Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Heroes and Hope

I watched a small boy, who looked about 7 years old, approach the front of the chapel, clinging to his mom. I saw tears in her eyes, and her face was red from crying. Bending down from the behind the podium wall, I saw as mother's spoke to one another crying together. I couldn't hear the conversation, but I saw the mother lift up the back of the boys shirt to show scars from a massive, and at one point, life-threatening burn. I would later find out that this little boy had been around 2 years old when something on him caught fire in the kitchen, and how his brave siblings fought against the flame, rolling him around and around to try to extinguish it. 

I am sure I would have been touched by this story, no matter the circumstance. But what makes this story amazing is that the woman behind the podium wall was Stephanie Nielsen. I am so blessed to have been in her presence as she testified about the Atonement. 

As I watched this exchange between Stephanie and this mother, I felt the spirit testify to me of how she has become a walking testimony of faith, perseverance, endurance, and love. I am not sure how many witnessed this exchange, but it moved me deeply and stirred in me something I have started to remember recently. Hope.

During the question and answer session at the end of her remarkable and heartfelt story, Stephanie along with her husband Christian, answered the many questions of our students. Similar questions worded differently came left and right. It was as if the students wanted more or thought there was some looming, untold secret of how she was able to get through and survive, or how she is/was able to find happiness, or how she and her husband radiate such an incredible spirit together. 

The answer was always the same: the Atonement. 

I thought about being 20 again, and how much I lacked understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and how I could actually use it....everyday. I thought about these young students searching for meaning and truth, and trying to figure this out for themselves and how they can apply the Atonement. 

During my Great Depression of 2009, I remember having a conversation where I was asked if I considered using the Atonement to get me out of this awful rut. Before this particular conversation, my confidants/mentors/heroes always asked questions like, "have you prayed about it?" or "have you gone to the temple" or "have you spoken to the Bishop about your concerns?" or "have you served someone today?" These are all fantastic questions, but none of them had ever said it quite so eloquently...."have you tried using the Atonement to help with your concern?"

That was the first time I really took the opportunity to know about the 'enabling' part of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and discovered that this act is not just for the repentant, but for the sufferer and bearer of burdens.

The talk, Atonement and the Journey of Mortality by Elder David A. Bednar, says, “It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”

I am not an expert, and will be the first to admit that it is not natural for me to first see how I can apply the Atonement to my current trial/burden/challenge. One thought said during the visit from the Nielsen's was this powerful reminder. In response to how the Atonement helped her get through all the emotional, spiritual, and physical pain, to paraphrase, she and Christian said: in trying to apply the Atonement, most think that they should try to figure things out and then fill the gaps in with the Atonement, when in actuality, it should be the other way around. We should try to figure things out with the Atonement and then fill in the gaps with other things. 

I am honored to have been present to hear these wonderful words of encouragement and wisdom. I feel I am a better person having had this reminder of hope. I am blown away by the determination of a couple who has chosen to share their story, regardless of the physical and emotional toll it takes for them to share this message over and over again.

A week ago, I was asked who my heroes are. I knew of the Nielsen's story before, and had seen a recent video on Youtube. It wasn't until recently that I thought how because they are sharing this message of hope to the whole world - that is what makes them heroes to me.

Artist: Yongsung Kim

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My Least Favorite Trait: Patience

It is no secret that Patience is my least favorite of all the Christ-like attributes. Sometimes during church when I know this is the subject of the day, I roll my eyes and think...Great, just what I need. And I know my reaction is due in part because I do REALLY need it. 

Until I was married, I thought I had a pretty good hold on this trait. I mean, let's face it - in Mormon culture I was 30 and unmarried, I completed my master's degree and wasn't working in the field I thought I was going to be, I was running from place to place trying to make a living and a life in DC, I lived with 4 other girls....patience was something I felt I was good at. Then, I got married.

We haven't had an 'ideal' marriage....or relationship, for that matter. We are both learning and I feel like this learning process is taking a lot longer than it should. But, hey, what else do I have to compare this to. There are not two other people in the world just like us. Even though there are couples who we can turn to for advice and healing, we are unique in how we deal with certain issues because of our unique and distinct personalities. There are obviously faith-related principles that we try to live by that help us get through the tough times, but all in all, we are both trying given our own strengths and weaknesses.

When I read an article in the Mormon Ensign this month, I was reminded about what it was like to have the kind of patience I felt I had 3 years ago being single in DC. The truth of the matter is that I still struggle to understand timeline and how to deal with current situations with grace. I moved to DC in 2009 without a job. I was a substitute teacher, a lifeguard, and an intern all at once while I searched for a full time job. At that time, I found a quote - which I placed somewhere I could see it everyday, and which is also in the following article:

Patience: More Than Waiting

“Patience is a willingness, in a sense, to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe, rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance. Put another way, too much anxious opening of the oven door and the cake falls instead of rising. So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be.” by Elder Maxwell.
I love how he put it so eloquently....a cell of circumstance. I have been to many seminars and read several self-help books and one theme that always creeps up is how we attach our emotions so much to the circumstance that we forget how to be. That is me...to a T. Based on earlier posts, you will see how much it has been important for me to realize that just because someone isn't happy or having a good time when they are with me, does not reflect on me as an individual. 

The first year of our marriage, my sweetheart was in the darkest space he has ever been. He was sad, and it took me a year to finally realize that it wasn't my fault. One year....one whole year of feeling like I could have been better, something was wrong with me; I was in complete and utter misery. Counseling, going to church, going to the temple, scripture study, prayer, service...everything I did to not feel that dark chasm consume my life too, didn't seem work. It felt like a temporary band-aid. I remember thinking, is this ever going to get better, or should I get out right now? 

BUT over time, all those things I listed above including more prayer, seeking counseling, talking with others, helped me understand a little more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and I was finally able to feel a little healing from feelings of inadequacy, guilt, disappointment, and shame. I still struggle with feeling completely healed, but I have a better grasp on what I need to do when I start spiraling downward. 

Without getting into the details of what I do to prevent, or even what I do when I am getting deeper and deeper in it, I realized that I had been passively patient in my previous trials. One other quote from this article that I love says, "Because patience tests us at a very personal level, our focus is often inward. But Elder Maxwell taught that “patience also helps us to realize that while we may be ready to move on, having had enough of a particular learning experience, our continued presence is often needed as a part of the learning environment of others.” Not only do we need patience, but others also need our patience or the example of our patience."

"We’ll all be required to wait for things in our lives—even at times the most righteous desires of our hearts. But Jesus Christ, our “best, [our] heav’nly Friend,” can comfort and reassure us of good things to come. And He is lovingly patient with us as we learn to be like Him, as we learn to face the expected and unexpected plot twists of mortality and say to our Father, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”"

Even now it seems that I am waiting...always waiting for the next step. My patience in situations and circumstances that I don't like, has waxed and waned - and my relationships have suffered as a result of being passively patient.

I am aware of what actively practicing patience can do for me. I don't quite think I am ready to ask for it though...and perhaps this is due in part to my comfort in being passive. I know I need to gain a better knowledge of the principle: if I turn to Heavenly Father in this plea to do His will that He will show me what being patient really means. But I fear that how I currently practice patience will prevent me from wanting to know how.

Side note: In trying to find some artwork that reflects Active Patience, I searched key words Perseverance, Reaching for Hope, Time and Patience. Then I typed in Google, If patience were a piece of art. I came across this wonderful oil painting by Leonid Afremov titled, The End of Patience

I have copied the descriptions below, because they are beautiful and portray this idea of sometimes how painful it can be to be patient, but how it can also be full of hope and beauty.

Start Quote

Unfortunate evening

There’s doubtfully a single person on Earth who likes waiting. When you come to a meeting on time or several minutes before, waiting seems to turn into torture. Imagine if you’re expecting the person you love. Then every minute before the meeting seems to be an hour. Your heart is beating very fast. Your mouth goes dry. Your hands are shaking. Do you remember such a feeling? It’s very contradictory. You feel happily excited and very nervous at the same time. When the person you’ve been waiting for finally comes, there’s nothing better in the world than just to say hello and dissolve in their arms. Relive these feeling once more with this wonderful picture by Leonid Afremov, one of the best-known modern painting artists.


Everything can happen differently. You might be sitting alone on the bench in the park waiting for someone to come. However, that person doesn’t show up. And you have been waiting for fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes… Still they haven’t come. You’ve been watching other couples strolling around on the alleys of a beautiful autumn park with its colors. They were holding each other’s hands, talking and laughing. They even looked at you to see if you were going to leave and they could sit on the bench so that they could be closer to each other. All those couples went either to the closest cafes all modern decor or maybe home. You take out your umbrella and keep waiting. It’s been an hour. It started to rain. You feel desperation and finally decide to leave.

What attracts us most in this sad modern painting?

  • Wonderful autumn trees dressed in beautifully colored leaves.
  • Elegant tall lanterns throwing their warm yellow light on the trunks of the trees and the pavement of the alley.
  • Even such a usual thing as wet asphalt looks charming on this canvas.It reflects every ray of light from the lanterns as well as from the sky.
  • A delicate figure of a young woman hiding under a big umbrella.
  • Modern painting techniques demonstrated by the artist who works with a palette knife.

No matter how hard it was for that elegant lady to wait for a long time and then leave, she is walking towards something light. Something good. Perhaps something better than she could even imagine.

End Quote 

What I like most about this painting and the description is this idea portrayed, which I bolded above. She is walking - she is actively going toward the light...something good. The brilliant colors also make me feel hopeful for her. When I typed in the key words listed above, all the portraits and art that came up were dark and dreary. While this scene was probably in the evening, and it is potentially dark because of the rain...the colors tend to tell another story. The scene looks as if it starts and ends in beauty. 

Maybe that is what I have to hold onto.

Monday, March 9, 2015

What Can I Do For You?

Today during a meeting, someone asked me "What can we do for you?" As someone who has stewardship over my team, it is not typical that someone asks what they can do for me. It was refreshing, and I was a little misty-eyed. It is so nice to work with a team who understands the value of service, and understands the value of teamwork. 

It is easy to go forward presenting issues and solutions to help the overall mission, and it is rare that I think, "What do I need help with?" I found myself stumbling on how to respond.

I got thinking - I have been so busy focusing on getting issues that I could resolve, solved, that I haven't thought about how to receive help along the way. I should also explain that I also feel like I know how to delegate, which is why I have two members of my team that are more like counselors than anything that I ask for help. I also feel like I have created a great work balance in being able to accomplish immediate tasks, as well as focus on important goals. AND I don't know that this is pride, so much as it is that I really don't have time to think about it. I am just trying to help my team move forward.

At the end of the day it was so nice to hear someone ask, "What can we do for you?" 

Thank you!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Overwhelmed by Too Much Information

As part of my commitment to read more, I decided to also capture articles I have been reading and interested in lately. Not having the time necessarily that I want in order to finish all these books I have and want to buy, I thought this was a good way for me to stay informed, and in touch with some deeper issues. I like bringing these up in conversation and hearing what people have to say about them.

With this new commitment of mine, I also needed to realize one thing: we are in the information age. We will be bombarded with messaging attached to personal experience and agenda. What we should learn from what we find online is that we are entitled to develop our own opinion. I remember reading a book called the Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making by Deborah Stone. The book was intriguing in that it questioned research because really, research can be demonstrated and swayed to prove an argument. The book called out two research articles one debating one side of the issue, and the other debating the other side. Both articles were brilliant.

At first, I was upset - how was I supposed to decipher which argument was the best? What was I supposed to believe? I remember literally crying in front of my professor (thank you Thad for sticking with me), and really struggling with what was real and what to believe. In this regard, the class did exactly what was intended. It taught me to think. It taught me to ask questions - and not even questions, the right questions. It gave me what I needed to make informed decisions and seek out research of all kinds in order to form my own opinion.

Back to what I was saying. Here are some articles I have read recently that have inspired, or at least provoked thought. What do you think?

Deseret News article: Mormon Mom's Answer: how much should I pay the babysitter

NPR Ed article: Grief in the Classroom: 'Saying Nothing Says a Lot'

It is easy for us to be swayed one way or another. We could be reading one argument for something one minute and one article against that same argument the next. I think of the prophets who foretold about the days before Christ comes again to the earth and what challenges those who are preparing the way will have to face. I am convinced that the number one challenge is the fight for truthful and honest information. Now more than ever, we need to rely on a Heavenly witness if the information we have been given is wise and true. Now more than ever, we need to figure out what information we can rely on. 

In the talk Four Absolute Truths Provide an Unfailing Moral Compass, Richard B. Wirthlin states:

"Many have referred to the current era as the information age. But it is ironic that, in an information-rich era, the biggest threat to our world’s societies, rich or poor, and to each of us personally is the absence of moral clarity and purpose.

Clearly, the stresses and strains that assault us cannot be attributed to a lack of knowledge. In fact, a current weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a whole lifetime in 17th-century England.
But unfortunately, the explosive increase in information has not led to a parallel increase in true wisdom.
We cannot cope with the confusions and the challenges of this world unless we use a clear and consistent moral compass that will unerringly take us through our own personal trials and the tugs and pulls of our own temptations—a compass that will chart our way to peace of mind, self-worth, and joy."

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by all the decisions I have to make. I get tired of the responsibility associated with having access to all this amazing information. I often find myself daydreaming of a time where it took weeks, even months to receive letters from loved ones. I also daydream about escaping to the high mountains with my car full of all my great books, and losing myself in reading good material. 

But then I am reminded of my responsibility to decipher information and proclaim truth when I see it, and invoke wisdom as I experience life. While it is daunting, it also give me a sense of pride...to carry on what I know in my heart to be true, and sharing that with others. 

What a great day in which I live.

Blind Devotion

Being able to hear her side of the story really opened my mind to what happens in someone's mind when they are faced with circumstances that seem debilitating - for all those who have physical or mental limitations. I don't quite understand it all, but this beautiful video expresses what it is like to have something so cherished, and to lose it. I have only had glimpses of the struggle of knowing what is now lost, and needing to come up with a way to overcome....even if that way seems stubborn.

And for those of us on the other end, I think this video gives a brilliant view into what it means to "support" and "love." When I struggle through trying to understand my sweetheart's discouragement and pain, people tell me to just keep supporting him and loving him. Sure his stubbornness and mine often clash, and we lose patience with one another, me more often than him. I end up crying to the heavens, "Can't he just see that I am trying to be supportive and that I love him?" 

That's the rub, isn't it? Maybe our loved ones going through these experiences desire to find themselves through it, and we shouldn't let them. Maybe, just maybe there is hope knowing that silently we are doing more than they think....because they prefer the silent kind of support.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Resolutions, Goals, and Happiness Project Commitment

Well, it has certainly been a while since blogging about my Happiness Project. While I could come up with excuses and feel bad about not keeping up with my personal goals last year, I decided to start fresh. I used to be one of those people who looked at New Year's resolutions as a 'fad' and something not really worth my time, because I didn't want to be one of those people to break it. 

I thought the idea was silly and overrated. After thinking about it over the course of January, I had some thoughts, which I shared with a good friend of mine who was preparing to teach a lesson about resolutions and goal setting. Here is what I sent her in an email:

I have some interesting thoughts about goal setting in general. Firstly, I think that goal setting is hard for some people, particularly those who are motivated by success in different ways. For example, I am a goal setter. I feel good being able to cross things off a list. It fills me with satisfaction and helps me realize how much I am achieving. 
My sweetheart, however, does not set goals because if he doesn't reach them, he feels like a failure. When I am having hard time in life, I don't set goals either because of this very thing. It is not that I am a perfectionist - but that I lose hope that goal setting is not really going to give me the outcome I want. Now, that is key. An outcome I want. Interesting, right? What about the outcome my Heavenly Father wants? How many of us set goals using Heavenly Father as our guide?

I think that is the underlying question. This is not to say that our goals only needs be spiritually focused. No, no. In fact, the one goal that seems to be common on New Year's is losing weight, right? Well, who is not to say that a goal that is important to Heavenly Father for me is to be healthy? 

Measuring Success

Another thing: Perhaps those who don't set goals don't understand how to measure success. I have been reading this great book called The 4 Disciplines of Execution where the authors discuss how to be an effective and successful leader/company. One thing they discuss is when someone makes personal goals, it is almost more important to understand the right measurements for success. The book describes two kinds of measurement:

Lag measure: measurement of a result you are trying to achieve. It is called a lag measure because by the time you get the data, the result has already happened (and it is always lagging).

The book says we need to start thinking about the lead measure instead of the lag measure. A lead measure foretells the event. It is predictive, meaning that if the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure will also change (this form of goal setting means that the way you get to your goal might change! Which is totally ok).

So, back to my weight example: Let's say my goal is weight loss. The lag measure for this is typically what my weight looks like on the bathroom scale (which can mostly be depressing and show me that I am really not meeting my goal, which for me equals failure). ALAS, there is hope. 
You see if you format this goal using the LEAD measure, you might define your goal as "reducing the amount of calorie intake" or "increasing the amount of calories burned" or "going to the gym 3 times a week." These are more controllable than stating I will lose 20 pounds. If the goal is to lose weight, yes that is understandable, but you need to create measurements of success that you have more control over.

I don't know if that was helpful, but this example made me really think about how I am goal setting and what it looks like to get there.

Recognizing the differences, and woah, aren't we doing this already?

I think understanding experiences of how other set goals is also really important so that you know that there are people that may not be interested in goal setting, and perhaps for very different reasons: fear, laziness, feeling like they are doing the best they can and adding one more thing to the plate would drive them mad, feeling like they set goals everyday - and it is hard to commit to one when they are already internally committed to others. I think this is a great reflection of life. Everyone does it differently. And while people may not formally set goals by writing them down, I believe that we are already doing this goal setting business every time we take the sacrament, we just call it something different. Isn't that what it is for - to evaluate our standing in His eyes every week as we take the sacrament?

To answer your questions

Do you set goals? Yes. I set them at random times, not just once a year. But the new year helps me put things into perspective. 

Do you practice setting New Year's resolutions? I didn't for a long time because, like other things revolved around the holidays, I felt like it was an inauthentic way of doing something we should be doing anyway. I boycotted setting resolutions, until I realized WHY NOT!? If I am already setting goals all year long and every Sunday during sacrament, why not take yet another opportunity to do so. My obstinate, proud moment passed as I really did take New Year's resolution setting to a new level.

Are you able to keep your resolutions? Not until just recently. I was one of those who would make resolutions - and stop tracking them, therefore I was not really able to 'keep them.' One thing I tried describing earlier: I realized the way I was setting goals was not the best to determine my success. I had to re-think how to set goals in order to keep resolutions. I had to determine HOW I was going to measure success, and HOW I was going to get there, in order for me to feel like I was able to keep my resolution. I also think that being flexible to these HOW's is really important. It is not that the goal is changing, so much as we are discovering what works and what doesn't work for us during this goal-resolution process - how we reach our goals will indefinitely change over time

Do you track your progress with your goals? I didn't, until just recently. Tracking them has become completely important to me so I can see where I have been. Again, this is my personality. Tracking may not be something that works for everyone - because again - they may not need it to feel successful. I think another important thing to consider instead of formal tracking is evaluation. I think it is important for us to decide how we want to measure our success, and if that means not thinking about it for a year, that is what that means.

Do you have a method of goal setting/resolution making that works for you? Yes. Writing it down on my blog, and re-evaluation of where I said I wanted to be and where I am, keeping in mind on of my 13 commandments, it part of life to fail - what is failure anyway.

Did you learn anything from your failures? Absolutely. Failure isn't failure in the way we natural people think about things. In my blog post: Funny Thing About Failure, I said:

"In the article Never Give Up by President Monson, he states, "In our journey on earth, we discover that life is made up of challenges—they just differ from one person to another. We are success-oriented, striving to become “wonder women” and “super men.” Any hint of failure can cause panic, even despair. Who among us cannot remember moments of failure?"

He continues, "Our responsibility is to rise from mediocrity to competence, from failure to achievement. Our task is to become our best selves. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final."

Failure exists. Failure exists when we don't do our best. Failure exists when we compromise our personal integrity and morals. Failure happens when we don't follow Christ. So, in a way, my thoughts in the circumstance mentioned above were a failure to what I know to be right. Failure is letting the natural man take over our Godly and divine propensities. In this circumstance, I was caught between my natural-triggered emotion and the emotion of how to turn this circumstance into something I could learn from.

I have put off the next steps for the Happiness Project because I am afraid to fail. I am afraid to make commitments I might not be able to keep. This barrier is preventing me from growing. It is time I took a better look at commandment #8. I fail when I don't do my best. Why put off happiness because I am afraid of failure? Failure will make me better. The clock is ticking."

Additional Thoughts

Here are some extras should you want to peruse my thoughts on this subject (from my blog)


I know this was an overwhelming load of information, as you can tell this subject is close to my heart because I struggle so much with not letting myself or others down.I still feel guilt on a daily basis for things I don't accomplish, things my sweetheart didn't accomplish, and things I don't control. I do have to say, I am getting better, and it is a goal of mine to keep going after those Happiness Project areas I identified so long ago. I think it is best if I start small and build up to it...yes, that is what I will do. At least I will start them and see where it goes, right?

Another great blog post about new year's resolutions is captured on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog.