Sunday, July 31, 2016

Be courageous. Be strong. Part 1.

I got home from girls camp yesterday and I have been thinking a lot about what I learned, and what I got out of it. It was an Olympic based theme (Who is excited for the olympics???), and we based a lot of it off of Nicole Pikus-Pace's book "Focused" - which is all about lessons she learned during her olympic career and how it relates to the gospel and our values. Our motto at camp was "Be Courageous. Be Strong."

For me, the motto was more than just four words. It applied to my life in a much difference way than it applied to the girls and the other leaders that were there. For me, being courageous and being strong means facing a challenge head on, with everything I have left. 

It's a challenge that I've alluded to on and off. I've talked to some friends and confidants recently and I've been told by multiple people, "Your story gives me so much strength, you need to share it more".  

Guys. I'm not a vulnerable person. I hate being vulnerable. I hate the idea of getting emotional in front of people - no matter how much I like you. But - I think about the times that I'm strengthened the most and it's when I see other people who I view as "having it all together" share struggles that they have and how they are conquering them. I'm able to find common ground as they share their struggles and I'm able to learn from them, regardless of their beliefs, their faith, or their lifestyle.

Everyone has their struggles, and everyone has their things they deal with. Everyone's struggles are individual and personalized to them for their learning and growth. 
Some people lose loved ones, sometimes children
Some people deal with miscarriages and infertility
Some people deal with divorce and broken relationships
Some deal with health problems and unanswered questions
Some deal with things that are more inward. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other heartache. 

My biggest struggle deals with that last category. Depression, loneliness and anxiety that is at times crippling and overwhelming to the point that functioning in life is a challenge on a daily basis. There are days that getting out of bed is an absolute victory. I'm an incredible wall builder and can put on a great front where most people, unless they are inspired or I show them, don't know that anything is wrong - so 99% of people would have no clue these things are a struggle for me. 

The last year, things have gotten increasingly harder. Part of it is the desire to be a wife and mother. I want that more than anything in this world. Part of it is unreal expectations of perfection and how things "Should" be. Part of it is simply because - like every other human in the universe - sometimes, life is just hard. And part of it, I truly believe, is that it is something that I've just been called to bear.

People say "Be happy". "Try harder". "Choose joy". "Go to a singles ward and you won't be lonely". "Read and pray".

And I hate those answers. Every one of them - because sometimes, those answers aren't the solution. And I say that as a faithful and worthy member of the church. One who knows the strength that comes from being obedient and doing the little things. 

And I say that depression is no joke. You can't just wish it away. You can't just read it or pray it or worship it away. You can't just try harder to be happy. You can be doing everything right, and being the best you can be, and sometimes you just break down and things as simple as cleaning your room or putting gas in your car causes you to have an anxiety attack. 

It hits at the worst possible times. At a social event. Before a huge day at work. In the middle of work. When you are sitting in sacrament. 

It's like a dark cloud that messes up your vision of how things are and how things should be. It is something that at times makes you want to disappear. To not wake up in the morning because you know as soon as you wake up that you are going to have to face it again. 

It's like a voice inside your head making you feel guilty that reading your scriptures and saying your prayers doesn't ease the darkness, and you begin to question your worthiness, even though all is well. It makes you feel like a burden to those you want to confide in and makes you shut out the very people that love you the most and are trying their hardest to help you just make it through the week or sometimes even the hour. 

It's exhausting, and it's challenging and at times it seems never-ending. 

Over the last six months, I've realized more and more that it isn't something that I can fight on my own and it took me getting to my lowest point to finally realize this. I've had to trust priesthood leaders and lean on them for counsel and advice. I've cherished every single second that my parents have been able to come up and visit here in Utah - it keeps me motivated to keep fighting. I take advantage of the days that I have the motivation to go to the gym (which is becoming more frequent!) and the relief it temporarily gives me. I've had to be real with those I serve with and have become dear friends with.

One of my heroes in life is Natalie Norton. She doesn't know I exist, but I hang on to her every word. Her punch line for hard things is "Show Up". When you are there, be all there. Show up for life. Show up for others. And I've learned more than ever before, that I need to show up for me. I need to show up for life every single day so that I can prove that I'm stronger than the depression. That I'm more courageous than the anxiety, and that I'm never ever going to give up. No matter what. 

Sometimes, it feels like giving up is the only answer. I get caught up sometimes with the idea that this is just my lot in life. This is my burden and my struggle that I've been called to bear. And sometimes, that's enough to just do me in. To break me down a little farther.

But, I'm continuing forward, and I'm trying to find my moments of happy right now. 

Some days it's telling myself, "I can make it through the next five minutes, I promise", even when those five minutes seem eternal. 
Some days I go to the bathroom at work, break down and come back out smiling with my walls up again ready to face the next few hours. 
Some days I wake up and the whole day is abso-freakin-lutely incredible. 
Some days I snooze my alarm 10 times and do everything in my power to not get up. 
Some days getting up and blow drying and straightening my hair is a victory worthy of an olympic gold medal. 
Some days I lose myself in service and do everything I can to not focus on me and I do really well. 
Some days are so full of tender mercies that I can't even keep track of them all. 
Some days people are so in tune that I have answers to prayers every where I turn.
Some days I feel help from both sides of the veil. 

But. I've realized that EVERY day - no matter what it brings, I need to be courageous. And EVERY day I need to be strong. And EVERY day, I need only to do my best, regardless of what that looks like. And while I thought at first it was selfish, EVERY day I need to do something for me, to prove to myself that I matter enough to continue fighting. And EVERY single flipping day I need to show up - because showing up is so incredibly important. 

And, as much as I hate it, EVERY day, I need to be able to show the real me, be a little vulnerable, and be okay with it. Because that is what true strength is, and that is what true courage is. And I believe, that's what truly showing up entails.

If this is my big challenge in life, and if this is just something that I've been called to bear, then I will continue to learn to accept it, and I will continue to learn how to deal and cope and face the challenges it poses. And I will continue to be strong, and be courageous. No matter how difficult that is. I'm incredibly stubborn and competitive, and I think in this situation - it is a positive thing, because it keeps me going.

I will keep the faith. 
I will try my best to stay humble and teachable. 
I will never forsake the Savior and His teachings. 
I'll hold on to the testimony that I have and try to keep an eternal perspective. 

I'll be courageous. And I'll be strong. 
No matter what. 

These talks and websites have been my saving grace:

Sunday, May 29, 2016

when peace doesn't come

Looking at the last 6 months, I'll be the first to say it - sometimes, life is just hard. Trials come that knock us down and it seems at times that you barely are getting your footing and another wave comes crashing down on you, leaving you more discouraged, and overwhelmed than before. You are trying to do the things you know you should, and yet it seems you can't catch a break. Maybe it's emotional or physical health, maybe it's the health of loved ones, maybe it's work related, and maybe it's hard internal struggles that no one else (or very few people) would understand.

We've all been there in some way or another. 

In the church we talk a lot about accepting the Lord's will. We talk about the power that comes from reading your scriptures, saying your prayers, attending the temple, serving in your calling, being obedient, etc. etc. etc. So what happens when you consciously make a decision to accept whatever it is that the Lord has in store for you and peace still doesn't come? Hope still doesn't penetrate the darkness/pain, the loneliness, and the trials and hardships still seem suffocating at times? Then what? 

Here's what I know about my Savior and my Heavenly Father: 
They are real 
Their love is perfect 
They are aware of us in every way 
They are intimately aware of every struggle we face
They will never forsake us
Everything they do and ask of us is for one purpose and one purpose only: to bring us back home 

However - when I am in the middle of hardships of any kind, and I am trying with all my heart to accept the Lord's will....and peace doesn't come, I can't help but think: so is He REALLY aware? Like really though. Does He really understand what I'm going through? Does he really hear and answer my prayers? I still believe the things I listed above, but I wonder, why don't I feel the power of that knowledge? I am quick to question.

His love and His peace are perfect. He knows what we need and how we need to receive it. He knows me. I've felt it before, His peace can penetrate the darkest of situations and bring us light, but it won't come when we necessarily want or expect it. It will come when He knows, in His infinite and perfect love and wisdom, we need it most. 

So when I ask myself, why isn't peace coming? I have to remind myself: IT IS. It's just not here yet.

So until that day comes, I will hang tough to what I do know. I will grasp on to the knowledge and testimony that I do have, and I'll embrace the glimmers of light that I get each day, to motivate me to continue moving forward, so that when He sees fit, I can gain the peace that only comes through the Savior of the world, and I can make it back to His presence. 

Kevin W. Pearson said it best when He said: when adversity comes, don't let something you don't fully understand unravel everything you do know. 

So while I don't understand everything now, I know that one day I will. And for now, I will echo the words of Nephi: "I do not know the meaning of all things, nevertheless I know that God loveth His children" 

And that is all that matters. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

What a weekend.

Elder Holland put it perfectly this weekend when he said, "The great thing about the gospel is you get credit for trying, even if you don't always succeed". I love that. Our Savior Jesus Christ blesses us and loves us perfectly no matter what, and even just trying a little bit gives us the opportunity to do what we need to, and become who he wants us to become. It's not about perfection. It's all about progress.

Saturday afternoon, I had some fierce flashbacks to the mission. When people openly and disrespectfully opposed the prophet and the quorum of the 12, I found myself on the verge of tears. Why do you go to the conference center and interrupt and rudely state your opposition to the Lord's servants? We see it in the movement of women and the priesthood, we see it with same sex marriage, we see it in a lot of ways as the times go more and more against the beliefs of the church. We aren't opposed to differing opinions in the church, but they say, "any opposed by the same sign". Be respectful and work through your concerns, and things will work out.

I learned on my mission that a lot of people, even some within the church when they hadn't been members long, have very different ideas of who Christ is, what He did, and our relationship with Him. However, while some people would say He didn't exist, I RARELY had anyone speak poorly of Him or destroy Him and His mission. While it broke my heart when people said they didn't believe in Him, or that He was just an imaginary being, they never directly attacked Him, but shared their beliefs (not always respectfully, but it was just different). A lot of times it was tied to their life experiences and their lack of knowledge about the truth, and they lost hope, happiness, and motivation to continue believing. So we would testify of the truth, seek to bless their lives, and at times just move on.

However, on the daily almost people would attack and destroy Joseph Smith. And while I defended my beliefs of the Savior and His divine mission, I had the hardest time when people attacked Joseph Smith. It often times wasn't a belief that they would even entertain, and openly and rudely opposed and destroyed.

When I first got in the field, I had a lot of repenting to do. I had very hard feelings towards those that fought against the early saints. Those who drove them from city to city, those who tried time and again to kill the prophet, who tarred and feather him, and who persecuted the saints. Serving in an area that was rich in church history was such a blessing. Feeling the spirit of Nauvoo and Carthage, being able to take investigators to the very places that so many things happened was incredible, and to this day, my mission, the places and the people still hold a massive piece of my heart. But I struggled to not be extremely emotional when it came to people outwardly attacking the prophet, and the beliefs that I hold dear.

I had those same feelings on Saturday. How could someone outwardly fight against and oppose the servants of God? Don't they know about they work in which they are engaged? Don't they know the good they are doing in the world? Don't they feel the spirit that accompanies their very presence? My perspective changed on the mission, through nothing short of diligent prayer and fasting and serving. I thought about the people opposing the sustaining of the prophets and apostles the last little bit, and a line came to me from Women's conference. My heart was immediately softened when the words came into my mind:

What if that was MY story?

What if I had had experiences that have hardened my heart towards His servants? What if I had had trials so intense that I lost hope in and my belief of my Savior and His chosen prophet, seer and revelator? What if I had been put in a family where terrible things happened and I just wasn't able to believe anymore? The "what if's" of their stories are infinite? What if I just couldn't hang on anymore? Then what?

Would I yell out in conference? Probably not. But what if I did? I would hope a loving priesthood leader, home and visiting teachers, friends and family would reach out to me and never ever give up on me.

I have had times where my faith has been tested. I have had times where I have questioned, and struggled to do the things I need to do, and my faith has been affected. It has happened more than I'd like to admit.

My heart goes out to those people. Great people getting caught up in the world.

I hope they remember the very things that changed my life on Sunday from Elder Holland:
- The great thing about the gospel is you get credit for trying, even if you don't always succeed.
- That He will be at our right hand saying "fear not! For I will stand by thee!!"
- I hope they know that "His divine love will always be with us, ESPECIALLY when we struggle"
- That the first great truth of eternity is that His loves us with everything He's got.

Elder Holland warned us: "after we are illuminated, we will endure a great fight of affliction"

I hope I can stay strong. I hope we all can. I hope we can put ourselves in other's shoes and be able to love perfectly, have great faith, and to stand strong when the trials come.

Elder Holland said: Give your heart to God. Love the Savior. Do your best. And everyday will be magnificent. Why? because God wants it to be!! Keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on.

This weekend I was humbled. I was softened. I was reminded of so many truths. I'm so glad His love is perfect. That Heaven is cheering me on. Because I need it. And you need it.

Like I was told on my mission from a ward member back home: Hang tough and finish strong. The fight is hard. Satan is tricky. But we can't forget the basic truths, and as fight to the finish, "we are guaranteed the victory through our Savior Jesus Christ" (Paul Johnson).

My heart is full.