Saturday, October 1, 2016

Living in a Society that Lacks Self-Love: Thoughts on Racial Tension in America

It's been a crazy whirlwind of adventures since I last wrote on my blog. I had a fortune cookie earlier this year that read something to the effect of "your life will change so much, you may not recognize yourself by the end of the year". I think about that silly cookie every now and again. I look back and see the experiences I've had this year... volunteering with orphans in Romania, seeing Heather accept the Gospel and how happy she is, watching her get ready to leave on a mission to Russia, being drugged in Prague and learning how it feels to be completely vulnerable to a cruel world, learning how to trust in the human race again, overcoming a very painful heartbreak, pleading with God to allow me to forgive and let go, moving to Scotland, being homesick and learning to trust in the Lord's will for my life, increasing my knowledge through intense study, fighting feelings of inadequacies, and finding ways to fit in while still being different. I feel like this year has been one of dramatic highs and lows. I've had to do a lot of soul searching and redefining who I want to be. I've learned lessons that I never thought I would learn and my empathy towards others has increased SO much! I've thought about how much I rely on prayer and my communication with God. I don't know how I would have made it through this year without Him.

I'm currently in a Masters program in Scotland. I have friends from ALL over the world and I LOVE it! I love diversity. The more I talk to my friends the more I realize how much we have in common. There are differences in our culture, our beliefs, and our experiences, however, the similarities are just as great. I'm learning as much from them as I am from my modules. We all have moments of feeling overwhelmed by our studies, we all have moments of missing home, we all have moments where we don't understand boys, we all have weaknesses and strengths that are unique to us... to some extent we all feel uncertain about what the future holds.

I think about all the racial tension in the United States and I just wish we could see souls instead of color. I wish we could have understanding and compassion instead of bitterness. Here we are in 2016, living in the most technological advanced time where we have the power to impact the world at our fingertips. We live at a time where anything and everything is possible. There are no limits to our creations and our dreams. So why is it so hard for us to see each other as human beings who live and breath and love. We are all human beings with concerns and difficult circumstances. We all have reasons for being the way we are. We all come from different backgrounds that molded our beliefs and formed our views on life. Why do we have to spend so much time and energy on fault finding, playing the victim, or planning revenge? I truly believe the only way to fix these problems is with an increase of love. Anything else, no matter what the motive, is damaging.

My favorite module this semester is Business Ethics. I LOVE this course. We look at different theories and then analyze business cases in regards to those theories. There is no clear right or wrong, but rather different perspectives of the same situation. It's so interesting to see it from the side of the organization and to think "ah... that's totally ethical". Then we will look at it from the side of society and I find myself thinking "This is SO wrong! How could they do this and feel good about themselves?". I am learning the significance of seeing things from different perspectives. I am realizing that situations can look completely different when you see them from a new angle. I think it is a sign of ignorance to always assume you are right and others are wrong. It is a sign of close mindedness that will only serve to hurt you in the end.

I wish we could apply this way of thinking in America. I wish we could all try to see things from another perspective and to set aside our ego and pride. Have there been racial discriminations? Absolutely. Have there been times where things were blamed on racism when, in reality, it was not? Absolutely. Yet, if we get stuck here... what progress will come? If we can see what has been, and consciously make an effort to change our way of thinking (from both sides), then perhaps we can start to see each other with a new perspective. Perhaps we can start to see our differences and embrace them. I wonder if whether our desire to be around others who are similar to us, says more about our insecurities in who we are and our uncertainty of whether others will accept us, that ultimately leads us to look for others with whom we have similarities and consequently making us feel more self assured in who we are. We need more confidence in ourselves! We need to understand that it is OK to be different from our neighbors. It is OK to not fully understand each other and our perceptions of the world. IT IS OK TO STAND OUT.  If only we could give ourselves the self assurance we crave rather then searching for it amongst others.

I've pondered the concept of "love thy neighbor as thyself". This idea is so simple and yet extremely profound. It's easy to overlook the idea of self-love.... however, if you don't love yourself, how much love can you really show to your neighbor?? The more confident we are in who we are, the more tolerant and accepting we are of those around us. We are less critical and more kind. We find more ways to lift others up, because we aren't so hollowed down by our own insecurities. I wonder if we are living in a society of many people who don't love themselves. People who find it easier to project anger and hate, rather than looking inwards and making peace with themselves.

If I could wish for anything within our society, it would be an increase of love and acceptance of others AND ourselves. I hope that one day we can choose to see souls and not color. Just some thoughts I've had.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

To See The World As He Does, We Must Stand Where He Stands

I've tried to sit down and write several times this month. Each time I'm about to start writing my mind goes blank, I give up... frustrated, and walk away. The problem hasn't been having something to write about, but where to begin... how to compose it into a well-flowing post that makes sense and accurately reflects how I feel. Tonight I will do my best to relay to you the thoughts that seem to be swirling around in my mind.

I grew up believing that life was black and white. That to every situation there was a clear right and wrong. I grew up believing that if you made the right choices life would be easy. It would turn out the way you always dreamt it would. Somewhere over the last seven to eight years, I discovered otherwise. Life isn't always black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. Sometimes we suffer through extremely difficult circumstances created by no fault of our own. Those can be very painful times, and often hidden under the facade we display to others.

Those closest to me know how hard this year has been. It has definitely been a year of learning and growth (and it's not even over yet). A year to see that sometimes another's agency gets in the way of our plans. Sometimes we get placed onto a path we didn't originally want to tread. It's harder. It's uphill. It requires more focus, more energy, more work.  I've learned recently, however, that "more" of those things, isn't always a bad thing. The uphill path builds muscles. It burns away the excess- the unwanted, stubborn, and hard to lose areas that develop with a sedentary lifestyle. In its place is something more firm. The uphill path makes us stronger... more sure of who we are and the direction we are going. The higher we climb, the more we can see.

I was pondering this concept a few days ago and I realized that my path this year has done just that, it has made me stronger and more sure of who I am. I immediately felt an abundance of gratitude to my Heavenly Father for allowing things to work out just so.  I was reminded, yet again, that not only do I have a Heavenly Father, but I have a Heavenly Father who loves me. Imperfect, stubborn, impatient, and impractical... me. He loves me despite my obvious flaws. He loves me despite my weaknesses. He loves me because I am His child. He loves me perfectly and without conditions. I find this concept hard to wrap my mind around. Yet, again and again and again, I see His love for me reflected throughout my life. I see blessings and miracles given to me by Him... a reminder that He is always with me. I am not on this uphill path alone. I have the most amazing tour guide who is leading me to the top. He knows the best paths to take, the safest paths, and the most beautiful. He wants me to see the world as He does, and I cannot do that unless I stand where He stands. Hence, it is an uphill journey to find clarity, to feel peace, and to see the bigger picture.

I realize that everyone is on a different part of the path. Depending on the time of day we hike, the scenery will appear different. No ones path will ever be the same as our own. The only person who knows EXACTLY the path we are on, is the One who is walking it with us; our own personal tour guide. He is the only one who knows the good and the bad we experience on our journey upward. He has been there with us from the beginning. He knows about the anticipation we felt at the base of the mountain as we gazed up and saw how far we needed to go. He knows the moments we become tired and have to stop... because He stops and waits with us. He knows of the self doubts we experience when we wonder if we are strong enough to keep going. He knows about the times we have to mentally push ourselves to take another step and keep moving forward. He knows about the tears, the sweat, the thirst, and the frustration. He knows this, because He is there... He is encouraging us. His words inspire us to keep going, telling us that it will be worth it. He can only know this if He has been there before. He can only know this if He has experienced those same feelings. Lucky for us, our tour guide... our Savior... has been there before. He knew what we would need and He is prepared to give it to us.

I'm somewhere on that mountain.  Hiking with the most amazing tour guide. Experiencing ups and downs, but knowing that I'm not alone. I know that I can turn to Him with any questions. I know that I can turn to Him when I experience doubts. I know that I can turn to Him when I feel unable to take another step. I know that He will always be there. I know that I can place my trust in Him and that one day when I reach the top of this mountain, I will see the world with the same perspective He does. On that day, I know that everything will all make sense. Until then, I will keep moving upward and forward and onward... anticipating the day when we can stand side by side overlooking the valley below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Defining Moments of Our Eternal Character

Sometimes we find ourselves in unexpected places. En route to a destination that is unknown to the traveler and guided by one far wiser than we can know. Sometimes we find ourselves wondering what happened and how we ended up right where we are. We look back and wonder if everything we did was something God intended for us, or if by chance we messed up…we took the wrong turn…we led ourselves to a path that was not originally meant for us to walk. Yet, here we stand.
We doubt our choices and we doubt the God who created us. We doubt because we feel uncertain. We feel lost and in the dark. We try to make sense of something that we cannot comprehend, not because it is impossible, but because we don’t have all the information available to us at this time. We cannot make sense of something we don’t understand. We don’t see our lives the way our Heavenly Father does. We see them through a lens that is weak and faulty. We simply don’t see everything. We don’t understand why we lost in love, or why we failed in business, or why we weren’t able to have children. We wonder if we are being punished and if we somehow deserve the misfortunes placed before us… “Was I not righteous enough? Was I lacking in faith? Was I not paying close enough attention to inspiration from the Lord and therefore I did not head his advice? Was it something I did or did not do?”
If I have learned anything from these past few months it would be that we have a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we will ever fully know. He is merciful and kind and forgiving. He leads us forward and He takes what we give Him and enhances it. He never removes His outstretched hand. Our Heavenly Father and our Saviour will do all within their power to help us return to them. There is nothing they want more. They are fully invested in our lives. They are invested in our day-to-day activities. They are invested in our thoughts and our actions, our emotions and our feelings. They know the life-changing lessons we will learn as we overcome our current trials. They know that growth doesn’t occur without the struggle. So the trial isn’t always immediately removed when asked of them, however, they remain a constant. They send us the people, the scriptures, the experiences we need that will strengthen us and encourage us to keep moving forward. They help to lighten the burden as we turn to them in our time of need. They know it isn’t easy. They understand and they are reaching out to us.
Those moments when we doubt our path, when we doubt the way our life has turned out, we can trust that they know what they are doing. We can place our trust in them and know that one day it will all make sense. One day we will see how each experience was an opportunity to learn and grow and helped us to better reach our potential. We will one day see that those hard times were the defining moments of our eternal character. They were the times we were surrounded by angels from the other side. They were times that we were loved and carried.
When we are striving to do what is right, we will always be on the right path. We will always be lead by the Lord. We never need to doubt our path as we put the Lord first. We can know when things are dark and uncertain that there is a light ahead. The Lord is that light and He is beckoning us to Him. As we turn to Him we will always find that light. At first it may appear small compared to our burden, but as we continue to turn to Him, that light will continue to become brighter. Until one day we will realize the burden has been swallowed up in Christ. It no longer remains, in its place is a deeper testimony, a stronger conviction, and an ever-increasing love for the Lord and His Gospel.

So for those of you who may be having doubt or feel as if you are sinking… look to the Lord. Find that light. Cling to the hope that He offers. Believe that He knows all and that one day you will find yourself grateful for your current experience. Keep turning to Him. Grab His hand and let Him lead you through your hard times. Let Him fill your soul with eternal peace. He is there and He will lift your burdens. He knows you, He loves you, and He is guiding your path back to Him!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Essence of Being Still... Clarity Comes From Knowing Truth

There is something to be said about being still… taking time away from the mundane, and allowing yourself to really contemplate whom you are and where you are at in life. There is something to be said for reflection and its power to inspire change within us.

I used to think that ignorance could be bliss. I realize now just how ignorant that thought was. Ignorance keeps things stirring under the surface. A foggy, unknown, and unseen mystery… if revealed, it could be addressed and left to dissipate into the vapors of the atmosphere. It could be diminished by the light… revealing what it truly is… the known… the truth; truth of what is or will be. Ignorance doesn’t change what is, it just keeps us from further progression. It holds us in a place where we become temporarily stuck while time has continued to press forward. We think that by not addressing the truth we can somehow change it. It simply doesn’t work that way. I personally love the truth. I crave knowledge… understanding. I believe that knowledge gives us the clarity and the reassurance we all need in this life. Knowledge really is such a powerful tool to help us progress and get to where we want to go.

Being still allows us to bring to light the things that may be holding us back. It allows us to come face to face with the truth. We welcome it. We have a deeper understanding and that clarity reveals to us what is and what can be. We are given a new perspective. Being still invites truth into our minds… our souls. I have no doubt of the truth in the scripture “be still and know that I am God”.  In other words, when we are still we will know the truth. We will know that God lives and that every good thing we have comes from Him. We will receive more inspiration from Him as we take time away from our busy routines and allow ourselves to be still. It is the essence of being still that gives us the answers we are seeking. It is the catalyst for clarity, truth, and understanding. Those two words alone have the ability to change the course of our lives if actually taken and applied.  How wise is our Heavenly Father!

I've been working on embracing my inner child and healing myself from any hurt I may have caused myself over the years. It has been several weeks now and I can't fully describe the change I have seen within myself. I feel lighter. I feel like life is brighter and hope is my prominent emotion when contemplating my future. My heart feels so open to everyone and everything in life. I feel very vulnerable, and yet so much happiness at the same time. This happiness is unlike any happiness I have experienced. I find myself having a strong desire to share my love with the entire world. The happiness I feel more than exceeds any hurt that my vulnerability could cause me. I have so much clarity now. The direction of my life is so clear. I have no doubt that I am where I was meant to be. My life is going exactly the way the Lord intended it to. That isn't to say I haven't had my heart broken or felt my share of physical and emotional pain. However, I have put my life in God's hands and I can trust that anything that happens will be perfect for me. I find that I am able to forgive easier, I am healing much quicker, and I am finding peace within my soul. The entire process is beautiful and definitely inspired from above. Everything I once dreamed of becoming is at my fingertips and it beckons me to move forward... toward something greater. All it takes for my dreams to become a reality is the action of taking a step toward them. It is greeting the unknown with the faith of what will be. That faith allows us to go forward despite the lingering doubts, despite the obstacles we may face. That faith empowers us to rise above our current circumstances and with it comes the confidence to achieve something we once dreamed impossible. Nothing... absolutely nothing... is impossible with the Lord. So trust in Him and move forward... take the first step and watch as you start living your dreams!

"Don't limit yourself and don't let others convince you that you are limited in what you can do. Believe in yourself and then live so as to reach your possibilities. You can achieve what you believe you can." -President Thomas S. Monson 

One of the Elders in the ward called me this week and asked me to share my testimony on Sunday about the blessings of keeping the Sabbath day holy. I spent several days pondering on blessings I have received over the years from being obedient to this commandment. I realized it is because I have kept the Sabbath day holy that my family was able to grow so close together. We spent every Sunday going to church, taking the Sacrament, spending time with each other at home, and having Sunday dinner together. It was a day set aside to reflect on the Gospel and the Savior. It was a day where we could enjoy each others company in an environment that was filled with the Spirit and filled with love. I believe that is why my family members are my best friends! I am SO grateful my parents encouraged us to keep the Sabbath Day holy! I also believe that the Sabbath day is a gift to us from the Lord. It is a day where we can rest from our worries and stresses from every day life and refocus on what matters most... the Savior and His Gospel. It is His Gospel that will lead us to live with Him again, which will be the greatest blessing of all. When we keep the Sabbath Day holy we are able to center our thoughts back onto Him without the distractions of the world. I learned on my mission that the Lord gives us commandments for our benefit. They are to give us happiness. When we stop looking at commandments as tasks and view them as gifts from the Lord, our lives change. We become so much happier and we see how much He blesses us as we obey. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to reflect on that and see just how much the commandment of keeping the Sabbath Day holy really has blessed me in my life.

At the end of church I wanted to thank our Relief Society President for her lesson. All I knew how to say was "thank you".  It seemed like so little. I wanted her to understand how grateful I am for her and for the time she puts into her lessons each week. When she walked by me I said thank you! She hugged me tightly and kissed my cheek. It made me so happy that perhaps she understood my gratitude for her despite my lack of Romanian. One of the elders told me how to say "thank you from the bottom of my soul" and I spent the next ten minutes trying to memorize it. Before leaving the church I saw the sweet lady again. I repeated the phrase to her and she looked touched. She hugged me again and said something back to me in Romanian. The lady next to her translated and said "She wants to thank you. You have helped her." It was simple but it was all I needed to know. I needed her to know how much I love her and appreciate her service to the branch and to me personally. I feel so connected with these beautiful people. I am going to miss this branch!

Our branch received a new branch president last week. He is 23 or 24 years old! He served his mission in Scotland. Today at church I asked him about Scotland. He never got to go to Fife, Scotland, where St. Andrews is located. However, his mission president is from the area around Dundee. He said he has many connections to the members there and he can connect me with them. How amazing! I asked him about the church in Dundee, as that will become my home ward very soon. He said it is pretty big there. There are two big wards in Dundee alone. Ah... that makes me SOO happy!! I cannot wait for that adventure.

The orphanage was great this week! Unfortunately, my kids were sick for part of the week. Chicken Pox is going around. One boy had it really bad. He was so uncomfortable in his bed. He kept crying. I didn't know how to help him. His whole body was white with lotion. I didn't want to touch him and make his pain worse. So I said a prayer with him and I sang to him. It seemed to help. It made me emotional to think about the life some of these children live and will continue to live on this earth. I wish there was more I could do to help... I hope that in some small way, my love is enough to make their burdens a little bit easier. I think my prayers will be the most beneficial thing I can give to them. Baby S was sick at the beginning of the week too. I was sitting by him and he began to throw up. I felt so bad for him. So the workers took him and laid him in his bed. The next day he seemed to be feeling a little bit better. I took my phone out and turned on some music for him. He will shake his  head yes or no to let me know if he likes the song. It is SO cute! So I put my music on shuffle and kept pressing next until I finally came to a song that he wanted to listen to and dance to. It was "One Tribe" by Black Eyed Peas. As soon as he started shaking his head yes and moving his feet I busted up laughing. I couldn't believe this was Baby S's jam! haha So I started dancing to it and being goofy. Then I grabbed his arms and moved them around. I had him dancing with me and he loved it! He was laughing so hard. It is one of my favorite memories so far! I love these children so much. My heart is overflowing with love and gratitude for each one of them!

I am very blessed and I am very grateful for my experiences here. I feel so much strength from the Lord and each day I feel inspired to do or say something to help lift another. I love, love, love when the Lord can work through me to help someone else. I love getting to be His hands. It is one of the best feelings I have ever felt! I cannot believe I am about to start my 3rd month here. It doesn't feel like I have been here that long... I guess time flies when you are having fun. haha or so they say! This weekend we are going to Ireland and I will celebrate my birthday there. I cannot wait! My life is a dream and I don't want to wake up! Every direction I look I see blessings from the Lord. I cannot even begin to count them. Each day is another blessing and another miracle. I am SOOO grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for His Atonement, and for the ability I have to change each day and become a better version of myself. I am strengthened through the Lord as I continually turn to Him and find ways to become more like Him! 


Thursday, February 18, 2016

To Feel Love Is To Know The Saviour

We spent this past weekend in Italy. We spent a day in Venice and two days in Rome. We have several vacation times while we are over here and we can travel anywhere we want within Europe. Italy was the first big trip we went on. In a few weeks we will go to Ireland, then to Greece, and we will finish off with our big vacation at the end of March in Switzerland, Austria (Vienna), Czech Republic (Prague), and Poland. I am really grateful we can travel and see more of Europe while we are over here. I believe that traveling is a great way to become more open minded to those around you. It allows you to see the world from another's perspective, and to gain an education the best way possible. I absolutely love traveling for those very reasons. It lets you see that life is so much bigger than just you. There are people all over the world who live in conditions very different than we do.  It helps you to have a deeper understanding for others and the way they live.

Our first full day in Rome we went to the Vatican. This was my third time going through. I love all the artwork there. I feel like it was at the Vatican that I really understood the importance of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I recall seeing artwork after artwork of Christ. His face was stern, his eyes firm, and there was never a smile to be found. The artwork was beautiful but I found it always brought feelings of guilt, fear, and shame to the surface. It was motivating people to follow Christ, but for all the wrong reasons. He was a God they feared, not in a good way, but in a resentful way. Then I recall thinking about all the artwork we have of Christ since the Restoration. They are light, he is happy, and they inspire hope. We see that Christ is not a mean and damning judge, but a loving, kind, and merciful God. He wants to save all of us. He wants to be there for all of us. He performed the Atonement because of that deep and everlasting love. He didn't want to motivate us with fear or shame or guilt. Rather He wanted to motivate us with love... His love. His all perfect sacrifice on our behalf because of the love He has for each one of us. Our Savior loves us despite what we have or haven't done. His love will always be there. He will always be there. The Restoration of the Gospel helps us to see that love. It helps us to understand that God gives us commandments because He wants us to be happy! He doesn't look for ways to bring us down, but rather gives us ways to bring us higher. I have found over the past couple of years, that obedience to God's commandments are what bring us happiness. They allow us to experience true joy. Everything the Lord asks us to do is beneficial to us. He asks us to do things so that we can grow closer to Him and feel more of His love. He is completely unselfish. He is always looking for ways to help us. I am SOO grateful for a perfectly loving and kind Savior who died for me and rose again, so that I too may live forever with Him. He performed the Atonement, gave us the Gospel which spells out exactly what we need to do, and then gives us inspiration through the Holy Ghost which allows us to know the truth of ALL things! We have been blessed with so much! We know exactly what the Lord expects, and He is right there with us to help us find the way home. He will never leave us alone!

After the Vatican, I found myself wandering the streets with my friend. We decided to go exploring. We didn't have a map and honestly we didn't really want one. We wanted to just walk and see where we ended up. We found a beautiful bridge that we stopped and took pictures of. There was a violinist playing lovely music as we sat and enjoyed the ambiance. It was so relaxing and peaceful. Italy really is such a romantic place. I wish every couple could make their way to Italy and take time to enjoy one another's company... be reminded of why they fell in love to begin with. For me, someone who currently is not in love, it is a reminder of what I one day want to have. It is a reminder of what is to come and it gives me hope for the future. My soul is happy in Italy!

After enjoying the bridge, we went exploring again. We wandered through streets of colorful buildings, cobblestone roads lined with little family owned restaurants, and mopeds galore. No matter where I looked there was something beautiful begging to be photographed. We saw children with their parents, men going to and from work, and women shopping. We found ourselves in places that were fully populated by locals. We were, what appeared to be, the only tourists around. It was lovely!  After awhile we found ourselves wandering into a familiar Piazza to me. It was Piazza Navona. I love this specific Piazza because of all the beautiful art work that is set out amongst the people. The square is lined with gorgeous places to eat. There is a beautiful fountain in the middle with sculptures that inspire the human heart. I took many photos there as well. I found myself making eye contact with a man from across the way. I found him quite attractive and my eyes kept going back to him. I would smile and look away. He asked if we wanted to eat at his restaurant. I think I smiled, shook my head, and looked away. I wanted him to talk to me more. After a few minutes he came up to me and asked what I was looking for. I smiled and told him we were looking for the way back to the Vatican. He started to laugh and pointed us in the right direction. I asked if I could get a photo with him even though he was working. He said of course! I gave my camera to my friend, he put his arm around me and pulled me closer to him. I thought that was it, but then he kissed my forehead. I was surprised and I really enjoyed it. He then kissed my cheek and then we found ourselves kissing in front of his restaurant at Piazza Navona. It wasn't really a lustful kiss, if that makes sense. Honestly, it was perfect. I have often found myself dreaming of beautiful ways that I could be kissed. (confession haha) As someone that loves romance novels and romance movies, I find that I day dream of this often. I could not have dreamt of a more beautiful way to be kissed. It was completely unexpected, and absolutely perfect. He wanted to know if I wanted to meet him later that evening when he was done with work and I politely declined. I guess in my mind, that memory was perfect, and I didn't want to do anything to taint it. I wanted it to end with the kiss. A memory I could hold onto forever. I am SO grateful that my friend was there and took photos of it. Honestly, Ive never taken photos of myself kissing someone before and I don't know what the odds are of ever getting a first kiss, unexpected kiss, on camera ever again. When I think of Rome now I will always think of that gorgeous Italian man who taught me the importance of enjoying a kiss rather than rushing through it. I guess most men I have dated have not enjoyed the little things and I realized I want to find a man that does. Oh Italy... I am in love with everything about you. I could easily see myself living in Italy one day.

I got home from Italy on Monday. Yesterday when I went to the orphanage I was a little under the weather. I find myself joking that I am allergic to Iasi, Romania. Although I am only half joking. I have really bad allergies here. I don't recall the last time my allergies were so bad. So I went to see my kids and I was trying to be peppy. I was honestly exhausted. The cute little nurse in my room was so sweet. She put one of my kids in a crib where the front railing folded over. That way I could sit on the bed with her. She then grabbed a pillow and told me to lay down. I was able to cuddle with Baby D for over an hour and an half. Baby D is 3 years old. She was so excited that I was cuddling with her. She had a huge grin and she kept turning her head up to look at me. It made me so happy! I realized that most of these children don't get the opportunity to cuddle with someone and especially not for that long. It made my heart sad to think about it. The cute little nurse brought me oranges and wafers. Honestly, this lady is so Christ-like! I wish I could communicate with her better. She doesn't speak English and clearly I do not speak Romanian. I've never wished I could speak Romanian so much as I did in that moment. I tried to tell her how grateful I was. I hope she could understand. She literally is an angel!

Today I was sitting by Baby C at the orphanage. He is such a happy and loving boy. He gets SOO excited every time I see him. I said a prayer with him and asked that there be angels surrounding him and that Baby C would know they were there. He lit up. His smile was so big. It made my heart happy. I told baby C that I am going to name my son after him. I told him that every time I say my sons name I will think of him and what a happy and loving boy he is.  I told him how perfect he is and that he will live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ again. I made him promise me that one day in heaven we would play hide and go seek in the clouds. I told him that I was so excited for the day when he would be made whole again and he would be my little buddy! We will be able to dance and run and play. It made me so excited. It gives me even more reason to try my best. 

Baby S was sick today. I could tell he didn't feel well. I pulled my chair up to his crib and I rubbed his forehead. He stuck his hand out of the crib and reached for me. I held his little hand in mine for a long time. He smiled at me with his beautiful brown eyes. I kept telling him how much I love him. He loves hearing how much he is loved. There is a special place in my heart for Baby S. I realized today just how precious these children are to God. They are literally His. I cannot wait for the day when Christ comes again and I get to see them in their glory. It makes me really teary when I think about it. I am so blessed to get to spend my time with them! 

I feel so blessed to be here. To be learning so much about myself, about God, about the culture, and about love. I think that love is such a powerful tool for good. Love breaks through barriers that otherwise are indestructible. Love softens even the toughest souls. Love is the answer to life's problems. The expression of love is a gift of the Atonement. To feel love is to know the Savior.

"I can think of no more Christ-like service than to hold a motherless child in one’s arms or to take a fatherless boy by the hand." -Elder Russell M Nelson

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Love Fills Us As We Give It Away!

There is an unexpected freedom of letting go of things which no longer suit you, confronting your biggest fears, and stepping forward into the complete unknown knowing you will never return to where you are at this exact moment.

There are some moments in your life that you know will change the course of your entire future. Sometimes we embrace these moments and other times we try to avoid them with all we can. We push back for fear of where they will lead. We are uncertain of how things will turn out. The idea of where we thought our life would take us... this life plan we have spent years creating for ourselves... is shaken up so much that there are no remnants of which to pick up and piece back together. We find ourselves at the beginning again. We find we are starting over, however, this time with such a greater knowledge of where we want to end up. We find that we are more insightful and somehow more capable of planning out where we want to end up. We have discovered more about ourselves, our passions, our purpose. We know more and therefore can make a more educated and thought out plan for the future. We find we can dream bigger than ever before. We find that our past plans didn't live up to the potential we have and so we find solace in the idea that they are gone. We find a new hope in what lies ahead and in the adventure of choosing a new life path. We notice that we have more faith in ourselves and all we are capable of becoming. We can believe in ourselves with a greater conviction. We know we can do whatever we set our mind to and that is liberating. It literally sets us free from our own confinement. We no longer feel trapped by our self doubts or fears. We feel grateful that things fell apart so that we could have the opportunity to build them back the way they were originally intended to be. We find ourselves changed, not temporarily... but permanently. We find these moments we are given that allow us to change are blessings from the Lord. Blessings that often don't look like blessings at the beginning. They are hidden because we cannot see past the uncertainty. They reveal themselves as blessings as we push through the unknown into what reveals itself as a home to our souls. We feel we are exactly where we were always meant to be. It is then, that we can look back and see how this was all laid out perfectly by the Lord and it led us to this moment. A moment where we feel at peace with who we are and what we have chosen to become.

Have you ever wondered what opportunities you have missed out on due to fears that keep you trapped... fears of things that may never happen, and yet we live as if they will. We live in a state of fear, a fear that is so paralyzing, so confining, that it becomes a very real part of who we are. We are limited by restrictions we place on ourselves. We fear failure, unknown, illness, injury, accident, loss. We fear the inevitable. We fear what we cannot control. So we hold back. We attempt to control our lives by not allowing ourselves to live fully. We think this is safer... or so we tell ourselves. I believe that when we live with fears, we never allow ourselves to reach our full potential. We can't because we don't allow ourselves to do all we are capable of doing. We hide from what could hurt us. We hide from possible pain, and yet by doing that we create more pain for ourselves. Fear is so detrimental. I honestly believe that one of the Devils greatest weapons is fear. If we are in a state of fear, he knows we won't become who we were meant to be. By having fear, we give some of our control over to the devil. He loves when we fear things! So how do we replace our fear with faith? By remembering who is in control. We have a Heavenly Father who knows ALL. He knows everything about us and He loves us more than we will ever know. He is in complete control and we can trust Him to lead our lives perfectly. He will take us to where we are meant to go, we just need to believe Him. When we allow fear to take place in our lives, we limit the amount God can guide us. We cannot have faith and fear at the same time. We always need to remember who is leading us. We need to remember how God has led us in the past and He will continue to lead us if we allow Him to. Make an effort to replace your fears with faith and watch as God takes over and love fills the voids that were left. I can promise you that He will!

Sometimes life has a way of completely surprising you. Sometimes you find yourself at an orphanage in Romania working with bedridden children with severe mental handicaps. Children that are so close to God that you can feel His presence when you sit with them. You feel the love God has for these perfect little humans. Perfect humans, that have been neglected because they didn't appear perfect on the outside. NEVER judge someone by how they look on the outside. It is deceiving and wrong. If you want to know a person, look at what they do... who they are... what they say... how they make you feel. That is much more accurate. I am SOO grateful for a loving Savior who looks at our hearts and not our appearance!

When I created my life plan years and years ago, I must admit that Romania wasn't on the list. In fact, many of the life events that have occurred didn't make it on my list. I didn't think I would find myself living an unconventional life. A life, that most people wouldn't be able to relate to. I didn't think I'd be the type of person that brings up God in almost every conversation. I didn't think I'd be going to get a Masters degree in Scotland. I just didn't plan for these things. Life has a way of unfolding perfectly. It is never all at once. We see piece by piece. A little bit at a time until eventually it will all reveal itself. It takes time, it takes faith, and oh does it take patience! (Believe me I know.)

I've been praying with my little orphans every day. At first I was praying with each room, so it was more of a group prayer. Then I decided I wanted it to be more personal. So I began praying with each orphan specifically about their needs. I have been amazed at how much they love when I pray. I noticed that each one smiled. They became calm. I would pray that they would have angels watching over them and they would feel God's love for them. As soon as I mentioned this in my prayer, each child looked up at the corner and smiled. They were so focused on the corner of the room... as if someone was there. I honestly believe there are angels watching over them and that the orphans are aware of that. They are so close to heaven. I feel like they are angels themselves. They are here to teach us more about a loving Heavenly Father. They are here to remind us of our Savior. They are full of happiness and hope. They are a manifestation of God's love. I am SOOOO lucky to know them, to love them, and to learn from them. I never thought this experience would teach me so much in such a short amount of time. This is an experience that will change the course of my entire life. It is teaching me so much about the gift of love. To love someone without wondering what they will give to you in return. To love someone as the Savior loves them. To give love without expectations is to become like the Savior. It teaches us more about the Atonement and what He ultimately did for us. His life was a gift of love. Love that we could never return to the same extent. He didn't expect us to. He just asks that we try to love those around us. To try harder to be compassionate and kind. All He asks is that we try! Love is the answer. Love is so healing to the soul and it will fill us as we give it away. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Conversations With God- A Warrior In The Making

I've learned quite a bit this week while strolling the streets of Romania, taking train rides to Moldova, and pondering life while showing love to my beautiful orphans.  Honestly, I sit here and I don't know where to begin... or more so... where to end with all that i've learned. I feel humbled and my thoughts are swirling around in my mind. I love to blog because it allows me to put into words how I feel. It is very healing and I always learn from what I write. I learned several big things this week. They aren't entirely related, but I feel like its important to share all of them. So be patient with me if it doesn't transition as smoothly as I would like.

Lesson 1:

In church last week I was looking through my inspiration journals and reflecting on God's hand in my life. I like to do that and be reminded of how many answers the Lord gives me on a daily basis. I think it is vital to reflect back on God's hand in your life in order to give you an increase of faith for whatever difficulties you may be facing at the moment. Like all good things, the passage of time can weaken our memory and lessen our awareness of the blessings we've been given. I try to make it a habit of continually reading back on prayers that have been answered, inspiration that has been given, and lessons i've been taught. I highly recommend doing that. I always have an inspiration journal where I write down my conversations with God. While I was reading through my journal on Sunday I came across something I wrote a few months ago. It resonated with me once again. It gave me an increase of strength to push through the difficulties and stay focused on what really matters.

"An Inside Look Into My Conversations With God"

One day everything that is broken will be fixed.
Agonizing sorrow will turn into indescribable peace.
Doubts and fears will become unquestionable assurances.
Hatred will dissipate, anger will cease, and love will remain.
Our uncertain purpose and future will reveal itself.
Forgetfulness will be replaced with remembrance.
Darkness will be over-swept with light... things will be clear.
We will no longer ask "who am I?" because we will know.
We will learn that coincidences were actually miracles.
The times we felt alone we were actually surrounded by unseen angels.
Questions lead to answers which lead to knowledge-truth.
Ponder on the things you know and you will come to know more.
Do not doubt the place you are in... learn from it.
Let every mistake you make refine you.
Never give up. Don't let go of what matters most.
Every day is a new start.
Let go of who you were, and you will become who you were meant to be.
Life wasn't meant to be perfect. It was intended to teach us.
Every experience we encounter molds our character.
Embrace those experiences. They are there for a reason.
Hold fast to what you know and move forward.
Always keep moving forward.
Don't let your mistakes define you.
Believe that anything is possible. Believe it!
Your purpose has been outlined for a very long time.
God will reveal that purpose as you seek Him.

I've been thinking about that a lot this week. Isn't it amazing how much God will tell you if you simply just ask. That's it. He is such a loving, generous God. He has ALL wisdom and He is willing to give it to us, we just need to be ready to hear it. It reminds me of a quote my teacher shared with me several years ago in college. It said "The teacher will appear when the student is ready". We are the only thing keeping us from receiving more truth and knowledge. We get in our own way, and if we are aware of it, we can step aside and allow ourselves to be taught from God.

Lesson 2:

When I returned home from my mission several years ago, I had to go get a new temple recommend. I sat across from a member of the stake presidency where I proceeded to answer the questions he asked. When I was done, he asked if he could pray with me. He offered to say the prayer. When he started speaking it felt like he was giving me a blessing. The spirit was so strong. I remember silently crying and wiping away the tears. I cannot tell you everything he said in that prayer, but I do remember one thing standing out to me. He said that I was a warrior. I came down here to fight. When the prayer was over I thanked him for what he had said. He also was emotional as he told me that I will live a very unconventional life. He said the spirit told him very strongly that I was a warrior! I've thought about that off and on over the past few years. However, recently it has been on my mind a lot more.

I reflected on the concept of being a warrior for many hours this morning as we traveled the countryside back to Romania. What is a warrior? What makes them different? What qualities make up a good warrior? What is their purpose? I had many questions and I just wanted God to teach me what He meant by that comment. In order to be a warrior I need to know what that entails. The following are some of the answers to my questions.

-A warrior is deeply rooted and unwavering in a cause much deeper than themselves.
-A warrior has a very clear purpose- they know what they are fighting for.
-A warrior is bold, hopeful about the final outcome, and determined to succeed.
-A warrior is filled with assurance and conviction.
-A warrior steps forward knowing there is no turning back. They are fully committed to the cause.
-A warrior is not distracted by enticements of the foe.
-A warrior always knows which side he is on. It is a position he defends with his life.
-A warrior has something to live for.
-A warrior pledges themselves to the cause long before the battle begins.
-A warrior does not falter. They are devoted and firm in their purpose.

I realized that before a war begins the sides must be chosen. It you don't actively choose a side, then you will fall to the side that wants a warrior without a cause. Now is the time for us to choose whose side we are on. It is the time to let go of the things that keep us from God. It is the time to make a decision and not look back! It means taking a step forward and removing all other options. We have SOOO much potential to change the world. We have God on our sides. He won't leave us alone to fight His battles. He will empower us, strengthen us, and direct us. We will see miracles as we stand firm in our convictions without hesitation. This is our purpose! We came down here to do God's will and return to live with Him again. We cannot expect to choose whose side we are on once the battle begins. We need to do it now. Choose to be a warrior! Choose to devote yourself to a cause much bigger than who you are. Choose to step into the light and leave the dark and confusion behind.

One of my favorite scriptures is Doctrine and Covenants 45:62 "For verily, I say unto you, that great things await you;" 

This scripture resonates with my soul. It inspires hope and trust in God and in what lies ahead. The future is so bright with possibilities and unknowns. The adventures are right around the corner and new opportunities to grow are always presenting themselves to us. Never give up on what lies ahead, because what lies ahead is great! It is something to look forward to with hope! 

Lesson 3:

Being here in Eastern Europe, I haven't been able to communicate with very many people. It has been difficult for me. Through this, I have learned the importance of being understood. Sometimes all it takes is a better way of communicating. Poor communication is a breeding ground for doubt and threat. It is a haunting shadow of fear. I realized it is almost impossible to trust someone you don't understand. It creates a barrier that is impenetrable. The barrier can be taken down once communication improves. I have been able to see how vitally important it is to find ways of understanding each other. 

Lesson 4:
Ah... so the final lesson I will write about deals with light and dark. We went into some beautiful cathedrals in Moldova yesterday. I've been in many cathedrals before when I did my art history study abroad in Italy. However, something new stuck out to me this time. When you walk into these ornate and glamorous buildings you see gold crown moldings, tall domes filled with paintings, marble floors, and many more details that involve the finest work available. The lights are dim and the mood is somber. I watched the people as they prayed to God. They looked like they carried heavy burdens on their backs. They looked weighed down and distressed. They looked like they were experiencing guilt for what they caused the Savior to go through. Then, I started thinking about the temple. The temple is light and white. It is nicely decorated, but it is not distracting from the real reason you are there. The temple is a place of hope. People who go to the temple often feel like the burdens are being taken off their backs. They reflect on Christ's life and that He rose again. We focus on the concept that He lives and because He lives we don't need to be weighed down by our burdens. His atonement is what lifts us up. The contrast was so apparent to me! I don't know why I didn't quite notice it before. 

Christ taught His Gospel, took the world's sins upon Himself, died on the cross, and rose again for us! He did it so that we wouldn't be stuck in a state of gloom and despair. He did it so that we could learn from our mistakes and move forward. Take the lessons and improve your life. Our perfect loving Savior didn't want us to feel hopeless, afraid, and alone. He wanted us... He needed us to know that He is with us ALWAYS! We are never alone! He performed the atonement so that He could say "I know how you feel... and together we will overcome it". How could we not want to be on God's side! He is so clearly on ours! How could we struggle deciding which side of the war we are on. Isn't is simple... so obvious! Our Lord, our God, the creator of the world... of each one of us, is asking us to stand by Him. More importantly to STAND WITH HIM! Take a stance. Move forward. Commit yourself to the cause and never look back. Remember that with God, we can have confidence and assurance in the final outcome. We know who will win. So be His warrior! He is always fighting your cause. It's time we stood with the Lord in defending the truth and bringing love and truth to all those around us!!