Tag: God

Faith and Loneliness

I have lots of different readers who enjoy my posts for different reasons. I love every last one of you! This is a religious post probably best suited for my Mormon readers but hopefully encouraging to anyone of faith. If religion isn’t your thing don’t worry will be posting about your favorite topic soon. It’s a huge part of my life so it will come up on the blog from time to time. Love you!

missionLately I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my mission.  This year marks 10 years since I came home which has given me pause to think about the decade which has come and gone. Plus, I recently played host to my favorite companion Julia Graves and spent time with a sister who also served around my time Lisa Luddington.  We’ve shared stories and looked back on all we learned during those very intense 20 months (I extended).

Today I went to a homecoming for a friend and it touched my heart to see how strong she has become. I hope she can keep that strength and faith for a decade as I have striven to do however imperfectly.

Called to Serve Him.  No greater work.  No greater chance to become more Christlike
Called to Serve Him. No greater work. No greater chance to become more Christlike

As I’ve been thinking about my mission I realized something special it taught me I hadn’t put my finger on before.  It taught me how to deal with the loneliness of faith.

Let me explain.  There was a time on the mission I was given a companion who was bi-polar and thought that a mission would cure her mental illness. When it obviously didn’t she took her anger out on me and was emotionally and verbally abusive. I was berated as the worst missionary, ugly, stupid, inept, you name it.  Then she would go days with the silent treatment which was better but hard when you have to spend 24 hours a day with a person.

It was an especially hard time because I was trying so hard to be a good trainer and obedient.  We were opening a new area to sisters so I didn’t know anybody and we were far away from the mission home.  On LDS missions you are not allowed to call home, just weekly letters (although my parents did send me flowers. Love them!).

Got to love Indiana corn!
Got to love Indiana corn!

I’m not saying I was perfect because I wasn’t but I was trying to be obedient and I seemed to be punished for that where other people had great training experiences. Plus, how many times can you be told your a terrible missionary before you begin to believe it.

It was one of the loneliest time of my life. That may be surprising because I was with someone all the time but it just goes to show a person can be lonely who is surrounded by people.

pres quist
President Quist helped me so much through that lonely time

Anyway, I thought about coming home but I didn’t want to let my family down especially my younger siblings who needed an example missionary in their lives. I had to call the mission president every night and he helped me to get through every day.  I had a sister swap with my MTC comp Sister Noyes and that also helped.

But in the end I had to turn to my Heavenly Father in a way I hadn’t done to that point. He was all I had to really lean on. I read my scriptures and I prayed so hard my knees hurt. And you know what? He filled me up.  He let me know I wasn’t a bad missionary.  He helped me to forgive her, which was incredibly hard to do.  He loved me and I was not the same after that.  I was in 100% to the mission and while again I was far from perfect I know I was the missionary He needed me to be.

purdue
Purdue campus was the new area with tough companion but it was the site of many sacred experiences too

As hard as that experience was, and it was brutal, it gave me a gift.  In the 10 years since I came home there have been lonely times.  I don’t need to go into all of them but just trust me there have been lonely times. I’ve felt attacked, disappointed in the choices of others, angry, frustrated, confused and alone, as all humans do from time to time.

But I’ve always had that time on the mission in my pocket to carry me through.

I had discovered God’s ability to strengthen me during the lonely times and have never forgotten it and never will.

If you are feeling lonely or life is giving you a shellacking (we’ve all been there!) maybe it’s a moment God is trying to turn you into something better, like He made me the best missionary I could be?  Maybe he is trying to make you strong?

I absolutely believe moments of loneliness are essential to understanding the atonement of Jesus Christ and really applying it to your heart. We need it so bad in those moments and only then are we teachable and humble enough to make the tough choices and rely on His mercy completely.
me-in-snow-on-missionNever forget the scripture says

“I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”

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Sacrament Meeting Talk: Developing a Relationship with God

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So tomorrow I am giving a talk in church for the first time since 2010.  (My last talk was on patriotism https://smilingldsgirl.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/patriotism-my-sacrament-meeting-talk/).  The topic was ‘The Power of Testimony”.  The more I thought about it the more I kept coming back to my relationship with my Heavenly Father and how essential that relationship is to my testimony.  It’s not just a set of facts or experiences but a lifetime of being nurtured by the Lord.

It is a missionary farewell so I tried to relate it to my mission in a way that felt natural and on topic.  So this is what I came up with , with a few modifications for the blog.

I’d be curious to know what you all think.

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When I was a little girl I was bullied for 2 years.  After trying the normal school channels, my parents took me out of the situation and then we moved across the country.  It proved to be a fresh start for me and a chance to figure out how to make friends which I was able to do.   However, I always knew that despite my best efforts the world could reject me.  I could not rely on them for my self-confidence and happiness.  So what was I supposed to do?  I looked at the people I loved and none of them relied on other people for their self-worth.  They had an inner fire that come from something higher.

I realized I needed to not only pray to God each night but that I needed something that could build a life around.  Something that could protect me in the lonely times.  It was then that I first started building my relationship with God.  Some may call this a testimony but I prefer to think of it as a relationship that but is a work in progress.

Speaking to the women of the church Elder Russel M.  Nelson described this type of relationship with God

“Her self-esteem cannot be based on physical features, possession or lack of a particular talent, or comparative quantities of anything. Her self-esteem is earned by individual righteousness and a close relationship with God. Her outward glow is generated by goodness within. And her patience is much more apparent than any imperfection.”

So to God I went and the first step in building this relationship was learning that He was there and that He loved me.  As a middle schooler , I first asked these questions and have asked them again and again with each time getting the sweet confirmation that ‘Yes, Rachel.  I love you.  You are special’.

How could the bullies hurt me again with that in my pocket?  I had the God of the Universe tell me I was special.

As I grew the relationship grew.  I learned repeatedly about repentance, forgiveness, family, trials, rejection, patience and hard work and all of these experiences made the relationship better and stronger.  It was work, but it was a sweet work.   There were seasons where I forgot to trust him where my anxieties felt almost overwhelming but in the end I always knew He was there rooting for me if I just took the leap of faith.

Elder Wirthlin said,

“I have been impressed recently with the thought that this life is made up of little things—little things that count a great deal. I believe that the little things are of great importance in our relationship with ourselves, in our relationship with others, and in our relationship with God.

The Lord has said, “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).

Now I don’t know if I’ve done many great things but I know the Lord is happy with my efforts.  I know this because of the relationship I started way back as a bullied youth.

Elder Oaks described this type of relationship with God:

Of course, we have leaders, and of course, we are subject to their decisions and directions in the operation of the Church and in the performance of needed priesthood ordinances. But when it comes to learning and knowing the truth of the gospel—our personal testimonies—we each have a direct relationship with God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, through the powerful witness of the Holy Ghost.

So what can we do to develop such a relationship with God?

President Uchtdorf tells us how:

We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, by communing with Him, by repenting of our sins, and by actively following Jesus Christ, for “no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Christ].”10To strengthen our relationship with God, we need some meaningful time alone with Him. Quietly focusing on daily personal prayer and scripture study, always aiming to be worthy of a current temple recommend—these will be some wise investments of our time and efforts to draw closer to our Heavenly Father. Let us heed the invitation in Psalms: “Be still, and know that I am God

Doesn’t sound too hard right? A little quiet time, personal prayer and scripture study?  I’m sure all you Mom’s are wondering how you can get such time and if it really exists?  My only thought on that topic is to think of the quiet times I’ve had in my life where I was surrounded by people and yet alone.  The mind can ponder while the body is busily engaged.

Regardless, Heavenly Father knows when we are trying.  He loves us.  He wants to bless us.  He will bless us with time, patience, enhanced spirituality or the ability to persevere through seeming droughts of spiritual knowledge.  We must trust in Him.

President Uchtdorf continues on:

Our relationship with God is most sacred and vital. We are His spirit children. He is our Father. He desires our happiness. As we seek Him, as we learn of His Son, Jesus Christ, as we open our hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit, our lives become more stable and secure. We experience greater peace, joy, and fulfillment as we give our best to live according to God’s eternal plan and keep His commandments.

I have a friend who went to the MTC and felt sad that her testimony wasn’t as seemingly strong as the other members of her district.  Such comparisons miss the point of a relationship with God.  Just as strong marriages come in many forms and styles a strong relationship with God can manifest itself with different strengths and weaknesses.

A testimony when seen as a relationship is not thrown off by questions in theology or seeming offenses of church members because a relationship ebbs and flows. It leaves room for questions and it can always be better.  A relationship is never finished.

Now I have a long way to go in my quest for perfection and my relationship with God can be much stronger than it is today.  So how do I do that? How do I make it stronger?

Since this is Elder Lampings last talk before going into the MTC, I thought I would answer this question with a little missionary advice.  Because I think how to be a good missionary is the same as how to develop a relationship with God:

  1. Be obedient-  You will meet people, even companions, who want to shrug off some rules.  Many will say ‘I’m living the spirit of the law’.  You will not know the spirit of the law unless you are living as close to the letter of the law as you can.  Be obedient.
  2. Pray for Love- pray for love of yourself, your companion, your investigators and all the people you serve, even those that reject you.
  3. Study as Hard as You Can-  Use your study time well.  Yes, you will have mornings where you fall asleep into your scriptures but try your best to think about the needs of your investigators and how you, using your skillset can help them.
  4. Be happy- Find something to be happy about each day.
  5. Serve with No Regrets-  Leave each area, each companionship knowing that you did all you could do, spiritually, emotionally, physically all you can do.

When I was flying home from my mission I had a distinct impression from the spirit that ‘We had done it’.  That the Savior and me as His representative had found everyone we needed to find, we had helped everyone we needed to help and that the work was done.  I promise it was the best feeling of my life.  I left my mission with no regrets.  I wasn’t perfect but I had no regrets.  I honestly thought that all missionaries had a similar experience but in speaking with some of my fellow sisters none of them seemed satisfied with the breadth of their efforts.  They had not received this same assurance

Now the reconciliation of their missionary labors is between them and the Lord but shouldn’t a life with no regrets be our goal no matter if we are missionaries or members.  It’s certainly my goal.  I want to be able to have a similar feeling that I had on that plane when I’m in the spirit world ready to move on.  It should be a feeling of ‘we did it’.  Because of our relationship, Jesus Christ and I did it together.

Our goals should be to say like Elder McConkie before his death

“And now as pertaining to this perfect Atonement, I testify that it took place at Gethsemane and at Golgotha. And as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God who was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person… And in the coming day I will feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s almighty Son and he is our Savior and Redeemer and that Salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.”

May we all strive to be obedient and to develop this relationship with God

Name of Jesus Christ,Amen.

Jesus hugging a man

Mormon Feminism

Today as I drove home from my work in Syracuse and I started listening to some old podcasts.  One of them was from Radio West an episode called Mormon Feminism.   It was a pretty good, well-rounded discussion and it started me thinking about my own unique viewpoint on the topic.

As everyone knows I have always had a strong sense of self and fierce independent nature.  (My first word was STOP if that tells you anything).  If I wasn’t leading I’d rather not play, if it wasn’t my idea it was never as satisfying.  Still to this day I would rather fail on my own account than succeed hanging on to the coat tails of someone else.

With this nature it is perhaps surprising that I found an acceptance of my Mormon faith so easily.  I have always believed.  Recently I read through my old journals and I could not find a period of my life where I doubted- sure I’d have a day here or a day there, a few questions, but never a real stage of doubt.   The scriptures talk about gifts of the spirit and I believe an accepting, faithful nature, coupled with my stubbornness, is my gift.

The only real confusion I remember having was understanding my role in the world and church as a woman.  As I have mentioned before on this blog the idea of motherhood was not innately appealing to me.  My mother had very difficult pregnancies and I had to sacrifice a lot for my siblings to come into the world.  As far as I was concerned babies were nothing but an overwhelming, confining trial.  I certainly wasn’t and never have been an ooey-gooey baby person.

I have also never felt I fit the Mormon definition of the ideal woman.  Often in young women or in some talks I’d hear phrases like this:

femininity “is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your … capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength. It is manifest differently in each girl or woman, but each … possesses it. Femininity is part of your inner beauty. (President Faust)

I’m sorry but I never felt like I was delicate, charming, gracious, gentle or quietly strong.   How could we all be the same and what did that mean for little independent me?  I also wanted to know, if women were so special, why?  It almost seemed unfair to the men to make us more innately worthy so that men had to be given value?

It took me years to answer these questions (not that I have a perfect answer now but I’ve come a long way).  Again, I remind you that my faith in the gospel never wavered.  I just had questions and that’s OK.   In fact, it is encouraged by the church.  Elder Angel Abrea of the Seventy said it well:

“I’m sure that many questions have come to your mind. The truth is that you will not be condemned for wondering or questioning if you make a sincere effort to find the answer. Our mental powers have been given to us to use. Faith based on personal prayer, study, and obedience is more lasting than blind faith; it is more rewarding, and for sure it is better grounded.”

So how did I go through this questioning process?  Well, it started with formulating the questions when I was young and then at BYU  I started getting answers.  I read everything I could on the topic- both Mormon and traditional feminist authors (even read the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and found it very insightful).    In those college years I studied polygamy, read female pioneer journals, wrote a heated paper on the women of the Mormon Battalion (I remember my Book of Mormon teacher was shocked! Oh well!) and asked questions of everyone I came in contact with.

I also studied much on the reality of self and what makes a human being, whether male or female, interact successfully with others. But by far my most impactful experience was taking a class called the Political Economy of Women.  At the time it was taught by two dynamite professors named Valarie Hudson and Donna Lee Bowen (to read more about Valarie’s remarkable life check out her Wikipedia page).  They are both inspirational, amazing women.

In the class, we read a huge assortment of articles and books on every issue you could  imagine facing women.  Sometimes it was brutal such as the class on female circumcision where I literally left the classroom and threw up.   While painful, it was also eye-opening.

After such an awakening, we learned about a variety of the world’s solutions including everything from small micro-loans to domestic violence laws.  Through this class I gained a deep appreciation for the work being done to help all women live full, healthy, happy lives.

Finally, we discussed the gospel and its view of womanhood in great detail.  While difficult to summarize here I learned a lot about the eternal equality of men and women, the great need both genders had for each other, the value of Eve’s role in the Garden story, and the importance of stewardship in creating Zion.

Human beings are weak and find Zion-living very difficult.  This is why God gives us jobs to do while here and some of those jobs (or stewardships) can be carved along gender lines.  As anyone knows who has been, in the temple the differences between male and female roles are much fuzzier- because in the temple we are that much closer to equality or Zion.

While I found this knowledge comforting I was still left with a question about my own capabilities as an eternal woman.  I did not feel like a steward of all things womanly.  This thought nagged in the back of my head for many years.  On my mission I felt empowered by the sheer good I could do and how my nature was needed by individuals I taught.  It was the beginning of my understanding of my unique worth.

Then one day when I returned I read Acts 10:34-35

“God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him”

This scripture really hit home.  God and Jesus Christ accepted me.  Me, with all my idiosyncrasies and stubborn ways.  If I tried my best to follow His teachings, then He accepted me.

I made this discovery when I was going through a rough period.  I hated my job. For a time I felt worthless, like there was a black cloud over my life that I couldn’t remove.  With these sad feelings; however, also came an understanding that God had a plan for my life- that my life mattered.  When I quit my job it was not just a change of career but an acknowledgment of divine potential.  It was one of the best days of my life.

Over the years I have come to my own definition of Mormon feminism.  Feminism, to me, means being free, as a woman, to live whatever life you want.  If that means having babies, have babies.  If it means working, work.  Whatever you want to do as a woman, you should be allowed to do.  It is your choice.  Certain choices lead to different levels of joy,  just like the choice of leaving my job drastically affected my happiness; however, in the end it was my choice.  It is my choice to be faithful, my choice to embrace the gospel, and everyone should have that right.  Our national, state and local laws should support a women’s ability to make these choices; as well as protect her from individuals who seek to limit the freedom of women through abuse, unfair treatment or any other unjust action .  I am a Mormon Feminist!

Hey maybe my independent spirit isn’t so different from God’s plan after all and just maybe God loves me because of my unique nature not in spite of it?

PS- this was a hard post to write and feel satisfied in my phrasing.  I hope you get an idea for the questions I’ve asked and the peace I’ve discovered in my life. Love Rachel

Inspirational Quotes Quiz

Tomorrow I am teaching a Sunday School lesson on Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  It is a challenging lesson because both books are collections of inspirational quotes that jump from one topic to another.  Reportedly written by Solomon the “words of wisdom” cover everything from marriage to overcoming grief.  While reading I couldn’t help but think of my own love for poetry and inspirational quotes.  I’m often quoting poetry on this blog, and  I have 2 inspiration boards full of motivational quotes/images in my office.  I’ve taken a few attempts at writing my own poerty but failed miserably- I just enjoy reading it! I love the power of words and the way a verse can capture my emotions and life experiences perfectly. Poetry and inspirational quotes also help me to keep an eternal perspective and remember my many blessings.  Life is often hard and when I face challenges it is nice to hear encouraging words.  As the name suggests I find motivational quotes motivating!

To prepare for my lesson, I gathered a number of my favorite quotes and created a little quiz.  I’m not sure if I will have time to use it, but I figured I’d post it on the blog to see if anyone out there in cyberworld could guess who said what!  I will post the answers in a comment tomorrow (I don’t want to give the answer away for my students!).  Enjoy these modern-day Proverbs!

Guess the Quote

Thomas Edison            Walt Disney             Eleanor Roosevelt

Ralph Waldo Emerson       Michelangelo         Dr. Seuss

Mother Theresa          Winston Churchill    Albert Einstein

Gordon B. Hinckley       Mahatma Gandhi    CS Lewis

1. Life is to be enjoyed, not endured

2.  Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

3. The ancestor of every action is a thought

4. If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius

5. I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much

6. All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.

7. You’re off to great places.  Today is your day!  Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!

8. Success is never final.  Failure is never fatal.  It is courage that counts

9. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams

10. Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe

11. Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

12. Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another:  What! You too?  I thought I was the only one!

I particularly like this last one about friendship!

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen

I don’t have long to write this Easter morning, but I have been contemplating my relationship with Jesus Christ lately.  It amazes me how His sacrifice could be both intimate and infinite.  While every single person who ever lived is saved from sin and despair, I have also been saved.  His grace and power coupled by divine love and empathy gives me the strength to live my life with purpose and obedience.   What a comfort it is to know that because He conquered death and was resurrected on the third day- we all can live again with our loved ones.  In my limited experience with such things the knowledge of eternal life and resurrection was truly a balm of Gilead.  It is my greatest desire to follow Him and be a worthy disciple.  I love Him and know that His church has been restored. He truly did die for my sins and sorrows- as He did for yours.  I have gained this knowledge through personal prayer, scripture study and the promptings of the Holy Ghost to my heart.  I hope you all have a wonderful Easter morning and that you try to find ways to be more like Jesus Christ every day.  Build up your testimony and then strengthen others. This is the way you will be Happy in life!  God bless.