Naked Mountains

This last week at work I off-handedly mentioned to two of my coworkers that I didn’t mind the 45 minute commute from Orem to Murray, only that it was a bit boring, with only other cars and the naked mountains to look at, what with all the mountains here in Utah being brown and barren. I looked up a few minutes later from my computer to still see them chuckling over my comment.

I’m trying hard to love these naked mountains, and have found that they’re a lot more beautiful early in the morning or as the sun sets, when they turn red. During the day, they just look brown and scruffy, surrounding me at every minute of the day. Learning to love them is definitely a process. I try to avoid looking at them, because they just make me homesick for New England and Virginia, and make me question why in the world I left those mountains for these ones.

My friends keep periodically asking if I’ve figured out why the Lord told me to come to Utah (I must still look incredibly distressed or something), and the answer is still no. I’ve sort of resigned myself to the fact that it might be months or even years until I really know the big reason why, and I just find contentment in seeing the hand of the Lord in my life as I try to make this place my home.

Two of the biggest blessings have been finding an apartment and a job so quickly. R² (my roommates are both named Rachel, and are both deaf, and yes it’s very confusing) and I moved into our apartment last week, a few days after signing our lease.

The apartment itself is a bit of a miracle. It’s hard to find decent housing in Provo/Orem (and I did NOT want to live in Provo), so I had begun looking at apartments almost two months ago, sending emails and making phone calls. I had contacted one property manager several weeks before coming west, and things fell through, and R² weren’t able to walk through the apartment, and I assumed that the property would be leased before I got there. I got an email from the manager, asking if I was still interested, and she gave me the lock-box code to go check out the apartment (because apparently, people are much less wary of strangers here than they are in New England?).

Within 48 hours, the apartment was ours, and Janet told us she felt like it was going to be ours all along (they’d turned down three other applications).

The same day we were set to move in, I had a job interview at the American International School up in Murray (thanks, Bishop Seal for being awesome and letting me know AISU was still hiring, I owe you a zillion scones or something). I honestly went to the interview without any expectations and looking like a bit of a wreck (living out of your car and having limited clothing options really puts a damper on things), and as I interviewed with three different people and met some of the staff, I realized that I really wanted the job.

Not just because I wanted an income, but because I realized that the school was something I could really put my heart into, and the position was one that I could really make my own. Talking with the superintendent, I was thinking, “wow, I’d love to work here, and make a little bit of a difference for some of these kids.”

I was so caught up in thinking how awesome the position sounded (I really walked into this interview pretty blind) that when he offered me the job, I sort of spluttered and had to ask him to repeat himself in the most undignified way.

Thankfully he laughed and welcomed me to the team, my surprise and astonishment aside.

My first two weeks of working at AISU was a long one, honestly. Definitely not boring, but exhausting just because I was learning the ropes, sorting through test scores to identify needs, and trying to get the hang of things.

I’m a literacy specialist for the STEM program, which essentially means that I’m working with students who struggle to read at grade level and helping them to learn material in a way that fits their learning style and their strengths, all while helping to strengthen their literacy skills. A lot of ‘my’ students are non-native English speakers, or just got lost in the system at other schools, and slipped through the cracks unnoticed (most schools in Utah, people have been telling me, are overpopulated, which really is a bl20170821_082919ow to the education of the individual).

Really, what most of these kids need is a personal cheerleader who will help them to believe in themselves, which is something I am all about.

Over the past couple years, I’ve realized how much I love working with teenagers, how much I love helping them realize their potential. It’s so rewarding to see their eyes light up when they realize that someone is willing to go to bat for them, willing to help them dream big. I firmly believe every teenager needs someone like that in their life outside their family, and I’m excited to try and be that person for these students.

As I did testing to help determine some of their needs and met with them these past 2 weeks, I kept thinking how much I already loved them and how excited I was to see them progress, and how invested I already was in their education (I was comparing their spring 2017 scores and their scores on their tests this past week, and saw some pretty awesome improvement for some of them).

It will be a challenging job, for certain, especially because as people keep reminding me, they’ve never hired someone to do literacy work with students in the STEM program at the school (I really wish they’d stop reminding me). And because lets be honest, teenagers are challenging in general (I was one of those really challenging teenagers).

I think the funniest thing at AISU has been trying to convince people that I’m actually an adult. My first few days, I kept being asked by students what grade I was in, and staff kept eyeing me like I was a student who had just stolen some unsuspecting teacher’s badge and keys. I wish I were joking. I got stopped by a teacher one morning as I was walking into the high school wing of the school before students were allowed in the building, and on Friday a little middle schooler asked me if I was totally sure I was a teacher (I didn’t bother trying to explain the specifics of my role in the classroom).

I try not to let them see that I’m learning on the fly.

Because I don’t think they realize that the entirety of life is about learning on the fly.

I know that’s what I’m doing right now, learning on the fly. Learning to navigate my new home, learning the nuances of the culture here in Utah (because it is a very different culture than one you find back east), learning to be the sort of person my students need in a classroom, learning to take a million leaps of faith while I’m sorting out why the Lord called me to live in a desert filled with naked mountains.

It’s not been easy. Keeping busy is helpful, because when I’m busy I don’t get caught up in the frustration of not knowing why I’m here in Utah, or what I’m doing with my life right now. It’s hard to walk into a nearly empty apartment every night when all you want to do is feel like you’re walking into a home. The commute to and from work is brutal not because of the traffic (it has nothing on Virginia Beach, DC or Hartford traffic, despite what people here seem to think), but because it’s incredibly boring. I hope the people who see me in their rear-view mirror appreciate the daily episodes of commuter karaoke that they get to witness as I work my way through my entire collection of CDs.

My friends have been my saving grace, texting me when I need a pick me up, or when they think I’m being too much of a social troglodyte, and encouraging me to get out and do something. There are so many tender mercies the past few weeks that have come in the form of loved ones, both from home and from my mission. And I appreciate that they remind me that they see the hand of the Lord in all this, even if sometimes I am the little bratty child who closes her eyes and puts her earbuds in and tries to ignore the world.

But really, the people getting me through this, in the lonely hours and in the chaos (and on those long, boring drives) are my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. There are so many little moments when I’m in panic mode, and all of a sudden a little voice just says, “hey, you’re okay. You’re where you need to be. You don’t need to know the ‘why’ right now.”

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And it’s stupid, but looking up at the mountains that surround me trigger that panic and distress, inspite of all the blessings that I’ve seen and the comfort I’ve felt previously. Because that’s when the wave of “what am I doing here?” hits. (I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the ground the past couple weeks)

I’m really glad the Lord hasn’t [yet] tired of me needing that reassurance, and for the continuing hope He provides me on a daily (hourly? Minute-ly?) basis. That infinite patience is definitely what I need right now! He’s the one who called (read: dragged) me out here, and I couldn’t do it without him. He’s in every second of this experience, that much I know. And I’m grateful beyond belief for that.

I really hesitated in posting this, to be honest. It’s blunt and a little bit all over the place, and fairly dichotomous in terms of struggle and triumph. But that’s how I’ve been feeling – equally excited and exhausted. Surrounded by chaos and confusion, but also by the peace and comfort I seek.  I’ve had it in a word doc on my computer for over a week. I didn’t want people thinking I’m totally miserable, or overreacting to living here right now, or just being entirely dramatic about the entire thing.

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But I realize this struggle is crucial to this part of my story. It is what it is, just like what will be will be. The highs come with lows, and the blessings come with sacrifice, naked mountains and all.

Because my strength doesn’t come from those naked mountains. My strength comes from the Creator of those mountains. I was reminded of that while on my way to the temple this week (ironically, the Mt. Timpanogos temple).  My peace, my reassurance, my purpose. All of those come from Him. But those mountains before me, both metaphorically and literally, are not just HIS mountains, however. They’re now my mountains. Sure, they’re not as green or as blue as the ones I love. And come autumn, they won’t be ablaze in red and gold like I yearn for.

But they’re mine now.

They’re my mountains to climb, to learn from, to chronicle.

They are not my source of strength, but with time, they will strengthen me.

Maybe one day, with a little bit of time and a whole lot of perspective, I will even see them as beautiful in the noon-day sun.

(But please note that the photos in this post of the mountains are strategically taken in the evening or morning to camouflage their nakedness)

(also, please note that my issue with the naked mountains isn’t meant to offend anyone because I know people love these mountains, but they’re REALLY not my cuppa tea)
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Hey, from Utah

Hello from my new home – in Utah.

I never in a million years thought I would be saying that.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever move away from the east coast, let along to Utah (the state with so many Mormons), I would have laughed in your face and given you a million reasons as to why I would never do it. Why I wouldn’t leave the coast, why I wouldn’t live west of the Mississippi, and especially why I wouldn’t live in Utah.

I’m writing this from Provo.

The place with so many Mormons you’ll spend all your time tripping over them right and left. The place where every third person is wearing a soccer jersey or some sort of BYU logo emblazoned on their person (I don’t mind the jerseys so much), where signs for the ice cream shops bemoan break-ups and offer solace in frozen dairy, and where there are so many LDS meeting houses that you could throw a football with a feeble-handed pass and it would make it from one of the buildings to another, no problem.

I feel like I’m living in some sort of twilight zone. I don’t quite believe that I now live in Utah. That I traded my Shenandoah Valley for the Salt Lake Valley, my rolling green hills for brown mountains, my coastline for the canyons, my thick woods for a place filled with sidewalks, traffic barrels, and parallel parking (is all of Utah under construction?).

I can easily say right now that moving out here is absolutely the most terrifying thing I have done in my entire life.

It’s complicated. It’s humbling. It’s heartbreaking. It’s liberating. Mostly, right now, it’s terrifying.

The whole reasoning for moving out here and the emotions that come with it are hard to express, but they’re important nonetheless.

I learned in my final year at Southern Virginia that I was getting comfortable. Living in Virginia was easy. I had a few good friends, some incredible professors and mentors, a calling I loved, a boss who was as kind as the day was long, and I was in a place that felt comfortable.

And I realized comfortable was not where I needed to be. It was time to leave the comfort zone, because I had plateaued. I learned that when I’m not actively growing and stretching (and being chastened, let’s be real), I tend to slowly slip downwards. For me, a lack of progression is automatic regression.

In the year I spent at home sorting a couple things out and pouring my heart into the ward and temple there, I was praying day and night to know where I needed to go, what programs I should apply for, etc.

I’d get excited about a program or city or country and get caught up in day dreams. I think I prayed about every state in the Union and a couple different countries (hey, Samoa, catch you next time I guess?).

Except Utah.

I didn’t want to go to Utah.

But in the absent minded moments when I’d be thinking of what I needed to be doing, it was Utah that came to mind. In making lists and goals, it had unintentionally become “I’ll do that when I get to Utah” or “that isn’t a far drive from Utah,” all without me really noticing it at first.

When the Lord and I finally reached an understanding (wherein He did the telling and I still don’t have the understanding, really), I tried incredibly hard to be excited and energetic about the move. Especially when talking to friends and people from Church. People would say, “are you so excited to move to Utah?” or “you’re going to love living in the Salt Lake Valley” or “it will be so close to your mission!” and I would smile and nod and rattle off something all while trying to swallow back the feeling that the Lord was dragging me west kicking and screaming.

Spoiler alert, He did.

Yes, I am really excited to be closer to my friends from the mission and from the east who have moved out here (heeyyy, Cromwell family). Yes, I am so excited to be able just do something different. Yes, I am really looking forward to all the Mexican food (pretty sure that’s secretly the number one factor in being excited right now, sorry friends). And more importantly, I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for me right now.

But guys, I am SO not comfortable.

I guess that’s the point.

And the discomfort comes from the not knowing why I’m here or what I’m supposed to be doing.

(People have asked me time and again if I’m going to Utah to get married, and the next person who does might just get a swift right hook and an earful. People who know me know I wouldn’t move across the country for a date – I’m perfectly content with a cup of tea, a book, and my single state, thankyouverymuch.)

In every previous phase of my life, I’ve known the purpose. I’ve known the reason why, the expiration date, the ins and outs of it. Sure there were short stretches where I didn’t know what I needed to be doing, but they lasted a few days or weeks at the very most.

But I don’t know why I’m here in Utah. I don’t know why God called me to a place I’ve never wanted to go, a place that literally made me absolutely miserable the first time I visited (the MTC was rough, yo. There’s a reason I refer to it as spirit prison – you’re trapped, but you learn a hell of a lot).

I just know that this is where I’m meant to be. Simplify all of it down, and I’m really just trying to follow Jesus.

I thought I understood how hard it is to say “I’ll go where you want me to go” while I was on my mission and being transferred or getting a new companion every six to twelve weeks.

The mission has got absolutely nothing on this.

This is the biggest leap of faith He’s asked me to take so far.

I came out here with no place to live, no job, just my life packed into my car and some money in the bank (and my mom for a week and a half, God bless her, I couldn’t have done it without her).

As of Monday, I have a place to live, but still no job, and my life is still packed in my car and money doesn’t last long.

I’m exhausted, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I’m feeling a bit like the Israelites wandering around in the desert, wondering when they’d see the promised land. I feel like I’m painting on a smile when people ask me if I’m “so excited to be living in Utah,” when really all I want to do is go hide with a Coke and somebody’s dog to cuddle.

I’m terrified. It has literally been a leap of faith as wide and deep as it is from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Rockies. It feels like I might as well be on the other side of the world.

But I’ve also never been so sure of anything in my life. It’s been a lesson in saying “thy will be done” over and over until you really mean it, until you really start to feel it. When my mind starts to race and I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack of the brain, it’s that little bit of steadiness that says, “you’re meant to be here.”

And I’m so thankful for pure and simple kindness, from friends and strangers alike. It’s been the saving grace (as has a trip to the temple) the past couple days, especially when I feel like I’m falling apart at the seams. It’s been so great to be reunited with friends and people who have already been so crucial to my journey thus far (even if they do lecture me about dating).

Utah. It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. It’s new. It’s a little overwhelming. It’s different. But it’s home now.

So here’s me raising my glass of Coke and trying to smile through the terror and sorting out what in the world I am doing here, and saying “hey, from Utah.”

For a Little Season

After finishing my time at Southern Virginia last year, I returned home to New England with little more than a time limit – I would spend a  year in Connecticut, I told the Lord. I knew part of the pull to return was the Hartford Temple. I knew that if nothing else, I needed to be there for the dedication of that building, and figured I’d just tuck away and maybe hold a small calling in nursery or Primary at Church, work, and finish up a few classes.

I should know by now that the Lord’s plans are often far different from my own.

By the time I left New England a few weeks ago for Virginia, I had held four very distinct callings: Gospel Principles teacher (teaching new members, returning members, and anyone wanting to return to the basics of the gospel), second counselor in the Young Women’s presidency, seminary teacher, and temple worker.

So much for flying under the radar.

I loved each of my callings – they gave me opportunities to work with people who truly changed the way I saw the world and the Gospel, who loved me, and who made me laugh when the days were dark. I grew as a teacher, as a person, and most importantly (to me, anyway), as a kingdom builder.

Just as I loved my callings, I was completely blindsided by them when they were offered to me. I didn’t expect them, and to be honest, I didn’t necessarily want them (let’s not talk about how I got released as a gospel principles teacher and went home and bawled), but I felt that they were calls that I ought to accept.

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As I was finishing my last shift as a temple worker earlier this month, I recognized a powerful lesson that the Lord had been teaching me all along.

“…act upon this land as if for years.”

That was the verse that came to my mind with such clarity and force that it gave me pause.

A bit of background:

In the spring of 1831, the prophet Joseph asked the Lord about the length of time the Colesville Saints would spend in Ohio – a practical question, given the amount of persecution the members of the early church faced as they gathered together in the east. They were given the instruction to practice the laws of consecration and stewardship, two important principles in the kingdom of God, as well as the promise and counsel of the Lord that the He would “consecrate unto them the land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence; and the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good” (Doctrine & Covenants 51:16-17).

As a missionary in California, I had stumbled upon these verses and they proved to be a powerful reminder to work in the areas and wards to which I was assigned with all my heart, no matter how short or how long I would be assigned there or who I was assigned to labor alongside.

But coming home, I had promptly forgotten that counsel until that afternoon in the temple.

There are times in our lives when we are transient – we are in a temporary, “in-between” place. Returning to New England was temporary, but that didn’t mean the Lord would allow me to rest on my laurels and allow the world to keep turning as I idly watched. The Lord wants us to be in the thick of things, hip deep in the work as we move towards the next phase of our lives. Some of the greatest lessons He has in store for us are the ones we unearth in our temporary abodes – He doesn’t wait until we are settled comfortably in our new home to say, “here, here you may work. Here you may learn.”

Instead, He guides us and says, “work in this part of my vineyard for a little season.”

Just because it’s a little season, doesn’t mean it’s an easy season. Some of the hardest parts of our journey are the ones where we don’t have the chance to settle, the ones where our sojourn is short and uncertain. Humans live in varying states of uncertainty – that’s what mortality is. But the fact that mortality is all about uncertainty doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable.

Then again, isn’t the very point of mortality to be uncomfortable?

Discomfort and movement facilitate change, and change precedes progression. Throwing our hearts into the work of the Lord, especially when we don’t know how long we’ll labor in that acre, is what stretches us, tests us, and helps us to keep an eternal perspective. Little seasons, and learning to lean into those little seasons, are the little lessons that often turn into the big cruxes of our journeys.

When the Saints arrived in Ohio, they were instructed to build a temple, even as persecution mounted. Countless Old Testament stories illustrate the command to stop and build an altar or a tabernacle, even as they traveled. Christ taught His most powerful lessons when He was in an “in-between” place (the road to Emmaus, the road to Damascus, the road to Jerusalem).  Even when He allows His children to physically rest and seek refuge, they are still expected to be learning and making covenants.

And when you look at eternity, isn’t our life here on the earth just a short sojourn, a ‘little season’ in the Lord’s infinite and perfect plan for us?

When we work upon the land ‘as for years,’ we learn to have greater trust in the Lord, to appreciate those around us more fully, and gain a greater understanding of what it means to be a kingdom builder. We work with all our might, mind, and strength. No matter how long or short our time in that little bit of vineyard is, how peaceful or painful, the Lord has promised that He will consecrate it to us, to our progression, to our understanding. The blessings of the little seasons often far out last the seasons themselves. We throw our hearts into the work, not expecting to see the fruit of our labor, but knowing that our labor will bear fruit.

2017-07-28 23.24.17The work the Lord calls us to do for that little season is different for everyone – sometimes it’s work in a community or in a congregation, within a family, or even work within our own selves. Sometimes it’s easy and pleasurable, other times it is hard and full of sorrow. Most times, it’s a mixed hand. But that work for a season of sojourn always proves crucial in some way to our longer journey, to our bigger story, to the more eternal perspective. And not only for our own story, but for others as well. We don’t know how our little seasons coincide with the little seasons (or long seasons) of others.

Sometimes we don’t even recognize our “little seasons” until they are well behind us, when we climb a little higher or walk a little further, we are able to see the acre of vineyard the Lord had placed us in with a clearer and wiser eye, and recognize that He was beside us all along.

At times we actively fight our little seasons, and our little patch of vineyard to work, driven either by pride or by pain – or even by a simple lack of understanding – until we are reminded (or chastened, as the case may be) that our little patches of vineyards  have greater significance, and remember the wisdom of the poet Meade MacGuire:

“Father, where shall I work today?”
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then he pointed out a tiny spot
And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly, “Oh no, not that!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me.”
And the word he spoke, it was not stern; …
“Art thou working for them or for me?
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”*

President Uchtdorf observed that “often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience,” May 2010 General Conference)

In the little season I spent in New England, I met and reconnected with so many who labored beside me “as for years,” whether it was for a few hours, a few weeks, a few months, or for the whole of the time I was there. I saw the creation of new stake of Zion, the dedication and celebration of the first temple in Connecticut, the graduation of joyful and dedicated students, countless personal victories and heard the most powerful of testimonies borne in formal and informal settings.

Time and time again, I was reminded of the words of John Ruskin:

When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone upon stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our father did for us.”

Recognizing that we build forever in our little season isn’t easy. It takes a little patience and even more faith – faith in the Lord, faith in His timing, faith in His purpose, and faith in His faith in us.

The most important lesson I learned was that as I leaned into my little season, as I learned to “work as for years” even as I turned the pages of a numbered calendar, was that the Lord worked beside me. There was no calling I received, no opportunity extended, that didn’t bear the mark of His hand, and that didn’t require me to rely on the strength of the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish.

Our little seasons are varied in length and circumstance, but adhere to the same purpose: to strengthen us and to draw us closer to the Lord, to give us the opportunity to grow and to become more refined instruments in the hand of God, and to bind us together.

He has led us to these little acres knowing what lies in store, what He needs in our short time there. He knows what our season holds, what we have to offer as we labor. He reminds us of the purpose and timing of our seasons in the book of Ecclesiastes:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

And so, like the Colesville Saints, we work as for years upon the land the Lord has led us to for a little season. We lean in, we learn, and we grow, knowing that the blessings will come and that the Lord is by our side in our little acre of vineyard.

*Meade MacGuire, “Father, Where Shall I Work Today?” in Best-Loved Poems of the LDS People, comp. Jack M. Lyon and others (1996), 152.

To My Seminary Kids

Last month, our stake held Seminary Graduation, recognizing the youth who have participated in the early morning seminary program for four years and have studied the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and the Old and New Testaments. My class and I had been preparing for weeks for graduation and for finishing the New Testament.

Let me brag really quickly about my kids – they woke up at 0430 each morning to be at the church building by 0530, spent 50 minutes in the New Testament and engaging in gospel-centric conversations, all before heading to school. And not only that, the discussions we had were deep and insightful, filled with inspired questions and honest conversations. I am so ridiculously proud of each of them for all the hard work, heart, and humor they put into their studies this year (they made it through all of the Pauline epistles, and deserve an award for that alone). I have come to love each my students so much, for so many different reasons.

Mentally steeling myself to be released nearly 2 months ago, I began taking note of what I wanted my kids to remember from our class together this year, if they remembered nothing else. And I don’t mean the chronological events of the New Testament, or all the things that Paul taught, or the names of the Twelve Apostles and how they were related and their past professions. They don’t need to remember that Paul was only about 5 feet tall and that Peter was crucified upside down. That would be great, but to me, it’s not my top priority for them.

When I was a missionary in California, I would walk away from a lesson or a conversation on the street if I knew the person I had just talked with felt at least one, single thing: the love of God. It didn’t matter if we talked about the Restoration of the Gospel, about temples, or about the Book of Mormon. If nothing else, I wanted that person to feel the love of God.

Looking back on those experiences, and that desire, I realized that there are five things I want my seminary students to know as we approach the end of the year and our time together as a class.

5. They know more than they think they do.

They don’t know everything, they don’t know the scriptures inside and out, and heck, even some of the doctrinal/scripture mastery is a bit shaky. They don’t know the difference between Phillipi and Galatia, or the subtlety of word choices in the King James Version of the New Testament. That doesn’t matter. But more often than not, they know the truth of the principles and doctrines and have learned more than they think they have, and like Elder Andersen taught in the October 2008 General Conference:

Our spiritual journey is the process of a lifetime. We do not know everything in the beginning or even along the way. Our conversion comes step-by-step, line upon line. We first build a foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We treasure the principles and ordinances of repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We include a continuing commitment to prayer, a willingness to be obedient, and an ongoing witness of the Book of Mormon. (The Book of Mormon is powerful spiritual nourishment.)

We then remain steady and patient as we progress through mortality. At times, the Lord’s answer will be, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough”—enough to keep the commandments and to do what is right. Remember Nephi’s words: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

They might not know everything, but they know enough.

4. They are loved beyond what they can imagine.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have a perfect, imitable love for them. The love of God is the very reason we live and breathe, and that love will never be diminished, never be taken away, never be changed. Because the love of God is powerful, eternal,  and so crucial to our very existence. It is deeper and more far-reaching than any power imaginable. He will never not love them.

They are also dearly loved by us mere mortals as well – their parents and grandparents, teachers and leaders in the church, siblings, friends, and they love one another. That love is what helps us get through this life, to heal from the bumps and bruises, and to be able to keep growing and keep learning. That love encompasses a desire for them to be successful in all they do, to be protected from the influences of society (ahem, Satan) and a fierce loyalty.

3. They are not alone.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will not leave them. They will not abandon them, leave them behind, or drop them by the wayside. They are faithful to the ends of the earth to those who love Them, and strive to obey the laws of God, even as they struggle and sometimes fall short of the mark. They are not the leaving kind – we have to consciously drive Them away in order for Them to leave us alone. They will not let them go out into the world without walking beside them every step of the way, hands on their shoulder, kneeling beside them when they stumble and fall, lifting them to their feet, giving them the strength to keep on. Christ did not die for them in order to leave them by the wayside.

They will never walk alone.

2. Repentance works, and it’s not just for sin.

This is something I worked hard to underscore to my kids. Repentance. It helps us to overcome our sins and transgressions, through the Atonement that Jesus Christ made. When we confess our sins and seek forgiveness, the slate is wiped clean because of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us, not just as a collective body of Christians and sort-of Christians, but on an individual, by-name basis. Where sin drags us down, Christ’s atonement paired with our repentance lifts us back up. Our sins, though like scarlet, become white as snow. 

When we wander, repentance – that process of seeking Christ and Heavenly Father again – restores us to the path that leads back to our Heavenly Home. It is a tool for us to learn by, to be strengthened by, all so that one day we can stand before our Father and tell Him, “I have done all I can do to return to you.”

And it’s not just about sin, those things we’ve done wrong, those mistakes we’ve made.  It helps us to forgive, to overcome challenges that are cast upon us, and to gain a better understanding not only of the nature of God and of His Son, but also our own natures and our own infinite and eternal potential.

I could pontificate for hours on the principle of repentance (just ask my students), but what I love most is knowing that it works. It’s not a useless exercise, it’s not something that’s shameful, it’s not something to take for granted. We preach it because it’s true, because it is the way home to our Father in Heaven, and because it is one of the most crucial aspects of the gospel, and because it brings with it great peace and comfort, no matter what is going on in life or what has happened.

1. Jesus Christ is their Savior.

So often we get caught up in talking about Jesus Christ the Savior, that we forget to think and talk about Jesus Christ our Savior. He is our Savior on a deeply personal and individual level. Yes, He is the Savior of the world, but He’s also the Savior of the individual.

And not just any individual. Every individual. There’s nothing arbitrary about it, nothing impersonal. In discussions about the Atonement Christ made, you hear people often say something to the effect of “if you were the only person to walk the earth, Christ still would have died for you.” You hear it over and over again. Because it’s true.

In his BYU Speech “The Very Root of Christian Doctrine,”* Thomas B. Griffith relates the experience of the Nephites when Christ visited the Americas. They bowed before the Resurrected Jesus Christ, recognizing Him as the Messiah of their prophecies, but it wasn’t until they touched the wounds in His hands, feet, and side that they recognized Him as their Savior and Redeemer. It was then that they shouted Hosanna! and fell at His feet. Their understanding of their relationship to Him shifted from worshiping Christ as the Messiah to worshiping Him as their Savior.

Jesus Christ is their Savior on a personal and perfect level – the Atonement He made is for them, not just the neighbor down the street or the girl sitting beside them in Church. He is their Savior every day, in every moment, and in every joy and trial.

That Christ is their Savior is the most important thing I want them to know and to remember, if nothing else sticks. Because it is that knowledge which will get them through the tough times ahead, and will deepen their joy in the years to come.


I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to teach, if only for a few short months. My students were the greatest blessing and in all honesty, I had fun every morning talking about Christ (and sometimes dinosaurs) and about the Gospel and making it relatable. I learned far more from them than I could have ever taught them! 
 

Living an Easter Life

“And the angel…said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said, Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” – Matthew 28:5-6

Each spring, these words flood the earth – we see them as we scroll through our social media pages, on the signs outside churches, read over the pulpit, shared in Hallmark cards, and we turn to it on Easter morning.

And then, to be honest, the Easter candy runs out, we close the scriptures, put that bit of the Gospel on the shelf, tuck away the signs, the decorations, and the cards til the next Easter season, all without much thought.

But here’s the thing.

Easter – the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the solemn, personal reception of the Atonement He made within the shadow of Gethsemane and upon the cross at Calvary – isn’t just a seasonit’s a lifestyle.

That miraculous weekend was not meant to be briefly acknowledged and then consigned to the wayside in the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is not a blip on the gospel radar, a nice summation to a three-year ministry in Jerusalem. It is the pinnacle of His ministry, the greatest of gifts, the answer to prayer and pleading, the triumph over death necessary for us to return to live with the loving Father who created us.

So why do we really only focus on it for a season?

We live a mindful Easter season, why not live an Easter life?

Why not magnify that season into a life fueled by the Atonement and the Resurrection of Christ, and all that comes with it? Why not live a life filled with the joy and wonder of beholding a Savior and Messiah who overcame death, broke the chains of mortality, and made it possible for us to become greater than we ever dreamt?

Simon Peter, after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, wrote to the Saints in Europe and Asia, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Did you catch that?

His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So what does this lively hope have to do with living an Easter life?

Absolutely everything.

God loved us enough to send His only begotten son so that we could live with Them again.

And not your run-of-the-mill ‘live,’ either. God sent His Son so we could grow, thrive, learn, and seek joy. Everlasting life.

So how do we use that lively hope to live an Easter life?

Some things I’ve learned as I’ve sought to live an Easter life this past year (this isn’t just some spur of the moment Meg-loves-Jesus post, ya’ll).

Remember that joy is often preceded by pain.

Ask anyone who knows me personally what my favorite semi-abstract principle of the gospel is, and they’ll tell you in a hot second: joy. Sometimes you just have joy illuminate your life, coloring everything you see, do, and feel.

Other times, you have to fight for it, hope for it, believe in it.

Sometimes we feel lost, lonely, and un-loved. We all have our ‘Saturdays’ in our Easter
life, and we’re in good company. After Jesus Mary Magdalene TombChrist was crucified, His disciples were left alone on what was perhaps their darkest day: their friend and Master had been breaking bread with them just two days before in the upper room, only to be seized, scourged, and sacrificed before their eyes. Friday was earth shattering to them, overcome with grief, despair, and panic as they were. On Saturday reality sunk in, and the feelings of loss and loneliness likely flooded their lives.

Christ had told them that He would soon leave them, but who can blame them for not understanding what that meant? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland noted that they either could not or would not, entertain the thought of Him leaving them. And yet, it happened.

Then, after such a short time to learn and even less time to prepare, the unthinkable happened, the unbelievable was true. Their Lord and Master, their Counselor and King, was crucified. His mortal ministry was over, and the struggling little Church He had established seemed doomed to scorn and destined for extinction.

My heart aches think how lost those men must have felt without Jesus beside them. Their Saturday must have been one of great sorrow, loneliness, shock, and perhaps even regret. The earth quaking, the veil being rent in twain in the temple, and the storms tearing at Jerusalem must have felt inconsequential next to their loss.

So imagine the illuminating, overwhelming, perfect joy that came as their Saturday faded and Sunday blossomed: when the empty tomb was discovered, when the news was shared, when they felt the nail marks in the hands, wrists, side, and feet of their friend and Master, in His resurrected state. The comfort of His voice as He reassured them, blessed them, and taught them once more.

How much did the sorrow of their Friday and Saturday make the joy of their Resurrection Sunday brighter, more perfect, and more heart-piercing?

Our greatest joys in life come after – or even in the midst of – our greatest sorrows. Remembering this, and pressing forward with lively hope, is crucial to living an Easter life because it strengthens us, comforts us, and sustains us.

Never forget that doubters became believers.

If we were all to go around in a circle and take a moment to introduce ourselves and say, “I follow in [insert apostle’s name here] footsteps, I am that kind of disciple,” I would love to fill in Simon Peter’s name in that declaration. But in reality, I more often than not stand beside Thomas.

And that’s okay, because ultimately, faith was restored, and Thomas went from a doubter to a believer. Living an Easter life means building up your faith and seeking answers so that you can be a believer. It’s not an all-at-once, one and done sort of deal. It’s a process of growing belief, of self-examination, and many leaps of faith. Simon, fisherman son of Jona, did not become Peter, leader of the Church, overnight.

Believe in the Resurrection. Believe that Jesus Christ suffered for you, for your sins, for your sorrows, for your fears, for your infirmities, for your shortcomings. Believe that He died so that you could overcome the chains of death, and so that your life could be eternal.

Recognize your own road to Emmaus.

In Luke we read about the experience two apostles had as they traveled to the village called Emmaus.

Road to Emmaus“And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass that while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” (see Luke 24:13-35)

Did they not see Christ for who He was because of the Christ’s will, or because they were not looking for Him?

Are we not seeing Christ because we are not looking for Him as we walk our roads to Emmaus, to Damascus, to Nauvoo, to eternity?

Seek to recognize when the Savior walks beside you, when He is speaking with you along your journey. We get so caught up in looking for the blessings that come from His hand that we forget to look and seek His face, to recognize that when we need Him most He’s not so far as we think.

Mindfully embrace the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

This is a huge aspect of living an Easter life that probably will get its own blog post one day, but the heart of it is to mindfully, prayerfully, and gratefully embrace the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

What does that mean?

It means reflecting on the sacrifice that He made, on learning to apply and learn from the Atonement not just when things get hard because you’ve sinned or transgressed, but to lean on Jesus Christ in every aspect of your life, to recognize that it is because of His sacrifice that you can have hope, peace, and joy.

It means striving to recognize the influence Christ’s sacrifice has on you every single day, applying it to every aspect of your life. The Atonement of Christ will amplify your joys, ease your burdens, soothe your worries, and cleanse your soul. Reflecting and pondering that sacrifice with increased purpose and focus will strengthen you and strengthen your relationship with your Savior and Redeemer.bible-video-jesus-resurrected-hands-1432834-gallery

A prime example of embracing the Atonement of Christ fully is found in The Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 11, to be exact), when Christ (after His crucifixion and resurrection) visits His children in the Americas. He appears to them, and they are in awe of the Messiah of whom they had prophesied and waited for finally appearing to them. They kneel and worship Him, but it’s not driven into their hearts until they each have the opportunity to handle the marks in his hands, wrists, sides, and feet (like the apostles in Jerusalem), when they embrace Him, that they shout Hosanna and recognize Him not simply as the Messiah of the prophecies, but as their personal Savior & Redeemer.

He became more than a prophecy fulfilled – as they embraced Him, they embraced His atonement, His sacrifice, and felt the enduring and perfect power of His love.

What is it that keeps us from a similar experience?

And finally, seek to become a ‘post-post-resurrection disciple.’

Before Christ was killed, His disciples were pretty awesome (anyone recall James & John wanting to call lightning? Peter walking on water?).

After He was killed, they returned to their nets, to their patients, to their families, to their “pre-Christ” lives. It had been a miraculous 3 years, but what more could be done? Their Master had been killed, and their little Church would surely die with them.

After He was resurrected, they rejoiced in the empty tomb, in the victory over death, but yet again returned to their nets. They were post-resurrection disciples.

But then, those fishermen-turned-disciples had the most literal ‘come to Jesus’ of their ministry.

Elder Holland, because he is the Lord’s eloquent and fiercely loving bulldog, says it better than I could (and if you could, insert your name when you see Peter’s), as he illustrates the experience of Peter and his brethren being called from their boats to the shore:

What I need, Peter, are disciples – and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter… I am asking you to leave all this and go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally…

(read the full address here)

He called them to the shore and charged them to go forth, to set aside their nets and get to work – His work. To live lives that would exemplify His teachings, to cry repentance, to tell of His Atonement and Resurrection, to shout the love of their Father in Heaven from every rooftop, hill, and mountain they could climb. He sent them as far as they could go, and go they did, without fear or hesitation.

He asked them to give Him their all, as post-post-resurrection disciples, those who had witnessed, repented, and witnessed again.pictures-of-jesus-smiling-1138511-gallery

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Christ says, “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.””

A post-post-resurrection disciple living an Easter life gives all. Mindfully, gratefully, gives all, understanding that Easter is not a season, but a lifestyle. It is getting rid of those things which keep you from Christ, that keep you from witnessing of that empty tomb and those folded linens.

The Resurrection and the Atonement (for they are truly inseparable) are not a fleeting thought in the doctrine of Christ – it is at the center, and that is what we build upon.

Celebrate it, share it, live it.

Every day, we need to be striving to live an Easter life. It’s too important to our growth and our faith to allow Easter to influence our thinking and our faith but once a year – it needs to be a daily, heartfelt, mindful aspect of our lives.

Learning to live an Easter life really comes down to learning to be a post-post-resurrection disciple and pressing forward into an Easter eternity.