Thursday, May 22, 2008

My stationary

Sometimes I like to think that I have profound thoughts. In such moments it's crucial that they're recorded. For example, one such time occurred in my mission. I scribbled down on my missionary planner what I thought was a new insight. Later that night I reviewed some of my scribbled thoughts to find I had written, "The Lord loves his children". Huh...not so original after all...
When such moments come and I don't have paper handy I use whatever is available. At times it's been the back of a receipt, during the mission it was my missionary planner, but yesterday was the best of all...yes, my car freshener. It's the best smelling notes I've taken yet. The only problem- I'm having a hard time deciphering what I wrote. So far, all I can make out is the word Bible, good, magnify and DC 76...huh...nice one Michelle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Comfort Zones and Faith

I don't know if you've ever been a little down and maybe not even realized it. You're just kind of going through life, not really miserable, but not necessarily happy either. I found myself in that state a few weeks back.
I had gotten into the routine of going to my sister's house at the end of the day. I had gone through an episode of heartache and was also experiencing feelings of uncertainty. By going to my sister's house I could temporarily forget any discomfort as I numbed my feelings away with the comfort I found being with my sister and my nephew. My thoughts at the time were that I was seeking a greater level of peace to face any uncomfortable feelings.
On one particular day, I had spent the day at Women's conference. Shannon came to pick me up from my house because she wanted me to go to Wal-mart with her. After shopping, we did some of our usual Hannah Montana with my nephew, eat some ice cream, talk about the day and life, etc. I finished off all of this by taking a nice, long nap in her recliner. When I woke up it was dark and time to go home. I was still a little dazed as she drove me home. But in my state of half wakefulness something occurred to me. I turned to Shannon and with a laugh said, "I don't think we're very good for each other." "What do you mean?", she asked. "Well, every time we hang out we just end up eating and watching tv and sleeping", I replied. Shannon laughed. "Yeah, I have been thinking that every time you come over I just wanna eat and watch tv."
In all my searching to find peace, I think I instead found myself in a comfort zone.
That night I went home and although my "epiphany" may seem simple, to me it was profound. I prayed thanking the Lord for helping me recognize this and I prayed asking that he could teach me more, like what was the antidote for comfort zones.
Neal A. Maxwell once said, "In your life and mine, the great moments of commendation and correction have come usually in one-liners" (In Him All Things Hold Together, 3/1991, p. 3). My "one-liner" came the next day in a talk given by Julie B. Beck at women's conference. She was citing several scriptures to show how the Lord needs righteous sons and daughters to do his work. Among the quoted scriptures was 2 Nephi 28:21-22. I had always thought that scripture was particularly insightful about the need to be vigilant that I'm not just going through the motions of church worship while my heart was elsewhere. At that time I felt that I had not been seeking to be worldly, I had just been seeking comfort for my healing heart. I began to realize that although I had thought my attitude was "be still and know that I am God", in reality it was more "all is well in Zion". Did I assume that the Lord would deliver me from any discomfort when I took no 'action', "save it was to ask" (DC 9:7)?
Did I believe that I could, "sit upon my throne(s) and because of the exceeding goodness of God (I) could do nothing and he would deliver (me)" from any loneliness or discontentment (Alma
Julie Beck went on with her talk. She talked about how our fore bearers didn't sacrifice so much just so we could live more comfortable lives. Theirs were lives of faith and the same is expected of us. To counteract the "all is well in Zion" mentality, we would need more faith.
That following Sunday I sat in Relief Society listening to another lesson on the importance of visiting teaching. Once again I received another "one-liner". Luke 15:4 was cited. "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness after that which is lost, until he find it?" (note JST). The teacher must have been inspired when she pointed out the fact that the wilderness is not the most comfortable place to go. It brought to my mind the story of Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden to face the lone and dreary wilderness. Definitely out of their comfort zone. I thought of others- Lehi and Sariah and their family, Moses leading the children of Israel, Jonah sent to preach in Nineveh, Alma and the sons of Mosiah.
As the week went on other examples continued to teach me of the necessity of leaving behind my comfort zones to step with faith into the unknowns of the "wilderness".
I subscribe to a health newsletter that sends me emails. One day I found an email saying this- "People love routine. There's comfort in doing the same things and knowing exactly what to expect- no surprises, no fear, no thinking required...doing the same moves day in and day out isn't doing much to help (or motivate) you. A lot of times we stick with a program because of that comfort zone. Maybe it's all you know how to do, maybe you're afraid...your muscles are smart. When they do new things- they're a little shaky at first. But they learn quickly, mastering these new moves, so much in fact that they become MORE efficient at doing them. So they don't have to work as hard (or burn as many calories, or respond with positive gains) to keep up with the program...always be challenging your body in order to keep improving your fitness level." Was it possible that my spiritual growth could also plateau because I was stuck in my own routines?
Maybe others are also stuck in a routine and are not living out of faith. Although we may have already established many good habits and "righteous reflexes", as Neal A. Maxwell termed it, these routines were never intended to signify that we can rest in our progression. The gentiles declaring "A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible"(2 Nephi 29:3) obviously did embrace some truth but were unwilling to embrace more. Are we similarly unwilling to grown when we live off of mere reflexes lacking faith? If so, we are living a life of "vain repetition" and in such a state we are numbered among those "honorable men of the earth...who receive of his glory, but not of his fulness" (DC 76:75-76). If the Lord has instructed Zion to "strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever", would he not be equally concerned about his children ever progressing?
Perhaps if we lived more out of faith there would be less talk of comfort food, "going granola", plateaus, complacency, frumpiness, security blankets, unfulfilled potential, unrepented sin, negative self talk, a lack of forgiveness, mediocrity, apathy, and bad habits. Maybe there would also be less seeking of the vain things of the world with all their addictions which lull us away temporarily into a carnal security.
It is not the comforts and luxuries of life which bring us happiness. It is overcoming the challenges of life. We do this through our faith. It is faith which enables us to push the boundaries of our current comfort zones. With faith, we recognize that we can't wait for our circumstances to change. It is us that must do the changing. "For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them" (Ether 12:12). Why can God do no miracle? Maybe because we damn ourselves with our unbelief, lack of work, and desire to stay in that which is comfortable. With faith, we recognize that the journey ahead will be like leaving the comforts of Eden to experience the stresses of the wilderness, but we recognize that there is joy and peace as we overcome the obstacles of mortality.
I once said that I want to marry someone who helps me be humble. I thought I knew what this would feel like- It would be a feeling like I felt so secure in this person's love that I could leave behind vain cares of the world and be content in that person's love for me. Although I still believe that that's true to an extent, my definition of the humility has undergone some revision. It's been said that for us to grow and change, we must feel discontent with our current circumstances and state. David O. McKay once said you could recognize someone is good for you if, "in her presence you feel that you would like to be everything that a [great man] should become, for she will inspire you to that ideal". Perhaps that's why the most successful marriages are those where both people are putting God first, for when he is first, we cannot be in a comfort zone. We strive to be a better version of ourselves for God and thus for each other.
As I've thought more on routines and security blankets and comfort zones, I've come to see that it can be very easy to get stuck in one of these ruts, even without knowing. We become "neither cold nor hot" but lukewarm. Maybe because our natural man craves the comfortable and this seems to be the most comfortable temperature. Sadly in our ease we become selfish and self-centered. At the beginning of my learning curve about these things, I wrote in my journal about security blankets "It keeps me from reaching out to others...there's no joy in comfort zones, just complacent comfort."
Since learning of these things, I've made it a personal goal to get out of my comfort zone and be an agent who is "anxiously engaged in a good cause" who does "many things of (my) own free will, and bring(s) to pass much righteousness"(DC 58:27). To do so I will have to do some things that are scary for me, or that I might not want to do but know I should do, or finally chase after some of those goals which never seem to be accomplished. This is one of those subtle ways that I'm personally trying to put off the natural man. As I've done this I've been so happy- simple as that. I have faith that as I work and pray for help, that the Lord will help me "enlarge the borders" of my comfort zones to continue progressing. Life isn't about comfort, it's about growth, serving, loving and being loved. As I work with faith and seek the Lord for help in this process, I experience all of these and I come to a greater realization that God's love is so great that he is in the details of my life.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rotary blade accident :)

So I know that teaching was definitely a better line of work for me than anything in the medical field. I learned this first hand a few weeks ago.

I was trying to prepare for my elective class that I teach. We were on our sewing unit and I was cutting up square samples of material that my students could sew on. I was in a hurry as I was using a rotary cutter. In my hurry, I didn't notice that my left index finger was in the pathway of the blade. I sliced of a good chunk of my finger, basically that side part of the finger where the cuticle is and maybe barely getting a sliver of the the fingernail. Luckily I had a baby wipe nearby which i grabbed to keep from bleeding all over the place.

I couldn't tell how bad the damage was cause there was so much blood, but still surprised at what I'd done, I walked out to the front desk and announced to the receptionist that I'd just cut off some of my finger. She didn't have the stomach to look at it so she had a nearby man assess the damage. That drew others in to see what was going on. As I heard comments such, "Oh, that doesn't look good" or "You'll probably need stitches" or "They're going to have to sew that back on", I began to get queezy. "I need to sit down", I said.

I must have been quite the sight. There I am in the lobby of the school surrounded by about 6 people, bloody make-shift bandages everywhere and about this time, my eighth grade students begin to walk in from lunch. I overhear them say, "What's going on with Miss Wilkins?" Those surrounding me ask, "Do you feel ok? You look like you're going to faint. You're pretty pale." I've never fainted, so I'm not sure what that feels like, but I'm pretty sure the way I was feeling is the precursor to fainting. I admitted to them that I was really grossed out and felt queezy. I also began to feel a tingling sensation going up both of my arms and I was shaking like a leaf. One man helping that was first aid certified said that I was beginning to go into shock. With that confession I found all sorts of people offering their remedies. One teacher offered me her apple, the principal brought me a candy bar, one parent volunteer brought a chair over to prop my legs up on and another man forced me to recline and take deep breaths.

Whenever I'd complain of any ache or pain in the past, my dad would say something like, "Welcome to the world of sports." Over the years, I learned to toughen up a bit and I think I kind of prided myself on that fact. Yet this day all pride was torn down. Yes, I was a complete girl over a cut finger. But hey...I didn't cry :)

Baby powder and other beauty secrets...

Most guys I'm sure are clueless, along with maybe some girls, to the beauty secret held in reserve for those days when you sleep in a little too long and you're not quite able to squeeze a shower into your morning routine. The secret is powder. Yes, sprinkle a little baby powder into the hair, blend it in and wa-lah, you're disgusting hair problems are solved for the day.

This morning my roommate Traci was a little late in waking up. It was a baby powder day for her. However, her sister gave her a new contraption, a little product called "pssssstt". Pssssstttt is basically spray in shampoo. It's the equivalent of baby powder. So there I was, getting ready for church, Traci to my right as she proceeded to spray her "shampoo" into her hair. I glanced over at her to make some sarcastic comment when I realized that she was holding a can of odor eaters foot spray. I was so confused. "Odor eaters??", I said, questioning her rational as she sprayed it in her hair. She looked at me, then looked at the can, and then back at me with a look of shock and disgust. Needless to say, it ended up being ashower day for Traci after all.

Agency and Heartfelt Obedience

Today I learned something about how the Lord honors our free agency. I have a friend that is dating someone that is so in love with her and wants to marry her, but she's not completely sold on the idea. She's confused because she hasn't received any answers that she should marry him and he's apparently received more definite answers that marrying her is the right thing to do. A friend pointed out the fact that he is already decided on what he wants and therefore the Lord can confirm to him that he's made a good decision. She on the other hand, is undecided. Why would the Lord confirm an answer if she doesn't even know what she wants? She can't ask with faith unwavering because she hasn't made up her mind yet (James 1:5-6).
I think this principle can be applied to other areas of life, such as in repententing and receiving forgiveness. If we are going through the motions of repentance, but our hearts aren't in it and a clean life is not what we firmly desire, will the Lord really grant unto us forgiveness? We too are indecisive and wavering. Of coarse the Lord won't purify our lives and hearts if we are going through the steps of repentance but our hearts are still clinging to sin instead of longing for the peace of conscience that comes from being clean before the Lord. When we have this attitude we are as the people of Lehi-Nephi to whom Abinidi preached when he said "Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore ye have not been wise." (Mosiah 12:27) (The people of Lehi-Nephi "kept" the law of Moses.) Where are our hearts? Do we wish that our circumstances could change? Do we want to "become a law unto (ourself)" (DC 88:35) so that we can continue in our sinful ways or do we desire to engage in the battle of putting off the natural man and seek to change ourselves and our own hearts to be more fitting of disciples of Christ?
"Salvation doth not come by the law alone" (Mosiah 13:28). Our hearts must be sincerely seeking to have that peace of conscience before the Lord. It is not just works or those things which we do which are outwardly recognizeable that save us. We are saved by works and faith or in other words, heartfelt obedience. In this state of sincerity (or broken heart and contrite spirit), Christ can "answer the ends of the law" for "unto none else can the ends of the law be answered" (2 Nephi 2:7). He can't save us without us wanting him to.
But what do you do when we see that your wills is so strong and you're having a hard time submitting or even acknowledging the Lord's will for you? Or maybe you're having a hard time actually having the desire to give up your sin. Maybe you keep falling back into the same sins and your desire to keep trying is diminishing. We know from Alma 32 that the desire to change must be present before a seed of faith can be planted. I find hope in this scripture- DC 46:9. "For verily I say unto you they (the gifts of the spirit) are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments and him that seeketh so to do". The Lord acknowledges that sometimes we seek to keep the commandments, but we fail.
I know there has been times where I could justify my actions, but deep down inside, my conscience was at unrest. In such instances I think it's the natural man's tendency to give up on ourselves because we see that our hearts are still entangled in sin. We can also begin to lose hope that the Lord can or will help us. In this state we begin to "seek deep to hide (our) counsel from the Lord" (Isaiah 29:15) and we begin to slacken off in our prayers whether it be frequency or sincerity. When we give in to such hopeless feelings and take council from our fears we can know that we are giving in to the natural man. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "To make us lose hope, feel miserable like himself and believe that we are beyond forgiveness, Satan might even misuse words from the scriptures that emphasize the justice of God, in order to imply that there is no mercy...God loves all of His children, and He will never cease to love and to hope for us...the Atonement of Jesus Christ can give us the assurance that sin is not a point of no return" (Ensign, 5/2007).
So how do we overcome these natural man tendencies and come off conquer? "We need a stong faith in Christ to be able to repent. Our faith has to include a "correct idea of (God's) character, perfections, and attributes" (Lectures on Faith (1985), 38). If we believe that God knows all things, is loving, and merciful, we will be able to put our trust in Him for our salvation without wavering. Faith in Christ will change our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with God's will" (Uchtdorf, 100). We must realize that the Lord is pleased even when we "seeketh so to do". I have learned that although I may feel guilt and unworthy of the Lord's help, He is much more merciful with me than I can be with myself. I've also learned that the Lord loves honesty. When I see that my will is so strong and I have a disobedient disposition, I pray and tell my Heavenly Father about it. I'm honest with Him about how I may not want help, may not even have the desire to change, how I may be filled with such frustration with myself or that I'm even losing hope, but that I know what is right and I want to have a softened and believing heart. The Lord has told us that extending forgiveness is a precondition to receiving it. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "For our own good, we need the moral courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness...this includes forgiving ourselves." When I humble myself to acknowledge that I need and want the Lord's help and I believe that he'd actually offer it to me, I am in a sense forgiving myself.
I know the Lord won't grant us that which we don't want. However, sometimes we need help changing our agency to be aligned with His will for us. We must have trust in the Lord's love for us and aproach him in humility despite our weaknesses and shortcomings. Whenever I have asked or knocked or sought, he has given me line upon line, and gradually helped me reach the point where I don't just seek to keep the commandments, but am actually abiding by them and living my life in accordance to His will for me. As I do this, my faith in Him becomes unwavering.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Discerning the voice of the Lord

I've thought a lot about being able to discern the voice of the Lord lately. Two common, everyday things have helped me better understand this process.

When I got home from my mission I remember that my natural inclination would be to speak Spanish to my little brothers and any other young children trying to talk to me. At first I was puzzled why it was only children that seemed to evoke this response from me. Sure there were a few Spanish words that would slip into conversations as my mind would pull up words that most easily and accurately expressed my thoughts. But never did I open my mouth to speak to an adult and Spanish sentences came out. As I thought about this, I realized that children's speech was harder for me to understand. I had to switch modes to be able to put together their fragmented sentences and r's sounding like w's. I had to tune my ear in to discern what they were saying. It was similar to Spanish. I had to switch from English mode to Spanish mode and pay a little better attention than I would to someone speaking my own native tongue. So for both children gibberish and Spanish, it was if I had to change modes and tune into a different frequency.
The other night I had a dream. I remember the tv was on and I couldn't understand it... that is until someone pointed out that the program it played was Spanish. As I realized this, I sat down and began paying attention and saw that I could understand everything all the while, I had just not been paying close enough attention. I was trying to listen with my English discerning ears and had not tuned myself in to listen for Spanish.
Now for those that have never learned a foreign language and are having a hard time relating with my above examples, I give my last example.
The other day I was walking to my sister's house while listening to my ipod. It was a beautiful sunny day and I found myself listening to a song sung by the Mormon Tabernacle choir from their Consider the Lillies soundtrack. I don't remember what particular song it was, but I found myself paying special attention to the lyrics. "Those are cool lyrics", I remember thinking. "I've listened to this song so many times and never have known all the lyrics". I payed better attention. The song played on and I realized that even with paying special attention, I still could not discern all that the song said. I hit the rewind button to replay the lyrics to see if I could better discern the song's message. Even with multiple repeats, there's lyrics that I'm still oblivious to. I realized that the process of discerning the song's message required me tuning my ear in to be able to comprehend the words of the song. I had listened to the song multiple times and knew much of the chorus, but there was so many lyrics that I had never understood because I hadn't tuned my ear in to listen and discern.
Now, applying these examples to discerning the voice of the Lord. How much are we really receptive to? How much could we benefit by taking the time to be still and closely listen, not so much a physical stillness where we drop everything and sit in some yoga stance and not so much just listening with our ears that hear audible sounds. We have to switch modes to discern those things which the Lord communicates on a different frequency. I think of the nephites in 3 Nephi 11. In verse 3 they hear a voice that sounds like it came from heaven. It says they "cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice". I can imagine them looking all around at each other and at their surroundings, maybe wondering if their neighbor understands and can explain. Maybe hoping to find the source of the voice. Maybe wondering if others hear it too. There were those that maybe had been prepared to hear because it says "them that did hear" were pierced to the center. Maybe those that did hear were those that had practice discerning and hearing the voice of the Lord. Then the multitude heard the voice again. Once again they didn't understand. Are they thinking the same things again? Then a third time the voice is heard. This time they are ready. No wandering eyes. No looking to their neighbor. Their gaze is fixed towards heaven "from whence the sound came". And their ears are open to hear it. Perhaps it's not so much their physical ears that are now receptive. They had previously discerned a noise or sound or voice before. But this time their hearts are quieted, tuned in and ready to hear.
The Lord is in the details of our lives and wants to help us overcome our challenges but sometimes it is us that are ignorant of his presence because we trust to much in our own judgment and ideas. We must take the time to quiet our hearts in humility and tune our ears into his will if we are to hear the voice of the Lord.