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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How the whole•heart•ed live

So this is me!

I'm a 23 year old college graduate living in Utah for the time being. I'm a fresh member of what we Americans call the "workforce", currently shacking up with 4 of the most hilarious, generous girls you'll ever meet, been on more blind dates than should even be legal (I keep telling myself I should write a book about all the awkward experiences. I'm sure every girl my age could relate, and would buy a copy) and I'm an overwhelmingly grateful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

I've always been a goal-setter and finished my undergrad in exactly 4 years at Utah State (according to plan). But I've recently learned that as much as I'd like to be able to control where I'm headed and execute it to absolute perfection, life doesn't work that way. Graduating and nailing that first job is what we all dream of, but I never expected the big questions and worries that would soon smack me right in the face and leave me wondering, am I doing enough? Who am I really meant to become?

I'm convinced I will be seeking the answers to those questions for the rest of my life (at least that's what my mom tells me). But for now, here is what I know:

1- every single day is filled with goodness. Whether it be a fleeting glimmer, or a full truckload that dumps on you all at once. God manifests His love for us in the details of our every day lives. It's our choice to see it, and most importantly, be grateful for what we do have.
2- there is no limit to how much we can love. As a kid I thought I only had room in my heart to love one mom, one dad, and "blood" siblings. But now that I have a step dad, step mom, and 4 new siblings I know that there is no end to the amount of people we can bring into our circle, and our supply of love is endless.
3- we are meant to be happy (at least once a day I try to laugh hard enough to get a good ab workout). The best way to do this is to surround ourselves with those who bring out our best side. If we are the kind of person we would enjoy, those types of people will naturally be drawn to us. Pick good friends and family. After all, they're the people we come home to every night. They should be awesome, right?

I'll confess, I've never been a huge fan of the whole blogging thing. But I heard a TED Talk today that gave me the final push to start an "online journal" if you will. (By the way, if you aren't subscribed to TED Talks its a must!)

The talk was by Brene Brown, titled The Power of Vulnerability. She studies human connection and discusses a concept she calls "how the wholehearted live". According to her, people who live full, happy lives always have these characteristics:

Feel a worthiness for love
Courage to be imperfect
Compassion, to be kind to ourselves first and then to others
Connection with others as a result of authenticity
Fully embrace vulnerability

I don't know about you, but I could work on each one of the things on her list. Here is what she suggests we're doing that keeps us from really connecting:

We numb vulnerability
(You can't selectively numb emotions that may hurt you, like rejection, pain, and uncertainty. When we numb those we numb everything, like joy, gratitude, and peace.)
We make the uncertain certain 
We try to perfect (ourselves and others)
We pretend that what we do doesn't impact other people

So how can we break free of all these habits that may prevent some heartache, but also rob us of complete joy? She gives a few suggestions:

Let ourselves be seen. Deeply and vulnerably
Love with our whole hearts, even though there are no guarantees
Practice gratitude and joy
Believe we are enough

This talk hit me hard. I've never seen myself as a closed off person. Sometimes I actually think I'm a little too open (my friends and family can attest to that). But I realized that I'm letting a few bumps and bruises from my past dictate my present and future by subconsciously keeping up a protective wall and not truly being vulnerable. So I'm on a quest for authenticity! And this blog is one of my steps for getting there.

Whether anyone actually reads this or it ends up being my own personal journal, I'm taking a step towards vulnerability and becoming more than I am today, and that's good enough for me! ♥