Monday, July 13, 2015

A Divine Errand

Well, it's official! 

I've been what we Mormons call a "RM", or returned missionary, for almost 3 months now. I've held back from writing this for several reasons. Mainly because it's almost impossible to accurately portray my feelings about the last 18 months in a few short paragraphs, and also because most of those moments are so sacred that only the Savior and the companions I served beside can truly understand or appreciate them. My mission is a treasure, one that isn't meant to be broadcast for attention or likes on social media, and that is definitely not my intention. One of my favorite verses of scripture is found in Luke 2:19, "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." One can't even imagine those sacred things which she pondered. I think the Lord intends for us to do the very same thing with our own sacred spiritual moments. But I also believe that He gives us certain experiences so that we may "stand as witnesses for (Him) hereafter" and share them when prompted by the Spirit to lift, inspire, and bless the lives of others. "The light of the world, A city set on a hill." Who knows, maybe no one will read this, or maybe someone will, someone who needs to hear what I have felt prompted to say. He is a shepherd who seeks after the one, for "the worth of souls is great in the sight of God" and if this can reach even one person, I know that is enough for Him.

For those of you who don't know, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is actively engaged in the work of salvation, meaning we desire to share the light of the gospel and the love of our Savior Jesus Christ with any and all of God's children who will listen. That's why many of us send in an application to our dear Prophet Thomas S. Monson and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who, through revelation from God, assign us to serve in a specific mission anywhere across the world for 18-24 months.

I was called to serve in the Land of Enchantment, the New Mexico Albuquerque Mission, the land that now holds my heart forever. 

Yes, I was half of those sets of two who wear black name tags, ride bikes, and knock on your door. I was one, like tens of thousands of others, who leave home, family, work, and school to consecrate all of their might, mind, strength, and time to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and serving our fellow brothers and sisters. Many say this is a great sacrifice at a time of our lives where college, dating, and doing countless other things may seem more desirable. It sounds noble, but I came to learn that serving a mission truly isn't a sacrifice compared to the price our Savior paid for each of us. The crazy part is, you go on a mission expecting to repay Him and show your gratitude for what He has given you, and you return home so much more indebted to Him. The experiences He allowed me to have changed my eternities. I became well acquainted with the Master whom I served, and there is no price too great to pay for that precious gift. Like so many other missionaries, I learned that my reasons for going on a mission and my reasons for staying were dramatically different. Because trust me, there are days when it's tough and you have to dig deep and literally fall to your knees begging for strength and understanding. When you've walked all day and had doors slammed in your face, when strangers have yelled and trampled all over the beliefs you hold so dear, it really makes you ponder your testimony and your reasons for choosing to go on a mission in the first place. I know now that I originally went to be an influence for good and to share the truths I treasure, and don't get me wrong those reasons still remained. But I stayed because of my deep and abiding love for the Lord and the people I was called to serve. I gained a deep understanding of how desperately, every moment, I rely upon His grace. And if I need it so desperately, doesn't ever other human on this planet need it just as much? That is why I was and will continue to be a missionary and to do all that I can to invite others to come unto Christ.

To be honest, when you return home after 18-24 months of complete immersion in the Spirit, being separate from anything worldly including music or movies, you're a little bit weird. Ok, let's be real, a lot a bit weird. I continued to wear my calf-length proselyting skirts for about a week after returning home and had a melt down the first time I tried to go shopping with the latest pop song blaring in the background. I had to kneel and say a prayer before watching Frozen for the first time, it felt like breaking an 18 month fast! I missed the heightened spiritual sensitivity a mission gives you and found myself doing everything possible to resist "the world" from creeping back in to my life. I missed the undistracted purpose of inviting others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel. In so many ways coming home actually felt like leaving home. In the word's of Elder Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles, leaving your mission doesn't mean going back to "real life." Your mission is as close to "real life" as you'll ever be on this earth, completely focused on the work of the Lord and the things of eternity. New Mexico and the brothers and sisters I reunited with there will forever hold a piece of me, a part of my heart and soul that I never knew was even available to give away. It is there that I experienced the deepest sorrows and the most profound joys, all in the tiniest similitude of the price our Savior paid for each and every one of us. I returned home with well worn knees and shoes from countless hours spent in prayer and on my feet. In so many of those moments I felt the Savior's presence so near me it was as if I could reach out and touch Him. I know without a doubt that the Master labors alongside His servants in the vineyard, and He sends angels round about us to bear us up. 

How do you even answer questions like "How was your mission?" "How are you adjusting?" Formulating a response without sitting that person down and making them listen while you bear your soul for the next several hours just doesn't seem like enough! And quite frankly, I hope I never adjust. I firmly believe that a mission shouldn't just last for 18-24 months, but is meant to springboard you into a lifetime of dedicated discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, in the words of Elder Holland, "(to) every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, 'Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.' That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well." 

It's impossible to make a list of every lesson learned and knowledge gained as a missionary, but here is a short list of some of the things I've taken away from my time in New Mexico: 

  • An unwavering conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of you may not know what exactly it is that we believe, and just about everyone has heard something about "Mormons," most of which isn't accurate, but that's ok. Here is a brief run down: We believe that we are all children of a Father in Heaven who, much like our earthly father, loves us completely and desires us to inherit all that He has. For this purpose we chose to come to earth and were placed in families, the ideal environment for learning to become more like Him. The Fall of Adam and Eve made it possible for us to come to earth and receive physical bodies in order to gain that mortal experience. But because of the Fall, we are each also subject to physical death, meaning we are mortal, and spiritual death, meaning we sin and become unworthy to dwell in the presence of God. But, as was promised from the beginning, a Savior, our older brother Jesus Christ, was provided for us. His Atonement, meaning His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane for our sins, pains, and afflictions, His death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day, opened the windows of heaven for each and every one of Heavenly Father's children. As we are obedient to God's laws, or the commandments, exercise faith in the Savior, repent of our sins, enter in to the covenant of baptism and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by one holding proper priesthood authority, receive further ordinances in His holy temples, and do our best to keep those covenants and continue on that path, He promises us eternal life, or to live forever in His presence together with our families. This gospel has been preached by God's chosen prophets, and the Savior Himself, since the beginning of time. After the Savior's death, the world because of wickedness, fell into a state of apostasy. This means that the fulness of the gospel and God's priesthood authority wasn't found upon the earth. Unauthorized changes were made to the pure gospel the Savior taught, and many honest seekers of truth were left in confusion. But because of God's mercy and love, He reached out in love again by calling another prophet to proclaim the fulness of His gospel at a time when the world was prepared to hear it. That prophet's name was Joseph Smith. By the power of God he translated a volume of ancient scripture, a record started by a family who left Jerusalem and later settled in the Americas, at the same time the Bible was being written. This volume of holy scripture, known as The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is a sacred companion to the Bible. We read them both side by side and they, together, testify of the divinity of the Son of God and His role in our lives. It is through reading and pondering about the The Book of Mormon, which is convincing evidence of the restoration of the gospel in our day, that we can come to know for ourselves that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith truly was called as His prophet in this last dispensation. We can all come to know this through prayer and a witness by the power of the Holy Ghost, which teaches us "the truth of all things." Further revelation given to Joseph Smith revealed God's plan for our families, that we can be sealed for time and all eternity in God's holy temples. These blessings are available to all, living and dead, through the work performed in these sacred temples. I came to know for myself that all these things are true through study, prayer, and having to defend them to many who doubt or simply haven't asked for themselves to know if it's true. I know for myself that our Savior lives, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and that The Book of Mormon is the word of God. I witnessed the converting power of The Book of Mormon and the teachings found there heal hearts and save families.  

  • Obedience to the commandments and the promptings of the Spirit brings true happiness and confidence before God. 

  • I experienced a deeper love than I ever knew existed for the people we served. I believe this came from trying my best to truly forget myself, to pray for charity and love when it didn't come naturally, and simply because the Lord blessed us with a small piece of the love He feels for each and every one of us. Some of the most profound moments came when watching someone we'd grown to love so deeply step into the waters of baptism dressed in white and come up out of the water completely clean, beginning their new journey in life as a covenant keeping witness of the Savior. 

  • Our faith truly is the power through which the Lord produces miracles. "With God, nothing is impossible." We witnessed mountains moved in people's hearts including our own. I can honestly saw there wasn't a day during that 18 months that we didn't witness a miracle, whether big or small.  

  • God ALWAYS keeps His promises, as long as we keep ours to Him. It isn't always according to our preferred timeframe, but He knows all and will provide us with what He knows is best, no matter what. 

  • Families really can be together forever through Heavenly Father's plan. I saw this with families we taught as well as with my own family back home. The blessings poured down upon my family during my time as a missionary were beyond anything I could have imagined. 

  • Each of us can and will receive direct, specific personal revelation and answers to our questions and concerns if we do our part. We must be worthy of the Spirit, spend time on our knees in prayer, time in the scriptures searching, and time in our hearts fasting. For the honest seeker of truth, the answers DO come. 

  • Being with a companion 24/7 is a refining process that will be a great blessing to you if you allow it to be. It gives you the opportunity, if you're willing, to give up your selfish desires for a greater cause: your companion's happiness and for the Spirit to be with both of you so you can succeed in the Lord's work. To make His purpose ours, bringing to pass "the immortality and eternal life of man." I think giving up selfishness for the sake of a greater cause is a valuable life skill that can be applied to many different relationships and situations! 

  • Every single person on this earth is a precious child of a loving Heavenly Father. No one is beyond the reach of His love. He loves us all the same, no matter what mistakes we've made. He loves those of His children who don't have the gospel just as much as He loves those of us who do, and it is His greatest desire for us to share it with them so they can be eternally happy and return to His presence. We are all different. We all look different. Some of us have blue hair and tattoos. (You know who you are and you know that I love you!) But it is not our job to judge, it is our duty to love. Each of us have the same innate, natural yearning to love and to be loved in return. We all want happiness. And our Father wants to give it to us. We are His hands and His feet, we simply have to be humble enough to look outside ourselves, see past the exteriors, pray for His love, look into their eyes, and open our mouths to share with them what we have! 

There is a quote from President Hinckley that President Eyring has hanging in his home. It says, "My Mission is to Bless." Imagine how different this world would be if we each strived to make that phrase our own personal mission statement! I am so imperfect and I recognize my need for the Savior's Atonement every moment of every day, but it's my goal to make this a part of who I am. 

I remember in October 2012, one year before I left on my mission, I listened to a talk in General Conference that changed everything. President Eyring shared the story of his daughter-in-law. She longed for more children and after countless miscarriages she began to lose hope and was even tempted to be angry towards God. Finally, after years of trying, she found herself walking alone on the beach one day. She prayed aloud, her heart on the verge of breaking or bursting. For the first time, she didn't ask God for another child. She submitted her will completely to His. "Heavenly Father," she cried, "I will give you all of my time; please show me how to fill it." She submitted her will completely to her Father's, and instead of pleading for what she wanted, she asked Him to give her a divine errand. She was filled with an immediate peace. A year later, she and her husband received a mission call and moved their family overseas. In the mission field, she gave birth to their long-awaited child. I learned from this that our Father isn't sitting upon His throne withholding blessings from us on purpose. In fact, it's the opposite. He wants to grant us the righteous desires of our hearts, but He also wants us to stretch and grow and experience what we need to in order to truly be prepared for those blessings at the right time and according to His will. 

I heard this talk at a time in my life where nothing was working out as I had planned. I felt a constant inner turmoil as my will and Heavenly Father's continually butted heads, and I was the unhappiest I'd ever been. But that night, after hearing President Eyring's words, I knelt in prayer and for the first time I followed the example of this courageous young mother. "Heavenly Father," I said, "I trust you. I know that You have a plan for my life that I'm not allowing myself to see. I want You to know that I submit everything to You, my desires, my time, my will. Please fill my life with a divine errand." 

Exactly one year later, at the age of 23, I entered the mission field, the last thing I ever expected to do with my life. But Gods plan for me was better and it was more. So much more. 

God knows us and loves us completely. Our agency, or ability to choose, is a key part in His plan. It is the one thing He desires us to submit and give back to Him so He can shower us with an even greater abundance of blessings. 

Now that I'm home, I find myself on my knees praying for the exact same thing I did almost 3 years ago, for the Lord to fill my life with a divine errand. I'm still working on capturing His vision for my life and to act accordingly. I have seen Him place many opportunities in my path already. Each of us have a purpose here on this earth, each of us are here for a reason, blessed with specific talents and abilities that the Lord needs us to use for some greater purpose. My invitation to you is to pray for His eyes, to see what that divine errand is, and then to have the faith to act upon it. 

A wise leader on my mission once told us, "You can tell what type of missionary someone was 10 years AFTER their mission." The evidence of how we fulfill God's plan for us, no matter what that plan may be, won't be manifested in what we say, but in who we are. And not just for a short season of our lives, but forever.

Thanks for reading, those of you who made it to the end of this novel! I want to publicly add my witness that I know God lives, and to thank Him for the gift of serving a mission. I hope you have felt that God loves you. You may fall short sometimes, actually I guarantee that you will. We all do. But always remember: alone we are nothing. But with Christ we are everything. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"I'll go where you want me to go."

If you would have told me 2 years ago at the ripe old age of 21 that I'd go on a mission, I would have told you (lovingly) that you're nuts.

Not because I hated the idea or didn't want to serve (I've actually had the nagging feeling I should go pop in my mind here and there since high school), but because when I was 21 my life was not on course to serve a mission. I wasn't fully prepared mentally or spiritually and my priorities were school and like every other girl my age, dating. So how on earth does a 23 year old college graduate end up with a mission call? By God directing my life even when I couldn't see it, that's how. And it all started 2 years ago today.

I'd been a "here and there" member of my young single adult ward for the last year or so. I'd go sometimes, but definitely not faithfully. I was the girl who would get regular visits from loving home teachers because they worried about me (which I am still grateful for to this day). I'd go to the occasional movie on Sunday or out to eat and look for excuses not to go to church, and I was the least happy I've ever been in my life.

That May, shortly after my 21st birthday, Carly and I moved in with Lizzy. She quickly lit up our lives by genuinely loving us. She wasn't pushy or judgmental, but she pulled us in and made us want what she had: true happiness.

Its because of Lizzy that we started attending our church meetings regularly again. I remember sitting in Relief Society one day listening to a girl share her story of her dad dying from cancer. I looked back on my life and the trials I'd made it through up to that point and thought, "Dang, I wish I could have another trial like that. I want to have a burning testimony like that girl does, a testimony that only comes by going through something really tough."

Be careful what you wish for.

Sunday, August 21, 2011. My mom and step dad were gone to Colorado on a motorcycle trip for the weekend so Carly and I went to their house to do laundry and hang out. I missed a phone call from my aunt and intended to call her back when I had a minute, but she kept calling. I figured it was an emergency and picked up the phone to call her back when I got a text from my brother: "Whit, you need to call aunt Laurie. Moms been in an accident."

My heart pounded with every ring. When I finally heard her voice I knew immediately it was worse than I thought. Her words were so fragile and delicate, like it took every ounce of strength she had not to break down.

"Oh Whitty Woo your mom is hurt. She's hurt bad."
"Please tell me she was wearing a helmet."
"Is she awake?"

That single word soon became an all-too haunting familiarity over the coming weeks. She wasn't awake. After several ambulance and life flight rides, my mom ended up at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, Colorado which has one of the best trauma centers and amazing staff in the country. I flew out the next day and quickly saw first hand the extent of her injuries. She broke almost every bone from her neck to her waste, had 2 collapsed lungs, and severe contact and sheering brain injuries after they hit a slippery patch of diesel fuel on the road and were thrown off, the bike landing on top of my mom. Miraculously my step dad Jeff wasn't physically injured.

Our lives over the coming weeks became a pattern of complications and set backs followed by small victories; waiting anxiously through treatments and surgeries wondering if or when she would ever wake up. But we never lost hope, we knew she was a fighter. I tried to only let myself cry as long as it took me to go to the bathroom and that bathroom stall became my sanctuary. More prayers were offered there than I've ever said in my life. I struggled with the decision to go back to school, but received a priesthood blessing from a family friend for guidance. He told me that I needed to try in faith, and that WHEN my mom woke up she'd be so sad if I put off my last year of college, and she would want to be at my graduation that May. I had to keep the hope that she'd be there, and decided to try. I remember holding her hand the night I left and asking her if going back to school was right, even though she couldn't respond. A powerful peace came over me, and I was strengthened as I did one of the hardest things that night and left her side. With the help of wonderful professors, family, and friends, I traveled back and forth between Logan and Colorado on the weekends and got to be with her as much as I could.

The support and love shown for her and our family was overwhelming. So many friends came to visit, strangers of every nationality and faith in the ICU became our friends and prayed for her together. My boss and "second mama" Jan took care of all the logistics, found us a place to stay, and paid for so much out of her own pocket. A Facebook page was created for people in the community to show their love. Weeks later the doctors were finally able to ween her off the breathing machines, and she eventually woke up. When her blood levels were finally stable enough for her to be transferred to a rehab facility, we were told insurance wouldn't cover the cost to move her from the state of Colorado. The Logan community rallied for her and put together a golf tournament and auction to raise money for her flight to the new IHC center in Murray. It's often easy to give to others, but can be difficult and humbling to receive. We felt so much love and will never be able to express our gratitude for those who helped us bring her home.

We quickly learned why the Lord knew she needed to be in Salt Lake. Our prophet President Monson's wife had fallen and was staying across the hall from my mom's room the entire time we were there. We had the privilege of seeing and greeting him almost daily, and being first hand witnesses to the love he has for his sweet wife and for everyone he meets. In the middle of such a painful time for him and his family, he never stopped smiling or joking with the nurses and offering his love and encouragement to families. One of the first memories my mom has is walking down the hall and coming face to face with the Prophet of God. What an overwhelming blessing.

She was eventually able to come home, and although its been a long process, her progress has been truly miraculous. She still battles with pains and set backs daily, but we are so blessed. She shouldn't be alive or even be able to function. But she's getting her life back. She's here. 

Throughout her journey there were many sleepless, exhausting nights where I found myself asking the Lord if He was really there, and if He had forgotten us. It was during these dark moments that I felt so tangibly of His love. I learned of the enabling power of His atonement and His ability to literally carry us through life when it becomes too much to bear. I learned that He fills our lives with tender mercies and that every experience teaches us and comes from a place of love and desire for whats best for us. We will all have the privilege of experiencing this in our lives, of relying on our Savior and being converted to His gospel because we NEED it. Because it's all we have left.

My mom was able to make it to my graduation that May just as we were promised. Jan offered me a full time position with her company after graduation. Carly, Lizzy, and I moved to another apartment and I became actively involved in my ward and led by men who I know were put in my life for a reason. Everything changed.

Even though I was doing the things I should and grateful every day for my mom's second chance at life, I still felt something missing this year. I had a constant feeling that I wasn't doing enough and that I wasn't living my life according to the potential the Lord had blessed me with. I applied and interviewed for several jobs and considered moving, I dated up a storm. But not one thing worked out. I didn't understand why I was finally living my life how I know I should but the things I wanted just weren't happening.

A mission kept popping in to my mind, but I quickly brushed it aside. I was too old. I had an awesome job. The next step in my life was supposed to be marriage. I was trying to force all the things I wanted. Finally, it reached a point where I knew I needed to take action. I hadn't received a for sure yes or no answer, so I decided to start my mission papers and see how I felt.

I was blown away by how smoothly everything worked out. My mission papers were done in a week. I began studying and preparing and quickly felt a rush of joy beyond anything I've experienced. I started to forget about myself.

My decision to serve a mission didn't come with one big booming answer, but from an accumulation of a million tiny feelings and confirmations along the way. I realized that my Savior has and continues to save my life. He directs my path toward happiness when I'm not strong enough to redirect myself. He loves me unconditionally and never breaks His promises to me. He is my constant. The least I can do to show my love for Him is serve His children and share with them the same happiness His gospel has given me. I can give Him my will and my whole heart.

I opened my mission call alone on Sunday, overlooking the Logan Temple. I must admit when I read New Mexico I almost laughed out loud. A couple of months ago when I finally gave in to seriously thinking about a mission, I searched "sister missionaries" on Pinterest and found the blog of Hermana Silva serving in the New Mexico, Albuquerque mission. I remember thinking how I would hate to be called there haha but I read her blog often and decided to take what she said and apply it to where I was called. The Lord must have known I needed to be humbled.

Those feelings of disappointment quickly went away, first when I read that I report to the MTC on October 2nd, the very same day as Carly. Thats definitely no coincidence. But the real clincher was when I saw the faces of my mission president and his wife. President and Sister Miller are from Logan. My family and friends know them. President Miller was the stake president in my dad's ward and greatly influenced my brother Braydon to go on a mission this year at age 20. He used to joke with Braydon about "pulling some strings" and getting him to the New Mexico, Albuquerque mission. Little did we all know later this year he'd be getting Braydon's big sister instead.

Every experience in my life has led me to this. The Lord has guided me and brought me to a place I never knew I could be. There are friends in New Mexico that I knew before this life, and I promised I would find them. I know I was meant to leave when I am, and to serve with President and Sister Miller. For the first time in my life, I know with complete certainty that I'm exactly where I should be.

This is a gospel of becoming. Our Savior has the power to change us and make more out of our lives than we can even see. There is power in submitting. All He asks for is our will and our hearts. He will take what we bring to the table, multiply it, and give us back even more. I know that to be true. New Mexico, here I come!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How big is your BRAVE?

Why is it that the older and wiser we get the less fun we allow ourselves to have? I think it's because responsibilities and past experiences (cough cough: baggage) start racking up: deadlines, work, bills, past mistakes and heartache. All these things make us more cautious and skeptical of diving in to things like we used to. That's one reason I'm in love with summer. There's something about these 3 perfect months that makes me act like a kid. I start feeling nostalgic and want to play night games with the neighborhood kids again. I suddenly don't care that I have to work at 8 every morning, instead I want to stay out all night every night going on adventures, soaking up the moonlight and warm air, and pretty much living in a swim suit. The responsibilities of life monopolize my time from 8 am to 5 pm, but the remaining 15 hours of the day and those precious weekends are mine. You can bet I don't intend to spend most of those hours sleeping.

This summer has been one of the best ones yet. We've spent most of our time on the back of a scooter, beachin at Bear Lake, BBQs, fireworks, derby's, movie nights, ping pong, all-night talks, campouts, and truly feeling like a kid again with the exception of no parents telling us when we need to be home. The perfect second chance.

Going along with this mentality of living it up and squeezing every delicious drop of summer we possibly can, the roomies and I have adopted a new philosophy. We like to call it being "bold, assertive, and classy: never trashy." Ok so it does sound a little ridiculous and originally started out as a joke but after realizing it actually worked we started taking it more seriously. Basically it means we've decided to speak our minds and say and be who we are. There is not enough time in this life to let a moment pass you by and end up wishing you would have said something or put yourself out there. A quick sting of sometimes (brutal) truth or maybe even rejection is worth the immediate absolution that fills your mind and enables you to move forward instead of looking back. Time spent feeling unsure or full of regret is time wasted. Would you rather be dragged behind a car at the mercy of the driver or jump out by your own free will? I don't know about you, but I'd rather jump when I choose and hit the pavement running. Don't apologize for being yourself or belittle how you feel or think, be YOU and don't be afraid to express it. 

So how has this little epiphany worked out for the ladies in F201? Let's just say each of us started out the summer with worries and questions, just like all girls do, but now we've taken control of our lives. We've felt empowered and confident and completely free. So far our list includes things like telling a longtime crush how we really feel and crossing the boundary from friendship to something more, telling a guy to come back for a goodnight kiss when he chickens out at the doorstep, cutting things off quickly with someone who didn't treat us right, making big life decisions even when we're scared or unsure, taking the necessary steps to get our lives back on track, attacking the elephant in the room and talking things out, doing something really physically challenging, picking ourselves up after the grief of losing someone we love. This is only the beginning, but it's so much more than a list. It's becoming a way of life for us, we're being who we really are and not apologizing for it. We're becoming even more comfortable in our own skin, and respecting and understanding people for who they are, too. Try it. I promise you'll be filled with confidence and fall even deeper in love with your life. 

Also, don't let fear rule you. Fear manifests itself differently for each of us, but for me it shows by complacency. When I'm scared, I do nothing. I simply sit and wait for something to happen instead of taking action. Kind of a scary thought, right? But here is what I'm slowly learning: we can't sit around waiting for good things to happen. This limits you to ONLY the possibilities that come your way. Wouldn't you rather be in control of your life? Go out and get what you want, and if it's not out there, create it. Your possibilities will expand to literally anything you can imagine rather than only the things that come your way. Take a step into the unknown. The Lord can't direct something that stands still or force it to move. But He can guide, stop, or direct something that is moving. Get up and get moving! As soon as we do we'll either feel a confirmation that it's right or receive the clarity that we need to head in a different direction. Either way, knowing for sure is so much better than painfully sitting and waiting.

Just throwing this out there: listen to the song "Brave" by Sara Bareilles if you haven't yet. All of her songs are small insights into my most inner, twisted, girl-thinking but hey this one applies perfectly to this post. 

"Say what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly, I want to see you be brave!" 

Oh and summer, please never end.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Make a "Czech" list, then make it happen!

Today I'm thinking about coincidences, but let me start by saying I'm convinced they don't exist. I believe "coincidences" are God's way of showing us He likes to have a little fun, and loves the thrill of pleasantly surprising us.

The events of this past week really got me thinking about this concept. Those of you who know me should know my friend Carly. She's "my person" in a very Meredith and Christina kind of way, (props to my fellow Grey's Anatomy fans who know what I mean by that), and the person I've experienced all of life's biggest moments with over the past 11 years. I mean this in the most platonic way, but I think our friendship is like a crash course in marriage prep. Learning to love and support someone and have their back no matter what, loving their family and sharing joy in their successes, studying and growing spiritually together and pushing each other to become more than we can see we're capable of. Not to mention sharing a room, bathroom, and basically a bed (yes we push our beds together into what we call "mega-bed" even though there would be plenty of room to leave some space in between).

So little miss Carly, the sneaky devil, has been planning and preparing to serve a mission for the LDS church since last Spring. I had a slight hunch she was thinking about it, but still surprised when she finally told me her plans this February. Helping her keep a secret was not an easy task, and plenty of people tried to get it out of me when they started to suspect. But this past Wednesday (Carly's 23 birthday I might add) the cat finally pounced out the bag when she received her mission call to the Czech/Slovak Mission. I was an emotional wreck as she read her call, half due to excitement and relief, but also because the Czech Republic is a place Carly and I shared a journey together last summer that we will never forget.

How Carly and I ended up in Europe last year was one of those experiences that solidifies my non-belief in coincidences. I remember writing goals in January 2012, and first on the list was "Travel! Boston in the summer and maybe one other trip." Oh how the Lord excellerates our goals and turns them into more than we can imagine when we simply take the time to write them down. Carly and I discussed in the Spring how amazing it would be to go to Europe that summer, but we both really knew it was a fairytale we'd talk about but never actually do. "The Eiffel Tower! Mona Lisa! The Swiss Alps! Let's go!" We longed for it, but figured our dreams were too big for our bank accounts. But when I met Sven in my Sales class that spring semester at Utah State, a gate was opened that gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to make our dream a reality.

Sven is originally from the Czech Republic, grew up mainly in Germany and Italy playing tennis. He ended up coming to Utah State of all places for a tennis scholarship, and our paths crossed after class one day. We became instant friends, and when I told him we had always wanted to visit Europe, he offered to be our tour guide for a few days that summer and even let us stay with his family. The next week Carly and I drained our bank accounts and purchased flights to Basel, Switzerland (by far one of the most spontaneous, exhilarating, big-girl things we'd ever done).

Three months later we were headed for a new world, armed with nothing but suitcases filled with all our cutest clothes (trust me, not the smartest idea. We learned the hard way that it should be all about comfort not fashion, and that by dressing to the nines all you're doing is making yourself a target), (stolen) red Delta Airlines blankets, and each other.

We spent the first week of our trip in what they call the "three countries corner", where Switzerland, Germany, and France all meet. The experiences of that first week will take up a full blog post for another day; the food, the people, the wonder of it all. (Here is a little spoiler: it includes a 156 mph ride in a Porsche down the autoban and being robbed twice in Paris). But for now, I'll skip ahead to our favorite stop.

Prague, or Praha as the Czech people say, is one of the oldest, most well-preserved cities in all of Europe. We were stoked to have Sven (a true native) as our guide. We'd been listening to he and his family speak in Czech all week long (the language sounds more like yelling actually, we continuously asked why everyone was so mad at each other only to be told they were simply talking about the weather). But our excitement quickly shifted to panic our first morning in Prague when out of the blue Sven decided he was done. Done being stuck with two giggly American girls, done being our tour guide, and done being polite. Don't get me wrong, Sven did more for us in those two weeks than we could ever repay him for, and I don't blame him for losing patience by the end. But when he announced that morning that he needed a day to himself and took off, Carly and I were completely unprepared.

We spent most of the morning collecting maps from the lobby of the hotel, circling the landmarks we wanted to visit that day, and estimating the distance we'd have to walk by measuring with our fingernails using the map legend and scale. After some quick Google translating and lots of scribbles on our map, we were off.

Words can't fully describe how we felt that day. It was like we stepped over the threshold of self-doubt and into our big-girl pants, diving into womanhood and experiencing something we never thought possible. We navigated a city, a language, and a culture we had never before encountered, and were buzzing with a sense of empowerment and confidence that convinced us we could do anything.

Prague quickly became "our city". It's where we first ate Schnitzel (fried meat) in a cozy tavern seated on old wooden chairs, Syr Smazeny (fried cheese) from a street vendor, dinner on a boat overlooking the water and Prague Castle at sunset where we splurged and bought Sprite, and searched a dozen bakeries before finding the traditional Czech sweet roll Kolache. Where we enjoyed crepes in Old Town Square and listened to enchanting stories of the Prague Astronomical Clock. Where we stumbled upon and photo bombed an Asian wedding celebration and a Jewish community in the heart of the city. Where we found a puppet shop and played like Emily and Jef on The Bachelorette. Where we rubbed the gold dog statue for good fortune on the Charles Bridge and followed the man with the red umbrella on a free walking tour up the narrow cobblestone streets to the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. Where we visited the John Lennon Wall and the Love Lock Bridge, soaking in the spectrum of colors, inspired to be brave and creative and pursue our dreams. Where we followed some shirtless sailor boys to the waterfront and paid them for a boat tour, partly because we wanted to go but mainly because we wanted to flirt. Where we made the climb to the "mini Eiffel Tower" and paid the hefty fee to the top, but the view of red roofs and majestic castles made it all worth it. Where we strolled down steep cobblestone streets and unknowingly smacked right into the backyard of the United States embassy and passed the LDS mission home. Where we searched Zara and H&M for the perfect outfit, but blew all our money at Nike International instead. Where we gained a deeper love for our country as we watched the Summer Olympics in our hotel room, realizing we were actually in the same time zone as London and watching more European countries compete than our own. And although I didn't know it at the time, the city where Carly thought to herself "What if I got called here on my mission?"

Now, almost a year later, the memories are as vibrant in my mind as they were the day we flew away from "our city", our Praha. How full my heart is knowing Carly will be going back to share the true and everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ with the people we grew to love, and that we'll still be connected somehow.

This year has taught me that when we take a small step forward, set a goal, and align our lives with the Lord's teachings, He will extend our hopes and dreams far beyond what we could ever do on our own. So why do we fear the future or think we can't accomplish the things we really want? I think it's because we need to practice faith and hope, and stop putting our trust in ourselves. We should trust in the One who knows all. He is always 20 steps ahead, laying out our future with a full, mountaintop perspective that we can't see from our individual valleys. The key is to dream big, even unrealistically, then go work our tails off. He will make up the rest.

In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci, 
"People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things." 

From Praha, with love.