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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

BYU Women's Conference: #igiveback

As a testament to the fact that normal, yes, even weakness-filled people get asked to do cool things, I was invited to speak at this year's BYU Women's Conference. I wouldn't really say it was magical--more along the lines of "But I'm not like all those other women who do everything right and are never angry, jealous, ornery or unkind." (ha!) But Sister Carole S. Stephens gave us some great counsel in our orientation, "Breathe in faith and breathe out fear." I figured just holding my breath was about the same thing.

How does someone get asked to speak at the conference? I honestly have no idea. I am pretty sure they get sent a letter. I was actually just a fill-in for a co-worker who found out she wouldn't be available and who suggested I present instead. I know, you're telling me not to sell myself short, but I'm serious. At least I found out 3 months in advance which was only a bit behind the other presenters. We are given a subject to speak on--mine was on how to serve when we're busy, how to serve in ways that build and uplift, and how service sanctifies us in keeping covenants.

I had never been to Women's Conference before as an attendee. My only experience was after my Freshman year at BYU when they needed extra help with food prep at the conference, so I made a lot of cranberry turkey sandwiches (which I was surprised to see are still being sold at the conference...I mean, not the same ones, the flav-uh, of course).

My co-presenter Michelle Curry and me.
Each session has co-presenters and I presented with Michelle Curry.

Nevertheless, that's not what you came to this blog for. What did you come here for anyway?

Since I have some guidelines about how I can post the transcript of my talk, here we go. This is just a random talk I am posting here, probably not connected at all to what I talked about above. Also the views and opinions expressed in this talk are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Also, the following is posted with some modifications because I used Powerpoint slides and...just because.

And be careful. It's looooooong because it was a 25 minute presentation! Ok, enough caveats.

#igiveback

I am so grateful for this conference to learn and be uplifted by so many women. Michelle [my co-presenter] and I were strangers 3 months ago and through this opportunity we have become friends. She practices what she preaches because whenever she was thinking of her talk, she would contact me to make sure I was feeling ok about mine. She is an example of reaching out.

To begin I want to thank all of you who are here. I am a people-watcher and yesterday I got to know many of those who attend Women’s Conference. I learned that one of the most favorite parts of this conference is the service projects. It is so impressive to me that you take time off from your busy lives to come to a conference, serve, and even to step foot in a room where I just might suggest that you ought to be doing more. I loved attending the service project where meals were prepared and blankets cut and tied. And it was awesome to see Sandra Rogers, head of the conference, out there serving right alongside everyone else. 
Sandra Rogers in the red dress preparing meals.

Cutting fleece for blankets.

Another thing I noticed is that the women here are alert and connected. I have been in a singles ward longer than I care to admit and far too often, all I see is the neck bent down, face on the screen, view of people. It was refreshing to see that the necks bent down and unseen faces here were because women were working on service projects, sewing and crocheting away.

So why do we do all of this? Why do we serve? Because we are covenant-keeping children of God who believe the Savior’s admonition to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, mourn with those who mourn, weep with those who weep and rejoice with them that rejoice.

I am so grateful that there are women like you in the world. I need you and the Lord needs you.

I have the great privilege of working as the Web Content Manager for the Church’s Welfare Services department, which includes the Church’s humanitarian efforts as well as efforts to help those with employment, financial challenges, counseling issues, addictions, food necessities, and so many other things.

Part of the great mission of the welfare department is to help members truly find sanctification through service. We have focused some of our efforts this year on coordinating with the Mormon Channel on a new series titled “Give Back”. This series highlights individuals who find ways to give back in their communities and we encourage all to share their stories through the hash tag #igiveback.

Just yesterday, the Mormon Channel released the newest “Give Back” video. This video is about a faithful sister who lives in Sierra Leone. She tells of her experience living through the civil war and the Church’s efforts to help the members. Then, some years ago, Abie received training through the LDS Charities Neonatal Resuscitation Training signature program. This is a program funded by your humanitarian contributions to provide training to medical professionals throughout the world to help them save infants’ lives. Sister Abie Turay, who went through so much, also chooses to give back in her community. I would like you to meet her through this video.


The support that you already give the Church provides this kind of life-saving training, support, and help for millions of people. I want to thank you for being a part of a Church that provides this aid.

But this is not the end of Abie’s story. As you listened, you may have recognized elements of Abie’s story. In the most recent general conference, President Henry B. Eyring spoke of this same Abie Turay. As he told her story, he spoke of a certain “visitor” who met Sister Turay in Sierra Leone. This visitor happens to be my boss, who met Sister Turay while filming the video we just watched. President Eyring shared the following, “A visitor from the United States sat with Abie not long ago. During his time with her, he found his eyes ‘drawn to a set of scriptures that were on the table.’ He could tell that they were a treasure, ‘well-marked with notes in the columns. The pages were [worn;] some were torn. The cover was detached from the binding.’

He held the scriptures in his ‘hand and gently turned the pages. As [he did, he found a] yellow copy of a tithing donation slip. [He] could see that, in a country where [a dollar was worth its] weight in gold, Abie Turay had paid one dollar as her tithing, one dollar to the missionary fund, and one dollar as a fast offering for those who, in her words, were ‘truly poor.’”

The visitor closed Sister Turay’s scriptures and thought, as he stood with this faithful African mother, that he was on sacred ground" ("Is Not this the Fast that I have Chosen?" April 2015 general conference). 

In a quiet, unassuming way, in a way that never would have been noticed, this faithful sister encapsulates the mission to serve and give back. In all her hardship, she finds ways to support the “truly poor”—not only through her service to the community, but also through donating a generous fast offering. Like Abie, no matter what we have gone through, we can all give back to the community. No matter how little we have—we can give in ways the Spirit prompts us. This is how we can be sanctified through keeping our covenant to serve.

So how can we know what the Lord would like us to do?


Nearly two years ago, I felt, like you may have felt sometimes, that I was doing a pretty good job at helping others. No one would have accused me of not being serviceable to others or of not being willing to help anyone in need.

At the time, I was at the tail end of finishing an MBA program, while working full time in the Welfare Services department. I served in two busy callings, and I had a lot of fulfilling things going on in my life. But something was missing, and I couldn’t pinpoint quite what it was. Perhaps some of you have felt that way. You’re raising your children, or you’re in a career you love, or you’re empty-nesters. And you are doing good things and wonderful things. But there may be something in your heart that feels unfulfilled. Something that is begging you to reach a little further. I can’t tell you what that is, but the Spirit can if you listen today because the Spirit helped me know what to do.

I felt prompted to seek mentoring from one of my professors. This particular professor is one of the most popular professors in the University of Utah’s School of Business because he is a man who gives back to the community. At 18, he was alone in a new country trying to begin his university studies when he found out his parents had been killed in a political uprising in his home country. Due to the uprisings, he could never return home. In desperation and despair, he was close to taking his life. But a feeling that he had something good he needed to do stopped him. He worked himself up from a pot washer at a hospital, all the way to a major service director in a local hospital and now to a consultant and professor. His story of rising from his struggle with a purpose to serve inspired me deeply and I knew he could help guide me.

He knew a lot about my Church service and callings, even though he is not a member of our faith. While my service in the Church was essential, he pleaded for me to use my skills and talents as I served, especially in the community at large. Simply put— I needed to reach out more and serve in more meaningful ways to help more people.

And so I began to pray and to look for what was missing for me.

A few months later in January, I found myself helping one of my friends— a single mother. She lived in a low-income housing complex and needed to get out of a bad situation.

As we moved her belongings, I noticed in the center of the complex a sign for the Hser Ner Moo Community Center—a community center to help children and teenagers with reading, writing, and math and to lead them on a path to graduation.

The next day, I was back at the complex again, helping move more boxes. This time it was snowing and as I carried a box, I slipped. Someone reached down to help, and surprisingly, it was a member of my ward, who I soon found out worked at the center. I felt something inside tell me, “You need to find out more about this center.

And so I did and I like to say that I literally fell into this opportunity to serve. I discussed volunteer opportunities and soon became a weekly mentor for a darling teenager. The center has asked that I not use actual names, so I will call her Istar. Istar and her family had immigrated to the United States about two years prior. Istar was born in Djibouti but her parents were Somalian refugees. She came to the US speaking very little English, but had progressed rapidly in school and was aiming to be a doctor. As we met weekly, I learned how much she needed me and how much I needed her. I got to relearn geometry and algebra and history and chemistry as I tutored her in her schoolwork. And I also got to hear about her life. About her beliefs and values. She is Muslim and spent many days in the local mosque helping take care of duties in the mosque. She taught me some Somalian and I made great inroads with her mom just by knowing “Hello” and “Thank you”. I went to one of her community soccer games—something her family members had difficulty doing. She became more than someone to mentor, but also a friend.

In July of last year, Istar and her family moved out of state to be with some other Somalian families. She is now finishing up her last year of high school. Istar also gives back to her community in meaningful ways by serving in her mosque.

I was subsequently assigned a new girl to mentor, who I will call Riva. Riva’s family is also Muslim. Her parents were Burmese refugees who fled to Thailand. She came to the US about 6 years ago, but remains the only member of her family who speaks fluent English. She has younger nieces and nephews who are learning, but the burden of translating and interpreting rests on her. She loves meeting every week and she loves talking about her life. Often she speaks of the challenge of being the family interpreter. She speaks of the challenges of fitting in. She speaks of the challenges of being a teenager and the challenges at school. But she loves to learn and she catches on quickly. She needs me and I need her. Riva also gives back to the community in meaningful ways by serving as an interpreter.

It has been an incredible experience to be involved in serving these displaced families of refugees around me. And as you can see, they also give back in any way they can.

Each of us has our own specific skills, talents, and abilities that can make the most impact and that will allow us to find the most fulfillment.

I think often of what constitutes a refugee—someone fleeing to find safety and refuge. And I am reminded of the great need among us to be a refuge for any kind of refugee. Consider the lyrics of a song written by Michael McLean, titled Safe Harbors.

There are refugees among us
That are not from foreign shores;
And the battles they are waging
Are from very private wars.
And there are no correspondents
Documenting all their grief,
But these refugees among us all
Are yearning for relief.

There are refugees among us.
They don't carry flags or signs.
They are standing right beside us
In the market check out lines;
And the war they've been fighting
It will not be televised,
But the story of their need for love
Is written in their eyes.

This is a call to arms,
To reach out and to hold
The evacuees from the dark.
This is a call to arms,
To lead anguished souls 
To safe harbors of the heart.

Can you see through their disguises?
Can you hear what words won't tell?
Some are losing faith in Heaven
'Cause their life's a living Hell.
Is there anyone to help those
Who have nowhere else to flee?
For the only arms protecting them
belong to you and me.

This is a call to arms,
To reach out and to hold
The evacuees from the dark.
This is a call to arms,
To lead anguished souls
To safe harbors of the heart.
Can you feel the pleas of the refugees
For safe harbors of the heart?

Who are the refugees in your family, neighborhood, ward, and stake that have been placed in your path to serve?

Who in your family or ward is out of a job? Who is looking for a better job? Who has a child who has an addiction? Do you know a friend whose spouse struggles with pornography? Do you know a family who struggles to pay their bills? Who in your ward has a child who struggles with mental illness? Do you know someone going through a divorce? Or someone who is a caregiver to a spouse or child with a disability? Or someone who is encompassed by grief and loss?

I bet that many people passed through your mind. These are the refugees among us who are seeking comfort and safety. And we have safety to offer. What skills and talents do you have that can bless the lives of our own brothers and sisters? Our prayers and our fast offering contributions can do much good, but I am reminded of the Parable of the Ten Talents. What talents has the Lord given you that he expects you to multiply by sharing them with others? Ponder upon this as I share a few examples.
Consider the experience of a sister I became friends with in the MTC. While barely 30, she is a caregiver for her husband who is battling leukemia for the 4th time.


With her permission, I share a portion of her most recent blogpost.

AJ says, “I loved during general conference when a speaker said people are sent from God and ordinary people are working as God's hands when they make ordinary gestures.  We are so grateful for the people who have truly borne the burden with us. It's hard for me to see some friends disappear with time. The road seems to get a little more lonely for me each relapse. It may be because our story is getting harder to tell and live. I'm reading a care giving book right now that suggests that people just don't know what to say or do. It's hard to relate to a difficult journey sometimes when you're trying so hard to keep yours happy and full of life and light. I understand that some people simply process it differently or just can't process it. Most days I wish I could ignore it all and not have to deal with it too.

“Sometimes my cares for this world and battle have choked out God's words and promises and I really need to remember to focus on those at times. Marshall and I (especially Marshall) are very tired this round. We are reaching for and trying to grasp any light we can find no matter how dark or seemingly hopeless this cancer can be. We are trying to find our strength again in that light. It [is] so wonderful to see friends and family come out to support us…You help us dispel our fears and have some peace.”

A.J.’s friends give back by helping with her small son, supporting them financially, and spending hours upon hours visiting in the hospital. They also give back by looking to A.J.’s needs as a caregiver. The friends dispel fears and give real peace. And AJ is even giving back by helping with the service projects here at women's conference and even supporting me by being in this presentation.

Or consider a group of widows and widowers at the Wentworth Care Center near my house. In their lonely times, these “widows and the fatherless” often have nothing to look forward to. Yet nearly every Sunday for the past five years, a group from my young single adult ward has visited the residents and they sing hymns to bring peace and solace.

These friends give back by practicing pure religion.

Most of my dear friends at the Wentworth


Or consider a marvelous group of people from my hometown of Huntsville, Utah. At age 13, I started a very small garage sale to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in memory of a friend who passed away and who had received a wish from the foundation. The garage sale turned out to not just be a one-year stint, but has since been taken over by a committee of families--largely headed up by my mom, and a community of people, who now run this sale to not only sponsor a wish for Make-A-Wish every year, but also to support infant bereavement programs in local hospitals, children’s hospitals in memory of families from our valley, other memorial donations, and many, many individual families in desperate need. Having raised more than a $100,000 thus far, this committee is poised to yet again tackle this adventure in its 17th year.

This community gives back by seeking out the needs of its own.

Some of the best people in the world who run this
amazing charity garage sale.

Or consider the countless members who give back by sharing and promoting job opportunities for others, or giving rides to interviews, or mentoring those with barriers to employment in the Deseret Industries training program.

Or consider those who give back by mentoring missionaries who return home early.  Or those who give back by attending Addiction Recovery Program Spouse and Family Support Group meetings with their friend in need of support. Or those who, in thousands of other ways are not just offering a smile to those in need, but extending a hand, reaching out, and lifting upward.

The opportunities to serve others around us are endless. And I recognize that we have so many of our own needs. There are times when we are those being served. But even in those times, and in all other times, I turn to three principles to guide my service.

First, as Sister Linda K. Burton has said, “First observe, then serve.”

Shared from lds.org


Second, as Camilla Kimball said, “Never suppress a generous thought.”

Shared with permission of Corina Sorenson for
the express purpose of this presentation. Cannot be
copied or shared. View print here.

And finally, as President Thomas S. Monson has taught us, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”


As we learn to observe, act on generous thoughts, and seek to love people, I know that we will find sanctification through keeping our covenants. We will know how to serve in meaningful ways.

Again, I thank you for the service you already provide in so many ways. And I invite you to humbly ask our Father to help you find what more you can do to give back. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in the October 2014 general conference, “I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who … cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”

I know this to be true and I am grateful for a Savior who saved us and allows us to serve Him by serving others. I leave this with you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

My wonderful family members who were able to
come support me. And yes, men can come to
Women's Conference. I also had friends, roommates,
past roommates, a mission companion, and others come to support.
I don't deserve you all.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Europe Trip, Part 2: Austria

So...that Europe trip? Yeah, I am going to finish blogging about it. Mostly because I never finished writing in my journal about it, so I better capture it somewhere. #journalfail

Recap of the end of blogpost Europe Trip, part 1: Liz and her mom go to Hungary to visit her mom's sister and brother-in-law, the mission presidents in Hungary. The rain and cold try to dampen their spirits, but they are not deterred. As they travel through Budapest and Szentendre, they develop a love for Hungary and wish they could stay longer. But the train ticket calls, and they board a train headed across Hungary into the unknown city of Graz, Austria, where their cousins they've never met before will greet them. Will they find their cousins? Will they fall in love with Graz?

When my mom and I left on our trip, we hadn't necessarily planned on going to Graz. We figured we would somehow find a way to meet our cousins who live in Austria, but thought they might come down to Slovenia while we were there. But as we arrived in Hungary, Iva Prus-Kern, my mom's third cousin, started emailing me and telling us how wonderful Graz was. We had planned to take an overnight train from Hungary to Slovenia, which would pass through Salzburg, Austria, WAY out of the way. Iva insisted that we instead take the train to Graz, spend the night at her house, and then take a train from there to Slovenia. This would save us from a night on the train, allow us to meet her, and also to see Graz, Austria. Win. Win. Win. We were in, especially when she sent us the exact train time information so we knew how to get there. 

Alex, Iva's husband, was the lone man standing on the train platform with a sign for Leslie and Elizabeth Stitt as we arrived. Alex gave us a lift across town to their adorable house where we met our dear cousin Iva for the first time. Family is family, guys. I love that there is a deep connection to people we call family, even when you've never met them before.

When we arrived, late at night, Iva had cooked us an excellent
traditional Slovenian dinner.
I. Loved. This. Food. It was like I was supposed
to be eating Slovenian food all along!

Iva was raised in Slovenia, but her husband, Alex is Austrian. Iva met him while she was studying in Austria and she decided to stay there to get married and raise a family. They actually came to the US for a year and a half or so for a project Alex was working on, but we weren't really connected as well then, and never met. She is one of Tomas and Maria's daughters, who you will meet in the next blog. Tomas and Maria have been in contact with my mom for as long as I can remember, but we started getting to know Iva with the advent of Facebook. Bless Facebook for bringing families together.

After a short night's rest, we woke up to meet their adorable little 4-year-old daughter Monika. She is way too cute. The first 10 minutes of meeting us, Monika was wary of these strangers in her home. But she quickly warmed up and she and I became fast friends. Love knows no language barriers for a child. She speaks German and she's learning a little bit of Slovenian, but English would have been a stretch. But it's ok because I know a lot of German words and phrases like, "Was ist das?", "das ist gut", "danke", "nein, nein, fraulein" and "guten tag". I also know "bratwurst" and "Volkswagen". So...I don't really know a lot of German words. But she showed me all around and let me play with her and I learned a lot of German words in a short matter of time. The best part is that she loves this little stuffed animal penguin, and penguin=pinguin in German. That occupied much of our conversation.

Monika, my adorable fourth cousin


I love this child. So, so cute!
After we got ready, Iva and my mom and I walked Monika to Kindergarten. Yes! Another German word that I actually know. She showed us her nametag and her designated place to put her things. So precious!


Iva and Monika at Kindergarten
Alex had to go to work, and Moni had Kindergarten. Luckily, Iva was in the middle of getting her own art business up and going, so she could take off some of her time to show us around Graz. Also, Iva's art is awesome, so check her out at IvaKernArt.com .

Iva gave us the grand tour of Graz and it's a lovely city. Austria felt oddly less foreign to me than Hungary did. The German seemed almost familiar. I guess English really must be a Germanic language, and probably my German heritage from the other side of my family was expressing itself as well.

Stairs leading up to Schlossberg (Castle Hill).
This is the site of an old fortress, which was
largely destroyed by Napoleon. It is now
a public park.
We rode a funicular railway up to the top of the mountain to look around. (For those of you who didn't learn this already from Wikipedia, funicular railways are inclined cable railways to move trains up and down steep slopes. The ascending and descending trains counterbalance each other.) It's rather steep and kind of crazy, but lots of fun.

Mum and I at the top of Schlossberg, overlooking Graz.
Gosh, it's beautiful.
 One of the best things about going to Europe in December is there are Christmas markets everywhere! It was so fun to see all the hand crafted treasures people had made. I especially loved all the handcrafted nativities and wish that I had enough money to buy them all.

Alex was able to take his lunch break and meet us for lunch at a traditional Austrian restaurant in town, right next to the Glockenspiel (one of those tower clocks that opens up when the bells ring and has dancing figurines--unfortunately it only plays a few times a day, and we weren't there to see it). The waiters were dressed in lederhosen. Too. Much. Fun. And my dish? Pumpkin lasagna--pumpkin is kind of a big deal over there, and not just at Thanksgiving (because, well, they don't celebrate our Thanksgiving).


Another awesome thing about Europe is all the old cathedrals. So beautiful and historic. I loved all the magnificent pipe organs.


Mom and Liz in cute black coats, cute red scarves, and sling purses.
Are we related? Yes, yes we are.
Schlossberg in the background.

Iva and my mom on the Island in the Mur. This is an
architectural structure in the middle of the Mur River that
runs through the city. The island hosts a small restaurant
and concert venue.
In our whirlwind, less-than-24-hours-in-Graz, the most wonderful thing is we got to know Iva and build a deeper connection with her and her family. I feel like we will be friends forever. She is so friendly, smart, funny, and kind. What a blessing that we changed our plans to include a day in Graz and get to know Iva, Alex, and Monika.

At the end of the day, Alex and Iva gave us a lift across the border to Maribor, Slovenia, where we caught a train to Ljubljana. On the car ride down, Moni started crying and explaining something to Iva. Iva told us that Moni was so sad because we were all talking in English and she was tired of us all speaking English. She wanted to listen and she wanted to understand. She wanted to be a part of the conversation. All right, Moni, you've done it! I'm going to learn German! Just as soon as I learn Slovenian...(stay tuned for part 3!)

But seriously, this girl.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Europe Trip, Part 1: Hungary

Unless all of you are lying (which I highly suspect right now), you are all dying to hear about my European Adventure.

I have never done a travel blog, but I have traveled and I have blogged, so there's that. And now here's this.

First, let's start off with the most Frequently Asked Questions.

Inside the Hungarian Parliament Building
Who did you go with? My dearest and best friend: my mom
Which countries did you visit? Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, France
Wait, how long were you gone? 12 days
That many countries? Yes, but Croatia was only for 25 minutes, Italy for a few hours, France for a 20 hour layover, and Austria for a day. We mostly went to Hungary and Slovenia.
So...why? To visit family
You have family in Europe? Yes! My aunt (mom's sister) and uncle are serving as LDS Church mission presidents in Budapest, Hungary. Also, I have third and fourth cousins in Austria and Slovenia, since my great-great grandparents immigrated from Metlika, Slovenia (which was at one time Austria, and also part of the former Yugoslavia)
Slovenia? Don't you mean Slovakia? I meant what I said, and I said what I meant...Slovenia's a country in Eastern Europe 100%
Wait, hold on a second, you stay in contact with third and fourth cousins? Yeah, because then you can travel to cool places, duh!
But you really do? Yes, my mom and I really do. And so do many of our other family members. Slovenia is a part of me. It is a part of my heritage and a part of my life. I'll get to that part of the story, ok?
How did you...? They all speak English.


So on a cold day in December, my mom and I packed our bags, went to work (separately, of course), found out my flight had randomly (and no fault of my own) been rescheduled and I was headed to Michigan instead of Paris, and I about died. Luckily, the nicest customer service agent in the world fixed my flight, and when my mom and I left work and headed to the airport, we were back on the same flight. Thankfully the airport dude-man got us back in seats next to each other, which made it more convenient to pretend to uncomfortably sleep.

But you wanted to know about Hungary.

We took a direct flight to Paris and then on to Budapest, Hungary. My aunt and uncle were eagerly awaiting our arrival at the airport and I felt a complete surge of emotions and nostalgia as they stood there with their mission name tags on. It was just like coming off the plane when I arrived in my mission and it felt like a piece of heaven. But I digress. We were so excited to see them! After hugs and warm feelings all around, we headed off into a cold and foggy December day in Budapest, where it proceeded to rain for the near duration of our stay. But it couldn't have been any lovelier.

Highlights of Budapest
Sister Smith, me, mom, President Smith
Budapest Hungary Mission Office

1) My aunt and uncle. The wonderful thing about reunions is that somehow it's as if no time has passed at all and that all is right with the world and that there is just a burst of love escaping from you. They've been out two and a half years, which has seemed a very long time. We talked, we laughed, we played games, we fed the missionaries, we went to Church, we met wonderful members, we talked to more missionaries. Also, they shared their stock of Milka caramel candy bars. That is love. Family, guys. It's where it's at.

2. Christmas Markets and Christmas. These are really a big deal in this part of Europe. They sell all sorts of handmade crafts, dolls, linens, and nearly everything you can think of. And while there were lots of people buying and drinking mulled wine, we just enjoyed just smelling the Christmas in the air. Everything else was lit up around the city and it felt magical.




St. Stephen's Basilica lit up for Christmas


3. Hungarian Parliament Building. I could not get enough of this building. As one of Europe's oldest legislative buildings, it just looks like awesomeness decorated and lit up in more awesomeness. Inside and out was beautifully designed, built, and decorated. It was inaugurated on the country's 1000th birthday in 1896 (it's a pretty important year for Hungary) and completed in 1904. 
Inside the Hungarian Parliament Building
Hungarian Parliament Building, as seen from Fisherman's Bastion
on the Buda side of the Danube.

Stained glass in the Hungarian Parliament Building



4.These ladies. I know I already mentioned my mom and my aunt, but seriously, isn't this the best picture ever? My Aunt Lynne helped us find our way around the city and took us out to a beautiful village named Szentendre where we got to see a taste of traditional Europe, shop in some great artisan handmade shops, and eat some cold blueberry soup and fried cheese! Goodness all around. Oh yeah, and we met Saint Nicholas!









Shoes on the Danube
5. Memorials to the Jews. This was such a sobering and thoughtful opportunity to really think on the implications of all that transpired in World War II. The "Shoes on the Danube" Memorial is for those Jews who were lined up and chained together along the Danube. They were ordered to take off their shoes and stand near the edge. The first person was shot, and the others, chained to the first, would be pulled into the river. I've heard a lot about the Hungarian Jews in history, but this was sobering and real to me. I love that people put flowers in the shoes...to remember.



Another memorial to the Jews is at the Dohany Street Synagogue (also known as The Great Synagogue). It is the largest synagogue in Europe, built in the 1850s. It was badly damaged by air raids during the Nazi Occupation, but was restored due to some great donors. The restoration was completed in 1998. It's very unusual to have a cemetery this close to a synagogue, but in 1944, around 70,000 Jews were relocated to the ghetto area of Pest and in the following year 8-10,000 of them died. A makeshift cemetery was created for around 2000 of these Jews in the Synagogue courtyard. In the Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park, the weeping willow tree--Emanuel Tree--memorializes the names and tattoo numbers of those Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust. There is also a memorial here to those who helped rescue Jews.
Jewish Cemetery at the Synagogue
The Emanuel Tree Memorial
Weeping willow memorial
 in Raul Wallenberg park


Dohany Street Synagogue


6. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hungary. I love going to Church wherever I go. It's always so wonderful to meet the members and understand more about their lives. We attended the Buda Ward, which is in the same building as the mission home and the mission office. It still felt much like home to me. The Church always feel like home. We had translators help us out through all three meetings. My aunt bore her testimony in Hungarian, which was so awesome that I nearly cried. Several members of the ward got up and shared how much they love Sister Smith and her testimony. In Relief Society, we listened as the sisters announced the Christmas project to serve the poor and the needy. I knew that many of those sisters were certainly not all that well off themselves, yet they are committed to serving those even a little less fortunate. The Relief Society provides relief wherever they go.

This was one of the things that most touched my heart was learning about how the Church is growing in Hungary. What a stellar experience to spend a few days with a mission president and his wife and learn of the work. They have a stake and are continuing to grow. In the Buda Ward, a convert had just been baptized the day before and she was confirmed during Church--a beautiful confirmation. There was a baby blessing in the ward that day, too. We met a senior couple there helping with family history work and with the young single adults. Some members were in town for Church as they were from outlying cities and had come in to receive their Patriarchal Blessings. Several times as we were in the city, we ran into missionaries (granted many of them were on their way to the mission home).  We got to meet a handful of elders who came in for paperwork. They were all full of fire and energy and a love of the mission. Hurrah for Israel! The work goes on. I love the work that my aunt and uncle get to do.


Speaking of which, on the train ride out of Budapest and on our way to Graz, Austria, my mom sat next to a young woman, and I next to an older lady. The girl, Rebeka, speaks English. We chatted with her a lot. She translated for the lady next to me. To both of them, we shared a bit of our testimonies and left a Book of Mormon.
My mom and our new friend Rebeka.

I loved it, rainy days and cold weather and all.

Köszönöm, Hungary. Thank you.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ten Things Mommy Blogs Taught Me to Worry About: Newborn Edition

So I'm pretty well aware that I'm not a mom yet. But I am very aware I'm addicted to mommy blogs.

Let's not say addicted; that sounds bad. Let's say, "I am a hugely ridiculous fan of reading [mommy blogs]."

They can be written by mothers I know and mothers I don't know. For me, I call this Parenting Prep 6000. For others, they call it...well...I don't know what they call it. Mommy Wars?

The point is that because I read mommy blogs all the time, I have become overly concerned about way too many things. And let's just mention here that it's not like I haven't been around babies. I started babysitting when I was nine! And I still watch my nieces and nephews all the time. But when it's your own kid...man I'm already stressing about things that I really don't need to stress about. At least not quite yet. So now I'm here to stress you out as well.

Ten Things Mommy Blogs Taught Me to Worry About: Newborn Edition

10) Co-sleeping, bassinet, or crib? I don't really recall how I slept as a baby because I was quite young when I was born. Also, from what I have observed, babies don't sleep much anyway, nor do the parents. So I don't think this one really matters. Never mind on that concern. Next.

9) Strollers. Apparently this is a big decision. What kind of a stroller leads to higher baby intelligence? Is a jogging stroller best because of the health benefits? A cheap hand-me-down since mama saves money? A deluxe, climate-controlled, RockShox get up? Will they really appreciate the $4000 Silver Cross Balmoral Pram? Also, that's a real thing? I just googled expensive baby stroller and that's what came up. I bought my car for about that amount! And my car can fit THREE babies in it, thank you very much. And I also enjoy a smooth ride and have relatively puncture-resistant wheels, too. 

8) Cloth diapers or disposable? My mom raised most of us in cloth diapers. Because my parents were poor. And they had a passel of kids. And because disposable diapers were barely even invented in my day and probably cost $3 a diaper. So I'm pretty sure the cloth diaper thing was a sacrifice, not a nod to the environment. Yet, somehow, my mommy blog reading makes me feel a tiny twinge of guilt about disposing of so many diaper bombs into the landfills. But on the other hand, dirty diapers twelve to eighteen times a day. So... disposable it is. Good thing I finally got a Costco membership to prepare.

7) Natural, Epidural, or C-section? For now, let's just leave this one at epidural based on the birth stories I have read and the *cough* wonderful stories I hear at baby showers. There is one thing for certain, though. I ain't nevuh gonna post my baby's birth story online. 

6) Blogging about the birth story. Did you even read number 7? No. (watch me eat my words).

5) Nursing or bottle-feeding? So far I've decided that feeding the baby is a good idea. And the baby should be fed on a regular basis. So I'm just gonna make sure that happens. 

4) Newborn pictures. Do I pay for the photographer who comes to the hospital when my baby still looks slightly like an alien? Do I go to a studio? Do I count on my future visiting teacher to be a professional photographer who I can count on when she asks, "What do you need?" Do I just buy a camera now and take classes? And do I make the lace tutu that my little girl will wear? Or do I use iron-on "one month, two month" patches on new Dillard's white onesies? What if I can't crochet? How am I ever going to make the baby hat? Oh, the humanity!

3) Gender reveal party. SO MUCH PRESSURE! First of all, do I find out the gender? Or do I wait because that's what the cool kids do? Or do I not wait, because that's what the other cool kids do? And if I DO want to find out, do I have someone else bake a cake with blue or pink inside? Or do we pop a balloon? Or do we put together a puzzle? Or do I hire an ultrasound technician to come to my living room so everyone can witness the reveal live? (This was a REAL idea on a blog, guys. Why do you think I'm so stressed?)

2) Pick names before the baby is born, right after, or three years later? And how much of a vote does the husband get? (So far, he gets none since he hasn't even told me his own name yet). And when do we tell people? Rumor has it my grandma didn't have a real name for quite a while after she was born, so she went by "Babe", which stuck for most of her life and people still call her Babe. Which I think is actually kind of cute. But... I still want to name my babies pretty soon. However, as soon as I think of a baby name, one of my cousins steals it! How rude! So in an effort to get my cousins to name their children OTHER names, so I can still have mine, I offer them the following really good, solid names: Linus, Georgina, Hilda, and Frank.

And the number one thing I worry about...

1) Everything else. Gracious, it's like bringing a human child into the world is a hugely big deal. It's a good thing my mommy blogs have prepared me years in advance for the horrors, the laughs, the blow-outs, the giggling, the spit up, the babbling, the tears, the fears, the stress, the smiles, and most importantly, the love.

Do I worry about being a good mom already? Way before I even need to? Sure. But I bet this mama did, too, and I think she is perfect. Even without the mommy blogs as her guide.

video

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

You Cannot Fail

I found something out recently. I found out that I can't fail.

For a recovering perfectionist (seriously, but really, seriously), this is a hard thing to initially swallow. 

Several months ago I got another calling in the ward. I'm still going 4 1/2 years strong with my service calling (which I love), but apparently I had a little more learning and refining in store. I was called to be the Family History co-chair in the ward. Really, I'm just a family history consultant. But we do everything in co-chairs in singles wards, so there you go.

Now you may think that I was a little bit intimidated and you would be right. It's intimidating to be in a calling where you're trying to help people do research when you don't know everything yourself. But it is a calling I love. My mom has taught me to do family history since I was little. It has always been a part of my life. And the past several years, I've spent nearly every Sunday in the Family History Center in our ward helping people anyway. So it just made official something I already loved to do. But then actually gave me responsibility and stewardship over it. So it was no longer just a help here and help there kind of thing, but the real McCoy. Now, I had to wait two months between the time I was called and the time I was sustained. Not sure why, but that's what happened. So I hemmed and hawed and stewed over what I needed to do and how I was going to do it.

When I was finally sustained and set apart by Brother White, he said something surprising in the blessing. He told me twice that I cannot fail. Because this is the the Lord's work.

Turns out it was a good thing he said that. The good news is that family history in our ward has actually been taking off. There is a lot of interest and the Spirit of Elijah has touched many hearts.

Photographic evidence of people not indexing. The bishop
tried to stage it to look like we actually had a
successful activity. Also, it's a good thing I went looking
for this picture, which was inadvertently deleted, along with 200
other photos from my ward picture album on Dropbox.
But you're wondering about the "cannot fail" part ... Around mid-July, the Church announced a cool initiative. They were going to get 50,000 indexers to index a batch of records in one day. Just one day! "How cool is that?" said family history Liz. And she set about to invite the whole ward to come up to the Church on that Sunday evening and index. Exciting, right? (#whyimsingle. Also, side note: lots of people told me they love my "dating blog". Dating blog? This isn't a dating blog? I never mention it in my serious posts! Right....) So we got the Family History Center set up, we pumped up the ward and blasted out invites on social media. And the people came. Nearly 35 cycled through that night. And guess how many batches we got done? NONE! Zero! ZIPPO! None, I say.

Turns out if 50,000 people all try to log on at the same time, then the Indexing servers crash and burn and die. And thus it was, that of the 35 people, not a single one was able to successfully complete a batch and send it in. We did have two who after 2 hours of watching the spinning wheel of death on their computers, finally got logged in. One actually was able to get a batch done, but the submission wouldn't work. Can you index in a day? No you can't, you can't, I say!

So I may have died a little that night.

Enter recovery phase.

Then enter family history Liz again. We were assigned to do a Family History activity for FHE. By this time I had a little group of consultants together and a co-chair, and if I do say so myself, we planned a killer activity. We decorated...for FHE. You know, we don't mess around. I should have taken a picture for Pinterest of everyone's family history books, pictures, and memorabilia. It was cool. We had people bring family recipes for dessert.

We showed this video, which makes me cry because:
1) I truly believe that our ancestors watch out for us at all times, but especially in those hard times.
2) The day I found a copy of one of my ancestors' entries in a Family Bible, I cried.


So we were all set up for an awesome experience. And we had like 40+ people show up at FHE...for family history!

You cannot fail, he said.

But the Wi-Fi can. I came early to set up and my computer wouldn't connect. Tried my other laptop. No luck. Another person came. No connection. Connection failed. And it repeated every time another person came in the door. Finally a few came in who were able to connect (what??) and we got a Hotspot going for a few. My 15 minute prepared lesson turned into 30 minutes of frustration trying to at least say something inspirational and not feel upset that I couldn't demo the awesomeness of FamilySearch, Puzzilla, Ancestry and so on very well. I fumbled through some sort of mix of telling people that we'd have to go back to pen and paper like our ancestors and then I just finished up in a puddle of embarrassment. We had the family history center open. A gal asked for help. I went with her and helped her the rest of the evening. I abandoned those wi-fi broken computers and those interested seekers and basically hid in a corner. When it finally sounded like everyone was leaving, I went and cleaned up my things. My committee said that it was all fine and that it was all ok. The bishop tried to reassure me. First a failed indexing event. Then this. I got in my car and cried (come on, I know you're not surprised at that).

You cannot fail, he said.

After a lot of thinking and pondering and chatting with the Lord, I started to feel it. I hadn't failed because I really can't. The Wi-Fi wasn't working, yes. But 40+ people came to learn about family history. Several told me they learned something new. One sister found 10 family names. Another learned how to to descendancy research. Another fixed an endless loop on FamilySearch that we'd been trying to fix the entire previous Sunday. What seemed a failure was not a failure at all. Instead, it was just a little blip in time when things didn't go quite right.

And you know, my ancestors have still got my back. My great-grandma Eva Rosina Klingler Stitt wrote a beautiful poem that I have long loved and that came to mind because of this event.

SUCCESS 
Success may be made by the goals we have gained, 
Regardless of hardship and cares. 
Success may mean sometimes the wheat we have gleaned 
In spite of the weeds and the tares. 

Success may mean reaching the goal we have made — 
When easy paths beckoned, we tenaciously stayed. 
But he, too, succeeds, who is doing his best -
Who would do a hundred, regardless the test. 

If we will remember as we journey through life, 
True success comes from loving - not hatred and strife. 
Success is not counted by the trophies we have won. 
Nor the races we have beaten at the start of the gun. 

But, by rendering service as we go along, 
By doing for others to the tune of a song. 
By helping our fellow man to lighten his load. 
To help with his burden, though rough be his road. 
When the last curtain falls, we will be ready to go, 
If we can truthfully say we served here below. 
-Eva Rosina Klingler Stitt

Truly, you cannot fail, He said.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Learning to hit the brakes

Here's a picture to make my blog seem more interesting.
Not the same day, but the same kids. On a side note,
this was the day I worked hard with L to learn to pump her legs
so I wouldn't have to push her on the swing anymore. My
kindness knows no bounds.
On a normal day in a normal neighborhood, a normal situation occurred.

Kids were playing. And someone got hurt.

I had been watching my nieces and nephew for the evening. The rain had been on and off so we were in and out of the house, heading out as often as the rain stopped so we could enjoy the cool summer evening.

The kids were running and playing and having a great time. And L was riding her new bike she'd just gotten for her birthday. But L doesn't know how to brake very well. Of course, I didn't know that beforehand. All I knew is that G was walking down the sidewalk. As L headed toward him, there was no attempt to stop and before I could do anything, L had hit G with the bike and still couldn't stop, so it knocked him over and hit him again. Three-year-old G immediately started screaming. And 5-year-old L started crying.

I couldn't help both, so I ran and grabbed the child on the ground to inspect for bleeding and other owies. I picked him up in my arms and held him while asking L why she didn't brake. L's crying got louder and stronger, "I didn't know how to brake!" "Why are you riding the bike if you don't know how to brake?" I scolded. G was still crying loudly in my ear. Again, I inspected to make sure he was ok and held him closer. I then told L to go put her bike in the garage and that we were done riding bikes until she learned how to brake.

I was, well, upset.

Within seconds, G was just fine again and pointed out a bird on the ground and laughed and smiled. No harm done. L was still quite upset and couldn't stop crying.

So I calmed down. We went inside. And we talked.

"L, do you know why I was upset?"

Through her tears, "I don't know how to brake!" and more tears.

"L, I was upset because I was scared. I was scared that G had gotten really hurt. I was scared that you got hurt because you were crying. I was just scared. And I'm sorry that I got upset because I was scared. I just love both of you and didn't want either of you to be hurt."

I was surprised. She understood. The tears stopped and we talked about it. We talked about how if she practices more on her bike, she'll learn how to brake. But maybe in the meantime, she'll have to make sure that no one is in the driveway or on the sidewalk so that she can learn. She apologized to G about her innocent mistake and both parties were happy with each other.

She understood because she understands being scared. She was scared, too. She was scared that she had hurt G when she didn't mean to.

So L and I sat down together while the rain started up again outside. We pulled out books and read with G. And L practiced her reading. She and I read a book together 5 times until she had all the words down. She was so excited and so happy to be spending time with me. And so proud of herself for reading a book on her own. She isn't even in kindergarten yet, so I was very impressed and gave her a great deal of praise. And it seemed like it had all been forgotten.

But as soon as her parents got home, she told them first thing that she'd run G over, maybe expecting a reprimand or thinking that I would tell them and she wanted her story told first. But of course we explained that it was a mistake and that we had resolved it and we were going to practice more. And L seemed content and maybe even surprised with the outcome.

A 5-year-old understands fear. And she understands when someone gets hurt. She knows what it's like to be scared. Her compassionate heart knew that I was scared, not mad. And by being honest with the root cause of my reaction, she could understand it. And she could forgive, because she had felt scared too.

I have fears about many things and I get scared. Sometimes I try to mask it behind yelling or behind anger or behind being upset or even behind silence. Those feelings hurt--they hurt others and they hurt me. But truthfully explaining my fear...that is something we can all relate to. And something that opens up conversation.

Sometimes I just need to learn how to hit the brakes, too.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Online Dating Round 2

I put this as one of my Tinder profile pictures.
I think it helped people see the real me.
Yep, you read me right. I tried it again.

Tinder
eHarmony
LDS Planet

Ok, so let's be honest here. I only briefly looked at LDS Planet, and eHarmony was a three day free trial thing and I got freaked out by both and gave up.

But Tinder...it's so shallow you just wade right in.

Tinder for dummies: Download the app on your mobile device. Log in through your Facebook account. Post a picture or two or three. Set a geographic area and an age range you want to search. The app searches for those who match these two requirements and pulls up their picture. You look at it. If you think they look nice/handsome/smart/wildly rich, swipe to the right. If not, swipe to the left. Pretty simple. They do the same for your pic/profile.

You can wade in about 2 inches deeper and see if you have any common friends or interests (based off Facebook). And if they write anything witty in their short profile, you can read it. And you can view a few more pictures.

But really, it's still shallow. I am not a very good swimmer though, and slightly afraid of the deep end, so I (*hang my head in shame*) liked it. It's a great time-killer and a fun game to play. It's useful when you're waiting somewhere like at the doctor's office, or in the grocery store line or while you're waiting for your date to pick you up. You see how fast you can swipe left to 100 people. Or some nights when you're home all alone, you see how long it takes you to actually swipe right to someone.

Well, if you swipe right and the person swipes right, "It's a match!" and suddenly you can chat with each other and say witty things like, "Hi" and "How is your day going?"

The great thing about it is that the only people who can contact you are those you also wanted to contact. Two-way agreement. Nice. Screens out the 50-year-olds who dedicate their profile to you (see My Foray Into Online Dating).

On Tinder, it's super easy to screen out the crazies...LDS style.

Swipe left for:

  • gym selfies (yes, I realize the app is based on superficial things like looks, but I'm looking on the heart, buddy)
  • shirtless selfies (see: gym selfies)
  • shirtless anything (unless it's some sort of swimming party, but really?)
  • selfie anything (jk, I can bend on this one)
  • untrimmed beards (or any really. I'm not much of a beard fan, but I realize there have been good people in the past who have had beards...like Moses... and Wilford Woodruff...and my dad in his early 20s until he married my mom, so maybe I could bend here too)
  • bro-tanks (I didn't realize they were such a thing)
  • pictures of tattoos (why?)
  • drinking and smoking pictures (ain't nobody got time for that)
  • pictures of a guy with a mystery face girl next to him with a caption that says "This could be you". (seriously, it's a real profile)
  • pictures of a guy with his arm around a hot girl (what the heck is he on Tinder for if he has a girlfriend?)
  • pictures of a guy's wedding (um....?)

Swipe right for:

  • LDS
  • Clean cut
  • pictures with his mom (awwww)
  • pictures in a suit (seriously, guys just don't know how good they look in a nice suit)
  • pictures being moderately outdoorsy but not crazy outdoorsy
  • pictures in a BYU shirt/hat/anything (Go cougs!)
  • pictures rescuing baby ducks
  • pictures of him playing the piano in Carnegie Hall
  • pictures where he looks like Mr. Darcy
  • ok, ok seriously,
  • pictures where he just looks like a genuine good-guy
You get the gist.

I downloaded Tinder on a day of weakness. I was peer pressured into it. Several people had told me that I ought to give it a shot (since, really, nothing else was working). So on a lunch break, my friend sat by my side and helped me create my account. Tender Tinder moments. #tinderiffic

And I began to swipe.

I began to match with people.

And shockingly, I began to chat with people.

My first Tinder date was a lunch date. I hastily told my roommate a bit before that I was going on a Tinder date and that if I didn't come back or contact her in an hour and a half that I was probably dead and she should call the police.

The dude and I had chatted for just a few days on the Tinder app. He seemed to be a normal-type person, but you just never know.

We met up at the restaurant and I congratulated myself on a job well done when he indeed looked like his profile picture. Within 10 minutes of meeting up with each other, we established about 10 different connections. I had gone on a date with one of his old roommates. I had worked with his old branch president. My friend was dating his roommate. And two friends had tried to set me up with his other roommate, who I had messaged to get to know and who had (rudely, in my opinion) never messaged me back (I'm not a creeper even if my actions seem like I am, ok?). By that time, I knew the guy was a legit "good guy", but I was freaked out enough about our connections that although our date was good, I was convinced he would never ask me out again.

But he did. And we actually dated for a while until everything crashed and burned and ended in a pile of hopeless rubble, which is really the only exciting way to end a relationship. All jokes aside, he was a good, upstanding guy. Who I hope doesn't read my blog anymore.

Before and after we dated, I went out with a few other Tinder guys as well. Again, good, upstanding guys. Really great guys in fact. So great that I wondered why they were on Tinder, but then I remembered that I was also on Tinder, and I'm pretty cool, right? So cool people are on Tinder, right?

Anyway, all the roommates and half my friends at some point have played the game. Some have gone out with some real doozies and some have gone out with some winners. Some have married or are getting married to their Tinder dates. #tinderella #tindermagic

A bit ago, I matched with a seemingly normal guy. He messaged me and said, "Let's get the most important thing out of the way, what is your favorite sushi?"

I responded, "Haha, I've only ever had sushi twice, so I couldn't really tell you."

"Ok, what other food do you like?"

"Pretty much anything...although seafood is my least favorite, so that might explain the lack of sushi knowledge."

The next day, he blocked me from his account.

Geez, sorry about the sushi, man.

After a series of those kind of conversations, I gradually played the swipe game less and less until one day at lunch, I sat with my friends, and ceremoniously deleted the app.

Online dating: 2
Liz: 0

I've heard third time's the charm. Stay tuned.