Friday, April 4, 2014

Knowing What is Right

Back in my teenage years, I was a nerd. Ok, I take it back, I still am.

I remember a particular day sitting on the school bus and debating with fellow friends about whether or not hot water could freeze faster than cold water. (I KNOW! I told you I was a nerd).

I held vehemently to my position that hot water freezes faster than cold water while others insisted that was impossible because cold water was closer to freezing and thus would freeze faster.

Well, guess depends. Go and read Scientific American or numerous blogs and experiments about it. It is a striking phenomenon known as the Mpemba effect and something that doesn't completely make sense, but in some cases and under certain circumstances, and based on how "hot" you are talking about as hot water and how "cold" you are talking about as cold water and what kind of container you have the water in and so on and so forth, there is a possibility that hot water freezes faster than cold water.

It could possibly happen under certain conditions, but it usually does not happen, and it's not entirely certain the exact circumstances in which this is the case because there are too many variables involved. The point here is, I was right and wrong at the same time.

It hurts to be wrong, especially when you're sort of right. But that was just a silly school bus debate.

Closer to my heart, and closer to my adulthood, is another experience.

Some years ago, I asked a question. In the context of this story, I won't describe all the circumstances behind the question, but in essence, I was asking God why I wasn't married and what needed to happen before I could be married. It was a sincere question. And I thought I received an answer. In fact, my pride convinced me thoroughly that I had an answer from God that a specific event needed to happen in my life before I would get married. (and no, the event was not "date and get engaged" although that seems to be helpful, from my observation). So until that event happened, I did not need to worry about why I wasn't married. I held to this belief for several years. I still sought for opportunities to date because the event could happen at any time, right? Yet, it didn't seem to be happening nor was there any indication that it would happen.

In frustration, I asked many times why it wasn't happening and what I needed to do to make it happen, as it felt mostly out of my control (and because I wanted to get married and felt stopped because this event hadn't happened). I felt impressed to make it a sincere matter of prayer and fasting. And I went to the temple. I asked if that belief I had was true. The answer? A stupor of thought. A complete stupor of thought. I was shocked. I had never experienced that kind of answer in that manner before. In my heart, not only did I know that I had been asking the question in the wrong way (really, there wasn't a "why" to why I wasn't married, beyond it just being God's timing), but also that I was wrong in my self-supposed answer. For years. Even though I had been faithful. Even though I had read my scriptures and prayed daily and attended the temple weekly, and in general I was doing just fine. I had just simply held a belief that was wrong. And I knew it. The answer came that the event could happen before I was married, or it might not ever happen at all, and it didn't matter because it was in no way correlated to whether or not I got married.

What. the. What.

You may be tempted to think here that perhaps I was fooling myself the second time around. But I can assure you that was not the case. I was wrong. And I knew it. I did not necessarily feel the wrath or disapproval of the Lord. But I did feel that He had probably been trying to tell me that answer for a long time. But in that case, my pride wouldn't let me listen, even though I listened to SO many other things He told me, even constant promptings day in and day out from the Spirit. But to that particular thing I did not listen.

It is always hard for me to admit that I am wrong, but I was. I know I am not a bad person and this does not negate any of the good things I have done. And really that untrue belief did not affect my life very much. But I was still wrong.

I have thought of this recently in light of many issues of discussion arising among Church members. Many ask questions. And many ask good questions. In general, I would say we ask the right questions and we receive the right answers, even if the answers take years. But sometimes I feel we are receiving answers that are right in some contexts, but also wrong in some circumstances. And sometimes the answers are self-answered instead of inspired, and wrong altogether, even when the questioners, personally, are doing things that are right. I don't know entirely how all this can happen, but I do know that our Father has a way for us to know Truth. God has called a prophet and the Savior Jesus Christ leads and guides the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. It is definitely ok to ask questions. And I firmly believe that all followers of Christ ask questions. We all have to ask ourselves who we truly believe, what we truly believe and why. There is no certain group who asks better questions or more important questions.

However, I do believe that many times we are asking the wrong questions--perhaps a topic for another blogpost. And I also believe that sometimes our pride won't let us listen when the Lord tells us that we are wrong, or the prophet tells us we are wrong, or our Church leaders tell us we are wrong, or even Church statements tell us we are wrong. But just because we don't want to listen doesn't mean we are right.

Before the last general conference, I felt heavy in my heart by the confusing claims of many on issues concerning the family, concerning equality, concerning faith and belief and testimony and so much more. I wondered whether I was listening to the right voice and if I was asking the right questions and receiving the right answers. But as I prayerfully listened to conference, I spent two days wrapped in the Spirit, as the Lord gently reminded me that His servants are the ones who are called of God. They provided answers to the questions. And I listened. And the false claims of others simply melted away.

The Lord wants us to ask, but He also wants us to listen to Him.

"Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).

"Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me" (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23).

This I know.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How do you get on the 100 coolest women list?

How do people get to be so awesome?

Recently I read an article about the 100 coolest Mormon women alive today. As I read through the list of their accomplishments, I was struck with the thought, "How on earth do I become like one of those women?" And I started thinking of more and more awesome women and what they do. Women who write books that sell like hotcakes. Women who write blogs that have a million page views (I mean, mine is nearing 10,000 and that's a pretty big deal for me). Women who start their own businesses or teach at important universities or play an instrument like a boss or don't just know politics but articulate their thoughts without sounding like a goon (why do I get so tongue-tied?). Or, you know, are skeleton racers in the Olympics. Cool, right?

Sure, I can try and blame my normalcy on my "youth". Not so fast. Annie Henrie, a wonderful artist (one of my most favorite paintings is hers)--she's my age. We were in the Sterling Scholar program together (not the same category of course, just on the same printed program, but still). Lindsey Stirling. I helped mentor her during her freshman year at BYU. Kelsey Nixon? We were friends in high school. Ok, I'll have to stop name-dropping here because I actually know A LOT of really cool people and I don't want to leave anyone out. (oh, and Annie wasn't actually on the "list" but even so, I think she should have been and examples in threes work better, so...there).

So I may be wrong but I don't think it's necessarily a feeling of jealousy or envy. Rather a (hopefully) righteous feeling of wanting to be influential.

Don't we all feel that way at times? And I'm not just talking about popular. I'm talking about people who are actually doing things that make the world a better place. There are a lot of women who are popular but who aren't really out there to build people up or lead people to Christ. So, yeah, popular is not the key performance indicator here. Nor is making a point or having followers a key performance indicator.

But making a difference for good? In the important things of life? Yeah, that's what I like. Don't you ever feel that you just want to "bless the whole human race"? Sometimes I just think, "Today I may have helped one person with something I did or said. What if I could help 100 people? Or 1000? What if I could let God's love be felt for more than just one person but many people at the same time!?"

It makes you wonder, right? Like, where do you get on the train that leads to awesomeness? How do you get to be one of those people? It makes it even harder when we've been counseled to seek for opportunities to share our talents and our light. I don't think it's a vain ambition. But how do you do it?

Well, it starts with one. And you know what? Really, one is all that may ever matter.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pay attention to this and started writing it down. Because there were a lot of "ones" who needed help. A gal who broke up with her boyfriend and needed to talk. And then later needed resume help for a job application. Actually, several gals who broke up with boyfriends (I swear, late January to February is break-up central time. Even I was on that bandwagon!) Oh yeah, and several friends who needed job search coaching. A friend who got appendicitis and needed a visit while in the ER. A friend who I go to the gym with regularly so she can get in better shape to go on a mission.

A friend whose boyfriend didn't plan anything or even acknowledge Valentine's Day and she needed some understanding. A friend whose aunt passed away somewhat unexpectedly. A friend who felt like she was drowning in her troubles and needed some serious help...and a 7-11 Slurpee. A new friend--a teenage girl--who is now under my care as a mentor. A friend who got into a bad car accident the same week she was set apart as Relief Society president. A friend who is serving for the third time as a Relief Society president (at my same age!) and needed some encouragement. There were just a lot of friends to comfort and help and console and cheer up and love. And these were only a small portion of the needs in a one to two week time span! And these completely exclude the needs of family and even strangers. The needs continue and, in fact, never stop.

Now I don't mean to suggest that those 100 coolest women don't attend to those kind of needs. I know they do.

What I mean to suggest is that for that one person, that one act of kindness or compassion or support or the listening ear, might just bump us to the top of someone's coolest women list. Why? Because we helped her feel God's love. We reminded her He cares. And that He is there. When she most needed that reminder.

Now I know we are not striving for personal honor and glory, but instead for God's glory. Remember "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16, emphasis added). So when I start to feel like I'm just never going to be as cool as someone on that list, I need to remember that doesn't matter. God never asked for us to be on the 100 coolest women list. He never asked for us to win accolades. Does he want us to do our best? Yes. And be our best? Yes. Does He love it when our influence is widespread and our light shines to more people? Surely. Does he think those 100 women are pretty cool? Of course He does. Does He think we are just as wonderful? Without a doubt.

But what if our contribution seems small as a struggling college student or as a young mother or as one who has deep emotional or physical burdens to bear in this life? It just doesn't matter as long as we reach out to the one. One child. One neighbor. One friend.

I still want to be an influence for good on a much broader level. And I still plan to continue to reach for and accomplish my goals in that regard.

But the most influential person to ever walk the face of this earth, the Savior Jesus Christ, showed by example that "one by one" is what matters (3 Nephi 17:21). He left the ninety and nine to go after the one (Luke 15:4). One by one, He blessed the children. One by one, He healed and forgave and loved and ministered.

"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15: 12, emphasis added).

He taught, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God" (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

The worth of every soul.

The worth of just one soul.

So how do we become awesome?

One by one.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Awkward First Dates: A Generational Experience

It was my first date in college. I had just turned 19. He was a returned missionary, 4 years old than I was.

I had been on dates before. Ok, so only three. And two of those dates were with guys who were kind of dating other girls (they were those high school Mormon dating situations where you're not supposed to date exclusively so people went on dates with others while dating one person more frequently. I fit in the "others" category).

Back to college. As noted, I wasn't super experienced with dates and I was extremely nervous. But the guy was nice enough. In fact, I'm still friends with him (at least Facebook says we are) so I don't tell this story to incriminate in any way (and trust me, this is the toned-down version of my seven-page memoir version).

It was a nice fall day and it was Homecoming time around the BYU campus. Several people were going to homecoming activities. My date told me a group of friends was kind of doing their own thing for homecoming and invited me to come along. It was just a game night,  maybe a movie, something fun. I asked what to wear. "Casual" was the reply. "Jeans or khaki casual?" I inquired. "Um...khaki probably."

So after agonizing about what to wear all week, I dressed up in my early 2000s best--khakis and a jean jacket (listen, I've never been a fashion guru. It was "nice" for a date, in my mind). When he came to pick me up, he brought me flowers (first mistake for a then-non-flower-loving girl, but we can forgive). And he was wearing khakis and a blue button-down.

And so we went. Walking, of course, because date-man didn't have a car. This was, after all, BYU campus, where people could live their whole college existences without a car (I was spoiled and could not. Thank you old "Silver Shift" my '88 Subaru).

Anyway, we headed to his complex and to the common room. No one was there. He assumed we were too early. So we went to his apartment and ate dinner. We went back about 20 minutes later. I can still remember descending the stairs into the common room and rounding the corner. The room was no longer empty. Nay, there were about 20-30 people in the room--all dressed in Tuxes and formal dresses. My heart panicked. My date just walked right in and started greeting people. And introducing me. We sat down as I tried not to notice the other gals in their peach and purple and pink flowing and beautiful dresses stealing glances at my now not-so-nice khakis and jean jacket. I pretended nothing was out of the ordinary. But it clearly was. Some whispered and asked me why I didn't have a dress and if I needed to borrow one from them for the activity. Thus ensued some painful hours of feeling completely and utterly out-of-the-loop, foolish, and very unfashionable and uninformed.

What I surmised from others is this was called "Plan C". They didn't really want to go to the expensive activities on campus, but they did want to have a homecoming party. So they planned this. Now, obviously my date didn't know it was a formal event. He was only in a button-down. And clearly it was only in an apartment complex common room, so perhaps it wasn't as bad as if we had gone to an actual dance.

But I was still mortified and, true to Liz fashion, I probably cried about it later that night and added the story to my newly-started "awkward date" file.

I could just end the story there. It's funny/sad enough. But that would leave out the best part, which includes my grandma.

My Grandma Helen passed away a year ago this week, and I still miss her dearly. My grandma and I were great friends and I knew a lot about her life. I had interviewed her for a journalism class and wrote a 20-page history on her. I scoured records and other memorabilia from her life and wrote a 40-page biography of her life for a history class. And I used one of my favorite stories to write an article about her for The Friend magazine.

Yet in the past year, I stumbled across a stack of some of her stories hand-written on yellow legal pad paper that I had never read before. As I was transcribing those papers one day, I found this gem written by her:
Helen in her teenage years,
 at the lake
"My first date was at 14. I was too young, but my parents knew the fellow who was in our ward and neighborhood. It was a stake dance and formal. My date forgot to tell me it was formal. I wore my best brown dress, which I never liked. I’ve never worn brown since. After that evening, mother made me a red taffeta formal which I never wore again. Not until high school did I make some formals for myself."
Those simple eight sentences left me chuckling and yearning for more at the same time. In all my grandma's stories, I'd never heard of an awkward date. I mean, look at the gal--she's too beautiful for that kind of thing, right? I wondered how she felt. What was her initial reaction? Did she play it off well? Did her date apologize? Did she cry when she got home?

I can't ask her that now, of course, but 10 years after my own casual vs. formal dress mix-up, I discovered that perhaps I am not the first.

Although I may have worn that jean jacket a few more times, and although my mom didn't make me a formal to make up for it (does she even know this story? she does now!), whenever I think of my awkward date, I now think of my grandma, too. And I would take any awkward date for those kind of memories.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Even Greater Expectations

Over the past few years, I have taken the opportunity to read a few of Charles Dickens's classics...and I was shocked I'd missed them before: he is a genius.

Recently I finished reading Great Expectations, one of his final completed novels. In the novel, the main character Pip, a young lad with little to no chance for a better future than to be a blacksmith, is given the chance to become a gentleman from an unknown benefactor. As he begins this adventure, he becomes comrades with a young boy Herbert. When Pip first meets Herbert, he finds Herbert kind and friendly, but suspects that he will never make much of his life nor be able to support himself well. This friendship leads the two through the years, through many unexpected happenings and many sorrows, heartaches, and deep lessons. Pip's coming-of-age and learning about life...just beautiful.

In the final pages, as my eyes were wet with tears as Pip's story in some respects begins, but unfortunately the book ends, Pip adds a sentence almost as a side note. (Spoiler alert!) Herbert eventually becomes more than Pip could have imagined:
"We owed so much to Herbert's cheerful industry and readiness, that I often wondered how I had conceived that old idea of his inaptitude, until I was one day enlightened by the reflection, that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me."
What an interesting reflection on a previously held attitude by young Pip.

And even more, is another character whose story I can't bear to reveal. One who Pip forgave time and again and never gave up on and who, in the final pages, says to Pip:
"You said to me, 'God bless you, God forgive you!' will not hesitate to say that to me now, --now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but--I hope--into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends."
And the ever-loving Pip, of course, grants that friendship.

Every year, I make a list of many things I want to do--you know, like New Year's Resolutions, if you've ever heard of those (crossing my fingers that someday "get married" will finally be checked off on that list). But beyond that, for the past few years, I have chosen a phrase or motto for my life--something that I want to become. As I've pondered on who I want to become in 2014, these two sections touched me deeply.

First, this year I want to be one who thinks better of people and realizes that the inaptitude I think I see in others is actually a shortcoming on my side. If I begin to really think about others as who they really are, I will realize their strengths and see who they can become. And I will begin to realize how I can be more loving to them in my own life and erase the hardness in my own heart.

And second, I hope to be willing to love others so deeply that love and forgiveness is already given, especially "when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching" in their lives and they need kindness so desperately. I will strive to love and forgive first, always, and forever in my friendships.

I have many great expectations for my own life, but greater than all those things I hope to do are the things that will help me become who I want to become.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How to Make the Most out of your YSA Ward Experience

Whether or not you leave the ward with a ring on the fing, a YSA Ward is definitely (thankfully) not eternal. Even if you stay in the same place and never move, come 31, you're outta there. Although it's a temporary period, it can be, and should be, a time for growth.

When I moved into my current YSA ward several years ago, the bishop said to jump in with both feet, hit the ground running and be involved in the ward. As I have followed that counsel, the following are five things I have learned that have made my YSA Ward experience more fun, bearable, and meaningful.  

1. Know why God wants you where He wants you
In the Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third, Joseph Smith taught that one of the things necessary for rational and intelligent beings to exercise faith in God is to have an "actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will."

Let me tell you, I understand the struggle between knowing God's will and pursuing God's will. Sometimes I think, "Wait a second, so you want me to be here hanging out with a bunch of 20-somethings playing goofball instead of raising children? Really? How can that even be true???"

So as I studied this concept several years ago, I decided that I needed to know for sure that what I was doing and where I was going and how I was living my life were actually in accordance with God's will. And so I started to pray regularly, seeking confirmation of this in my life. This doesn't mean that there is only one exact and unchangeable "right" path in life. Many times, I have come to a crossroads in decision-making and felt that either way would lead me down a good path. So then I pray for inspiration to help me move forward in faith.

As I am on that path, if I feel lost or unsure whether I'm still really doing something good with my life, I seek that confirmation again. And then I work to recognize the answer. I have not received the answer when I've been on my knees, but when I have been engaged in His work. I remember a certain calling I received a few years ago specific to helping young single adults around the world. As I worked with the committee, I knew that was why I was living where I was living and why I was still single, even if I didn't necessarily want to be.

The Lord's plan for me has been manifest in so many ways. I have found opportunities to share the gospel that were available to me because I was single and in a similar situation to those I've talked to. And even smaller things. A few weeks ago, I went with a sister to the temple for her first time back in 10 years. I felt it then, too. I felt that I needed to be where I was for that moment. As Mordecai proclaimed to Esther that she was brought "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14), seek out confirmation and recognize those times when the Lord is telling you that He has you where you are for a reason.

2. Seek out People to Serve
Sometimes it is difficult to desire going to ward activities. There are way more activities going on than there is even time to go to them. YSA Wards have an average of eleventy-hundred activities per week (rough calculation) and that's not even counting the different activities and parties people post on the ward and stake Facebook pages. As an "aging" YSA, sometimes I have gone to FHE and thought, "Oh nice, here I am, 28 years old, playing charades in the Church gym when my married friends are at home doing FHE with their 2-4 kids actually helping bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man!"

But I finally stopped thinking of activities and FHE and anything, really, of being about me. I don't go to FHE just because I enjoy water kickball. Yes, I do enjoy having fun and being with others. But as a YSA, I feel like I'm in a unique position to reach out to others. So reach out. For every activity you go to, invite someone else to come along, whether a friend, someone who needs a pick-me-up, or someone who is less-active, inactive, or someone of another faith. By reaching outside, it will be easier to feel the #1 idea (knowing why God wants you where he wants you) more easily and frequently.

3. Be anxiously engaged and use this time to prepare
Don't be so anxious to get engaged that you forget to be anxiously engaged. Marriage is definitely something we should still seek for. It is part of God's plan. It is what we want (or should want). But we should be anxiously engaged in all aspects of the gospel as we prepare for that "blessed arrangement".

As a young woman, I really wanted to serve a mission. As the time drew closer, I was anxious to know if that was what I should do and how I would know it. I was given the counsel to prepare as if I were going to serve a mission. If I did, I would enter much better prepared. If I did not, it would doubtless be a blessing to me anyway. So I volunteered several hours a week at the MTC and even served a six-month Church service mission there. I studied Preach My Gospel. I took a missionary preparation class. I shared the gospel with friends. When the time came, and I knew it was right, I did, indeed, serve a mission. And how grateful I was for that preparation.

I feel the same way about spiritual preparation for any event in life. Whether preparing for a mission, preparing to enter the temple, preparing for marriage, or preparing for any life-changing decision, now is the time to prepare. The YSA Ward is such a unique place to prepare because you have so many others who are making or have recently made those same decisions. Take advantage of the experiences of others your age. Take advantage of their spiritual preparation and their spiritual experiences. Be engaged in the gospel and let that lead in your decisions. Be spiritually prepared. Be emotionally prepared.

A quick note about being anxiously engaged in marriage preparation (even if you don't want to hear it): Be patient in your pursuit, but for heavens' sakes, don't ever give up. Say yes to dates, say yes to set-ups, be open to new ideas (ie. online dating, perhaps? #Tinder), and don't get discouraged if you're not going on dates. Let your YSA Ward be a place for you to make connections and meet people. And keep preparing. When the bishop gives the infamous "y'all should get married" talk, eat up every word he says. Study the doctrine of marriage. Pray for a testimony of marriage. Develop skills that will be helpful in marriage such as conflict resolution, budgeting, home repair, child development, etc. Speak to those whose marriages you admire and seek advice. Seek charity and forgiveness in your life. Strengthen your relationships with others so that you can strengthen yourself. What the Lord has promised, He will provide, even if it's not in our timing.

4. Magnify, Magnify, Magnify

My first calling in my current ward was service co-chair. It is still my calling three and a half years later. In that time, I have had other callings on top of that and currently also serve as communications director for the Utah Area Sports Committee (bet you didn't know that calling existed, right?) Well, you probably didn't know the Service Committee co-chair calling existed before coming to a YSA Ward either. The fact is, there are so many people and so few organizations in a singles ward that we have to work with what we've got. There are no Handbook instructions for me in either of my callings. With service, there is no expectation. I don't have a weekly FHE to plan. I don't have a "Sunday calling". Yes, I am responsible for stake service assignments (temple cleaning, Food Bank, serving at St. Vincent de Paul's, singing outside the conference center in between conference sessions, etc.), but in a family ward, that isn't a separate calling.

It would be very easy to only do what I'm assigned. But in a previous calling I had, I was exhorted very strongly to focus on service among the YSAs, because that would bring them closer to Christ and closer to each other. And I firmly believe that. Our ward has done incredible service projects. In addition to stake assignments, every Sunday 6-12 of our YSAs show up at a care center and sing hymns to the residents. Then we spend time visiting with them. Every Sunday. In the springtime, we provide cleanup projects. We have done service auctions and tied fleece blankets. We've put together letters for Veterans and missionaries. In the fall, we've raked leaves for people. Every November we put on a dinner and evening of dancing (with a live band!) for the senior singles (ages 70+)  from the family stake. We visit homes of people in the stake and carol to them at Christmastime. We provide Christmas for about 10 families a year.

Choose to magnify your calling. YSAs are in the perfect situation to meet the needs of so many people in so many different ways. As our YSA Ward has served alongside the family stake in our area, it has also helped remind me that this isn't an "us" (as singles) and "them" (as families) Church. We are all members of the same Church, working together to bless others' lives.

5. Rejoice in the Success of Others
The Apostle Paul counseled the members of the Church to be one. To help one another. To love, and be kindly affectioned. To show mercy and cheerfulness. One of his counsels touches me deeply.

"Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).

I find it easy to weep with them that weep, but sometimes I find it difficult to rejoice with them that rejoice. We all have a twinge of jealousy within us when someone else gets something that we wanted and maybe even feel like we deserved. And it is hard to be the one who is ever faithful, ever true in your YSA Ward while others seem to have everything going right in their lives. But be happy for those who are experiencing success in their lives. Don't be jealous of any success or envious of any accomplishment. Whether friends have advanced in their careers, are getting into a great educational program, or (the hardest one) getting married, rejoice! Show your happiness. Live that happiness.

Happiness comes not only when we are happy with our own lives, but also when we are genuinely happy with others' lives. Because that's when we become one. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

So...are you seeing anyone?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that young single adultish people, gathered together in any fashion, will at some point acknowledge or converse about dating and/or the lack thereof.

In my many conversations with these my fellow singles, I often hear stories of friends being at a wedding and hearing, "You're next". Or stories of attending the parents' ward at Thanksgiving or Christmas (or anytime, really) and being asked "So...are you seeing anyone?" (ok, so maybe these are my stories). Sometimes singles may get a little tired of responding to that question. And it is true that many friends seem tired of being constantly asked if they can be set up with someone. They're tired of getting bridal shower, wedding, and then baby shower announcements from others, while the days, months and years seem to pass without being any closer to that themselves.

I used to feel that way, too. But not anymore.

A few months ago, I decided to wise up. I started asking myself why it bothered me. Did it bother me because I was jealous of others' happiness? Heavens no! I plead and fast and pray for others to find someone to share their lives with. Was it because I didn't want to be dating anyone and it annoyed me? Also a negative. I do want to be dating someone. Was it because it brought to the forefront so readily the fact that I was still single? Most likely.

But why did it change? Because I started to look at it differently. The world is attacking the very definition of marriage as we speak. And not only the definition but the institution. It seeks to tell women they don't need men in their lives. It seeks to tell men they can do as they please. It seeks to tell us that we are better off building our lives separately and then perhaps coming together if it's convenient. It seeks to tell us that fathers and mothers are not important to a successful family, that children are not necessary, that children can wait, that motherhood isn't really all that great, that marriage is actually a pain, that commitment is for the birds (and not even them really!) and that a life well-lived is a life lived for yourself.

But when people encourage me to get married or tell me they can't wait to see who I'm going to marry, my hope is restored. When I read awesome blogs about how couples are making their marriages work or how motherhood is wonderful, it reminds me of the ideal I am seeking for. There is much that belittles and downplays marriage and families these days. I don't need any more of that. I need those who choose to defend the family. So thank you to those who are relentlessly interested in whether or not I've found someone yet because that means you are still promoting marriage. And thank you to those who still believe in happy marriages.

Thank you to those who have beautiful marriages and have shown what love really is.

Thank you to those who have struggled in their marriages, but have shown that commitment and covenants, sacrifice and selflessness, supersede prideful ambitions.

Thank you to those who have seen marriages fail or had your own marriage fail, yet still propose it as one of God's greatest blessings when couples work together in righteousness.

Thank you to those who are barely beginning their marriages and are so devoted to each other that you even forget to talk to your single friends (ok, so that's a half-hearted thank you. Seriously, can't we still be friends?).

There is something remarkable and wonderful about marriage that I don't fully comprehend just yet. But the Lord himself said, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). That is powerful. That is love.

So, at least for me, I don't mind it when you ask me those questions. In fact, please do. And please tell me how much you hope that I will marry someone wonderful. Please tell me how marriage is hard work, but that it's worth it. Please tell me about love and forgiveness in your marriages. Please keep telling me. Please keep reminding me. There are enough nay-sayers in the world. I think we all need some more YAY-sayers.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"Let me bless you"

It probably won't surprise you that I have a guilt complex about an exceedingly large number of things. We're going to allow "Ridiculous Liz" to speak for a moment.

This morning I went to our stake Relief Society activity. We had workshops on providing, nourishing, and beautifying. In the "provide" workshop, I chose a lovely little seat in the middle, next to some sisters I didn't know. We spoke about getting a higher education, managing finances, food storage, and all the wonders of self-reliance (shout out to, one of my work projects). As we neared the end of the lesson, the instructor said that one lucky person had a yellow ribbon tied to her chair and would win a bottle of raspberry jam. The air was filled with the usual bustle of giggles and hopeful expressions as each sister hoped to see the sign that they won. Alas, you guessed it! (the picture gives it away). I won the jam.

The Jam Parable
Two feelings simultaneously crossed my mind.

Rational Liz: Wow! That's great! I love homemade jam!
Ridiculous Liz: Oh man, that means that someone else didn't win the jam. I shouldn't have gotten it. Other people deserve it more than I do. I have jam at home; I'm sure someone else needs this more. In fact, I was just at the Food Bank packing up food boxes for people in need...maybe they should have it....etc., etc., etc.
Writer Liz (wait, where did she come from?): I've got to blog about this.

I know what you're thinking right now. "Seriously, Liz?"

Yes, seriously.

But this time the Ridiculous Liz thought passed quickly, because she is learning.

Several months ago, I went through a time when I was just feeling exceedingly blessed. I was getting close to finishing my master's; I was getting a handle on some things at work. I was just feeling good about life. But in my work, I often deal with heavy spiritual, social and emotional matters. I learn of poverty, of families destroyed through addictions, of pains that don't make sense in this life. As I contemplated all that I had and that others seemingly did not have, it didn't seem fair to me. I didn't see why I should be so blessed when I felt others were not as equally blessed. And I got angry with myself for even thinking that my own trials and struggles are hard, when they seem like nothing compared to others. My thoughts turned heavenward, expressing why I didn't deserve the blessings I have and how I am not worthy of them and how much other people need them more than I do.

In that moment of reflection, I felt an impression very strongly that said, "Liz, why won't you let me bless you? I want to bless you. Let me bless you."

It was an expression of love as well as a soft rebuke.

It is not difficult to recognize how blessed I am. I have the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have family and friends. Employment. A warm home.

But it is difficult for me to ever feel I deserve it. Why? Because none of us really do. That is the miracle of God's love for us. In fact, that is the "paradox of man" as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf says, "Compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God." This understanding has taught me a few principles:

Our Father wants to bless us. Think of how much parents love to give their children presents and shower them with the best things in life, just because the children exist, and just because they are their own. Likewise, the Savior said in Matthew 7:11:
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
The Lord does not operate on a quid pro quo status. It is not always a "You did this, so you deserve this" way of meting out blessings. On the reverse side, that isn't to say there aren't consequences for our actions. But it is to say that sometimes we are blessed just because He wants to bless us. And He always blesses us more than we have offered Him on our humble altar. He offers the "windows of heaven" and "all that the Father hath".

The Lord does not operate a zero sum game. If He blesses me with something, that doesn't mean He won't bless others as well. Ridiculous Liz has often felt sad--even guilty--for having a blessings others don't have. She feels sad if she goes on a date because she knows so many who don't. She feels sad when she gets a promotion because she knows others are struggling to find a good job. She feels like she doesn't deserve her life in so many ways. But it's NOT a zero sum game. There is no shortage of blessings the Father can give out. He blesses all His children, in His time, in His way, and according to the individual needs of those He so dearly loves.

Lest ye forget, trials are blessings. I hear this all the time, I tell people this all the time, yet I fail to internalize it all the time. In no way do I minimize deep struggles or make light of situations that are heart-wrenching and downright difficult, but sometimes when we don't feel blessed, it may just be the very moment we are being blessed the most. In my life, break-ups have taught me empathy, failure at finding employment has helped me learn frugality and compassion, illness has taught me about God's eternal plan for us, and death has taught me the depth of my ability to love. A more thorough look into others' lives may reveal far more blessings than I can realize. Who am I to decide what is actually a blessing and what is not in others' lives?

It is a paradox that God blesses us when we don't deserve it. It is a paradox that trials can be blessings. But I am learning to listen to that voice that whispers, "Let me bless you." Even if it's just a bottle of raspberry jam.