Sunday, May 24, 2015

Learning to approach the alter of His grace with gratitude for my part and portion.

I have written about being able to see and recognize blessings in previous blogs.  I am learning a new layer about gratitude now though that is changing my life.  I thought I knew about this before my mission, but I think I am learning this layer of gratitude on a whole new level.  I am learning to not just be grateful for blessings, but to actually be accepting and grateful for who I am and what I can give with the Lords help.  I know that sounds weird to us women, (and men too); to actually be accepting and grateful for who we are and what we can give. But I hope I can share what I am learning in such a way as to give this amazing treasure to you.

I expressed in my last blog that I stopped writing for a time because I felt like the pain and loss I was experiencing left me with nothing to write about.  I had lost hope.  I was letting despair and doubt get to me.  I started studying hope and the change inside of me was amazing.  But there was something else there too.  I started to pay attention to what started it, what made me lose my peace in the first place.  It was a subtle thing I hadn’t even realized was causing a loss of the spirit.  I discovered what my problem was and where it started.

A month or so ago the reality of going home had hit me and I filled my mind with of all the things I wish we had done, what I wish we could have accomplished, what I wish would have happened, questions of did we do enough, work hard enough, and had we really accomplished all the Lord had in mind for us.  I kept repenting over and over, thinking of everything we could have, should have, or would have done, when I prayed.  A lot of it was things I didn’t even have control over, but I just felt so bad I kept talking to the Lord about it, filling my heart and mind with the negative.

I have to just laugh at myself because I think of how many departing missionaries have come to council with me about this very thing and I have had all the answers: “You’ve done a great job, look at what you did do and not what you didn’t do, your mission isn’t the end of your life, you are an unfinished project and your mission is not the end of your progress, and let God’s love and gratitude into your heart and know He is pleased.”  Yet here I am at the end, and I am doing the exact same thing! It makes me just laugh at myself.  I really wonder if the Lord puts me through these things on purpose so I can understand, love and teach better as I learn for myself. 

Anyway it’s weird, but this is why I’ve been struggling so much. I kept coming to prayer with this feeling of wishing and wanting this perfect mission and feeling so much regret.  I was filling myself with a weight and burden that was exhausting to bear.  Wow.  When am I ever going to completely learn that I am not perfect, things are not perfect, life isn’t perfect and people aren’t perfect?  I know it in my mind and I think I am ok with it but then I have another experience like this and realize I’m still doing it.  I just want everything to be good, true, right, strong, brave, done, and prepared.  (Notice I didn’t put down clean and pretty, I don’t have those two tendencies, regrettablyJ). But this is how the adversary got to me and it made me vulnerable to the other hard things going on, weakening my strength.

Then we had new missionary training two weeks ago and my inspired husband again came up with doctrine he wanted to do for the training that was perfect for me.  We studied 2 talks about gratitude and discussed them with the new missionary’s at their training. Pres Monson shared a story about George and the oil lamps vs. electricity.  Something in the story touched me deeply.  That night I came to prayer just thinking about all the Lord had given to us and decided to only express gratitude for it.  I felt so different.  I can’t even express the magnitude of change I felt.  It was huge.  I felt the spirit so strongly and felt my Heavenly Fathers love so powerfully, just by thinking and opening up myself to the good we had done.  Pres Monson in his talk said giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.  I experienced that for myself instantly and knew it was true.   I recognized I wasn’t looking at all we had accomplished, what did happen, the spirit we felt, the good we did, all the people we had talked to and seeds we had planted. I was just looking at the lack.  I have literally trained or talked about not doing this at least a million times to missionaries in the last 3 years. Yet I was doing it. It has drained me, worn me out and caused deep unhappiness inside of me during those weeks.  Those feelings made me susceptible to the other negative things creeping in.  I asked the Lord about it and realized I wasn’t grateful for all He had given, I was just wishing for more.

As I was praying this thought struck me:  “Melonie, there is always more to do, you’ve never done it all, been it all, accomplished it all, or become it all.  You know it in your mind, but you do not really understand or believe it in your heart. There are a hundred things you could do on a mission, but you are only going to be able to do 50.  Are you going to chose to look at the 50 things you did do, or the 50 things you didn’t? Your life will always be like this; so much you can see that could be done, but not possible to do it all, so accept what you can do and be grateful!  And then apply the atonement to all those other things.  You have a savior to cover all the rest.”

It shot into my heart that it was pride that caused me to look at the 50 things we didn’t do.  I know the Lord has blessed us with so much on this mission.  I remember every training walking away feeling that it was good and the Lord had made a great work happen.  So many conversations with missionaries that helped them and I felt the Lord had blessed me to know things to ask and things to say that made a huge difference.  The Lord had blessed me with love so that I could be patient when I was exhausted, or keep going when I was drained.  I knew it, but I was pushing it away, like it wasn’t enough for me.  I think because of pride, I wanted more.  It makes me cry to think that I was looking past all He had done for us and was only thinking of what didn’t happen.  How prideful of me to negate all that the Lord had given.  I didn’t even realize while I was repenting of all we hadn’t done that I should have been repenting of not accepting what the Lord had allowed.   What I learned in my heart was that I need to be humble and thank the lord for what we did accomplish, the spirit we had, the great trainings we gave, the ways we did help, and the work that did go forth.  And stop worrying if it was good enough.  That is just pride. 

Now, every day I approach the alter of His grace with gratitude in my heart.  I feel so amazing.  I am so grateful for this wonderful experience.  I am so grateful for all He allowed us to do.  I feel so accepting of who we are and what we did. That is huge for me!  I am profoundly grateful for this learning. Every time I start to feel those feelings come back during the day, of: “we should have done this, why didn’t we do that, why didn’t we know this in the beginning, I wish I was….” I stop myself and offer a prayer of gratitude for what the Lord helped us do, made us into, inspired us to say, strengthened us to accomplish, and the opportunity to work with Him through it all.   I have this feeling that this was His mission and we are His.  He allowed us to do a part and a portion with Him.  I am so changed as I feel grateful for the portion and feel I don’t need any more.   I’m good.

I feel this is a principle for life no matter what the circumstance.  It is humbling to be accepting.  I have never understood before that gratitude is humility.  I want to keep acceptance of what the Lord grants, gives and His timing in it all, and not need more, as part of my life forever.  I really do feel it has opened the windows of heaven and I can feel God’s love as I work to invite gratitude and acceptance into my heart all day long through prayer.  I love this gospel and I love the Lord.  He is so good.   

Go here to listen to Pres. Monson’s talk:
Go here to listen to Pres Uchtdorf’s talk:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hope changes everything

I remember growing up and having lessons on hope.  I never could get it.  I specifically remember feeling so much frustration that I couldn’t quite get it.  It seemed so obvious to me it was like, DUH, why are we talking about this; people breathe we don’t need to be taught to breathe, why are we being taught about hope?   I think as a child I had so much hope I couldn’t quite understand why we talked about it or what we were suppose to learn about it.  It was such a part of life for me.  It is ironic to me that learning about hope now in my life is probably one of the most profound learning experiences of my life.  Let me explain a little.

I am not really sure where to start.  My purpose in writing this blog is to bring others closer to Christ, by sharing my own experiences of coming closer to Christ myself.  Sometimes when you’re in the midst of a hard trial it’s not very enlightening or edifying to hear someone talk about it!  So I have not felt able to write anything.  I feel so sad that I didn’t write the first 2 years of our mission when we were in a little spiritual bubble, protected from the cares of the world, and felt so filled and full of the spirit constantly. I had so much I could have written about.  It would have been easier and less vulnerable for me.  But I am doing it now so I have to be grateful for what I am doing and not wishing for something else.  But the contrast is HUGE.  Life now feels like we are being hit from all sides and I feel vulnerable and exposed when writing because of all we are going through.  But I still feel compelled to write, so I’ll keep trying.

The reality of life can be hard and painful and it hurts to face trial and pain without the spirit’s healing power, buffering strength or calm assurance.  I have learned so much about how investigators feel, missionary’s feel and God’s children feel when they face things on their own without the power of God being carried by the spirit to help them. 

I think sometimes God carries us and I think sometimes we are allowed to feel the full force of life being thrown at us.  I don’t know if it’s God’s way of teaching us so sometimes he retreats, or if we do it to ourselves by drawing away from Him because of pain and hurt.  I suspect when I am in the middle of it I think God has abandoned me, but when I get humble, repent, and ask God to change my heart, I can see that I allowed fear, doubt, negativity, and pain to take me away from God.  I do know opposition teaches a lot.  You know I love the doctrine of opposition, 2 Nephi 2:  Feeling the difference teaches. 

So I have been having my ups and downs.  Someday I have felt carried and lifted, and some days it hits me and I can’t seem to get past the pain.  I won’t go into a lot of details but it has to do with going home, facing our yard after 3 years of renters, moving, finances, the reality of job hunting when were old, my mom and dad’s health, and Nathan and Jordan’s painful experiences.  Coming out on this mission was a real change of life in every way, but it wasn’t hard, it felt like so much meaning and purpose being led to that point in our lives.  Going home is changing our life in every way, but it feels like it’s more picking up the pieces of our life.  Not quite so meaningful.  We are so happy to re-new relationships with family and friends and that will be a bright spot.

So I tried to make that short, hope that was ok to express.  But now I want to share how the doctrine of hope has changed me and is helping me get past my fear and pain.  I was feeling really strong for about a month, a while ago.  I thought the Lord had gotten me through; I had learned some fantastic things and felt the spirit in my heart confirm that everything would be fine in the end.  Then I let some little negative thinking in, some fear in, some doubt and confusion in.  I found myself at rock bottom almost instantly. It think when you’re kind of fragile any little negative things can pull the rug out from under you.  Like: “I can’t see the way God sees, I can’t see how our prayers were answered, I can’t see blessings, I can’t see how this can turn to our profit and learning”.  These little negative thoughts can open the flood gates. I can’t really express the pain, I just know I had no idea how painful pain could be until this last year of my life.  I feel so much more compassion for others pain now.

Anyway my good and inspired husband wanted to teach the doctrine of hope for MLC at the beginning of the month.  I read the talk he wanted us to teach from.  It was inspiring.  Then I listened to it while I followed along with the words.  It hit my heart powerfully.  We taught it and I was changed completely.  I studied it again the next day and felt even more inspired.  Then I read it again 2 days ago so I could record some of the points in my study journal.  I have never felt more changed by a talk in my life.  I am so grateful for Elder Uchtdorf and his amazing inspiration. 

Also I studied Alma 58:10,11.  And understood faith and hope are gifts that the Lord blesses us when we pray for it.  He can speak peace to our souls and that is what He has done for me.  I feel at peace.  I can quiet my mind and trust my heart that everything will be ok and work out.  Once again I feel He has strengthened me and I feel I can have courage and hope for the future no matter what it is.  Going toward God is always the right answer!

Here are some of the things I learned about hope:
HOPE is an Infinite Power.  Infinite means without limit or boundary.  So hopes power is without limit or boundary.  Hope has the power to change our attitude, outlook, perspective, thoughts, and feelings. Hope works against the natural man inside of us.
Faith overcomes fear, Hope overcomes despair.  We must overcome the temptation to lose hope.  (I have never thought about losing hope as a temptation.  But it is.  It is what the natural man pulls at us to do.)

Hope leads to peace, mercy, rejoicing and gladness.  Hope is the foundation of faith; an anchor to our souls.  Doubt and despair lead to the temptation to lose hope.  Despair binds hearts and minds in darkness.  Despair drains us of vibrance, joy and leaves us empty!  Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul and deadens the heart.  It’s so true, despair kills everything, hope brings life.

Hope encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of Heavenly Father.  Hope is the abiding trust that God will fulfill promises.  It is believing and expecting our prayers to be answered.  It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm and patient perseverance.  I know that is so true.  Hope brings patience to bear afflictions.  Hope brings joy.
No matter how bleak this chapter in our life is, we may hope and be assured the book’s ending will exceed our grandest expectations because of Christ.

Everyone will go through discouragement and difficulty and the darkness can seem unbearable- but divine gospel principles we hope in can uphold us until we walk in the light again.
True hope is centered in: 1. Jesus Christ. 2.  The goodness of God.  3. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit.  4. Knowledge that prayers are heard and answered.  When we don’t have hope in these 4 things life can be filled with darkness and despair.  Hope is a choice!  We can believe and trust in these 4 things, or not.  When we do it changes everything.  That is my testimony.

In times of distress we can hold tightly to the hope that things will “work together for our good.”

Faith, Hope and Charity are like a 3 legged stool.  Disobedience, disappointments and procrastination erode faith.  Hope upholds faith.  (I thought a lot about why he said procrastination erodes hope.  I think it’s because faith leads to hope, hope leads to action, and action leads to personal knowledge and witness of the truthfulness of the thing you had faith in.  It’s like a circle.  Procrastination is inactivity so no witness is gained and hope is distinguished.)

Frustration and impatience challenges charity, but hope braces our resolve and urges us to love without expectation of reward.  The brighter our hope the greater our faith.  The stronger our hope, the purer our charity.

Here is Elder Uchtdorf’s talk in a link.  Listen to it, it is so good.  Print a copy of it and mark it up as you follow along.  There are so many good things in it:

Love You.