Culturally, we have sent a message that a person is not of complete value until they are married. Which naturally leads to the belief that if one loses that value through loss of the marriage, they are less-than. They aren't a "full" member, and by extension, a “complete” daughter of God.Read More
Today, my testimony is my most precious possession. I would not be living a wholehearted life without it, and things in the day-to-day would be incredibly different.
My testimony is only so valuable to me now because I earned it.Read More
I had never prayed for a flight to go well, beyond asking for safety and peaceful arrival. So it’s funny now, thinking back on the disaster that day was, to know that it was also the day I had prayed a lot for things to go smoothly. We were so excited to be on our way to settling in, and this measly little flight was the final hurdle. Well, the day went well, in one of those hard kind of ways. It provided an excellent opportunity to realize just how much help we need even when the best laid plans...
Throughout the day we saw the hand of God appear in small, but crucial-to-us ways. He knew what we needed so as not to lose our minds, but allowed just enough chaos and uncertainty to show us how much we need Him and His children.
Disclaimer: the so-called “disaster” that was this day is nothing compared to real-people problems. We are real people, but these are not real-people problems. They are what you might call, “First World Problems”, or even "White People Problems”, if you will. All the same, the relief one feels in being rescued when one’s head is about to explode is a feeling unmatched. And I intend to honor my lightweight suffering with a blog post.
Just one more step. We had been to and fro all summer, visiting family we wouldn't see for a long time, using up a bunch of frequent flyer points we earned paying for a baby. I can’t quite put into words the deep excitement I had at the thought that we would be moving into one place and staying there for up to three years. I had skipped right over the travel portion in my mind, and was already imagining the peaceful unpacking process ahead. I wasn't sure how Clayton would fare on such a long flight, but I was willing to endure a lot of airplane baby screaming to get to our new home.
Jon and I have a sickeningly over-the-top sense of foresight. You don't want to be near us when we are preparing for stuff. Weeks leading up to an event our conversations often start with, “I thought of something else we should plan in case ABC occurs on the off-chance of XYZ.” We had shipped some of our belongings, but made sure to fly with us everything we would need for one or two nights in an empty apartment.
The plan: Fly from Portland to Boston, land at 5 PM. Pick up rental car for five hours (can’t keep car overnight, nowhere to park). Put all nine pieces of luggage and baby gear into car. Drive to Target, buy air mattress and food. Go to apartment, set up perfectly planned overnight: crib, towels, sheets, toilet paper, shower curtain, paper goods. Return rental car by 11 PM. Come home, sleep, live happily ever after.
Reality: Breathlessly arriving late at the gate for a 6 AM flight (first foresight fail), Jon’s crushed glasses in-hand, we find the door to the plane closed. They kindly let us in (first miracle), and with it being a Southwest flight, we get to “select” the last two seats. Second miracle: two seats are together. Less miraculous: last row. Along the way, Jon obtains two Band-aids and a paperclip to repair his poor glasses. Thank you, all-powerful flight attendants.
Sitting straight up and playing hot potato with the baby, we make it four hours before beginning the countdown to a much-needed layover in Chicago. First major change in plans: in a holding pattern over Chicago, our plane running out of fuel, we land in Rockport. Rockport isn’t Chicago. The guy next to us who had mercifully been asleep the entire flight, wakes up, looks around, and says, “Wait, we’re not in Chicago?”
Enter the baby squeals…Clayton felt as ripped off as everyone else. After refueling and flying back to Chicago, two hours later than planned, we find a chaotic airport that had been closed due to a fast and furious rain storm. Needless to say, we weren’t the only ones with a missed connection.
Running on empty with only time to grab a cold Big Mac (I told you, #firstworldproblems), we jump on the next plane out. Now arriving in Boston three hours later than planned, we need to get to Target (#whitepeopleproblems)! Second problem, our gate-checked stroller is nowhere to be found. Crisis averted: Solly Baby Wrap to the rescue! Clayton kindly sits in it and enjoys the sights and smells of lovely Logan Airport. As I’m waiting on the curb for Jon to bring loads of stuff out, he informs me we have no bags.
You saw this coming. No bags, no stroller, no car seat, no crib. The other good news? No hotels, too late for car rental, and we have no indication of when our things will arrive, or for that matter, even where they are.
Throughout all of this, it was hard to miss the absolute peace that surrounded Clayton. Any mom knows that the moment a baby starts crying, her inner stress is multiplied by infinity. It can be hard to focus on anything else. Although he had barely napped, was woken up early to get on a plane, and had been hastily toted around all day, he didn’t make a peep. Here he was, up past his bedtime in a busy airport lying calmly against my chest, seeming to know it would all work out just fine. Mercy.
After gathering our carry-on’s and meeting Jon at the baggage claim office, I met Bret. During their time together in line, Jon learned that Bret works with a non-profit Christian organization that helps college kids find Christ-centered community. Right away I could tell Bret was a real Christian. The kind who actually behaves as if he loves Jesus. Had Jon not told me what Bret’s work was, I still would have assumed he was somehow very close with God strictly due to his countenance. He was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak situation. As Jon and I stepped aside to discuss our next steps (there weren’t many options), Bret approached us and said, “It seems like you guys are a little stuck. My wife went home to drop off our son, but she is coming back to pick me up. Can we give you a ride somewhere?”
I hate putting people out. And I have a problem with always assuming I am putting people out. I would rather spend more, expend more energy, or sacrifice more (stupidly) than allow someone to go out of their way for me. Luckily, Bret had a lot of experience with helping people. He demonstrated two key factors (in my book) to reaching out: He was specific, and he phrased the offer in a way that showed he was genuinely interested in helping.
He didn’t say, “Do you need some help? Let me know if there's anything we can do.” He asked us if he could do something for us. We're nice people and wouldn’t want to turn someone down if we could help them do what they wanted to do. If someone asks if we need something, it's, We're fine, thanks. But if they ask if they can have something from us (the opportunity to help us), for some reason it is easier to oblige.
Secondly, offering a specific help rather than a general, “Let me know!” shows an added level of sincerity, I think. Even if what they offer isn’t exactly what you want or need, it opens the door to feeling comfortable to ask for what would help most. This seems insignificant, but I noticed that the way he asked had a lot to do with my acceptance of the help.
I wanted to take him up on it, but we had no car seat. I clumsily told Bret of our, what now seemed outrageous, plan to go to the store and our apartment that night. But Target would be closed, so going to our apartment was becoming less of an option as well. No problem for Bret though, his wife could help! “In fact, why don’t you just talk to her for a minute and tell her what you need?”
Before I had the chance to object, I’m on the phone with Corri who wastes no time in letting me know how she is prepared to help. Immediately I hear, “I have a car seat and a Pack’n’Play, what else might you need?” She showed up with that stuff plus two air mattresses, sheets, blankets, towels, a stroller (“In case you need to go out in the morning...”), and a high chair booster, just in case.
In a refreshingly upbeat mood, unexpected from people who had been traveling as long as they had that day, they drove us out of their way and into Cambridge. I felt the excitement that had been squandered by the airport return as we shared in the thrill of seeing the beautiful town at night. As the five of us walked into our new place for the first time, it was a much more ceremonious and joyful event having new friends with us, particularly after such a ridiculous day.
For our family and friends who felt lonely for us knowing we were moving out here all on our own with no family nearby, you can take comfort in knowing we had surrogates for you. They shared in the novelty and significance of walking into a new home and starting a whole new life. They may have been more excited for us than we were. They had already planned to introduce us to some friends they had in our town, and it seemed we all knew we would see each other again.
I have the feeling this is how it is for these guys everywhere they go, but that doesn’t diminish the impact they made on us. Being assisted in a time of real need is an experience that’s never forgotten by the recipient. To the giver, it may seem routine or like no big deal. But to two kids in a new city, with a new baby, starting a new life, it was the difference between starting with hope on what we were about to embark, and feeling like we were left alone to figure it out.
That first night, I got the distinct impression that these years in Cambridge would be a time when the Lord would be close by, but that He would be so through receptive “neighbors”. This is often the case, but somehow I’ve always been in a position to resist it. It is much more difficult now, thankfully, and we have already experienced several more ways in which we need others in order to thrive here. Clearly it’s finally time to break out of my independent mindset and allow His love to come more fully into my life by being open to the kindness of strangers.
It is cool to see how in doing so, my desire, ability, and opportunity to serve others grows. It takes vulnerability to accept help, and connection can’t be had without exposing yourself. Service without connection and love is missing the mark. I’m learning that accepting my own weakness is the first step to accepting others in their weakness.
I learned this week about another way in which refusing to accept help can hinder my ability to become more like Christ.
David A Bednar from his talk "The Character of Christ" (worth a read) :
Perhaps the greatest indicator of character is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. Character is revealed, for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering; in the ability to detect the hunger of others when we are hungry; and in the power to reach out and extend compassion for the spiritual agony of others when we are in the midst of our own spiritual distress. Thus, character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward. If such a capacity is indeed the ultimate criterion of moral character, then the Savior of the world is the perfect example of such a consistent and charitable character.
Although this is referring to a different type of being “closed-off”, reading it this week helped me realize that by “taking care of myself” (thinking I am saving everyone hassle), I am then more likely to be looking inward, focusing on my own problems and less likely to notice others. When I think of the most genuinely Christlike people I know, their quickness to respond to the needs of others with no thought of themselves is the quality that stands out most. What beautiful character they share. And how thankful I am that they are willing to share their goodness with me.
Here’s to new beginnings and the chance to meet many more wonderful and interesting people through being just a little more needy. Just kidding. But, seriously.
They say everything you need to know you learned in Kindergarten: Share everything, play fair, don’t hit people and all that. This is knowledge you have in your brain. While helping my 9 year old nephew with his multiplication flashcards, he said, “Even when I went camping for like, three days, I came back and I still knew my sevens!” I told him he’s lucky that he’s a kid- because when he learns new things, they stick in his brain really well, so much better than his rickety old aunt's. We talked about how, when I’m watching the flashcards go by, the way I know the answer is by remembering what my elementary school teachers taught me.
Even though I multiplied numbers all through high school, college, and beyond, each time since elementary that I did so was because of a recollection of what I learned all those years ago. Each experience further solidified the answer in my mind, but mainly I only had to learn them once and I was good for life.
For things of the world, it is usually enough to simply remember them. The english word remember means to bring a memory or fact back to your mind. Remembering something in the most basic sense of the word is to pull it out of the deep storage of your brain and place it in the front. Acting on it, loving it, or feeling it, is not included in the standard English 'remember'.
In Spanish or Latin, however, the word remember translates to recordar. The root of recordar, 'cord', means 'of the heart'. To remember something by this definition means to pass it through your heart again.
Ever since this concept was shared with me by an Ecuadorian home teacher, I have noticed how important this distinction is when dealing with spiritual matters. I could say, “Everything I need to know about the gospel I learned in Primary”, and figure, “I know what the commandments are and I know right from wrong, therefore, gospel education: complete!”
The problem with that is that it takes the most important ingredient out of spiritual learning: The Spirit. The Holy Ghost is the mechanism by which important truths (all truth, in fact) are passed through our heart. Commandments, facts about Jesus’ life, Articles of Faith can be known in our minds forever. But, they will do us little good if they fail to change our heart.
Of course, “Changing your heart” can sound like an abstract concept, but there are practical ways to achieve it. I learned a big perspective-changing piece of information while listening to the Teaching By the Spirit Workshop by Gene R. Cook, Emeritus Seventy (amazing CD that will change your teaching/speaking skills for life). He pointed out that when Jesus visits the Americas, in 3rd Nephi, 20:1, He is about to administer the sacrament and also teach them the commandments. He commands them to cease to pray (orally), but not to cease praying in their hearts while He speaks to them.
Elder Cook points out the powerful idea that although the Savior of the World is in their presence and teaching them, they still need to invite the Spirit of the Father into their hearts and into the meeting. Even Christ’s teachings would mean little if they were not accompanied by the Holy Ghost.
Whether we are teaching a lesson, talking to a friend, giving a speech, or teaching a child, the most important factor is whether or not the Spirit is with us. The rest of the workshop talks about the need for worthiness and invitation of the Spirit as above even the most intricate of planning. Spending hours on handouts, table settings, our hair, the flowery words and analogies we will use, the dozens of extra stories we will share, all matter very little if we are stressing out, being mean to our husband, or failing to pray and ponder on what the Lord would have us do.
If we allow the Spirit into the room, into our hearts, and create an environment in which it can enter into the heart of another, the Lord can teach much more precisely, more personally, and with far greater impact than we ever can. Not only will He speak to our minds what we should say, He will also speak to the hearts of others exactly what they need to know. If we were only trying to get a concept or fact into our minds or into the minds of others, we would simply need to teach to the mind and create mnemonic devices for rote memorization. But if we want to help 'recordar' things (wrong usage, I know) we have already learned a dozen times, it is through the heart alone that this happens.
When I look at the promise to “always remember Him” in light of this definition, I see why we hear it every week. We already know what the prayer will say. We may have scores of scriptures memorized that we can bring to mind at a moment's notice. In the temple, we already know what is coming next. But since these things are truth, if we choose to not only remember them but to also 'recordar' them by prayerfully seeking His presence, the same words can pass through our heart again for the Holy Ghost to testify of their truthfulness.
With how easy it is for the toughness of life to kill our motivation to choose the right, the depth of feelings that come from the Comforter can carry us through with confidence and stronger commitment to endure to the end, in a more powerful and longer-lasting way than using only our mind can.
1. the improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes. 2. the process of removing impurities or unwanted elements from a substance.
From what I've gathered so far, great relationships are made and broken in the details. Refinement isn't alchemy, completely overhauling what currently is and turning it into something it’s not. Refinement is simply removing impurities from something, little by little, until its purest form is revealed. Sometimes it takes fire, other times pressure, and every time, when humans are involved, it takes love.
I've been interested in the idea of refinement since I was a wee ‘tween, when I read this little ditty, referring to the verse in Malachi which says that Christ will “sit as a refiner and purifier of silver”. Spoiler Alert: The story talks about the process of refining silver, and how the silver must be held over the hottest part of the flame until the imperfections are removed. The silver must be carefully watched or else it will be destroyed by the heat. The silversmith knows the silver is complete only once he can see his reflection in it.
As I’ve grown up and fallen in love with all things connection and relationship: how people interact, the ways they choose to love, the ways they hurt each other, the ways they bring out the best or the worst in others or themselves, one common factor always emerges: the small things are where the differences are made. Minor impurities can hurt, but even the most minor of improvements can work wonders.
I believe the enemy to careful and deliberate refinement is found in the idea that relationships with others, with oneself, and with God, just happen. That if the relationship is good or right, it will just work. I once heard that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference, and over the years I have found this to be true. To hate something, some form of energy or action must be exerted, and oftentimes, with great passion. So it is with love. Passivity and indifference on the other hand, require no action, no concern, and no thought, much less passion. I can think of no better way to kill the love in a relationship or prevent a new one from forming than by taking no thought, no concern, and no action for it.
The line between being passive in a relationship and practicing personal refinement to improve it, can appear very thin. Most people (myself included) struggle to admit, or even realize, that they are coasting in their marriage, or mindlessly forming their personal identity. That they are waiting around for a good Date, or paying little attention to how and why they practice their religion. It’s normal to feel like taking it easy, especially at home where we just want to relax a little. We want to be loved for 'who we are', 'for better or worse'. Being loved as we are right now (and accepting ourselves right now) is a great feeling. But that love should be used as fuel to propel us to greater heights, not as an excuse to rest on our laurels and maintain the status quo. Being loved when we are in our purest form, our most authentic, free from the walls and fears keeping us at arm's length, is a joy that far surpasses simply being accepted as we are in spite of our flaws.
The impurities in ourselves, in our marriages, or in our relationship with the Lord aren't what make us who we are. They are merely specks of dust clouding our true image that can ultimately be revealed with small, consistent efforts. Being held over the fire is painful, but depriving ourselves and our loved ones of better-than-OK relationships is a tragedy.
I’m still trying to figure out the best ways to clarify and refine the most important areas of my life. Seemingly infinite numbers of ways to fix life, fix relationships, and fix myself appear everywhere I look. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect. But refinement isn't perfection; it's a process. This site is a place for me to compile the things I’m learning about that process, the things that have worked for me, and the things I want to work on in order to continually revamp my commitment to chipping off my rough edges. There are incredibly refined people out there from whom I can learn amazing things. Suggestions welcome!