Sunday, November 26, 2017

Self as Others. It's a life changing way of seeing your world.

I recently went to a 3-day seminar where true leadership was part of the training.  For me to really grasp the content it took hours, if not days.  Then I have had to live with myself for weeks to really recognize how these insights apply to my life.  Since I am really slow and stubborn, and you’re not, I believe that sharing this bit of understanding in a page is going to be super effective for you!

Is this typical or what:

You’re in the back and wished you had that great “spot” in the front?  

Feeling frustrated because people ask questions about “dumb stuff that isn’t even important, and now you’re wasting time on unimportant stuff!”? 

What about being with a group of friends or co-workers and you’re totally unaware of what’s going on in their lives or how they are doing?

Or, gone to Zumba and realized that….. “Gee I have been doing Zumba in this Monday class off and on for 2 years with you all and I don’t even know one of your names?” 

Not to mention thinking your way is best so, “what in the world are YOU thinking!”
And, “Man that driver is so stupid, pulling in front of me and slowing down.”

Also that general feeling of irritation over waiting for someone, listening to someone, having to watch someone, driving someone or anything else you didn’t want to do for someone.

And could we go on?  Yes!

It’s all kind of laughable.  I can see us all running around in our fast, spontaneous, over achieving little world, yelling about all of these ways others are putting us out.  “How dare you make me wait for a few seconds because you pulled in front of me and it cost me one second of my time, I had to actually touch my brake.”  “How dare you talk to that person in line ahead of me and slow your ability to check me out faster.”  ETC.!

It’s typical.  And if you just pay attention for a few days, you’ll notice even more stinky stuff that has to do with how you relate to the people in your 5 foot circle world.

(If you’re saying, “No, not me”, pay attention.  You may change your mind.)

I am not just bringing this up to pain us or laugh at us, I actually have learned something about this I am dying to give away, and it’s that wonderful.

It all started last Friday, (actually I wrote this weeks ago but refuse to do anymore editing), when I was in my first day of the Landmark seminar.  The forum leader started talking right off the bat about how, “We are the group.” (I was a deer in the head light thinking, what does that even mean, we are the group?  It’s not even good grammar.  He talked about it for an hour and I still felt the same way about it.)  Then he said something about being, “Self as others.” (What in the world does that mean?  And that still is not good grammar!)  Then he talked about, “We are all the same, no matter our language, color of skin, or body type.” (I got that one).  I related it to we are all children of God and so I felt like, Oh yea I got this.  Then he said, “I am you, and you are me”, then I was back to, “I don’t get it”.  He talked this way for quite a while.  Then he started in on true leadership means you effect the group. It’s not just good enough for you to be here, sitting in your chair, all about yourself.  (I was like, I just got here, don’t blame me, I don’t even know these people).  It’s not just enough for you to be about your own learning and state of being, it’s not enough for you to just be glad you filled your assignment, it’s not enough that you’re on time.  It’s all about did you affect the people around you to learn, fulfill assignments and be on time.  True leadership is about you affecting the people around you.  You are not successful until others are successful.  You don’t achieve until others achieve. 

I eventually heard and understood his words, in my mind, and eventually I thought they sounded great too, but I didn’t really understand in my heart enough to go out and start changing the world around me.  I call it head learning; my heart wasn’t transforming but my brain understood the concepts.  “I am you, you are me.”  “We can’t be successful unless all of us are successful.”  “We are the group, you are not just an individual.” Etc. I got it.  But it didn’t mean I started doing anything different.  I still just sat there and listened.

Then he talked about individuals make up partnerships, make up families, make up groups, make up communities, make up societies, make up the world.  It all starts with the individual, to be able to effect any kind of group, community or the world. 

At one point he actually asked me!  “What have you done to show true leadership in this room today?”   I was like, “Who me?  What are you taking about, I am just a little guy, here to listen and learn for myself, don’t bother me with others.  I don’t have the energy for that.  I’m just sittin here minding my own business, leave me alone.” 

Of course I didn’t say all of that, I’m no dummy.  I was just silently thinking it.  Now just stick with me here.

Throughout the next three days the group leader kept going around and asking what we had done to show true leadership that day.  How had we lifted and raised the level of the group. What had we done to make the group more effective, more powerful, and more confident? And he didn’t just talk about it!  He gave us an object lesson that took days.  This is what he did to actually affect change in us:  He wasn’t nice!  He demanded that we were all on time and helping others be on time too, and if we weren’t, we all paid the price.  You could tell he didn’t care if we liked him, and I wasn’t not liking him to much at all.    He wouldn’t teach us anything, (we paid good money and we all wanted to learn and he wouldn’t teach), and then he would go on and on for hours talking about our inability to effect change in our individual lives because we weren’t effecting change in our group.  FOR HOURS!  Oh my gosh!  Hours of confronting us, holding our feet to the fire about what we weren’t doing to help each other.  And it took hours for us to get that we need to be intense with each other; forceful, fighting mad so to speak.  At one point he said, “You Utah people are way too nice, you’re so afraid of being socially correct that you can’t demand anyone change.”  That hurt.

But eventually we got it.  The group became all of us. We demanded everyone to be on time, with assignments done and we all made sure of it.  We got each other’s phone numbers and called each other.  We held everyone accountable to have their assignments done.  By all of us holding each other accountable literally everyone; all 120 participants were 20 min early.  I’ve never seen that before in my life!  We were a nervous wreck if someone was only 10 min early.  We all paid the price if everyone didn’t complete their assignments so we were all texting each other to find out if anyone needed help.  No one left early either.  It was an amazing experience in how true leadership doesn’t back down, holds people accountable, expects integrity in all things, (actually, more like demands integrity) and is bold and direct.   He didn’t care if we liked him, he cared that we changed.  He loved us and wanted our growth more than he wanted us to love him.

I have to admit I am a pleaser, fixer, meet people’s expectations kind of girl, so I caught on real fast that I need to get out of my comfort; “me only”, zone and do what he was asking.  So I went through the motions, doing what he expected. But remember what I said about things take me a long time.  So yea.  I got the specifics of what the expectation of action was, but I was still going through the motions. Essentially I hadn’t changed, I was just performing out of fear. 

Until half way through the last day.  We had been talking for an hour on something I did not want to talk about.  It was frustrating.  A guy kept asking questions that I felt was not important to what was pertinent.  I was not feeling very patient.  It was that, “Quit asking dumb stuff”, kind of attitude.  Then our Forum leader said, “Ok, are we good, everyone got it?  Let’s go on.”  I whispered under my breath, “Thank goodness, were finally going to get on with it.”  My cute little group leader sitting next to me whispered, “Melonie, self as others remember?  If someone in the group needed that and got something out of it, then we all got something out of it.  We are the group.”

Man that shot into my heart like a lazer.  I am the group!  I am no better or worse than anyone else.  If they need it, I need it!  I am just a unit in the whole. And this whole doesn’t lift, raise or increase if even one unit of the whole isn’t lifting, raising or increasing.  If they are successful, I am successful! If they hurt, then I hurt!  I am connected in a fundamental way to everyone around me; equally and completely.  We have a common fundamental thread of humanity.  We are ALL Children of God.  I am the group.  For the first time in my life, I saw myself not as an individual, but as just a part of the whole.  I had a powerful heart change.

So this is the rest of the story:

I woke up Monday morning after the seminar, late for Zumba (as I expressed in my earlier post), and headed off feeling really good.  I was on fire for all the great things I had learned over the weekend. 
As I got to Zumba I felt energy and freedom and so happy to be there.  As I started zumba-ing,  I heard the normal voice inside me saying, “Rats I’m late so I don’t have a front spot.”  (I hate being in the back).  Then I realized from my great training over the weekend, “NO, if she’s in the front, it’s just like you are in the front.”  We are the group. 

Then I heard the normal voice say, “I wish I had a better spot so I could see.”  I reminded myself that if she has a good spot, then I have a good spot.

It changed me so much to actually apply the thing I had learned in my everyday life.  I felt so glad that the girl in the front, had the front, and that the girl right in front of me had a better spot and could see.  I felt amazing.

Then I again realized that it isn’t enough for me to be feeling good.  That’s meaningless.  I have to effect this community and little world around me for good.  “But how am I going to do that?”  How do I take others with me in a Zumba class?  I was brave, this is what I did.  After the next set of songs there was a break in the music.  I actually started turning and yelling with my hands in the air, “We are so amazing!”  I even jumped up and down.  It was a little ridiculous but everyone started laughing and the whole room felt more friendly and energized. 

During the next break, after the next set of songs I started jumping again, (I couldn’t help it I felt so much amazing energy).   I yelled, “We are having the biggest victory, coming to Zumba early on a Monday morning!”  They all started jumping and yelling too.  The energy in the room again increased.  We were all yelling and jumping.  It was great. 

At the end we all were talking about how much fun we had and how great the teacher was.  And I understood.  True leadership means you take people with you.  It’s not enough for you “to be”, you have to help others “to be” also. 

And then the class ended and I looked around and sadly thought to myself, “I have been coming to Zumba off and on for two years now and I don’t even know one of your names.”  That was eye opening.

I realized one more thing.  I have been silently saying to strangers, “You all cost too much energy for me to talk to you.”  So I haven’t been extending myself very well since being home from the mission.  All my energy was going into surviving.  Even when I started feeling better, I think I was sub-consciously protecting my energy and just wouldn’t extend myself. 

But this day was different.  I was different.  I didn’t have to tell myself to do it.  I didn’t have to talk myself into anything.  I wanted to know these women who have been dancing next to me, so I talked to them, I asked them their names. I was unreasonable.  (That’s means I wasn’t doing my normal reasonable that keeps me the same.)  I talked, smiled, extended and it felt great.  It was amazing

Ok so I wrote that about a month ago.  Since then I have tried to become more aware of seeing myself as others, and I have learned a lot. 

My main take-aways are:

When I see others success as my own I feel so amazingly different.  It’s hard to explain, but it changes me instantly.  When someone else’s children are experiencing success, that’s my success.  When someone’s house or yard is clean and beautiful, that’s my success.  When someone else is getting a good education, a great job, a promotion, an award, the best spot, that is all of our success.  We are the group.  We are together.  We are not against each other.  We are not to compare or compete.  That is a barrier.  True leadership elevates others.  God’s way is truly that love that sees us as each other.  Self as Others.  We are the group.

This is the most life changing way of seeing people.

When I see myself as the group I no longer feel mad about the guy who just cut me off and then went slow, or the work and sacrifices I make that I don’t receive credit for, or even scared to write a blog post.  I am just a part in the whole. 

And it’s never enough for me to just be feeling and doing good. My improvement is really unimportant if it doesn’t translate into others improvement too.  True leadership is Godly work.  It means you are not successful if others are not successful.  If I don’t spread energy, confidence, ability, kindness, acceptance, and any other good thing, then it was kind of a waste.   Because it’s not about you, it’s about seeing your place in the whole and then lifting it; the partnership, the family, the group, the community, the society, the world.   You are an individual part in a whole.  What will you do to effect that whole?

I am not perfect at this.  But I love it and I want to continue to invite it to become a part of me.  It’s a beautiful way of being. 

Self as Others.

I am the group.  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Because I say so!

I woke up Monday morning and realized two things. 

Both things came from some training I received over the weekend at a seminar called Landmark. 

The first thing was what my language had done to me in the last twelve hours.  I was late for Zumba, and I had eaten a whole lot of chocolate covered raisins and peanut better pretzels the night before.  Both things I wasn’t too pleased about and they had happened simply because of words I had said to myself.  I said, “Wow you have gotten to bed so late the last three nights you should sleep in and not set your alarm.”  And the night before I said the words, “Wow you haven’t had any sugar for 4 days so you deserve to eat whatever’s available and it’s late and that’s what’s available so you get to eat that.”  I say things and then I have to live with the fallout from them, and then I say more stuff like, “What were you thinking?”  And it all started because I said the words.  I said so, so it was so.

The reason why this is important is because I had an, “ah-ha” moment during the seminar when they were teaching that anything that is real in life is born out of language; not to say it doesn’t exist, but that it becomes real for us through language.  It’s hard to understand, but saying something like, “that is a mountain, a street sign, a ball, etc only makes it so because we have all agreed those words should mean that.”  Even abstract things like I’m cold, hot, hungry, angry, etc is born out of language.  They exist but the actual words used to describe anything has arisen out of language.  Even the story I tell myself from, “what happened”, isn’t really real.  None of it is real.  It only becomes real once we attach language to it to describe it, tell it, and explain it to ourselves.  And when we are unhappy, afraid, or mad, boy do we tell it, over and over again using words we choose to make it real for ourselves. 

You may be thinking, “So what?”  Well, it’s actually very powerful.  I am the author of the words I use.  I “borned” them, or created them, or birthed them, or whatever word you prefer.  I like, “borned”.  And they are just words.  The words themselves don’t mean anything except for the value or symbol I have given to them. 

Something about understanding this has changed me.  They are just words.  “I don’t have enough money”, is just words, “I am tired”, is just words, “I can’t write in my blog, it won’t be good”, is just words.  People, they are just words!  They don’t even mean anything except for what I tell them to mean.  I have had a huge shift in thinking.  This understanding has made change seem so doable and easy.  I am the author of the words I use.  The meaning behind those words only have the power I give them.  They only mean what I create them to mean.

So when I got up and thought about the words I used and what I created because of them it was a powerful moment.  I can change words easily!  In the, “I’m late for Zumba” because I said the words, “It’s ok for me to sleep in”, moment, I decided to say the words, “its ok, I’m going to Zumba anyway”. And I went because I chose some different words.  Yesterday when I had the thought, “I just want to eat a whole lot of ice cream”, I thought, “I know how this works, I’m just going to change the words”, so I said, “I am going to eat a piece of gum, I love gum.”  Because I said it, I did it.  The only thing that is real is what I say is real.
I wrote that a few days ago and have been paying attention to my language and the meaning I attach to the words ever since, and I have to admit I am struggling.  I want to be powerful in my life where I always do what I know will bring me the greatest meaning, purpose, freedom and confidence.  I have wanted to watch TV and eat an entire half gallon of ice cream all day, just because I set a ton of goals this morning, and ever since I have been STRUGGLING!!  I have been forcing myself to keep going and getting the things done I set out to do and have been practicing saying more powerful words all along the way.  But what a struggle. 

What I have realized from this is that I have a strong way of being that fights against me being different.  I set goals to get the laundry done, clean the house, correct student’s lesson plans, eat healthy, write and post a blog entry.  Not that being busy is out of the ordinary but my state of being is freaking out for some reason.  It must have been the blog post idea.  I can hear the words all day long saying, “you’re tired you should take a nap, wouldn’t it be great to just sit and read a book, you don’t really want to write anything that takes up to much energy, I just want to watch a movie and eat ice cream!” 

Oh my gosh, my state of being is having a huge rebellion and fire hosing me with words of inability and weakness.

I am determined I will prevail!

I will finish correcting my lesson plans tonight and post a blog post tonight!  No matter what!  Because I say so!!!!

HHHMMMMM.  How is that for being in charge of the creation of my own language? 

…………....(So I said I wanted to write about two things but I will write about the other thing tomorrow.  And I will write another post tomorrow, no matter what because I say so!  So there.  That is really kicking my old self in the behind and using different words!)  Love it!!  I feel so much better.  I’m going to push the button now and feel awesome.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Grateful in all things

Gratitude is a form of repentance.

I’ve learned a lot about gratitude the last 4 years.  The things that happened to us surrounding our mission and after coming home have been my continual teacher.  It all started on the mission when so many hard things were happening with our family that I couldn’t see blessings.  I started to pray hard that I could, “Please let me see the blessings.”  Over time I realized I wasn’t necessarily receiving the blessings I wanted, but I was still being blessed; Meghan and Mitch moved out of our basement, but we were able to rent the basement, Ryan had to quit his job to finish his last year of classes which was stressful with a wife and baby, but we were able to give him a job doing yard work with the money we got from rent, Nathan was nose diving and we had no idea why, but we found out it was drugs and got him into a treatment center, we had two boys fall away from the church, but Meghan and Marissa got pregnant and two beautiful baby girls joined our family, etc.

At this time as I tried to focus on the blessings, it was an exercise of my mind to express gratitude and not think of the hard thing that was causing pain or stress.  As I expressed gratitude for blessings I always felt like it was a conduit to heaven.  The minute I started to place myself in a state of thanks I would immediately feel instant heaven.  It taught me a lot.  I was amazed at what gratitude could do to help me feel instantly changed.

Coming home seemed to continue the pattern.  My mother passed away shortly after we got home, but I was able to care for her for 3 weeks, Don developed Parkinson’s, but he is still doing well, I wanted Don to get a normal job or a real estate project, didn’t happen, but we have experienced miracles where our finances are concerned, etc.  Again it was such an exercise of faith for me.  I was in a world of hurt but kept trying to look for the blessings and expressing thanks. 

I can relate to Moroni, when he is talking about Alma’s experience, when they were put under bondage in the wilderness.  Here Alma is going against king Noah and all the other wicked priests and following after Abinadi. He is trying to do what is right, he is sacrificing his safety and comfort to bring others closer to Christ.  You would think God would make it easy and they would be blessed.  But instead they are found and put in bondage. 

Moroni says in Mos 23: 21-23 about Alma’s situation; the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and faith…..yet-whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day….for they were brought into bondage and none could deliver them but the Lord….
It tells me that trials are a very specific tool used to help us see and know God.  Think about it.  If everything was easy in our lives, we would never feel the need for a Savior, the gospel, or the need to turn to our Heavenly Father in prayer.  Trials put us in a state of vulnerability which makes us a little more tender and open; seeking and searching for understanding, comfort and strength.  It drives us to our knees with more intention and purpose; seeking our Heavenly Fathers assistance.

Times like these give our God a chance to show himself.  We come to know God in our extremities.
In the next chapter Alma himself talks about what God promised them, “…….I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me here after, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”  He is saying, “You will have trials, and if you will stay with me through it, you’ll come out knowing me better and being able to witness of me.

It’s the same way with Ammon.  In Alma 26:35, Ammon is expressing his profound gratitude to God for all those trials and sacrifice they went through on their 15 year mission, “we have suffered all manner of afflictions that we might be the means of saving some souls….” 

Ammon says perfectly what happened to them because they stuck with God, had faith in Him through it all, and were able to see the blessings even though they suffered and everything didn’t make perfect sense; Alma 26:35, now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my god; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.

What I see in that verse is amazing.  They had these trials, they suffered, God saw fit to try their patience, and some of their people even died.  And because of it they came to know their God profoundly; intimately.  So much so that they described him as – “all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being even unto salvation……” but,

It takes humility and repentance to come to that kind of knowledge.

The very same sentence he adds, “….to those who will repent and believe on his name.”

I think it is hard to be humble.  That may just be me, but I think it's hard to be soft and open when your in the middle of trials!  But it is the answer that will solve problems, it brings the ability to hear the answers God is communicating and the willingness to believe and follow those answers.

This is the important part.  Repentance comes from the Greek words: meta=change of form, and noval=mind, knowledge, spirit, breath, (meaning life).    When we change our form to be in a state of gratitude we are actually repenting.  The natural man is never grateful!  The natural man is an enemy to God.  He can’t feel the spirit in his state of seeking the will of his flesh, his way and his expectations.

Gratitude as a state of repentance means change from the natural way.  It is not easy amidst pain, doubt, confusion, and hurt to repent! To be grateful!  Yet what God promises is that if we will be humble and repent he will show His power to us and we will come to know him.  This knowledge isn’t free.  There is a price to know God.

What I know is that this is true.  I have been hearing God say for years, “Hold on I’ll get you there.”
What I know now better, is that He is all power, all wisdom, all understanding and merciful.  He knows a lot more than I do.   And I also know he is very, very patient.  I’m sad he has had to exercise so much patience with me and it has taken me such a long time to stop asking why, and just decide it doesn’t matter.  Gratitude is the step that has gotten me through the pain to the other side. 

I choose faith and trust.  With all my heart I choose God.  When I feel a question forming, I just lay it aside and think, it doesn’t matter, I choose God, I want to live by faith and I don’t care about anything else. 

One more scripture that I feel is perfect when talking about gratitude is,  Alma 26, 29…..if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another--- I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another-I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

What I really feel is no matter how much confusion, darkness or trial there is in life, if we will be humble and create a grateful heart inside, we will be closer to heaven, see more clearly, recognize the miracles and realize we are unprofitable servants as we become more intimately acquainted with God.  Depending on what we go through it may take time to get here, but it's the best feeling in the world to be on the other side, back to simple faith.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Back to Hope

Back to hope.  
I love this title, “Back to Hope.”  It’s the most beautiful Christmas message I could give.  Christ’s entire role was, and is, to give hope; hope to a world, to families and to individuals.  My journey to understanding the hope Christ offers has been intense the last few years.  “Back to Hope”, implies a loss of hope and that is regrettably something that I went through last year, and something I constantly work at keeping this year.  For this Christmas message of hope I need to lay some ground work.  I will do that on speed dial.

I never fully understood hope when it was taught in our Sunday School class when I was young.  I remember thinking, “I don’t get this, why do we even need to teach this.  We all have hope; it’s just a part of life.”  I didn’t understand than how vital hope is to a happy, satisfying life and that hope really can be lost.

About 2 years ago, when we still had about 6 months left on our mission, so many things in our family were going wrong.  We found out the reason Nathan was struggling so much was because of drugs.  Jordan was coming home from his mission because his back pain and anxiety had gotten to a debilitating level.  Meghan and Mitch were not happy living in our basement and wanted to move out, leaving us with no one to take care of our house or yard.  Ryan’s job couldn’t work with his class schedule during his last year of school so he had to quit his job when he was newly married and just had his first child.  And, our basement flooded!

It sounds weird to have all of those things happening at the same time and that’s exactly how we felt, “This is weird!”

Regrettably, I started telling myself a story.  I tried to get rid of it, but the little whisper kept coming into my mind over and over, “God won’t bless Us.”  It sounds like such a simple statement, no big deal.  But it lead to such a feeling of hopelessness.  I fought against the feelings constantly.  I was on my knees constantly.  But the story kept coming into my mind.

Some of the problems worked out.  Our basement was miraculously healed of mold and water damage.  (I wrote about that miracle and this time on the mission in an earlier post titled, God: “I’m here, hold on, you’re going to be ok.”).  We decided to rent the basement and with that money was able to hire Ryan to do yard work so we were able to give him a job.  The move for Mitch and Meghan turned out to be an amazing blessing for them.  But the struggles Na and Jo were having were just scratching the surface and the situation got brutal for us.

I know that, “man does not comprehend all that God comprehends”.  So, I put my trust in the Lord and kept working while we were serving.  I found a prayer that really helped and I prayed it literally 10 times a day, “Please help me see the blessings.”  Again, such a simple statement, but it really helped me so much.  In the mist of huge trials I had my eyes opened to the little blessings that were there.

Health to Jordan and Nathan wasn’t miraculously restored.  But, I literally saw miracles that helped us help them.  (I would like to write about those miracles someday, but not today. But I will mention one miracle we saw over and over): 

The Lord worked through us on our mission in a way we couldn’t deny. When you’re strong and things go well, it’s easy to think, it’s you.  But when you’re weak and things go well, you know, it’s all Him.  Our lives were falling down around us and yet, whenever the time came to speak, train or teach we would literally feel a calm come over us and words and thoughts come into our minds and a literal power come into our bodies and minds that left no doubt for us that we were just vessels for the Lord to do His work.  I would often get done with some talk or training and look to heaven and think, “Wow Lord, you did great, that was awesome!”  Then I would quietly whisper my thanks, because I absolutely knew it wasn’t me. 

The Lord took over and in a very real way made our mission His.  I couldn’t bear a strong enough testimony of the Lord’s power to help us do His work, or a strong enough testimony of his mercy and kindness to us when we aren’t quite up to the task at hand, even though we would like to be. 
 Even though the Lord got us through the mission, when we came home it all got worse.  (I’ll just keep it short and say that.)

I struggled with that little voice whispering, “God won’t bless US.”  I also struggled with thoughts of, “Why, Why, Why.”  Why was Nathan born gay?  What a hard thing to live with.  Why was he given that?  Why does Jordan have anxiety and depression that is rocking his whole world?  Why did Don develop health problems days after coming home?  Why couldn’t we find a project or a full time job?  Lots of little whys went along with those big whys.  (I have a very strong testimony that “why” questions take us away from God.  They are a barrier between us and Him.)  
I humbly admit I was in a bad way.  I prayed, I served at the MTC, we went to the temple, I read my scriptures, I focused on pulling our family back together, and I still felt such a feeling of loss and hopelessness.  I discovered how vital hope is in feeling happiness, motivation, and a sense of well-being.  Hope is everything!  It really drives us and you never know that more profoundly than when you don’t have it.

Even though my world was upside down and me with it, I didn’t lose my desire to pray.  I knew God was the answer.  I just had to figure out how to let him help me.

My journey back to hope was foundational and built in layers. It did not happen all at once.  I had to learn, get rid of hardness and be patient.   As I prayed I could hear the spirit of God whisper, “Hold on, I’ll get you there”, when I would ask the “why” questions.  When I would feel the struggle of serving at the MTC it was, “I know what you need, more than you know what you need.”  With the questions about Nathan and Jordan I heard, “Respect each person’s journey. This is not about you.  Trust me.”  When I felt, “This plan stinks!  I can’t wait until this pain and suffering is over. Why did I ever agree to this?!”  I felt God say to me, “This pain and suffering will help you understand a little of your Savior’s pain and suffering and others pain also.”  When I would go to that dark place of, “how is this ever going to be ok.  How am I ever going to feel happiness, peace or joy again?”  The spirit would whisper, “It will be ok.  You’ll be ok.  Everything will be ok in the end.”  Man, I would reject that one fast.  I couldn’t hold on to that.  How could anything ever be ok again?  My heart was so heavy, I couldn’t really hold on to any of these spiritual messages for very long.  I couldn’t keep them in my heart.  But I kept hearing them and I kept praying and I kept holding on and trying to stay with him.  I prayed, I read, I served, I repented, and gradually I started to work; work on moving forward and not just staying afloat.

My journey to hope and faith and strength and motivation and energy and power in God’s strength and healing is so multi-faceted:

It was discovering gratitude for what’s been given.

It was purging and repenting of any kind of negativity towards myself, others and God.  The refiner’s fire is such a painful experience but so amazing too.  When you are in survival mode you can’t hide things you didn’t even know you were hiding.  Every negative, dark thing inside of you has to come up and out.  Then the Savior can take it away and you’re left with a better version of self. 

It was becoming humble enough to see things in a more eternal perspective: God really will wipe every tear, make all things fair in the end, and turn all things too good for those who love him. 

It was letting the “whys” rest. 

It was coming to a place of recognition of untrue stories I was telling myself that kept me from coming to God and truly turning to Him. 

It was choosing to stay with Him; to keep listening to Him, holding on to his promises and whisperings the best I could.

And, it was working, accomplishing and creating energy every day by focusing on the little successes.

I still don’t know the answers, but I know God knows.  I trust my Heavenly Father, my Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  They know and so I don’t need too.  That is true trust.  I feel like I am on a tight rope, balancing, moving forward slowly, totally focused on God who stands straight ahead of me, across the space.  I can feel that if I look to the side or down I lose my way instantly.  If I think of why this was given to us, I fall.  Or, if I think of how will this ever work out or be fair, I fall.  If I think of the “what ifs”, I fall.  By, fall, I mean I feel discouraged, depressed, anxious, worried, doubtful, etc.  I fall to the thoughts born of the adversary, the world and my own natural man. 

But I know and have felt over and over that when I focus on God and trust in his perfect knowledge and plan I move forward with happiness and peace.  When I am able to focus on God and His messages of hope, I live.  I have energy.

Christ makes it possible to not just survive, but thrive.   I know this is true.  I feel whole.  I feel confident and not worried.  That’s amazing.  It’s like a miracle……

I am so full of hope now.  I can’t tell you what a miracle that is. Nothing has changed.  Not one thing is different.  But God has done a work in my life to change me.  I know we can all feel strong, confident, hope and peace because of Christ.  He is hope.  His message is hope.  I trust that because of Him we will receive mercy in this life and in the next.  Things really will be ok.

Our journeys are individual.  They can be amazingly hard and painful.  But the Lord will bring us to love, faith and knowledge of Him if we let Him. I know He truly is the way.  I encourage staying with God.  Try gratitude, humility, listening, repenting, and trusting.  Lay to rest the whys, what ifs and how’s.  

Elder Uchtdorf said in October Conference, “We will not only be satisfied with the judgment of God; we will also be astonished and overwhelmed by His infinite grace, mercy, generosity, and love for us, His children.”

The most beautiful Christmas message I could give is that He lives.  If we will pay attention to what is keeping us from God, and get rid of that, He will do a work in our lives that is a miracle.  He can change our heart, He can strengthen us, and He can give us peace.  Our beautiful Savior, saves. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My path to deeper faith.

At our mission reunion a few months ago I wanted to share a message.  I didn’t really feel like it went very well though. It was a big group, we were outside, and there was some other distractions going on.  What I really wanted to communicate was something about faith that is deeper than I have ever understood before.  It’s personal and important to me so I thought I would write it to you in hopes that you will read it and understand.    To make it as meaningful to you as I would like it to be, (because I think the message is important), I need to be honest about what we’ve been going through.

I am realizing in my life I secretly thought everything would always work out; like even though you know life is full of struggles and trials my secret heart had a plan that went something like: all my kids would be physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy, get good grades, go to college, and get married and have kids.  I thought we would always be financially blessed and have a job.  I thought we would be physically healthy and always be able to fix anything that came our way.  You know, the usually stuff, right?

I don’t think we know anything really until we experience it for ourselves.

I never thought I would have a gay son who would become addicted to meth.  I never thought I would have another son have depression and anxiety so bad that he would feel abandoned by God and us and leave the church.  I never thought Don’s health would deteriorate within days of us returning home from our mission. I never thought my mother would die weeks after returning home from our mission.  And I never considered it would be so hard to find full time work after coming home from our mission.

I have been in a world of hurt and in a refiner’s fire that seems to have been going on for years now.  It felt like we were in the frying pan on our mission as we dealt with a lot of it while we were serving, but then we jumped right into the fire when we got home.   I didn’t even care what I was supposed to be learning from all of it for almost the first year after returning home.  My energy was in surviving and holding on, certainly not in learning anything from it.  But in the last 6 months I have adjusted a little and have been seeking after what the Lord wants me to gain from all of this life stuff; to bring meaning to it all. So here it is:

I feel I’ve been learning a layer of submission to God’s will that is very deep and requires a great amount of faith and trust.  I haven’t been pleased about it, perfect at it, or graceful through it.  I think I have screamed, cried, begged, blamed, and even withdrawn through it all.  This layer of submission has required a price from me that I could never have understand in those easier days when I prayed, “Thy will be done” and “Please help me be what I need to be to live with thee again.”  In the very deepest times of my sorrow I couldn’t even believe I ever prayed stuff like that.  I obviously had no idea what kind of price that would entail.  I certainly know I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what I was raising my hand to and shouting about when I wanted to come down to earth and experience all these things for myself.    But here I am experiencing what I asked for.

I thought I was doing good at being good, obedient, serving, loving and trusting. But as I look back even that was easy, when things were easy.  But what I’m coming to understand is there is a different level of obedience, serving, loving and trusting required when things aren’t going well.   It’s a refiners fire to trust when prayers don’t seem to be answered, obedient when expected blessings don’t happen, serving when everything you’ve worked and sacrificed for falls apart, and loving when loved ones who are free to choose, chose something so opposite than what you stand for.

I think God has been trying to teach me a different layer of understanding of His plan and His will.  I read a book by Neil A. Maxwell called “Not My Will, But Thine”, (The Christ like path of submission to God’s will).   He said something that hit me so hard, “Faith is strongest when it is without illusion”.  This speaks to my very heart and soul.  He says in these few words what I would try to say in volumes and still not speak very well about.  It seems to me my whole life is being wrapped around this principle.  “Faith is strongest when it is without illusion.”

I think my faith was kind of na├»ve before.  It’s easy to have faith when prayers are answered, you can see blessings, things fall into place like you think they will.  Looking back I kind of think I have been in a bubble my whole life. Prayers were answered, things turned out, stuff fell into place, problems were solved, I thought something and it seemed like I could make it happen.  Yes, I had trials and challenges, definitely.  But I faced them, worked on them, prayed for help, and got through them, and learned stuff along the way.  Elder Maxwell calls that kind of life, K-12, lessons and experiences.  In 1 Corinthians 10:13 it says, “We undergo afflictions such as are common to man”.  That was what I think I was living; afflictions that were common to man.  But Elder Maxwell says, “God will deliberately give us further lessons and experience which take us beyond the curriculum common to man and on into uncommon graduate studies or even post-doctoral discipleship.  These trials are often the most difficult to bear.”

I feel like that!  I am not in elementary school anymore.  I hope this is post-doctoral work in my life though and it won’t get any worse! 

Hold on tight because, if “Faith is strongest when it is without illusion” then we can know that is what the Lord wants to take us all too.  Faith without illusion.

So my message to you is this: Faith is not in a certain outcome happening in your life.  Faith is not in people, things, events or blessings.  You may not get married.  Will you still be faithful?  You may not get that certain job.  Will you still believe?  You may not be able to have children, your parents or siblings may die, your health may fail.  You’re belief in a God who loves you cannot be based on those things happening in your life!  He does love you.  He is real and knows you.  But He won’t always babysit you through life.  He won’t always make it easy to believe.

My testimony has become this and this only: My Faith and Hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ that all things will work together for good to those that love Him.  I am learning that that is the sure foundation.  Any other faith will fail.  You will be tossed to and fro if your faith is on something happening in your life the way you think it should happen. 

My message is: You can trust Him.  You must trust Him.  He is the way for all things to work for your good, no matter what you go through.  Hold on, He will get you there.  If you will ask and Listen, He will speak and you can receive guidance and direction that will get you back to peace, strength, confidence, happiness.

Elder Maxwell says it like this, “We submit to God because He is God.  We may safely and rationally do so because He is perfect-perfect in the attributes of love, mercy, justice, knowledge, patience and so forth.”  

I think the path to faith without illusion can be devastating, heart breaking and full of anguish as to what is happening to us and around us.  But we can still know that God loves us, we can communicate with him, and he has given us a Savior and the Holy Spirit that will help us in all things. 

What we become will be the evidence that we were, “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon the children of men, even as a child doth submit to his father: (Mos 3:19)   
I haven’t been able to write in this blog for 16 months.  I have had a block against it.  It has had something to do with surviving, no energy, no desire, nothing to say and my old pal, fear.  But I have learned so much along this journey. I believe the Lord with all my heart.  I know that I believe Him.  He has told me a thousand times in the last 3 years, “Hold on, I’ll get you there.”  And He has. 

Nothing in my situation has changed. At least nothing on the outside has changed.   But I have changed.  I’m not surviving anymore.  I’m good.  Life is so good.  I’ve actually learned a lot.  And He has done that.  I can finally hold on to the whispering in my heart that says, “It will all be ok in the end.”  That is exactly what Christ’s promise is: With Him we won’t have to suffer as He suffered, His chastisement will bring us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  I’m not saying it is always easy.  I would never say that.  But I’m saying, “If you will hold on He will get you to peace, understanding and healing.  And that is everything.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Me, My Mother and the Mission

I have received a huge blessing from Heavenly Father.  My mother lived to see me come home from my mission and I was able to care for her before she died.  I felt the Lords hand blessing me intimately and personally during the 21 days I took care of her.  Each moment, each bit of service I felt was so sacred and such a gift.  It was exactly what I had prayed for.  It wasn’t easy, but I knew every day was a gift God was personally giving me as evidence of His knowledge of me and my mother.  I missed out on being here to help her in the last year of her life after she was diagnosed with lung cancer, when she really needed me.  But I felt the Lord prolonged her life and granted my desire to be able to care for her, at least a little while before she died.  That was exactly what I prayed for and exactly what was granted.  I want to write about me, my mother and the mission and bear testimony of the reality of our Heavenly Fathers hand that grants blessings.

Around March of last year my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.  If she did all the chemotherapy they wanted her to have she would have 1 to 2 years to live.  After just 4 treatments she decided she would rather die with good quality of life than continue on with those sickening treatments.  She went on Hospice in June of last year with the expectation of 6 months to live.  Being on a mission and only having seen her once in the two previous years, this was particularly devastating for me.

I started praying continuously for the blessing of my mother living until I got home and that I would have some time to care for her before she died.  She prayed for herself to live until I got home also, (I don’t think she ever thought of me or anyone else caring for her though, she would not want anyone to have to care for her!)  She faced her cancer head on with a positive strength that it would not beat her until she was ready to go.  She would always say she was good when asked, and keep working and moving as if nothing were wrong.  She cared for my ailing father for nine more months, made large amounts of food to feed the neighborhood, kept running her own errands and driving everywhere as if nothing was going to get her down.  She wouldn’t even entertain thoughts that she wasn’t going to make it until I got home.  She told her hospice nurse she really didn’t believe that she had cancer, she just felt too good.

In Nov of last year she told the hospice people she was going to live until July when I would be home.  The hospice people said, “Sure Lucy, whatever you say,” while inside they were thinking no way is that going to happen.

A month before we were to leave our mission my mother started to decline to the point of not being able to care for herself.  She went to live with my sister, Teresa who promptly fell and fractured her pelvis in four places.  Then my good brother-in-law, John, who was trying to care for both Teresa and mom, injured his knee and had to have surgery on it.  Eventually I decided I needed to go home 11 days early from the mission and care for my mom and give my desperate family a break.  When I got there I met Janine, her hospice nurse, she said, “It gives me goose-bumps Melonie that you’re actually standing here and your mom is still alive.  It’s a miracle.  She kept telling us it was going to happen, but we never believed it.  Her prayers have been answered.”  I cared for my mom for 4 days and then went back to finish our last week of our three year service in the WA Spokane Mission.

Don and I finished our last week in the mission and came home together three weeks ago.  Leaving a mission is not easy, but we felt as the last week approached that we were done.  A feeling settled over us that we were finished and it was time for us to go.   I knew my mother was declining rapidly and I felt anxious to get home as we finished up that week and readied the mission for the Dymocks to take over.

Within hours of arriving home we moved into my mother’s condo and took over full-time care of her.  She was so grateful to be able to come home. She was so positive and grateful for anything that was done for her.  The last thing my mom ever wanted was to be a burden.  She would say, “I am so sorry you have to take care of me.”  But what I felt and expressed to her was that I had prayed for this.  This was a blessing.  Every day, every moment of care for her, for me, was a sacred blessing from God.  God was showing His hand to me every day of the 3 weeks I cared for her.  I can’t explain it very well, but I felt the time was sacred, a partnership between me, God and her. It was hard, but it was a prayer that was being granted by a loving Heavenly Father.  God knew me, and I felt every day he was telling me He knew me.

What I have learned through this last year is that there are many things we pray for that can’t be granted.  When I pray for things that involve someone else’s free agency God can’t grant those prayers.  He can send people to influence or angels to minister, but he protects others free agency with the utmost respect. He wants to bless us and will at every opportunity though. He is eager to do so.  God does not begrudgingly grant tender mercies, he is not hesitant or indecisive in his willingness to be merciful.  His anger is slow and hard to be released, and his mercy functions on a hair trigger.  “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6)

As I watched my mother’s body fail her I felt I was offering a consecrated service to care for her at such a vulnerable time.  As I watched her spirit try to disconnect from her body I gained a new perspective on how death is the last work we do in this life.  It was a labor she was performing; work and labor was what kept coming to my mind as she struggled to die. But just like birth, when there is a beautiful baby at the end of labor, I know there is also a beautiful gift at the end of the labor of death, which is amazing peace and rest from the cares of this life.  I know when she walked through that door she was free, her work was finished.  She had performed her work here on the earth and returned home.  It was such a blessing.

I saw my mother filled with gratitude, love and kindness as she faced death.  She was extremely graceful as she looked at cancer and her passing.  I didn’t receive every blessing I wanted on my mission. But I received so many that my heart is full.  I can see.  I know.  His love and life are a reality.  I love my Heavenly Father, my Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and all that they offer us, just to help us.  They are not here to be a burden, but to lift, love, bless and give, if we will but receive what they offer. 

President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., testified: “You know, I believe that the Lord will help us. I believe if we go to him, he will give us wisdom, if we are living righteously. I believe he will answer our prayers. I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of his children. I do not think he intends to shut any of us off because of some slight transgression, some slight failure to observe some rule or regulation. There are the great elementals that we must observe, but he is not going to be captious about the lesser things.  I believe that his juridical concept of his dealings with his children could be expressed in this way: I believe that in his justice and mercy, he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.” 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My last day, my last sharing, and my last testimony as a missionary.

This morning I woke up and had a tremendous sense of gratitude fill my heart.  It would be the last day I would spend in the mission home.  I thought about how many times I have lain in this bed in the early morning hours and had spiritual insight given to me in dramatic ways: trainings clearly come into my mind that I would be giving that day, things to say to help missionaries, and insights into my own struggles that were amazing answers to prayer.
So many memories were flooding my mind this morning and every one of them I remember feeling the Lord was showing himself to me because He loves His missionaries, love me, and needed me to be able to do my job with his blessing. 
How many times have I rolled over in the morning and prayed in this room and felt light given, knowledge imparted and strength granted so I could get up and go.  How many times have I laid there and looked up at the ceiling and thought of all the things I’m so grateful for, or cried about something.  And how many times have I come to this room, exhausted and just been so glad to get into the bed and give it all to the Lord and rest.  As I thought about it all this morning I thought about all the Dymocks will go through in this room, and all the mission presidents past who have prayed, wept, and called down the powers of heaven to help them in this bedroom.  I felt kind of like all of those experiences were showing themselves to me and I felt so grateful.
I feel this is a sacred home.  I can just imagine 30 years of spiritual light being shed on the mission presidents in various ways.  The Lord truly has revealed himself to me in this house, especially in the living room.  So many testimonies have been born in the living room: departing missionaries full of strength and confidence as they have finished their service and felt the Lord’s gratitude, and incoming missionaries who have born humble testimonies who have been full of trepidation and exhaustion. It is such a sacred house.  I’m so grateful for all the spiritual experiences that have happened here for the last 30 years and for all that the Dymocks will experience in the future. And now we are leaving.  My heart is so full of love and gratitude for the Lord and all he does to help us when we try to serve him.
The last post I shared was what my last training was when we had, “Muffins with the Mullens”.  But we also gave the missionaries our, “last advice.” I thought about what I would leave them with.  I felt I had shared my heart and mind with them completely, so what could I possible say.  I decided to try to summarize what I have learned on my mission. This is knowledge that goes deep into my heart and I thought it would be the best thing to share.  Here it is:
First: You can’t see the way the Lord sees.  You just can’t.  You’re not as good as he is.  You don’t understand the way he thinks and you don’t have the perspective he possesses.  You aren’t capable of seeing, understanding and knowing all that God does.  Just accept that and trust him.  That is my first bit of advice, just trust in the Lord.  He knows, sees and understands better than you.  He is aware of you and He does have a plan.  Just decide you’ll trust him even though you don’t see the plan, and then you don’t have to worry about everything else.
Next is repent.  I don’t mean just repent for sin.  Repentance is for anything you need it to be that takes you away from the spirit.  It’s allowing the atonement to work in your life to change you.  Repent of needing to be the center of attention, to be seen of man, needing your own way, to be right, for fear, hardness, bitterness and even worry.  You can repent of all of it and give it to Christ. It means change every day from what the natural man pulls you too.
I don’t think of, “I do so much and Christ does the rest.”  I think of Christ and I as a team, joined at the hip.  He is the strong, best, part of us.  It’s not fair, but I hand him all of that pull of the natural man I go through during the day.  That pull to be: negative, critical, prideful, fearful, etc.  I give it to him, hand it to him, slide it over to him, and ask for his atoning blood to be applied in my life.  He is the strong, capable, good, part of us.  I just accept that I am the weak link, and let him have all that is trying to get at my heart that may defile me.
When I live with Christ like this; wanting to constantly change to be in line with God, then I become empty of myself.  God can’t do a lot with me if I am so full of myself. I have to get out of the way for him to be able to do anything with me.  That change; called repentance, empties us of ourselves so we can create a place for God.  When we are empty of our expectations, our fear, need to be valued, our judgments, our irritation, anger, and needing things our way, then we have made a space for him.
Then the third thing to do is wait.  Wait on the Lord.  He can’t give you everything at once.  Not because of him but because of you.  You learn line upon line.  He will give you layers of understanding as you stay soft and open creating a place for him, and then wait.  The first layer may just be the whispering of, “hold on, stay with me, I’ll get you there.”  The next spiritual whispering may be pray to see blessings.  Then what may come to you is another layer of something that you need to repent of to stay soft and open.  The next thing he may teach you is to be grateful and think and pray with gratitude in your heart.  After you’ve worked on that for a while you may receive the layer of stop seeing through the world’s eyes and valuing the things of the world.  Then you may come to accept the Lord’s will and just value what he has given and feel grateful for all He has done for you.  And then when your finally there, you’re at peace, he gives you the answer, the healing, the clam comfort.  And you know it’s going to be ok, it will all work out in the end, that’s when you’ve changed in a sacred way.  This kind of change is hard fought and it is absolutely sacred.  Sacred because of the price paid and the work the God head has done for you to receive it.
When your there, at peace, knowledge, and strength, then you’ve had the mysteries of God unfolded to you.  He has revealed himself to you and then you’ve bonded yourself to him.  You see more like He sees, you understand a little more like He understands, and you know more of what He knows.  You’ve allowed Him to reveal himself to you and you’re bonded to Him.  What a beautiful process He allows.  It takes spiritual work on our part and His. 

So Trust in the Lord, Repent, and Wait. Pay attention while he teaches you in layers and gets you where he wants you to go.  This is the gospel of Christ.  My testimony is God lives.  I don’t need to know everything I just need to Trust, Repent and Wait while He does his work in my life.  I am deeply grateful for all he has allowed to happen to me, to our missionaries, to our converts and to our members in the Washington Spokane Mission over the last 3 years.  Love to you all.