To Whom Shall We Go?

Take a moment to imagine the following scene from the New Testament: Jesus has gathered His disciples around him in Capernaum after teaching in the synagogue. He has just fed the five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread. He has walked on water in the midst of a storm. Prior to this, he has healed a man both physically and spiritually. He has turned water into wine, cleansed the temple, seen into the heart of a Samaritan woman as they sat at a well, and has time and again testified to his disciples who exactly He is.

He looks at this motley crew of disciples who have traveled so far with Him – among them a handful of fishermen, a tax collector, and at least one zealot, all of them likely younger than we tend to imagine. He sees them, knows them, and loves them. They have come far together, and are beloved friends. He has renamed at least three of them, giving Simon the surname of Peter, meaning rock, and giving James and John the not-so-subtle moniker of ‘the sons of Thunder.’

They have traveled together, they have eaten together, they have taught together.

There were probably a number of late nights and early mornings were a disciple was struck with a bout of insomnia, only to find their Master watching the skies or on his knees praying to His Father. Perhaps then Christ offered them sacred, loving, individual counsel (a literal come to Jesus).

He knew that Peter was impulsive and bold, that James and John were blunt, ambitious, and protective (remember that they wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritan village that refused their Master hospitality), that Andrew was the one who had invited his brother Peter to first learn from Christ, that Nathanael was honest and without guile, that Thomas, though he had his doubts, was the first to tell the Lord without hesitation that he would go with Him into the town of Bethany, even if it meant dying with Him.

At the end of the sixth chapter of John, we read that Christ had gathered these men and others He loved so dearly and “knew in himself that his disciples murmured” at some of the things he had preached on that hillside not long before. “There are some of you that believe not,” he tells them, because “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.”

The others who had tagged along departed, leaving Christ with his Twelve. He surveys these men, and asks, “will ye also go away?”

I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it must have been for Jesus Christ to pose that question. His voice likely held the same tenor then as it would some time later on the banks of the Galilee, when He asked Simon Peter thrice, “lovest thou me?”

I imagine there was a bit of a pause as the twelve looked at one another, and at their Master. Finally, Simon Peter responds,

Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the son of the Living God.”

President Ballard, in his 2016 General Conference talk entitled “To Whom Shall We Go?” taught that “in that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ,” and notes that later, when they received the gift of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, that they became bolder in their witness of Christ as the Savior and Messiah, and that they understood more fully what they had been taught during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.

That question, “to whom shall we go?” is just as crucial to our discipleship as it was to that of the original Twelve apostles.

President Ballard continued, “Today is no different. For some, Christ’s invitation to believe and remain continues to be hard – or difficult to accept. Some disciples struggle to understand a specific Church policy or teaching. Others find concerns in our history or in the imperfections of some members and leaders, past and present. Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much. Finally, some have become ‘weary in well-doing.’ For these and other reasons, some Church members vacillate in their faith, wondering if perhaps they should follow those who ‘went back, and walked no more’ with Jesus.”

I have asked myself that question countless times in the past years – to whom would I go, if I were not to continue beside Jesus? And while that question has thankfully never been answered by experience, I have learned much about who it is I have turned to, and continue to strive to walk alongside, and who I would be without Him and His restored Gospel in my life.

As I prayed about this idea and brought it to the temple, my mind was continually drawn back to whom it is we do turn to, in spite of our doubts, questions, and at times, our own rebellious nature, and why we make that choice to remain with him in the face of adversity.

In the course of our journey of discipleship, we will come across questions that will cause us to halt and take stock of what we believe.

Some are more obvious – the position of the Church on key political issues, the sacrifices required and obedience expected to hold a temple recommend, the history of the Church concerning members and events, the amount of time we are expected to spend in Church, in our callings, and in our activities.

Others are more personal, and often harder to tackle – the consequences of our mistakes and sins, how doctrine and principles impact our lives, and even the actions of other members can throw us into an inner turmoil that might cause us to feel that it would be best to “walk no more” with the Saints. What causes these doubts or concerns will shift and change as we do.

It’s Christ who will never change.

That Savior to whom we turn will not change, because of his infinite and eternal love for us. His very nature is unchanging and eternal. He is and will always be the one holding out a hand from the Garden and from the Cross, calling us to follow Him and accept His mercy and grace. He will always be the one to kneel beside us, weep with us, rejoice with us, and constantly call to us, intercede for us, and wait for us.

How we see Him might change – there are times in my life when I needed my Savior as a Comforter above all else, times when I needed that Captain of my soul as I navigated rough waters, days when I needed more of the Lion of Judah and less Shepherd, and there are other times when I needed Him to be more of a drill sergeant as I got my life in order.

(…So it was like five years of drill sergeant.)

President Ballard reminds us, “Brothers and Sisters, accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging. It has always been thus, and it ever will be. Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.

“The danger comes when someone chooses to wander away from the path that leads to the tree of life. Sometimes we can learn, study, and know, and sometimes we have to believe, trust, and hope.”

It isn’t easy to walk with Christ, to continue in our faithfulness, but then again, Christ never promised that it would be. He never promised us that after we rose up out of those waters of baptisms that our doubt would leave us. He never promised us that upon receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost that persecution would halt, that trials would cease, and that tribulation would be no more. He didn’t say we’d have all the answers, and that the questions wouldn’t knock us off our feet as we walked His path.

What He did promise us was that He’d be there. He denied no one, rather, He invited them to come and partake of His goodness, promising he’d be there when our questions arose, when our fears took hold of our hearts, when the world took up arms against us. When the apostles asked questions, He never snapped or pushed them aside. He spoke honestly and with great love, but with a boldness that allowed for His disciples to take stock of where they were at. Those questions were an opportunity for course correction and for a deeper understanding of doctrine, but also an opportunity for an increase of faith. He has never asked us to know everything, other than to believe in His love for us, knowing the rest would follow.

My favorite Conference address given by Elder Neil L. Andersen underscores this idea of not knowing anything, but yet believing and turning to Christ.

“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.””

It’s okay not to know the meaning of all things! But what we do need to know is whom it is we turn to.

After I joined the Church, there were several tumultuous years both personally and spiritually. I was a stubborn child in an interfaith home that became a rebellious teenager in a broken home. My parents got divorced just three years after my mom, sister, and I joined the Church, leaving me wondering how following the invitation to “come follow me” had resulted in a mess of a home, and being written off by a large part of my father’s side of the family. I had a lot of questions about my purpose and the doctrine of the Church, and how the Atonement applied to me. I went to university feeling like a second rate citizen compared to my classmates – I knew very little about the Book of Mormon other than I believed it was true, my family was a wreck, I was rough around the edges, and was unfamiliar with a great deal of the culture of the Church despite a loving home ward that did their best with a slightly wayward teenager. I battled personal demons, culture shock, and a 7AM biology class, and felt like the Lord had dumped me in dark and unfamiliar waters.

But it was there that I learned that the only way to get through it all was to turn to the Savior because He was the only one that was going to get me through it.

It was in those dark waters that I came to consciously and purposefully embrace the light and promise of Christ’s Atonement.

It was then that I learned that questions were crucial to my growth, but only if I asked the right person, and listened to the answers I received.

It was in my own late nights and early mornings that I found that healing and direction would come only by staying aboard the “old ship Zion,” not by jumping ship and trying to make it on my own as I tackled questions and doubts and fears.

Never once did the Savior brush aside my questions, no matter how trivial, but neither did He always calm the storm. He just promised He’d be aboard my little ship helping me navigate those storms. He knows me like He knew those original twelve apostles – knows my doubts and questions, but also my heart and faith. He doesn’t punish me for my doubts, but rather asks that I bring them to His feet, rather than to the boxing ring that is society. He knows were my weaknesses are, and knows how to turn them to strengths. He knows the path my feet tread, and that my stubborn streak is as long as a country mile, but He doesn’t give up on me. He weeps with me when I feel lost and broken, rejoices with me when my heart is filled with light and joy, and fights alongside me when I am called to the fray. He is there in the valley of shadows, and on that mountaintop.

So when the tides rise and the path grows steep, and your lamp flickers, to whom do you turn? When we are overwhelmed by our own lives, feeling half-drowned from our own sins and transgressions, feeling wounded and alone, to whom do you turn?

Each of us need to answer that question as we walk the path of discipleship, and it is likely that we will need to answer it again and again throughout our lives as we face different challenges and heartaches.

Years later, Simon Peter praised the Savior in the same vein He did when Christ asked whether He would walk no more with him, saying,

“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, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation… wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen, ye love, in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

When those hard times come, those trials of our faith, do we turn to the Savior? Do we stand with Peter and proclaim Christ? Do we declare our faith?

Or do we turn away and walk no more with Him?

When the path grows steep, to whom do we turn?

{It’s also important to remember to walk with Christ when times are good, when the waves lap gently at our feet instead of dragging us out to sea. Are we the disciples who are with Christ every step of the way, or just when we are desperate and afraid?}

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Because He First Called Us

The past couple of weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God. Not just in the abstract sense of “oh, there’s an all-powerful, omnipotent being out there running the universe”, but rather in the sense of who He is. Who He is as our Father in Heaven, who He is to me as an individual, why He asks us to do what He does, all of it.

I’ve had a lot of time to think, clearly.

I’ve got a lot of friends going through a phase in their lives where they’re angry at God, or they’re feeling like He doesn’t hear them or care about them, let alone love them. I’ve got several who were raised Christian, and over the years they’ve stopped believing in Him altogether.

It’s not my place to judge. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m not planning on climbing up on my soapbox and preaching repentance because people don’t believe in God. Because, honestly, I don’t think that’s the way to go about it.

But it really has kept me thinking.

Belief in and a relationship with God is intensely personal, one of the most personal things a person can pursue, and one of the most sacred relationships we can cultivate here on the earth.

We focus a lot on Christ as Christians, which is incredibly important – Christ is the core of Christianity. We pray to God (in Christ’s name), but sometimes I feel like it’s just a pit stop during the day, a twice-a-day and at meal times sort of relationship. We don’t really focus on who He is, other than to acknowledge His power and His role in our lives. We leave it as “God is our Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love Him,” and we talk about how He is our creator and holder of the blessings, giver of commandments,  enforcer of obedience. We don’t try to know Him as well He knows us. We seek His hand well before we seek His face.

And when we think about who He is, it tends to be the bigger picture, not the detailed one that answers the question of who He is to us as individuals.

Maybe it’s just me?

Some of the most powerful revelations I’ve received while studying the scriptures have been about who God is. Most of it has come as I study the relationships He’s had with His people in the Old and New Testaments, and from what I’ve learned from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants.

Over the past couple months (and years), these are the six lessons that have been the most profound and have changed my relationship with my Father in Heaven:

1. The God of the Old and New Testaments are the same God.

This is a lesson I learned as I spent late nights and early mornings preparing seminary lessons last year, finding cross-references to bolster the New Testament stories I was studying with my young men and young women. Growing up, I think I tended to see Heavenly Father in one of two roles: the role of the angry God of the Old Testament, and the role of the benevolent God who sacrificed His Son of the New Testament. How could what seemed to be two totally different modes of Godhood be deemed the same? After all, the scriptures teach that God is unchanging and immutable, from everlasting to everlasting.

God has always asked the same things of His people. That’s why He’s unchanging. He’s never faltered in what He asks, only how He asks us to do it. He asks us to be obedient, to have faith, to be diligent, to keep the commandments He gives. He tells us that He is bound by our obedience. His response is in response to our response to His commandments (did you get that? Read it again.). Thus, we see that the Israelites in the Old Testament often veered into disobedience, which required a firmer hand than the disciples of the New Testament might have needed.

That leads us to a second lesson.

2. God is the God we need – not necessarily the God we want.

A lot of times, we get caught up on what we want  from God – blessings, knowledge, answers, etc. But if we were to receive what we wanted all the time, we’d have very little growth, and growth is exactly the purpose of mortality. Instead, God often gives us what we need for our growth and eternal progression, even if some of those needs are trials or hardships. This isn’t to say that God deals out hardships left and right, but He does allow us to go through certain things that will strengthen us and help us in the long run. We might not want to go through hard things, but we need to go through them in order to become more like Him.

I realized how integral this understanding has become in the past few months when I noticed the internal conversations I would have with myself when things got tough. I’d catch myself asking God for a miracle, and then a few moments later telling Him, “but I realize I don’t need a miracle for my faith to be strengthened” or “I don’t need to know what the plan is right now.” I’ll ask for something, some proof of something or a sign, and the Spirit will gently ask, “but do you really need that?”

Understanding the difference between spiritual needs and wants has drawn me so much closer to the Lord, and has given me a greater appreciation for who He is and what He wants for each of us as His children. What He wants for us is tenfold more glorious for us than what we want for ourselves, because He has the bigger picture, the perfect understanding, the infinite wisdom.

This leads to the next lesson, one that is defining where I’m at in life right now.

3. God wants us to be comforted – not comfortable.

This is a hard one, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past few years. Towards the end of my senior year at SVU, I realized I had hit a plateau in terms of spiritual growth.

I loved my calling, I was faithfully attending my Church meetings (except FHE – I fail at FHE), I spent time in the scriptures every day, I sought service opportunities, I was reading books and talks and lectures given by General Authorities, and I was taking multiple Institute courses.

But I felt like I was in a spiritual rut. I felt like I wasn’t growing or progressing, despite how much time I was investing into it all.

It took a lot of prayer and study, as well as counseling with a teacher I loved and admired, to connect the dots. I was too comfortable. I was sitting on my laurels and wasn’t stretching myself, stepping outside my comfort zone. I grew spiritually when I was uncomfortable, when I was having to rely on God minute to minute to get through the day, when I was tackling new challenges and working with different people. In Buena Vista, at Southern Virginia, in that Institute building, I was safe. I was comfortable. I knew what was expected of me, what I expected of myself.

This isn’t to say that I go out and find hard things to put myself through! I promise, I’m not that much of a masochist.

But it is about recognizing when you’re too comfortable, when you’ve settled into so much of a routine that the Lord can’t get your attention.

God wants to comfort us in our lives, but He doesn’t want us to get too comfortable. He wants to climb a mountain with us, not sit beside us safe and sound by the hearth day in and day out. He’s asking us to leave port, to get out into the open seas to learn things, to sort out our potential, and figure out just who He is to us.

4. God is infinite in every detail of our lives.

This is something that’s really gotten me through the past several months, because to be entirely honest, this move to Utah has been painfully hard. But knowing that the Lord is in the details, even when I don’t know what those details even are, has been the one thing keeping me moving ahead. It’s been that knowledge that everything He does is motivated by His love for us that gives me perspective and courage.

And the details that I do see Him in are so precious, these reminders that He knows me, knows what I need (even when I don’t). They appear in the form of a friend, perfect timing, or even in the stillness at the end of the day. I see Him in the little tender mercies that don’t mean much to others, but mean the world to me. He orchestrates things to help us along the way, little love notes that remind us that we aren’t alone, that there are no coincidences in this mortality, especially not in our relationships with others.

He’s just waiting for us to see Him in those details.

5. Our God is a God who weeps – for us and with us.

I think this is one of the most personal aspects of the relationship we have with our Father in Heaven. He knows our hearts, He knows our shortcomings, doubts, and struggles. He’s not distant – He’s right there with us as we struggle, as we fight against temptation, and even as we give in. He’s there weeping with us and for us – when our hearts break, so does His. When our tears fall, so do His. He is a god of compassion, of ultimate empathy and unending love.

I think I drilled this principle into my seminary student’s heads more than any other, because it is so crucial to understanding our Father in Heaven: we love Him because He first loved us, and we call Him Father because He first called us sons and daughters.

Say it with me:

We call Him Father because He first called us sons and daughters.

Because of that love, He’s with us for the long haul, through the sorrow and through the sweetness of life, when we are in the depths of despair, and when we are lifted by the wings of joy. He’s with us when we are broken, when we are lost, when we are feeling so far from love that there’s little hope left.

When we weep, HE weeps. Our pain is HIS pain. Our joy is His joy, and our triumphs are His triumphs (because He doesn’t just weep with us when we are filled with sorrow).

And He weeps for us – when we are caught up in the midst of our struggles, when we are feeling alone, and especially when we think He’s not there. He is a God of infinite, perfect compassion, who wants us to know that He is beside us every step of the way, that He is a God of grace and mercy who wants nothing more than for His children to turn to Him in every hour.

Every time I read the news or turn on the television, seeing the reports of violence, discord, and the continual degradation of moral society, I am reminded [and given hope by the fact that] God weeps with and for us. And that gives me peace and hope, no matter what’s going on in the world.

(This is a principle that has been particularly precious to me over the past few months, something He reminds me of often as I struggle to settle here in Utah and sort out what’s ahead)

6. His plans are bigger and more beautiful than ours could possibly be.

I would say that 75% of my waking hours, I’m thinking about what my plans are, and forget entirely that God’s plans are bigger and better than mine ever could be. I get so caught up in the details, the stress of it all, that I forget that God’s plans for me are larger and more beautiful than any I could dream up on my own. He wants us to be instruments in His hand, to be a person that makes a difference in the lives of others, in way s that we don’t always comprehend or see at that moment.

Our plans must seem so simplistic and colorless to the Lord at times, with our narrow mortal scope of seeing the world. We get caught up on the day to day, on the week by week, which is important, but it’s not the only way to see things. I’ve always imagined Him watching us, shaking His head (lovingly), all while seeing our eternities open up in front of us, while we stare at the ground at our feet instead of the view ahead. Every once in a while we look up, but it’s only for a few moments, before we return to the study the gravel before us.

Sometimes I think we are better suited to the plans He has for us than the plans we make for ourselves – our struggle comes from our stubbornness, and our desire to do it all on our own, instead of asking Him to widen our vision, to fix our eyes, and to train our hearts to be lifted for an eternity rather than burned by mortality.

(Insert an iconic Prince of Egypt reference here)

Is it not so incredible that our Father sees our shortcomings and our struggles, our heartbreaks and our temptations, and still sets us on a path for a beautiful greatness? That says just as much about Him as it does about us – that He has faith beyond measure in our capacity and our ability, and that He’s willing to walk right beside us as He shows us what He has in store.

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These lessons are ones that have entirely changed my relationship with my Heavenly Father. They are lessons that drawn me closer to Him, that has deepened my understanding of the connection we have to Him – we call Him Father because He first called us sons and daughters. We are the prodigals in every sense of the word, and He is the Papa God who doesn’t just stand at the door, or even at the gate, waiting for us to return. He’s running down that path, arms outstretched, waiting for us to understand exactly who He is and who we are to Him. He never stops running, never stops calling, never stops loving.

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.