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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Lead Me, Guide Me

These last few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life.  I was contacted three weeks ago with a job offer for the agent who took over the office that I used to manage.  She offered me any hours I wanted to work, and a pretty attractive salary.  No matter how I looked at the offer, I would have to leave Baby Bennett with family or with day care for at least part of the time.  But the offer was a good one, and heaven knows our family needs the money. I needed to get back with her within 48 hours.  It was absolutely exhausting, draining, and consumed my days and nights.

I decided to spend some time in the temple.  I went through the session, then sat in the celestial room for a long, long time.  In fact, I had the audacity to tell Heavenly Father, "I'm not leaving until you tell me what to do."  The voices of the world and voices of human logic seemed so loud and clear:  "It is your duty.  It is an offer you need:  an offer you can't refuse."  The voices of peace and spiritual comfort and clarity came much, much more softly, and required a whole lot of soul-searching.  But eventually the answer came that day:  "Kristen, not now.  Now, be a mommy.  Just be a mommy."

In my mind, I can almost see some of my readers scratching their heads, perhaps wondering:  "Wait, haven't we already been through this?  Didn't you already make this decision a year ago?  Why are you doing this again?"

Well, yes.  I did decide to come home last year, after months of praying and dreaming.  But since then, I have always wondered if that was a logical thing to do.  Spiritually, it felt right, but Satan certainly has a way of testing us, doesn't he?  Especially in our extremities, financial and otherwise.  So it comes down to this:  I don't know where the answer lies, but I am choosing faith once again, choosing to travel through these trials without purse or scrip.  It's a trying path that I'm taking by choosing to be a full-time mother, but the vistas are grand, the rewards are immediate, and the lessons come daily.  I pray that things will work out somehow, whether in expected or mysterious ways.

I have more very important decisions in my life at this time, which I also prayed about in the celestial room that evening.  One is still quite sacred and fresh, so I will ponder it in my heart for a bit longer, but I am feeling confident that God is mindful of me, though at times He veils His answers so I can develop my faith more fully.  I guess I'll keep you posted on those things when the spirit prompts me to share.

For now, I share my gratitude with you.  I am grateful for a Heavenly Father who allows me to grapple with my problems and personal decisions, so that I may retain the knowledge and faith thereof for eternity.  I am grateful that life is hard, for that is how I grow, how my spirit is strengthened, and how I have the opportunity to develop a relationship with the Savior.  That is how I develop compassion.  That is how I find clarity.  The voice of the Holy Ghost is more than just a warm fuzzy feeling.  It is the comfort of my very own Savior, my "true eternal friend."  His voice guides me, directs me, and leads me along, in a beautiful and perfect way, when I am willing to live the commandments, and when I am willing to ask for direction.  I need that direction every hour.  I need it every minute.  I pray that I will always trust the promptings I receive, never discounting them because of the world's logic, or because I am not in tune enough to recognize them.

On traveling without purse or scrip, artist Liz Lemon Swindle wrote: 

"Early in His ministry, the Savior called His disciples to go forth and preach his word. These were largely fishermen with little money. They must have worried how they would provide for themselves and their families as they left to go and preach. Calming their fears Jesus said, 'Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses… for the workman is worthy of his meat.' – Matthew 10:9-10

The Savior, nearing the end of his life, could again sense the fear growing in his disciples. He reminded them, 'When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing.' – Luke 22:35

We live in times of great uncertainty when the necessities of life seem harder to come by and where the burden of providing for our families seems heavier than in days past. [I am reassured] that although the road may be rough, when we walk with Him we need not worry for in Christ we lack nothing."

View Liz Lemon Swindle's beautiful painting: "Without Purse or Scrip" here.

I know that there are great rewards in store for those who leave comfort behind and place their hearts in the center of God's will.  I wish to do that very thing.  All of my days.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Order of Things

I have been thinking a lot lately about a story Gordon B. Hinckley told about his discouraging first few months of being a missionary in England.  Many of my LDS readers have probably heard the story.  Things were not going well at all for the young elder.  Persecution was rampant and his self-esteem was low.  He felt guilty for "wasting" his family's meager wages on a mission which was proving to be unfruitful.  He was depressed, exhausted, and feeling pessimistic about his ability to do any good for the people.  He wrote home to his father, explaining his frustrations and expressed his concern that he was wasting his time and the family's money.  A few weeks later, he received a response from his father:  "This is my advice for you:  forget yourself and go to work."

I feel that way now.  I am sorry that I have to deal with this extraordinary trial of being obese, and with compulsive bad habits that lead to poor health.  Addiction is a beast, I'll tell you!  But, I know that I need to somehow turn my heart somewhere outside of my own struggles to be a better servant to others.  I need that ministry mindset to help myself heal.  It's hard to do, when my own struggles are always on my mind.  I think that while my desires to improve myself and my health are worthy desires, I also need to be aware of others who suffer more than I do.

The world gives a different message.  Most self-help books out there teach Maslowian principles of taking care of yourself, your own basic needs, your own comfort before ever reaching out to others.  This is a true principle of course, that you have to take care of yourself to be completely available to help others, but what the world doesn't really teach, is that by reaching out to others, even within our own extremities, we can find great levels of healing and self-discovery.  By losing ourselves in the service and concern for others, we truly are able to find ourselves.  I have found this in the past, and I feel the call to revisit that mentality as I try to get back on track.

Many times lately, I have heard the pithy saying that the word JOY stands for Jesus, Others, Yourself, and that that is the proper order to follow with our priorities, but I have never completely agreed with that premise.  It's a half-truth because by loving others, we are simultaneously loving Jesus AND ourselves.  When the gospel is lived correctly, there is no need to even think about what order to follow.  We live for others, and by so doing, we show reverence and love for our Savior, and also find healing in our own lives.  It can be a beautiful thing.  I have been blessed to feel this a few times in my life, particularly when we were struggling financially right after Tyler lost His job.  To be able to serve others when our whole world seemed to be falling apart was the most therapeutic thing we could do, and I craved for opportunities to help others.  I had never felt so much humility and gratitude than I did when I was able to offer a mite of service during some of the hardest years of my life.

Still, it all starts with developing that fire of desire by way of a healthy, vibrant testimony of the gospel.  And as a healthier, lighter individual, perhaps I will be an even better servant and disciple.  Feeling good is definitely a motivator!

Anyway, my thoughts are all over the place today, and this post may not make any sense at all, but I would like to forget myself a little more in the next few days and focus on helping others for a bit.  I know that it will be a wonderful week of self-discovery and worship.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Being Genuine

I just read one of those talks that has the power to change lives!  I really don't think that my voice will add much to the beauty and verity of President Uchtdorf's counsel, so I will post the passages that resonated with me the most. They are all from his recent address at the priesthood session of the April 2015 General Conference which can be found here.

"In the late 18th century, Catherine the Great of Russia announced she would tour the southern part of her empire, accompanied by several foreign ambassadors. The governor of the area, Grigory Potemkin, desperately wanted to impress these visitors. And so he went to remarkable lengths to showcase the country’s accomplishments.

For part of the journey, Catherine floated down the Dnieper River, proudly pointing out to the ambassadors the thriving hamlets along the shore, filled with industrious and happy townspeople. There was only one problem: it was all for show. It is said that Potemkin had assembled pasteboard facades of shops and homes. He had even positioned busy-looking peasants to create the impression of a prosperous economy. Once the party disappeared around the bend of the river, Potemkin’s men packed up the fake village and rushed it downstream in preparation for Catherine’s next pass.

Although modern historians have questioned the truthfulness of this story, the term “Potemkin village” has entered the world’s vocabulary. It now refers to any attempt to make others believe we are better than we really are."

"[If He were here], what the Savior would want to know is the condition of our heart. He would want to know how we love and minister to those in our care, how we show our love to our spouse and family, and how we lighten their daily load. And the Savior would want to know how you and I grow closer to Him and to our Heavenly Father."

"I am here because I desire with all my heart to follow my Master, Jesus Christ. I yearn to do all that He asks of me in this great cause. I hunger to be edified by the Holy Spirit and hear the voice of God as He speaks through His ordained servants. I am here to become a better man, to be lifted by the inspiring examples of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and to learn how to more effectively minister to those in need.

In short, I am here because I love my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ."

"Whether your testimony is thriving and healthy or your activity in the Church more closely resembles a Potemkin village, the good news is that you can build on whatever strength you have. Here in the Church of Jesus Christ you can mature spiritually and draw closer to the Savior by applying gospel principles day by day.

With patience and persistence, even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life. In fact, that’s how most bonfires begin—as a simple spark."

"So if you feel small and weak, please simply come unto Christ, who makes weak things strong."

"My beloved brothers in Christ, the God of Creation, who breathed life into the universe, surely has the power to breathe life into you. Surely He can make of you the genuine, spiritual being of light and truth you desire to be."

"Artificial discipleship not only keeps us from seeing ourselves as who we really are, but it also prevents us from truly changing through the miracle of the Savior’s Atonement."

"The Church is not an automobile showroom—a place to put ourselves on display so that others can admire our spirituality, capacity, or prosperity. It is more like a service center, where vehicles in need of repair come for maintenance and rehabilitation.

And are we not, all of us, in need of repair, maintenance, and rehabilitation?"

“God resist[s] the proud, but give[s] grace unto the humble.”

"The greatest, most capable, most accomplished man who ever walked this earth was also the most humble. He performed some of His most impressive service in private moments, with only a few observers, whom He asked to “tell no man” what He had done.15 

When someone called Him “good,” He quickly deflected the compliment, insisting that only God is truly good.16 Clearly the praise of the world meant nothing to Him; His single purpose was to serve His Father and “do always those things that please him.”17 We would do well to follow the example of our Master."

"[I pray that we will] strive for a far greater honor: to become humble, genuine disciples of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we do so, we will find ourselves walking the path that leads to our best, most genuine, and noblest selves."

Beautiful, beautiful, hopeful words.