Thursday, April 19, 2018

Doing Good Things vs Being a Good Person

My whole life, I have pushed myself to do all of the things that are right. I am a stay-as-far-away-from-the-edge-as-possible kind of person. I'm the annoying classmate in school who does the extra credit even though I would get an A grade anyway. It would've bugged me to know I could have done better. I have lived with this mentality in every area of my life including the way that I live the gospel. It has been a blessing in many ways, but it has also been a blinding factor in becoming who I'd like to be.

I've created habits of prayer and scripture study since I was a small girl. I loved going to church and made sure to go to seminary, all of the firesides, young women's, etc. which I naturally felt good doing, but also did to be sure there was nothing more I could do. I've placed great focus on reading the scriptures, temple attendance, member missionary work, saying prayers, visiting teaching, going to church, fulfilling my calling, holding family home evening, family scripture study and prayer.  I've used this "list" as a reference for how well I was living the gospel and in determining what more I could do to become spiritually stronger. Those are all great habits to invite the spirit, but experiences compelled me to question if they were enough.

One day I was hit with a startling realization. The thought came to me, "Angela, it's great that you do all of the 'right' things, but where is your heart?" I started to think about who I really am as a person and what makes a good person. Am I truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? If His life was all about love, how well do I really love others? How well do I withhold judgment and show compassion to those who don't always make choices that I can understand? Do I only love those who are convenient and easy to love? Do I love those who have caused me pain, and have I truly forgiven them? In the Savior's words, "they that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick." Was I searching outside of my circle of friends, family, and church for those that needed a friend?

I began to recognize that Christlike love moves one to serve, but service doesn't always move one to love. Truly loving God and loving others (including ourselves) as He does leads us to do the "right" things, but doing the "right" things doesn't necessarily increase our love for Him or others. I don't want to simply do good things. I want to be a good person. There is a difference. It has taken some major humbling (and painful) lessons to see that somewhere I got off track and was missing the point of the things I was doing and what the gospel is really about. All the "right" things aren't meant to be a "check-list" or measure of where we are spiritually, but are instruments to teach us Christlike attributes and are tools to opening our minds and our hearts to see people as children of God, no matter who they are. Those things allow us to be receptive to the spirit and take action in loving the people who need it the most.

The announcement at general conference of different changes in the church only echoed every truth I have learned in the last few years. I will be forever grateful for the visiting teaching and home teaching programs. I've had visiting teachers/companions befriend me when I had no one else. I have had home teachers who came and cared about my family even though my kids were so hyper with excitement whenever they came. My children love them and still often say they miss them. Those people understand that the whole point is about loving and ministering as the Savior did, not about obligations to serve. They weren't just doing good things, but truly were good people as evident by the love and kindness they serve with.

I have a testimony of, and am ever-so-grateful for, a living prophet. I know that Heavenly Father knows the needs of our time, and I know that He gives that guidance to President Russell M. Nelson today. I'm grateful for the added focus on living the spirit of the law, not just the letter of it.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

You Gotta Let Go to Gain Control

How is giving up control of things in my life going to give me more control? Sounds a bit contradictory. It seems the more energy we put forth holding onto something, the more we should be able to control it. However, I can tell you, this is not always the case. For example, imagine the forecast for Saturday is nothing but clear skies and sunshine! You live for these kind of days. You make plans to spend the day at the lake. Unfortunately, you wake up Saturday morning to find that it is extremely windy and rainy. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario A: You sit and stare out the window begging the sun to come out. You spend every thought wishing the day were different and dream about the fun time you could be having at the lake. You even put on your bathing suit to show the sun that you did your part and have faith that it will come out. You don't want to give up hope so you sit waiting and watching until the day is through.

Scenario B: When you see that you won't be going to the lake anytime soon, you decide to give a stab at that new recipe that you been dying to try. You invite some friends over to enjoy your delicious new dessert. They stay and play some games. When your family is home for the day, you get out your favorite family movie to watch together. The day has raced by, but you now have just enough time to pull out that book that you've been too busy to read.

The sun never came out in either scenario, but the day turned out completely different for each. In Scenario A, the day only brought disappointment, sadness, despair, and possibly anger for a ruined day. In contrast, Scenario B resulted in joy, warmth, and happiness. The difference was not the sun coming out. The difference was the realization of what could not be controlled (the sun coming out) and then choosing instead to change YOU. This isn't just about covering up your disappointments by thinking positive (although that's a huge start!). It is changing your perspective and making the choice not to be distressed by the unexpected detours of life--becoming in charge of your own happiness. Take the opportunity to actively seek the opportunities for joy all around you. You'll be surprised to find happiness even on days the sun never finds it's way through the clouds.

Just like we cannot force the sun to come out, there are many things in life you cannot control NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO! We all have things that we have invested a huge part of ourselves and our lives to--marriage, children, goals, dreams. Those are good things and we work toward those things, but we need to separate the parts we can and cannot control. We cannot control the choices of others (dang it!). We can be an influence (the part we can control), but ultimately a person has to make their own choices (the part we cannot control). We cannot always control illness, death of loved ones, or the past, etc. Unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and despair, are all products of spending our energy on things we can't change.

So what things are you ALLOWING to drag you down that you have no power over? What are you spending your energy worrying about that it is wearing you out? Decide what things you actually can change and what you just think you can change. Stop spending your days wishing for things to be different, but instead choose to BE different. As you let go of things you cannot control, you will gain control of yourself and your own happiness.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Perfectly Imperfect Life

Have you ever been scrolling through your social media feed and just thought, "does everyone have a perfect life except me?" Sometimes (especially with social media) we fool ourselves into believing other people have it all going for them. In reality, everyone has their struggles.

On the outside, everything in my life seemed just peachy for a long time. On my anniversary four years ago, I made the following tribute to my spouse on my Facebook page:

"Although my anniversary was yesterday, I couldn't let the chance pass me by to say I LOVE YOU to the man who was my first kiss, covered my yard with snow my first Christmas in the desert, was the pilot my first time on an airplane, is the father of our three beautiful children, works harder than any other person I know, moved to St. George mostly because he knew that is where I wanted to live, and has given me some of the best moments of my life. Forever and always Babe!"

It sounds just like a fairy-tale doesn't it? This was evidence to the world of a picture-perfect relationship. However, truth was that those words were from a woman who was trying to reach across galaxies to revive any life left in her relationship. My marriage was falling apart. I fought hard against the reality that I couldn't keep everything all together how I wanted. I finally had to let go of my perfect plan (my pride) and trust God with my life.

My marriage still ended in divorce. Looking back though, I can see how God had a plan much greater than I had for myself. He took all the ugly parts of life and of me and somehow brought them together in a way that made me better. He made me stronger. He taught me about forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and showed me who I am. I faced situations I would have never understood had I not lived through them. And, without ever imaging it was possible, He brought my family back together and my relationship is much stronger because of the nightmare we lived through.

This is not the story I would have written for myself, but it is somehow okay. The journey has been filled and is still filled with so many unexpected bumps, but because of a loving Creator, all those imperfections have worked together so perfectly for the good of my family.

So even if life seems so perfect on the outside for everyone else, let's be aware that battles are often fought privately and silently. Let's reach out and love everyone no matter how ok they seem. And let's stop believing we are the only one that is less than perfect. Stop comparing the worst parts of your life to the best in those around you. And most importantly, let's turn to our loving Father in Heaven who can take all the ugliness in our lives to create a perfectly imperfect life.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Truth Behind "I just don't love you anymore."

You cannot simply just fall out of love with a person. If you have, perhaps you don't understand what love truly is. Love is an action--it is a choice. Everyday you make a choice. You either choose to think of your spouse and choose to show them, or you don't. It's that simple really.

Sure, love can die. Just like any living, growing thing, love can die without proper nourishment. Laziness will keep a person from continually caring for the seed of love they have planted with another person. Neglect, as a product of laziness, is possibly the saddest method of killing love. What a tragedy when two people love each other, but sit by and do nothing to nourish their love until it is too late!

Selfishness and pride are also the weeds that will overtake the blossoms of the love you once enjoyed. Is it really that hard to be kind and thoughtful toward your spouse? Is it really that difficult to admit the ways that you are poisoning and depriving the soil of any nutrients that keep your love from growing? You may think that it is better to keep your pride at the cost of love. You may think you can just start over, but I guarantee you will never find something better. It will take work, humility, and unselfishness to grow new love. You obviously have yet to acquire those traits if you just allowed yourself to "fall out of love" in your last relationship so you are already set up for failure. And if you ever do figure out how to truly be in a relationship, you will regret that you didn't put the work into that first love because new love will never be as beautiful and it will require much more work to maintain.

So, let's stop with the lie that love just dies. That justification might make you feel better for a moment, but let's get real. You have some work to do. Choose to love your spouse every day. Choose to find ways to let them know you love them. Choose to be the person you should be for your love.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why I Don't Have to Prove I Can Do Everything Equal to a Man

I struggle to understand why women feel they have to prove they can do everything that men can do. I don't get the argument when on the flip side it's clear that MEN WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO WHAT A WOMAN CAN DO! Yes, that's right. We, as women, were given this incredible power to create within our bodies other human beings! We have the ability to bear children. Is that not amazing? How in the world does that not empower every woman and make her cherish her God-given abilities? And as much as a man may want to have this miraculous ability, he never will. When did women stop seeing how incredible we truly are? When did women start feeling they had to prove they were everything a man is especially when a man will never be everything a woman is? Personally, I feel truly honored for the gender that I was created to be. I don't have to prove anything to anyone.

And as far as "just" being a stay-at-home mom...there is no "just" about it! I am a stay-at-home mom because I choose to be not because I am not capable of doing anything else. It is not less of a title or position then any other title I could hold. In fact, the title of "mother" is one of the most powerful and influential positions that a person could ever have should they strive to fulfill that role well. We, as women, have the power to shape the future. We can take the opportunity to raise up a generation that is better than the world has known.

As a side-note, just because I truly value my womanhood and the abilities I have been given as such, does not mean that I value men any less. I am grateful for the men who live what a true man should be. I feel blessed for those men who respect womanhood and take seriously the role that they have as fathers, priesthood holders, and husbands. What great responsibilities they hold! (Kind of glad I'm not them!). I cannot imagine the pressure to have a whole family counting on you to provide for every want and need. Every decision effects so much more than them. A man's failures can impact every member of his family, company, and what probably feels like the whole world. So can we all just quit trying to prove we are "as good as" or "as capable as" anybody else? It's the differences that make us unique and special and come together as a part of something bigger that blends so beautifully together.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Hope

Soon after I was divorced, I got myself into school so I could provide a better life for my kids and I. For one of my courses (public health), I was required to do some service hours in the community. I chose to spend some time at the local homeless shelter. From the moment I arrived, I was feeling so much compassion for the people using these services. I also felt a great deal of gratitude for all that I have. As I was working in the pantry, I saw a paper on the wall that listed the income limits for those eligible to live at the shelter. My heart dropped when I realized that I qualified to stay there. Whoa, what? I had no idea I was that poor. The word "humble" doesn't really begin to describe what I was feeling.

On my way home, and for days following, I reflected on this. Why was I in such a better situation when we had the same financial resources? I concluded that it came down to choice. After all, when I was there working, quite a few people were sitting around picnic tables smoking cigarettes, gossiping, and just hanging out. In contrast, I was actively seeking a better life and willing to work for it. I was taking advantage of available opportunities such as finishing my education to obtain a better way of life. These people have the same choice, right? I thought this was lesson I learned that day - that it's about hard work and self-reliance. Although I strongly believe in those principles, there is a completely different and more meaningful lesson I have come to understand.

Fast forward a few years to a night when I was reading my scriptures and came across the words, "perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery...his punishments are just." This is essentially the conclusion I had come to through my experience at the homeless shelter. As I continued to read, it said that whoever says/thinks this about others, "the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God." (Mosiah 4:17-18). Uhm, punch to the stomach right there! I felt awful for weeks realizing where my heart was. The thing is, and as it points out in the next verse, "are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God for all the substance which we have...?"

In that moment, I realized every blessing that God has given me that has allowed me to get where I am. Yes, I have done my best to work, but without His help, I would still be nowhere. You see, I have a great support system. I have wonderful family and friends who have been there for me this whole time. I am physically and mentally healthy. And greatest of all, I have a knowledge of who I am and where I am going. I understand, believe in, and use the Atonement. I have hope!

I didn't know any of those people. Maybe they have no one or feel they have no reason to try. Maybe they have illnesses that prevent them from attaining education or employment. Maybe they have never hoped for anything better. I don't know and that's the point.

It is my prayer and hope that we can withhold judgments, serve freely, and realize where the true source of all that we have comes from. I hope that we can "succor those that stand in need of succor [and] administer...substance unto him that standeth in need." (Mosiah 4:16)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

He lives! And He has given me a weekly reminder...

Every Sunday when I attend church I partake of the Sacrament. I partake of the bread that symbolizes Jesus Christ's body and drink the water that symbolizes His blood. I had always thought we are to remember His body that He sacrificed for us. I pictured His Atonement and what His body suffered and endured to make that possible. I believe that is part of it, but perhaps there is more.

Jesus Christ appeared to the people of Nephi after His resurrection. There He administered the sacrament. In 3 Nephi 18:7, Jesus teaches, "and this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you." In this account, it seems to me that the bread is to remind them of His resurrected body.

In a book written by Stephen Covey titled, "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations," he discusses how it is the Lord's work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). "When the Lord revealed [this]...he essentially outlined the two great parts...of all that he has attempted to do among men since the beginning." The first part is immortality, and the second part is eternal life. Immortality is for everyone because of the miracle of the resurrection. Eternal life, "which has to do with the quality of the personal achievement by each individual made possible through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Could it be that the sacrament symbolizes exactly that? We remember His body and the gift we have of immortality. We rejoice in the miracle that Jesus Christ indeed lives! Not only that, we will have that same opportunity! Then after we partake and remember that marvelous gift, we partake of the water to remember the second part. We realize our need for the Atonement in order to achieve eternal life which is really only possible because of the first part.

I've gained personal insight on the meaning of the sacrament cup and the role of being able to follow the will of God no matter how bitter the "cup." Now, I add that it's really even a miracle in the first place that that matters. It matters that I choose His will because Jesus Christ actually lives! Otherwise there would be no point!

The sacrament, in addition to other important symbolisms, represents very well God's plan - to bring to pass the immortality AND eternal life of man.