, is still progress.

Called to Stay {The Difficulty of “No”}

I guess this isn’t really a spiritual message, more of a personal journal post, but that’s what I feel like I need most at the moment.

Back in October of 2012, I was sitting in my apartment with my roommates watching General Conference when the age eligibility for sister missionaries changed. I could see (and, to be honest, hear quite clearly) how much this seemed to affect them. One of my roommates had wanted to serve at 21, but it would have conflicted with her entrance into a prestigious program and was worried she would have to choose, but being able to serve earlier would allow her to do both. She’s now serving in Houston, Texas, and I’m currently waiting for her to write me back. Three of my other roommates are turning in their papers by the end of this year, and the fifth one has been more seriously contemplating serving as well. There was a flurry of action and paperwork in not just my ward, but all over campus. My bishop aptly noted that the age change was a bomb dropped by the First Presidency, and BYU was ground zero. Even back home, friends I had in high school are circumventing the globe, eager to spread the gospel.

And then there’s me. 

The announcement did shock me, but it didn’t seem to affect me like everyone else. I didn’t have this sudden bolt of inspiration or rush of desire to serve a mission. I didn’t see my future magically clear-cut in front of me. I hadn’t ever really thought of going on a mission, preferring to wait until I was 21 to decide. I suddenly, however, had the opportunity to go on one. I could feel everyone’s enthusiasm, and I wanted so badly to join in. But, admittedly, and I still feel a little awkward in saying this, I didn’t really have a desire to go on a mission. It sounded difficult, the constant rejection and dealing with people. Even selling tickets to guests through a glass window has me worn out by the end of the week. It would even be harder to be so dedicated to the gospel, and to feel so strongly about it, and not have people treat it the way they should. Not to mention the possibility of a foreign mission, while perhaps preferable, would have me praying for the gift of tongues that I probably wouldn’t have. Honestly, I’d prefer serving in a different manner, but I focused on my desire to serve, and started praying. If the Lord wanted me to go on a mission, I would go, not because I wanted to, but because He did. And I was almost ready for the “yes”.

But it never came. I was praying, trying to read my scriptures more diligently, and living worthily of receiving my revelation, but no real answer came. And day by day, more people would be announcing their decisions, and asking me if I’d be going on a mission, and I’d have to answer them, “I’m not sure yet,” which made me feel wishy-washy. I read my patriarchal blessing, looking for some sort of combination of words that would indicate a more specific answer. I remember thinking about missions when I first got my blessing, a couple years back, and wondering if it would indicate whether or not I’d be going. At the time I was wryly amused when there was a sentence along the lines of, “In regards to serving a mission, the decision is up to you. Only you decide when and if you’ll serve.” But now, I was even more frustrated. 

I was conflicted. Here I was, waiting, working for an answer, and I wasn’t getting a definite anything. I made pro/con lists, but ultimately I was waiting for an answer. And then I wondered whether this was all a stupor of thought. I pondered for a few days, then got on my knees. For some reason, it was really hard for me to pray, asking whether it was okay to not serve a mission, that my answer was “no”. Even now it’s difficult to admit. It almost feels like saying no to the Lord, saying no to missions or sharing the gospel. I see examples and results of the great work these missionaries are doing, and how they bless the lives of others, and I would love nothing more than to be a part of that. But the answer was “no”. I felt a sense of peace that seemed at odds with my own conflicted feelings, a beacon of light cutting through the fog and haze of my thoughts. 

But that didn’t make the “no” any easier. I smile and clap and listen eagerly to the mission calls and farewells and write letters when I have the time. I love missionary letters and the Spirit they give to my day. But it’s still difficult to watch your friends travel and learn languages and partake in something you love. And sometimes it’s hard to deal with the implications of the “no”.

I’ve never felt outrightly judged on my religious righteousness for deciding not to go on a mission, but the age-change has definitely resulted in a culture-change. Suddenly men are claiming they only want to marry a returned missionary, perhaps a joking reciprocation of the much repeated mantra from young women, but it makes me personally feel less worthy than other sisters, like I am not able to serve because of my choices. Or people, often joking, I acknowledge, assume that, because I’m not serving a mission, I’m going to be married off in the next two years. I’m not exactly sure why this makes me uncomfortable, but it does. Firstly, I don’t know how to respond. I’m honestly not into dating at the moment, and to me, nineteen seems a bit young to be married. Besides, there are things I want to do, and I want to be able to enjoy being single and learn to love myself before getting involved like that (but that’s almost a whole other rant). Secondly, it almost seems like I place marriage over mission, or boyfriend over God, which is far from true. Even non-members have picked up the habit of asking me, “Are you going on a mission?” It seems harder to say no to them, because it feels like my religion isn’t as important to me as college/marriage/any other reason I would stay instead of go. 

Sometimes I just want to shout, “If He wanted me to go, I would! Without hesitation!” Maybe I will be married within the next year and a half (that would be an interesting development), maybe I will have the opportunity to serve Him in some other capacity, or maybe my decision was exactly that: mine. Perhaps it would be easier if I knew exactly what was ahead of me; maybe an ill family member requires my presence at home, or maybe I’ll be sick myself. Maybe I’ll have another great opportunity to serve some other way (this is another story, in itself). Maybe this is just to strengthen me and my faith. Maybe nothing spectacular happens in my life (which is definitely hardest to admit). 

But the point is, I don’t know. I don’t know what exactly is going to happen. I don’t know why my answer is “no”. I don’t know what would have happened if I still decided to serve. I don’t know if it’ll change within the next year. I don’t know whether I’ll serve later in my life. I just don’t really know. What I do know is that my faith is well-placed. I wonder if I would have changed my answer if it hadn’t been divine revelation. What I do know is that it is hard to say “no”. But there are good reasons for it, even if others don’t immediately see them. And I have to recognize that when I say “no,” I’m not rejecting the truthfulness of the gospel, but that I’m reaffirming it, placing my faith in God and trying my best to align my will with His, and not the expectation of others. 

Simplement

Just a quick thought for the night.

At the beginning of the summer, I purchased a French copy of the Book of Mormon to study and keep up my French a little bit. Considering I only have a semester of French under my belt, I can stumble through a good bit. I especially like looking up scripture masteries, because I have the English translation memorized, and it’s interesting to compare the linguistic differences, but still see the same doctrine. One of my favorites is in Mosiah 2:17 (emphasis added):

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

The French translation is this (emphasis added):

Et voici, je vous dis ces choses afin que vous appreniez la sagesse; afin que vous appreniez que lorsque vous êtes au service de vos semblables, vous êtes simplement au service de votre Dieu.

What really stood out to me in the French version (which I tried to make stand out to you), was the use of the word simplement, or simply. One thing I’ve learned as a writer, is that every word counts, so there’s a reason that the translator chose to use simplement instead of seulement or something of a similar nature.

And then I was thinking about the verse. It really is a simple concept; serve your fellow beings, and you’re serving God. There’s not much else to it. And that’s what essentially the gospel is. The simple concept of “God loves me”. It’s a message that many of my friends are sharing right now, all over the world. One of my missionary friends rejoiced in the simplicity of the gospel in one of his letters, and I could feel the Spirit just reading those words. He didn’t share a complicated or even a highly intellectual testimony, and he didn’t need to. It was a few sentences, shared simply.

So that is a reminder to me. Sometimes I get caught up in the world, and feel like I should have reasonings and rationalizations for my beliefs, as if to justify my values. But instead, I should be more focused on sharing the gospel through my own testimony. And my testimony doesn’t need to be eloquent, or even well-organized. One of the hardest testimony meetings I had ever been in was the last one in my student ward. The seats lining up to the stand were getting more and more full, when suddenly, I had that familiar sensation of my insides filling with Sprite. It felt bubbly and rushing and clear, and I knew that I was being prompted to share my testimony that meeting.

So I waited, and listened to other testimonies, and tried to outline what I would say. But the more I scrambled my thoughts together, the less coherent they became and the more I realized what was required of me. I had given a talk a few weeks previous (one that I was pretty proud of, I might add quietly), and I kind of had a reputation as a good speaker, so I felt obligated to give a well-spoken testimony. But I couldn’t pull together a good story, or even a decent opening line. That’s when I realized I didn’t need to give this great speech. I didn’t even need the opening line to give everyone a bit of a laugh. I would just go up to the stand, listen to the Holy Ghost, and wait for the words that I would share. Though I didn’t have the chance to go up and speak, it was one of the most nerving meetings I had ever been in. I was putting faith in God for me not to look like a fool, but more importantly, for me to be able to share my testimony, and share it simply.

To Be {The Goal of SPLOG}

One of the best compliments someone has ever given me, believe it or not, was that I was admirably always trying to better myself. I was humbled that someone had recognized that they had seen what were my attempts of becoming a less of a “bad” person as something that was good.

I spent too much of my high school career being perfect. I had top grades in the top classes, I was in club leadership, and in leadership positions at church. I never missed a day of school or seminary unless I was deemed too sick by my mother. I carefully choose outfits each morning based on peer perceptions, and only talked when I had to, to maintain the polished surface of my reputation.

But then something happened, one perfectly ordinary day. It was like the floor had opened up underneath me and I realized what I thought were floorboards were really ceiling tiles. Everything seemed to crash around me, and I realized how insignificant my mere high school “reputation” was, and I saw the person I really was. She was far from perfect, like I expected her to be, but further than I had ever deluded myself into thinking.

The grades I earned were coming at a price too steep; I had mental breakdowns in rapid succession, and for what? I memorized things quickly for tests, and soon replaced them with the next round of quizzed factoids. I was reading less and finding more ways to escape on the Internet. Art and creative expression became more difficult as I pushed it aside for more urgent things, reasoning that later I would pick it back up. There was a similar mentality with my attitude towards the church. I once had a testimony, but soon found it struggling to grow at the bottom of my to-do list. Scripture study was not a necessity, but a luxury, it seemed, and rarely one to preempt Facebook or Pinterest. I finished off high school glad for it to be over, and ready for the change in both scenery, and in myself.

I suppose this is one of the ways I try to improve myself. To force me to be a little more creative and accustomed to using that side of my brain, I would have the goal to write a poem, however short or however stupid, each day. Every day, then, I would drive myself to be a poet, to be creative. In the words of Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy, in one of my favorite talks from the April 2011 General Conference (“What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?):

“Many of us create to do lists to remind us of things we want to accomplish. But people rarely have to be lists. Why? To do‘s are activities or events that can be checked off the list when done. To be, however, is never done. You can’t earn checkmarks with to be‘s. . . . it needs to be a part of my nature—my character, or who I am.”

My focus on my life, now, is not, “What can I check off of my list by doing this?” but rather, “What kind of person do I become by pursuing this?” I admit, it was a difficult change to bring about. It’s hard to change someone’s mind, but even harder to change your own. But that life-altering event still hung in the back of my mind, with the power to humble me. But I have seen the blessings of being vs. doing, however small. I have tried new things, like slack-lining and sushi, in an attempt to become a more interesting person. I’ve adjusted study habits to be a better student. I’ve written poems to be a better writer and humanist. I’ve read more voraciously to be a smarter and more developed person. I’ve tried to keep my eyes open and find little ways to serve to be a better roommate, neighbor, and disciple of Christ. I’ve started a SPLOG {spiritual web log}, as a way to make scripture study more fun so I can be better at studying scriptures. I’ve come to notice that just reading scriptures everyday doesn’t seem to affect me; I’ve gotten too good at skimming. Since I’ve been home for the summer, I’ve been asked a few times to substitute for classes, from Relief Society to Primary, when I noticed how much more into the scriptures I delved when preparing for these lesson in opposed to the routine reading I did before bed. Then I thought if I were to study by creating a bunch of lessons or devotionals, I could learn a lot more, have greater motivation to study, and possibly even have a few things on hand if I ever needed to give a spiritual thought.

So the goal? Publish at least one thing, every day, on this splog. Whether a quote and a few of my thoughts, or even what I gained from the lesson in Sunday School that day. That way, I can work on being a consistent writer, a more thoughtful blogger, and a little more aware of the tender mercies, in the scriptures and in my life.