Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cling to Your Covenants

[Editor's Note: I was asked to speak in my YSA Stake Conference Saturday night meeting about family history, as I am the stake family history coordinator. (And then asked to repeat some of it on Sunday--the nerve!) My parents came to listen and it was awesome because I found out the pulpit I spoke at was the same pulpit where my dad gave his mission farewell, the same pulpit where my Grandma Helen gave her senior missionary farewell and the same ward building where my dad was attending when President Tingey (his stake president and father of  a member of my current stake presidency) kicked him out the ward and told him to go to a student ward, where he met my mom and they got married. So yay for marriage and run-on sentences!]

Just this week a friend posted a meme on my Facebook Wall. “Why did the Mormon cross the road?” it asks. “To go do temple work for people on the other side.”

She commented, “This screams Liz Stitt.”

I have been set up on dates before because,“He likes family history and you like family history, so you’re perfect!”

I regularly field Facebook messages and late-night texts or phone calls from people searching out their ancestors and hitting a rough spot or needing help figuring something out. I’ve been known to stalk my friends’ family trees just to find them a place to start on their family history.

And in a recent fireside, President Featherstone said if you want to know something about family history, you just need to know two words: Liz Stitt. Talk about pressure! Now I would correct that and say those two words should be “Find cousins!” But nevertheless, it is true, I am a bit of a fanatic about family history work.

There are worse things to be known for than spending a lot of time seeking out dead people. And it can be to your advantage because thankfully I found out Cam and Adam Poulter in this stake were my second cousins before I ever considered going on a date with either of them.

So tonight I would like to tell you why I’ve got this fire and I pray that you will feel the excitement, power, and vigor from the Spirit. My message tonight is this: Find the joy in family history and cling to your covenants.

Mary and Joseph Pruss family
I would like to begin by taking you on a journey. My story is about Mary and Joseph. And about Mary Magdalene. Now you may think you know this story, but most of you probably do not. Mary and Joseph were Catholic emigrants from Slovenia whose adventures landed them in Salt Lake City, Utah in the early 1900s. They had a large family, the oldest of whom was my great-grandmother Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene grew up and married Carl Christian Larsen, a nice young man from a family of disaffected members of the Mormon Church. They became the parents of my grandmother, Lillian Clara Larsen. As a Catholic, my grandma swore she would never marry a Mormon boy.

But in high school her best friend Pat—a member—started dating a great young Mormon boy named Paul. And Paul had a twin—Grant McEwan Cutler. Paul and Grant were enlisted in the Navy and when they came home on leave, Paul and Pat doubled and set Grant and Lillian up on a date. Then Grant returned to training. While he was in training, Grant’s life would change dramatically. His brother-in-law was killed in the war and then his best friend and twin, Paul, went missing on a flight training mission. Paul was never found. Grant’s father then died soon after due to a serious illness. As the only living male in the household, he returned home from the navy to a heartbroken family. Although he had been ordained an elder before entering the Navy, Grant was no longer very active in the Church. He started picking up the pieces of his life and moving forward, which included meeting back up with the beautiful young Catholic girl Lillian. They courted and were married in the Cutler home on Holladay Boulevard.

Some years after their marriage, they moved in with my great-great-grandmother Marian Cutler—a very faithful and active Church member. She encouraged Grant and Lillian to go to Church. Largely because of Marian’s example, they began attending regularly, and the stake missionaries taught my grandma the lessons. My grandma felt the truth and because the missionaries weren’t bold enough, she called them and asked when she was going to be baptized. Soon after, my grandpa had the opportunity to baptize my grandma.

My grandma was still growing in her testimony of covenants. She was called as Primary president and served just as the new children’s songs “I Am a Child of God” and “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” were introduced. These songs touched her heart and she felt it was time for her family to go to the temple and be sealed. So in 1958, my grandparents were sealed together and my mom and her two sisters were sealed to my grandparents. They were sealed in the Salt Lake temple by Harold B. Lee. He took my mom and her two sisters into the Celestial Room of the temple and then told them that all three of them would be married in that temple one day—a statement that proved true.

For my grandmother, these were the beginnings of a covenant path in her family. For my grandfather, it was a return to the covenant. For my mother, it was a beginning of understanding covenants. And when my mom was 13 she felt a need to seek out her ancestors and often rode the bus to the family history library to start researching—a fire in her that has never stopped burning.

All this while, my great-grandmother Mary Magdalene was still in the picture. I don’t know exactly what she thought about my grandmother marrying a Mormon boy, what she thought of my grandma’s baptism, or what she thought when they were sealed. But I do remember my great-grandmother. She passed away at the age of 96 when I was 6 years old. I clearly remember her sitting in her designated chair every time I went to visit my grandma. As she got older, she would attend Catholic mass with her sister in the morning, and then go with my grandma to Sacrament meeting. She told my grandma the reason she didn’t join the Church was because she was just too old to change.

I remember that a year after my grandmother passed away, my mom prepared the temple work for Mary Magdalene. This dedication to providing proxy ordinances for my sweet great-grandmother left quite an impression on my 7-year-old brain and may have been the first understanding of the importance of my own covenant path and the need to provide those ordinances for others. My mom taught me the importance of record-keeping and family history from a young age. And she showed me the importance of providing ordinance work in the temple for those who have passed on.

And my little Catholic-turned-Mormon grandmother and reactivated grandfather never shied away from their covenants. My grandparents served 10 years in a sealing group in the Jordan River Temple. And then they were asked to serve as ordinance workers in the Salt Lake temple and served 10 more years helping others make covenants. These family members and so many others I haven’t mentioned today have provided a legacy of faith and an extraordinary example of clinging to our covenants.

For me, the fire to do family history came as I helped my mother work on family history growing up. In college, I learned about research methods, sourcing, and historical contexts of genealogy. But at the time, family history was a lot more time consuming: searching microfilmed records was more common than searching online, FamilySearch as it exists now had not even been invented, and indexing was a relatively new idea. This makes me sound ancient—but the changes in technology have made huge strides in just the last 5 to 6 years!

Sarah Cubbe Smurthwaite
Sarah Stitt Smurthwaite
For example, for years, I constantly had the name of Sarah Stitt on my mind—my great-great-great-grandmother. I searched and wondered and waited and tried to figure out why she was so important to me. She had been baptized in 1873 in England and had immigrated to Ogden, Utah. Her family had been sealed in the Endowment House and she had done the work for her family members who had passed on. So why did her name keep coming to me? Why could I not get her off my mind?

Then just a little over 3 years ago, I found a break-through census record that had just been indexed, showing me the name of her half-brother’s wife and children, whose work had never been done.. It was just over 3 years ago that I found on my own—without the help of my mother—my first entire family that I could take to the temple and do the work. My ancestor Sarah has been less bothersome to me since finding those records and completing the work.

The number of records indexed and the ease of technology now makes it so that I can find a family member or two or seven who need work done nearly every week. Almost all of my family lines are full of pioneer members of the Church—and I am finding work to be done on those lines. The days where we thought everything had been done are gone. There are cousins and aunts and uncles and half-siblings and spouses who need their work done in family lines we’ve never thought to look before—and in methods we’ve never been able to easily research before. The time to work is now. And we all have work to do—I have not yet encountered someone who has “all their work done”. And we can help you find your loved ones.

In the scriptures, there is one scripture that shows up in every canonized book. It is the promise, with some variation, that we hear in the Bible in Malachi (Malachi 4), the promise the Savior reiterated when he came to visit the Nephites (3 Nephi 25), the promise Joseph Smith recorded in Joseph Smith History, and the promise that is canonized as the earliest revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants section 2—this promise. “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (emphasis added).

I believe in the promise worded in Malachi that as we turn our hearts to our ancestors, they will turn their hearts to us. In fact, I believe our ancestors’ hearts are turned to us and they are just waiting for us to turn our hearts. Our ancestors are very much alive and excited for their work to be done. This is our covenant to work with them in bringing them the ordinances they so desperately want and need. This is not just part of our covenant and part of the plan—eternal families are the covenant and they are the plan.

So who can help?

In April 2010, Elder Holland said, “Ask for angels to help you.” In another talk, he spoke of the power that those on the other side are given to help us in times of need.

I believe in this in a very real way. I have felt the influence of my ancestors as I have sought out their names. Over the past year and a half, a wonderful couple from my hometown Phillip and Barbara Hale have served in South Africa helping members with family history. Every single week there was a story of a member who came in and said something like, “Last night my uncle came to me in a dream and told me he wanted his work done.” Or another who said, “My grandmother appeared to me in a dream and told me her name and when she was born.” Who can contest that? Angels are real. And they are anxious to make covenants.

Let me close by sharing a very personal experience, which I felt prompted to share the moment I was asked to give this talk. I ask for your understanding and for your compassion as I share a part of this story, the details of which have only been shared with a handful of people, and which I will share only in part here.

In a very real way, this past year, I have felt heavenly angels strengthening me.  I have struggled with perfectionism for as long as I can remember. This past year seemed to pit me into deeper despair than I have ever been in. And just a few months ago, I was seriously questioning my reason for being and why I needed to live any longer if I just couldn’t get things right in my life. These dark weeks and even months were contrasted with many impressions, though. Every time I felt like I was no good, I was reminded of the names of my family members whose work had not been done. I was reminded of the books of family names that I had yet to work through and organize. I was reminded of the many people in our ward and stake who needed help finding and seeking out their family members. Was I still needed?

“We need you” was the answering plea I heard from these angels anxious to make covenants. In response, I replied that I needed them too. I asked for my Father to let these angel family members come and help me. “Cling to your covenants” was the overwhelming impression I received from the Spirit. And then another clear impression: “You need help.” I finally admitted I needed intervention. I started to change things. I started taking better care of my health and exercising. And I turned to professional counseling which has been a major blessing in my life.

What does this have to do with family history? I asked God to send me help and He sent angels—people whose hearts had been turned to me because I had turned to them. I felt encouragement from my grandmother who passed away a few years ago. I felt strengthened by those I performed ordinances for in the temple. I feel there is real and tangible help from thousands who have gone before us and who are rooting for us to stay strong and carry on. By doing my family history, I have forged a bond that in many ways has saved my life.

In this year’s BYU Women’s Conference, Sister Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson spoke similarly on this topic.

She said, “[Pray] to your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, for those on the other side to be “dispatched” (Elder Holland’s word) to assist you. Perhaps a loved one or two could be sent to help you with whatever you need. Can you imagine the effort it took those angels who pushed from the rear of handcarts as they helped the pioneers over the steep, snowy, windy, freezing, jagged terrain of Rocky Ridge? If angels can manage that, they can certainly help you and me over our present Rocky Ridges. We know the Lord gets His work done with the help of His angels. So could you use a little more help in your life? If so, keep your covenants with more exactness than ever before. And then ask for angels to help you with whatever you need. Or ask for them to be dispatched to help those you love.”

Cling to your covenants, brothers and sisters. Keep your covenant to help in the great work of redeeming the dead. Seek out and come to know your family members. As Sister Nelson said, “If you’d like a little more joy in your life, a little more meaning, more heart-to-heart connections, more focus, energy, motivation, more of so many wonderful things, make time to help those on the other side make covenants with God. The power of God will flow into your life as you do.”

I know this is true. And it is all possible because we have a loving Father in Heaven and because we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose life, mission, and Atonement quite literally bind us to our families. I bear this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
My roomie Emily Thatcher and I
both had to speak at Stake Conference
because we know too many people. We're
so happy because our talks are over.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

30 reasons why I'm still single at age 30

In any type of normal conversation in which someone finds out I am single and [now] 30, invariably I hear a comment to the effect of "I just don't understand why you're not married."

I appreciate it. I do. Well, I mean I think I do. I am guessing that means they think I'm awesome and awesome people should be married (this is not true, by the way. I mean, it's true, but it doesn't always happen. I know many mucho awesome single people). Nevertheless, I appreciate the vote of confidence on my behalf.

However, when they ask this question, this is how I feel: Pick me, pick me! Please pick me!

(P.S. It doesn't help that my nickname was Hermione in the 8th grade).

So for those of you who have ever wondered (there are at least 3 of you out there), I have compiled a list of the top 30 reasons why I am 30 and still not married. Trust me, it was hard to limit it to just 30, so you'll see where I cheated.

  1. At the end of my first date (a Harvest dance) at age 17, I shook the guy's hand. Granted, he was dating my friend and she couldn't go to the dance but he wanted to go and he knew that I knew that he knew it was only platonic, and I had permission from my friend to go, etc. But I certainly wasn't going to go in for a hug. At least it wasn't a high five? #facepalm
    1. Ooh, this is fun. My second date, I asked a guy to a dance who I later found out had a sort-of girlfriend. I don't think she was as cool with it as he was. #awkward
    2. And my third and final date in high school (another harvest dance), I kept drifting off on the drive home because I was so tired. #impressive
  2. Getting flowers from guys doesn't impress me. The meaning behind them is too confusing and the $20-40 dies in 3 days. One time when I got flowers, I took them to a friend in the hospital instead of keeping them. #ididntevenfeelbad
  3. Sometimes I pray that a guy won't ask me out again. Is that praying for that which I ought not?
  4. I'm not that interesting to spend time with. 
    1. One time I put together a group date and went to meet my date at his house. He wasn't there, so I sat on the benches outside until he came gliding in on his bike, followed by a girl he had just been on a biking date with. He made sure to bid her farewell before coming to talk to me. Some months later, they got married. Pretty sure I even got them a wedding gift. #notbitter
    2. Another time, I set up a group date and while we were all gathered at my house and I was busy making the dessert, my date went off and got dinner with another gal in the group. I am quick to forgive. #notbitter
    3. I don't plan group dates anymore.
  5. A guy and I were back and forth about whether we wanted to date each other for over a year. Finally, I thought we were on the same page about trying things out. The next thing I knew, he was dating someone else. #classic. But I'd done that to him, too, so...#deserved.
  6. I broke up with a guy/he broke up with me, because he told me he didn't like me and that I wasn't a priority to him. I'm a little picky like that. After we broke up, I helped him with his essays to get into grad school so I wouldn't have to see him anymore. #kindnessbeginswithme 
  7. I broke up with a guy because...I don't know. It wasn't "right"? What does that even mean? But it was true somehow. Again, super picky. Soon after that, I helped his next girlfriend, who then became his wife, find a job. Who am I?
  8. I broke up with a guy/he broke up with me because he told me he couldn't handle me emotionally. I asked him if he realized he was dating a girl. I hope he enjoys being married to a lamppost. #notbitter
  9. I tried a matchmaker service once. Within the first 30 minutes of the first date, the guy started an argument and attacked me on some of my most fundamental religious beliefs and moral values. And then, to put salt on the wound, he took me to a bookstore and told me he didn't like Harry Potter. That was the last straw.
  10. I asked my nieces if they wanted to a) play with me forever or b) let me get married so they could play with my kids. They said they wanted to play with me forever. #greatestauntever
  11. Whenever I turn on my heathen music (aka the radio), Michael Buble's song "I just haven't met you yet" is playing. Every time. A prayin' woman looks at those kind of things like they're signs. 
    1. Also, I call radio music heathen music. Really mature. And Pharisaical.
  12. A legitimate quote from my mouth: "I'm far too practical for love."
  13. The link to "Add Husband" on FamilySearch is broken. Has been for years.

  14. I started writing this list 5 months before I turned 30. #hopedieseternal
  15. That one Brazilian drunk that I met on my mission in Brazil and asked me to marry him... not my type.
  16. Refer to my First Date Anxiety post.
  17. Then refer to my Second Date Anxiety post.
  18. I am working on a Third Date Anxiety post.
  19. Someone once told me I have a pattern of ruining relationships. So, you know, there's that.
  20. If I go on a good date, and the guy doesn't ask me out again, I try to set him up with one of my friends. I just have a good heart. And no patience. And it's obvious I clearly don't gauge dates well if a "good" date doesn't ask me out again. 
  21. I have a reputation in my ward for being the girl who doesn't like to be hugged. I have no defense. 
  22. If a friend tries to set me up and the guy doesn't call/contact me within a reasonable amount of time, I send him a Facebook message to get to know him. First of all, I don't want my friend to ever think it's my fault that nothing happened. Second of all, what the heck do I have to lose? (except my dignity of course). I'll give you two guesses as to how well that works out. #stillsingle
    1. PS--every time I do something bold like this, it comes back to haunt me later. Why, why, why?
  23. My dating posts are the most popular posts on my blog and the posts Deseret News likes to pick up. I need good, quality, nightmare-of-a-date material.
  24. I stopped going to my stake institute class last semester because I was tired of running into guys I'd gone on dates with and who might still be interested in me, but I wasn't sure, and it was all confusing and so it made things awkward. Also, the "weird" guys. 'Nuff said. I've repented, though, and we'll see how this semester goes.
  25. I live in the Pool House--the most popular house in Unincorporated East Millcreek Township proper. And I've always been about popularity, as you well know. 
  26. I started a Set-Up Service, which requires me to have single friends, which requires a single network. Want to sign up? Click here!
  27. I recently went to a stake activity where there were potentially hundreds of guys I didn't know. So I obviously sat down with my group of girl friends from my own ward. When I finally decided to talk to some guys, I invited them to sign up for my set-up service. Good businesswoman. Bad flirter.
  28. It takes me a really long time to make big decisions. I researched and looked at Kitchen-Aid mixers for about 2 years before I bought one. I narrowed it down to just a few months when I bought a new mountain bike. My current months-long debate was whether to buy the Harry Potter books in hardback or softback. Just imagine trying to decide who to marry...years, I tell you. Years. #hardbackwon
  29. Speaking of Kitchen-Aids...I bought my own Kitchen-Aid. This is something I'd always thought I'd get as a wedding gift. But I could wait no longer. Once I have a nice set of knives, I literally will have no more reasons to get married.
  30. I deleted all of my online dating accounts at the beginning of the year. I didn't want to go on dates with crazies anymore, even if we got to ride elephants, because crazies try to hold your hand when you hardly know each other and then I just get mad. Hypothetically. That being said, I've set a goal to get back online by the end of the month. #tindernightmares #prayforme 
Ok, but seriously.

The real reason?

Well, let's start off with the fact that I do want to get married. But I have struggled long and hard to realize that my singledom is actually my own choice. I am not a victim of circumstance nor am I even a pawn in some great malicious game God is playing. I have always had and still have my ability to choose. But I just haven't found someone who I would want to be married to and who would also want to be married to me.

Have I met guys before that I think I was compatible with? Yes. Did they think they were compatible with me? No. Has the reverse happened? Most definitely. But, I would be unhappy being married to someone I was unhappy with. And he would be unhappy with me in the reverse. So I'm grateful that I haven't just married to get rid of my single status. I'm looking to marry someone to build a relationship, life, and a family with. And that sometimes takes a little longer. And, no, I'm not looking for perfection, which is the next thing you were going to ask me. How could I honestly expect perfection when I'm a fruitcake myself?

And to those who think otherwise, being single is not a curse. I have an excellent career, wonderful callings in the Church, family and friends who surround me, plenty of opportunities to serve others, and in general, I lead a pretty good existence. Yes, I struggle with massive issues of perfectionism. Still. Every day. And you know what? I bet I would struggle with that being married as well. Do I sometimes feel lonely? Sure. So do married people. Marriage is not a "fix" for most problems and could even intensify them. I'm still in favor of it because there's the potential for greater joy as well. And because the family is central to God's plan. And because I love me a good man. (And because...childrenzzz!)

Overall, I know that God knows where I am. He knows what I am doing. And our plans are in sync. It's tempting to ask, "Why?" And sometimes I do. But when I ask "why?" the real answer is not, "Well, it's because you turned that one guy down on a third date." It's more like, "Remember that sister in your ward who you helped when she was lonely? I needed you there for her" or "Remember how you were available to help your family when there was an emergency? I needed you there to help."

I know I could certainly help and serve being married with children, and boy howdy, I fully intend to do so. But since I am where I am, I have chosen to do what God would have me do and be where He would have me be right now. In this moment. I am astounded nearly every day that if I choose to instead ask, "Am I doing what you want me to do?" the answer is, "Yes!" (except for when I am a basket case and beat up on myself emotionally. Or maybe not when I fail again and again at holding my tongue. You know what, though? Maybe even in those moments because those moments humble me and turn me to God and others. And to professional counseling. Hahaha...).

Does God want me to have my own family? Of course. Does He know I want a family? Assuredly. So we've got that covered. What else do I need to worry about?

I'll tell you what I worry about--working to believe Christ and trust in God. I work to be a better person and develop Christlike attributes. I work to love others more and serve others freely. I work to eliminate pride and bitterness from my soul. I work to avoid judgment and get rid of grudges. 

I probably have a million "reasons" why I'm still single at 30. And maybe even some of them are legitimate enough that I need to change myself to be the kind of person that my future companion would want to marry. And if that's so, thank the heavens I've been given some extra time. And if it's just because God has other places for me to be, I'm so grateful for those other enriching and wonderful opportunities I've been given. And if, which I also suspect, God is just letting me figure it out, well, then, go ahead and try to set me up on a date. Just don't be surprised when I shake his hand, when he calls me too emotional, or when I blog about my frustrations with dating (side note: dating really IS the worst. No battle.). 

God knows me. And he knows what I need. And he also knows what some future husband of mine needs. If the crazy who will want to marry me someday is anything of what I imagine him to be, he's also out there on his knees somewhere, praying that He can do all that God wants him to do. And he's out there serving and getting answers to his "why's" as well.

Or maybe he got hit by a bus and died so we'll meet in the next life. And that's ok, too. #nextlifeplan #notbitter

Also...this. That's me on the right.
I won Miss Ugly 2003.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mercy, Miracles and a Cafeteria

About three years ago, I had what I thought to be a brilliant idea. I wanted a forum for anyone in the world to share gratitude to others who had been Good Samaritans in their lives, whether anonymously or knowingly. I wanted to highlight moments of gratitude, mercy, and miracles.

My motto would be a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who said, "Heaven never seems closer than when we see the love of God manifested in the kindness and devotion of people so good and so pure that angelic is the only word that comes to mind."

So I started a blog called "Mercy and Miracles." But I never shared it and I only posted four times. Not because I didn't see miracles, but more because I didn't actually know how to make something like that work. Luckily, the rest of the world picked up on my slacking and you can find pages all over Facebook talking about the good deeds of others, the #sharegoodness campaign, and many websites highlighting random acts of kindness, including my personal favorite,

So as a tribute to those who believe in sharing this goodness, I wanted to include here one of the stories that prompted this idea.

A few years ago, I was in Provo, Utah to do a work training for some senior missionaries for my Church. During lunch, I found a nice spot to eat with the missionaries in the cafeteria. A few tables away from us sat a teenage boy with severe disabilities.

He sat by himself with a large bib on as he tried to feed himself the best he could. His disabilities made it very hard for him to control his flailing arms, but he was able to get some food in his mouth. Some of it didn't make it and instead landed on his tray, his bib, or spread somewhat on his face. I didn't intend to watch, but my heart was filled with compassion. I was chatting with some other missionaries, but I felt like I should go and sit by him.

However, as I was about to go, a middle-aged woman came walking toward him. She appeared to be one of the cafeteria workers and as she approached him, I wondered if the boy was her son. She had a towel and she gently wiped the boy's face and cleaned him up. She carried his tray to the dish return area and then returned to take off his bib and clean him up some more. This woman noticed I was watching her and she apologized. She told me how sorry she was that I had to watch him eat and that it was a mess and she was embarrassed. She quickly escorted her son away.

I was the one who was embarrassed. I was not intending to stare, but instead was observing a Christlike woman in action. As I watched that mother clean up her boy and carefully take care of him, I imagined her doing that every day, every meal, week after week. I imagined her thinking she had to apologize every time someone looked at her son. And I imagine her never feeling like she was doing a good enough job.

I wish I could go back and say, "Do not be ashamed and do not apologize." I wish I could go back and just listen to that mother's story. My observation was not that of astonishment for the way the boy ate. It was not intended to elicit an apology. It instead was a swelling in my heart and a new understanding of the word charity. Without a word of thanks or brilliant accolades for her service, this woman works day in and day out to support a child who she loves. By the way she treated him, I can tell he is a blessing to her, too. I hope someday I will find that mother again and let her know what her example taught me of love. Or maybe somehow in my wide network, someone knows this woman, too. If you do, give her a hug from me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Why I Went to Slovenia: My Slovenian Roots

Perfect is the enemy of the good. I've been trying to craft the perfect blog post about Slovenia, but I have now been home from my trip to Europe for about six months and haven't finished.

For ze childrenz, I have committed to write this.

Back in December 2014, I went to Slovenia to visit my family. My third and fourth cousins live in Ljubljana and Metlika, Slovenia as well as in Graz, Austria, and probably in a number of other places, since I don't know all of them.

Not so long ago, one whole side of my family lived in Slovenia, mostly in the beautiful town of Metlika.

Mary Margaret Prus, Joseph Martin Pruss
great-great grandparents
Mary Margaret Prus
Joseph Martin Pruss

My great-great grandfather, Joseph Martin Pruss was born in Metlika, Slovenia in 1866 (although at the time it was part of Austria and then became part of Yugoslavia but is now Slovenia). He immigrated to the United States in 1888. He found employment in Canon City, Colorado and then sent for Mary Margaret Prus (born: 1872-different spelling of the last name) to come. Mary immigrated in 1893 and they were married on October 18, 1893 in the Roman Catholic St. Michael Church in Canon City, Colorado.

Joseph F. Pruss, Mary Margaret Pruss,
 Mary Magdalene Pruss, Justina Pruss,
Albena Pruss, Joseph Martin Pruss,
Bertha Pruss, Angela Pruss, Aloize Pruss
On January 16, 1895, my great-grandmother Mary Magdalene Pruss was born in Rockville, Fremont, Colorado. Soon after, my great-great grandmother was expecting soon-to-be Joseph Frank Pruss. Joseph Martin had heard that mining conditions were better in Butte, Montana than in Colorado. He moved the family to Butte as he began mining copper in the Leonard Mine. Joseph Frank was born in April of 1896.

In Montana, the family enjoyed company with a large number of other Slovenians--many in the mining industry. More children joined the family--Albena, Aloize, Justina and Angela. But Joseph Martin felt it wasn't a good place to raise his family. So Mary and Joseph (yes, I love my very Catholic ancestors) decided to leave Montana in search of other opportunities in San Francisco. As they traveled, they stopped in Salt Lake City, Utah, just at the time that news came of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Concerned with the destruction in California, they decided to stay in Salt Lake. They built a home and added three more children--Henry, Bertha, and Helen--and Joseph found employment prospecting gold and silver in Nevada. He eventually worked for the City Water Works department in Utah, staying there until he passed away in 1923, after struggling with lobar pneumonia (black lung) attributed to his mining days.

Fast forward through many stories and marriages, births, and deaths to the later life of my great-grandmother Mary Magdalene Pruss, the oldest child of Joseph and Mary. She grew up and married my great-grandpa Carl Christian Larsen, and they had several children, including my grandmother, Lillian. Great-great grandma Mary Margaret lived for several years with my great-grandma Mary Magdalene while she was raising her children. My grandma Lillian remembers sharing a room with Grandma Pruss in their home. I imagine there were many stories of the beautiful land of Slovenia. There were certainly many traditional recipes created, such as Potica, a typical Slovene bread.

Surely inspired by years of these stories, in 1978, Grandma Mary Pruss Larsen, then a widow, wanted to return to the homeland and meet her cousins. She and her sister Albena joined a tour group and trotted off to then-Yugoslavia. They were able to go to Slovenia for just a day in their travels, and made it down to visit relatives in Ljubljana.

?, Frank Prus, Albena Newman, Justina, Mary Larsen, Tomaz Prus
They were greeted by Frank Prus, her cousin, and several of his extended family members.

Apparently unsatisfied with just one visit (I know the feeling!), Mary and Albena planned a second trip in October 1979 and met more of the family and visited the ancestral land of Metlika.

?, Tomaz Prus, Maria Prus, Frank Prus, ?, ?
Front: Albena Newman, Mary Larsen, Justina 
Home where Mary Prus was born.
Mr. Oberman, Sanja, Mrs. Oberman, Mary Larsen, Frank Prus
Mary and Albena rekindled the family relationships and kept in contact until Grandma Larsen passed away in 1991. At her passing, my mom found her address book and sent a letter to all those Grandma had known, informing them of her passing.

Because my mom is amazing at keeping in contact with cousins, this included our cousins in Slovenia. My mom found out about what was going on in their lives and began writing them to learn about our ancestral lines. I have a binder stacked with letters back and forth about their correspondences. It is like gold to me. While my mom corresponded largely with Tomaz initially, along the way, we heard news from some cousins who were in Bosnia during the Bosnian War (early 1990s). One of our cousins was able to escape with her son because she worked for the airlines. Her sister was stuck for some time but eventually escaped through some harrowing circumstances. And then our cousin's husband was finally able to make it out of the country into Metlika (our hometown on the border of Slovenia and Croatia) through a series of extremely miraculous events, including crossing through the mountains with a group of monks and narrowly missing a check for papers.

They had escaped but had left all behind. For quite a while, my mom researched our ancestral lines to prove our relationship to them and help sponsor them as refugees in the United no avail. No relation was close enough to allow them to come, so they remained. But my mom sent care packages and kept in contact with them.

Then, in 1996, these same cousins were able to visit the United States, through some connections in their work with the airlines. They came to our home and stayed with us. We met our 10-year-old cousin Sandro who could speak 5 languages (Americans are so lazy!). We took them to the Great Salt Lake and then our cousin Svetlana had to leave but Nijaz, Sanja and Sandro came camping with us in Yellowstone. I was only 11, so I didn't understand all the significance of this event, but they were family, and they represented my Slovene roots.
Nijaz, Roger (my dad), Sanja, Sandro, Tenney Stitt,
Katie Stitt, me in Yellowstone National Park
Liz Stitt, Aaron Stitt, Tenney Stitt, Sandro Ibrulj, Chris Stitt,
Kyler Stitt, Katie Stitt

Jump forward again 18 years. My mother and I have desperately wanted to go to Slovenia for as long as we could remember. Grandma Larsen must have put that bug in us. We just wanted to see it, to meet the family members my mom had corresponded with for so long, and to visit those we had met previously. It was such a deep longing in our souls to go there. With my aunt and uncle serving as mission presidents in Hungary (neighbors with Slovenia), it suddenly gave a new reason for going to Europe. After two failed attempts to plan a trip, my mom and I finally sat down at our laptops, got on Skype to talk to each other, and pressed the "purchase" button at the same time. We were finally going to Slovenia.

The rest is for another post. But as a prelude, Slovenia was home. A part of me is from that land. A part of me stays there with my cousins. As we stepped off the train in Ljubljana and greeted our dear cousins who we hadn't see in 18 years, it was like no time had passed at all. It was one of the sweetest experiences, and I hope that all reunions with those we love are just like that one. I have never felt enveloped in so much constant love as I did when I met these dear family members.

So much family, so many not-so-good pictures, haha
Liz, Svetlana, Leslie, Sanja, Nijaz
These are the dear relatives who visited us in the U.S. in 1996.

Maria, Tomaz, Aleksandra (Maria & Tomaz's daughter),
 Leslie (my mum), Katerina (Tomaz's sister), Janus (Katerina's husband)
Hvala, Slovenia. Hvala, my cousins. Hvala and nasvidenje. I already miss you, so I think I'll probably be like my grandma Mary and visit you again.

The motherland of Metlika, Slovenia, December 2014

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Second Date Anxiety

Nearly two  years ago (next week in fact), I wrote a blog post about First Date Anxiety.

The time has come for my follow-up post: Second Date Anxiety.

It took so long because it's been two years since someone asked me on a second date. Ok, I lie. I have been asked on several second dates in the past few weeks alone and I've been freaking out about it and turned some of them down (don't kill me, mother), and figured the only way to face it was to blog about it.

So let's get some background information. I still get first date anxiety, but it's not nearly as bad as it used to be. I'm still not super comfortable chatting with my friends about upcoming dates, but I'm much better about not throwing things at the wall before he shows up at the door.

Now, a second date? Intensified experience.

You must realize I have done several amazing things in my life that should give me immense courage, confidence and bravericity:

Proof of my selfie and evidence
that I should never take one again.

  1. Ate a little tiny fish in its entirety in one bite (ok, I choked on it and had to go to the hospital, but that's another story)
  2. Bought a car with 400,000 miles on it (it's still running at 470,000!)
  3. I once took a selfie...of myself...after I cut bangs.
  4. Oh yeah, I cut bangs! (well, technically Chelsea at 27th Street Salon did, but...semantics).
  5. Wrote an email to an ex-boyfriend's mom after we'd broken up, telling her I wished we had met (he still doesn't know this, but he might if he reads this blog, bwhahahahah).
  6. Started a tradition of wearing ugly Christmas sweaters in December for about the past 18 or so years.
  7. Jumped off a 3 foot waterfall into a gently flowing river.
  8. Competed in a social dance competition in college and took 453rd place.

You get the picture. I'm pretty amazing.

So I shouldn't really be all that worried about second dates when I have a great track record for amazing things.

But I am.

Second dates mean something. Don't try to tell me they don't because I'm on to you. They definitely do. But here's the kicker. We don't know WHAT they mean.

It could be that the guy didn't realize I let him talk the whole time during the first date so that's why he didn't discover that I'm a crazy-face.

It could be that the guy heard I write blogs about dating and he was curious enough to see if he could get into one (pretty sure this is why one guy wanted to ask me out again since he sent his counter-blog-post to me).

It could be that the guy couldn't get a good pulse on me because we only met up for an hour (my preference for most blind/online dates) and, again, he spent most of the time talking.

Or it could be that he thinks I'm interesting and wants to get to know me better.

YIKES. I can't handle that. I don't even want to spend time alone with me most of the time, what's this loony-bin boy got in his brain that HE wants to spend more time with me?!?

Ok, I'm not that self-deprecating (yes you are, Liz). But really, it's horribly intimidating. If he asks on a second date, the world has pretty much come to a conclusion that he wanted to and was not forced into it by his mother (although I do question some of the second dates I've gone on for that reason...)



Yeah, pretty sure. That's jumping the gun a leeeetle bit there.

Right, right. Of course it's not because he's already thinking marriage. Girls would never do that, so clearly guys would never do that.

But let's suppose that girls DID do that (hypothetically)...

And let's not even get into the guilt of dating (another post, another day; it's the worst). But let's do get into it for a second. If I didn't particularly feel like a guy and I had much to talk about or I didn't feel a particular interest, I don't feel like going on a second date. I feel like it's fraudulent behavior, worthy of the guillotine. I mean, he's spending his money and his time on me. So I should make sure that it's worth it to both of us. And what if I do go? Does he then think that I like him?  Do I even know if I do or not? Then what?

It's just a date, Liz. They say.

Give him a chance. They say.

This is why you're not married. They say.

Bah humbug. Who said second dates lead to marriage anyway? Didn't you just tell me he was NOT thinking about marriage so I could calm the heck down? And besides, I have set up plenty of these guys I wouldn't go out with again on dates with my friends. So I'm contributing to the good of society by building my network so I can set more people up.

But, to help you feel better, I've started researching Second Date Anxiety and reading lots of good articles about how it's not really a big deal. Like How to Ace Your Second Date and Surviving the Second Date. And someday I want them to pay me for affiliate marketing by the traffic that I drive to their websites, but that's beside the point.

The real truth of the matter is that nothing really helps. It's all still a mystery and the older I get, it seems the more anxiety I feel in the matter, rather than the hoped-for reverse. When you've gone on hundreds of dates (or at least one hundred), it's exhausting to keep giving chances when you feel you do a pretty good job at first-date judgment calls. And it's exhausting to invest in people who could smash your heart with a tennis racket (Do I even have a heart anymore?) And it's exhausting to keep justifying to others why you don't want to go out again with the person they set you up with.

But as the old Chinese proverb says, "Exhausting at least means the car is moving forward." (I just made that up). So I still carry on, carry on, carry on.

Is there hope for me? Perhaps.

But let's just be honest about a few things.

I've actually taken several selfies in my life, not just the previously mentioned one. Another one was in one of my lovely Christmas sweaters. I'm obviously too much for a guy to trust on a second date anyway when I hide these kinds of things. (Are those jingle bell earrings I'm wearing? Yes, yes they are).
Miss Stitt circa December 2014

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.


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

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 .

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.