Sunday, December 21, 2014

Emulating Christ Christmas Challenge

Emulating Christ Christmas Challenge
This is a challenge I have been doing daily on Facebook.  I wanted to archive it on my blog.  I invite you to join us... Scroll down to the day and start where we are.  I invite you to go back and do the other days between Christmas and New Year and use Day 1 as your New Years resolution this year.  Thanks for Sharing the gift and sharing your light.  Together we can make this world a brighter place and we reach out to each other in loving kindness.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Very Personal Answer to Prayer that has Sustained my Hope

Twenty-two years ago today, I married my sweetheart and my best friend for time and for all eternity. 

Back then I only had a small glimpse of 
the wonderful life that he would bring me. 

Our story is one of those that bridge time and space...

I think I loved my husband from the first moment that I met him.  In third grade I went home and wrote in my journal, 
"I love Scott Clarke and I'm going to marry him someday." 
I shared these feelings with my family and friends, and as I grew up I held tightly onto that hope.  I remember going to slumber parties and being asked, 
"Who do you like?" 
To which I would reply in a dreamy voice, 
"Scott Clarke… and I'm going to marry him someday."
My friends rolled their eyes, giggled, and laughed and frankly did not believe me.  Despite this reaction, I emphatically announced,
"I know I'm going to marry him!"
When I was eleven and Scott was fourteen, he taught me and my sisters swimming lessons. When I was thirteen, he asked me to help him untangle Christmas lights at our church youth group while we were setting up for a church dance. He talked with me all night, and I came home on cloud nine and wrote the whole incident in my journal. Later at various church dances, I patiently waited for his older, sophisticated girlfriend to go to the bathroom before I asked him to dance. I think in those days my happiness depended on whether Scott showed up to the dance.  

He was three years older than me and so we never dated. I was always too young. When I was fourteen and fifteen, he taught my younger sisters swimming lessons. I made excuses to stay and watch the lessons.  I would come and sit beside the pool and dangle my feet in the water, and he would tell me about his most recent dates.… taking his girlfriend to a Beach Boys concert and getting stuck in the mud afterwards.  Oh how I longed to be older and to be that girl in the seat next to him.  

Often I would go home after those lessons, and lay on my bed and daydream about the future. In my mind I saw a clear picture that I would rehearse over and over.… 

I knew Scott would return from his two-year mission for our church when he was 21, and that would be the end of my senior year of high school.  I would attend his homecoming talk in church and afterwards tell him what a great job he had done. He would look at me in surprise and exclaim, 
"You've grown up! " 
Then he would ask me out, and we would fall in love and get married all before I turned nineteen. 
That was my dream... 
at least until I turned 16 and could finally date.  

Scott was away at college with a serious girlfriend and a mission to serve. So I set that dream aside.  My senior year came and I was very much in love with another boy off at college that I was sending on a mission. I had different plans for the future, but a few months before Scott came home from his mission he reentered my mind.  I found out that the girl who was waiting for him was no longer waiting, and this "what if… " lingered in my mind. 

Despite all my new plans, I felt compelled to just see if my old dream had any chance of coming true.

Scott's homecoming talk was the day I graduated from high school. My mother thought he would speak at 11:00, but his congregation met earlier at 9:00, and we missed it.

I couldn't believe that after all of the years of waiting that I had missed it! 

In an attempt to console me, my mother called his mother and made arrangements for us to stop by and visit with Scott on the way to my graduation.  We visited and as we left his house, I turned to my sister and said, 
"Nothing will ever come of that. " 
Little did I know that he had entirely different plans.  The very next day he called, but I was not at home. When I returned my mother said, 
"You'll will never guess who called." 
After a few failed guesses she told me "Scott Clark called to ask you out." 
I was flabbergasted! 
My knees buckled and I literally fell onto the floor in surprise. 

He called back and we went out. I lied about having a boyfriend and before the date was even over, he asked me out for Saturday.  Saturday rolled around and we spent the entire day together. We walked around the zoo, went to the College World Series, and ended up back at his house to watch a movie. The conversations of the whole date had centered around what he wanted in a wife, his plans for the future, and my plans. As we sat down together, I began to feel very panicked.  I blurted out, 
"I'm really getting freaked out here. I've never dated a return missionary before and I just graduated from high school… " 
He stopped me and said, 
"I want you to know that there are some things that I know right now that you don't know and everything is going to be okay."
The way he said it, so calmly and with such assurance, calmed me. After he dropped me off at home I was very pensive... 

I felt the need to pray. 
I wanted to find out what he knew. 
I climbed into the shower and began to talk to God, and as I did, I had one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.  
I heard a voice as clear as day. 
I do not know if that voice was out loud or if it was just so strong in my head that it felt as if it was out loud. It said, 
"You are to marry and Scott, you need to say goodbye to J-----, and you're going to get married this December. " 
This was not the experience I was expecting, yet it was so intense, real and physical to me that it sent me to my knees in tears.  

I cried for a good 45 minutes in the shower trying to wrap my head around this new piece of information.… 
Trying to come to grips what this would mean for my life… 
Thinking of the boy whose feelings I would deeply hurt… 
And knowing that I was not in love with Scott. 

I composed myself enough to climb into bed, but when I saw my sister lying there, I broke down in tears again. I had a strong realization that this was my last summer with her and that deeply saddened me. 

A few days later, I left for a week long trip with my school math class to California. I told the girls that I was rooming with that I would be getting engaged when I got back. I think they were a little surprised and didn't believe me. 
I spent a week in deep contemplation.… offering a lot of pairs to be able to forget about J---- and to fall in love with Scott

When I returned home, Scott came over, and we went for a walk.  I said, 

"It was good to have this time apart... I got a lot of things figured out. " 
He replied, "Me too... What did you get figured out?"
In response I blurted out, "I'm not telling you."  With a little hesitation I continued, "What did you get figured out?" 
He looked at me deeply for a moment and then replied, "That you're supposed to be my wife.
I sighed, "I know," and then without  a pause I asked, "Do you have an iron?"
Having just revealed the deep insights of his soul, he looked at me with the most confused look on his face. This was not the response he clearly had expected.  I quickly explained that while I was in California I was thinking that I needed to get an iron for college, but knowing that we were going to get married, I had wondered if he already had one. He just shook his head and laughed. If only he had known then what he was getting into by marrying me....

 And that was it! Seven months later, after my first semester of college, we were married two weeks shy of my 19th birthday. We began the insane job of finishing his chemistry degree in three years and my physics degree in two. Then we were off to medical school and residency  where we had all four of our children.  I thought the difficulties of my life are over after those rough 11 years. We were like any couple... we had our ups and downs, but Scott loved me deeply and I think with an intensity that I did not fully understand or reciprocate until after he died.

Why did I have such a strong experience and know so young and for so long that I was to marry him?

I think that knowledge was to propel me through my life right now. I needed to know that I did not make the wrong choice. I needed to know that I married the man I was supposed to marry even though his life would be cut short. Because of that experience 22 1/2 years ago, I never question that decision.

In the past two years, the depth of my ability to love has increased.  Not just the love for my husband, but for my children and for people around me that I serve.  

  • I know the bond between Scott and I has not been broken. 
  • I know that as long as I am true and faithful to the covenants that I have made with God, that His promises are sure.  
  • I know that we will be together forever as a family.  
  • I believe relationships can be strengthened on the other side of the veil.

I feel a greater closeness to, love for and understanding of my husband.  That love and understanding has come as I have turned to God. I have found that by turning to God and drawing closer to Him that I draw closer to my family in the process.  

This life is about learning how to love… 
How to love God more and others more.  

Sometimes I feel that is unfortunate that it took the death of my husband for me to really realize this truth, but my understanding now makes me grateful for that event. For I see it as only a temporary event...
a temporary separation that allowed me to learn some very important things...

things that will make me a better person in the eternities. 

I shared a lot of very deep personal emotions today partially to honor my husband and the love that he showed and continues to show towards me, and partially because I felt very strongly that someone needed to hear this today. I hope whoever you are, that you find comfort and that you find strength to get through the difficulties that you are facing.  More than anything I hope you feel love from God, if from no one else....because that is the love that has sustained me and continues to sustain me.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Processing of Turning Outward: Overcoming Roadblocks

The Processing of Turning Outward:

 Overcoming Roadblocks

For the last two months I have really been struggling, being sent back into grief and crying for a period almost everyday.  I have been asking,

"What in the world is going on?  
Why all of the sudden am I having such a hard time?"

People tell me it is normal, and it is just part of grief.  They tell me to give it time and focus more on myself, but I have rarely found relief in focusing on me.  I was reminded of these two companion quotes...
"'Hell is being frozen in self-pity.'  Indeed at times when we think our lot is hard or when we feel ourselves misunderstood, it will be so easy of us to indulge ourselves in feeling some self-pity."- Maxwell
George Macdonald reminded us that "the only door out of the dungeon of self pity is the love of one's neighbor." 
So in response, I have been trying to serve, study my scriptures, and pray and in those moments.  I do feel a temporary lifting when I am doing those things, but the cloud has just kept coming back.
Persistently I have kept trying to discover what I needed to do in order to get back the peace that I was feeling before.

As of late, I have been studying the Character of Christ.

I have been noticing how He always turned outwards even in moments of personal pain and distress.  As I have been reflected on my inward turning and feeling sorry for myself,  I have known that I needed to change that.  Uncertain as to how I could make that happen...

I have prayed for help...
I have tried to push those feeling away...
but something else was missing.

As I began to look more carefully at myself, I saw the root of some negative feelings.  I have been feeling additional stress because of difficulties with a service project that I am working on with several other widows and a grief counselor.  It's something that I feel very driven to do because of it's potential to help a lot of people.  Lots of road block have been thrown up recently to prevent it from going forward.  That has really frustrated me.  I have found myself questioning God, saying in my mind...

"If you really want me to do this, then why is it so hard to do?"   
"Why don't you fix it and send me more help!"
so I agree... 
that was not the best stance to take with God and it was not the best way to solicit help.

As I look back on those statements, I see a lot turning inward and very little turning outward.  Frustrated, confused and in a bad place, I didn't know how to overcome this hurdle.

At the same time I was listening to a talk by a man I greatly respect.  I heard him speak when I was a teenager and he has since passed away from Cancer.  He said in this older talk that...
Most of our suffering "comes because of our sins." (Neil A Maxwell, "But for a Small Moment.")  
Honestly, at first this statement kind of rubbed me wrong.  I got a bit defensive and I thought,
"My suffering is because my husband died in a plane crash!  Not because of anything that I have done... in fact, I am trying to do a lot of good things... Don't I deserve a break or a little credit here?"
Again, my attitude was clearly in opposition to God... and I knew that.  I knew what I was feeling was wrong and as I mulled that idea in my mind, my heart began to soften and I began to ask in prayer what I needed to do to change.

As I prayed an idea came into my mind.  It was actually something that I felt I needed to do months ago, but that I had not gotten around to doing because I was uncertain how to go about it.  I knew that if I sold some very special personal items,  I could use the money to pay for the help that I needed to get the project moving.

This was a hard decision, because these were items that were tied to special memories with my husband.  Honestly, at this point, I was desperate and so tired of feeling rotten that I was willing to do about anything to get that peaceful feeling back.

I moved forward and made arrangements to sell the items. Immediately I was drawn into the trap of trying to get more money for them.  Again, I felt worried and stressed and I cried frequently.  After talking things over with my mom and again going to the Lord in prayer, I felt at peace with taking the route that would insure that I could move forward more quickly even though it was not the one that could potentially bring me the most money.  I felt that the money was not the issue here.

I was being asked to sacrifice something that was special to me for the greater good.

God didn't just step in and fix my problem for me.

He showed me how I could use the resources He had already given me and with a little work of my own how I could help more people than just myself.

It was the lesson that I needed to practice...

That of turning from self and turning towards Him...  

the act of following His example and turning outwards to others even when I was in pain.

After the items were sold and a lot of tears were shed, I got into my car to drive home and a feeling of peace settled upon me.  I knew that I had made the right decision.
"We have a Father who loves us specifically and gives us things to do and, because he loves us, will cause us, at times, to have our souls stretched and to be fitted for a better world by coping with life in this world."
"If God chooses to teach us the things we most need to learn because he loves us, and if he seeks to tame our souls and gentle us in the way we most need to be tamed and most need to be gentled, it follows that he will customize the challenges he gives us and individualize them so that we will be prepared for life in a better world by his refusal to take us our of this world, even though we are not of it." 
"In the eternal ecology of things we must pray, therefore not that things be taken from us, but that God's will be accomplished through us... For there is in each of our lives this kind of divine design, this pattern, this purpose that is in the process of becoming."          - Neil A Maxwell
I learned a little bit more about these statements this week.

  • I learned about how turning from self to others can enable me to get through grief and feel peace.  
  • I learned that God is content to pull down the walls of my little cottage so that He can build something better.  
I want that something better... 
not just for me, but so that I can do more good.  
So that I don't have to be of two minds and constantly struggling and battling within myself.  
I would rather have one mind... His mind.

So thinking back on that statement about sin and suffering...  Was I doing something particularly wrong or sinful?  No, not really, but I wasn't following through on what I had felt God wanted me to do and that was enough to knock me out of alignment.  I was dragging my feet and hoping that He would not require of me that kind of a sacrifice.  I was too turned inward and not turned enough outward.

He was trying to help me understand that, 
and the suffering did exactly that.

Why do we suffer then?  I believe it is so that we will turn to God for help and we will have an incentive to change.  I don't think that God likes to see us suffer, but if that suffering will cause us to become someone better, then He allows it for His greater purposes.

So I'm over this hurdle for now, but I am sure that many more hurdles are in my future.  Hopefully this lesson will sink a little deeper this time and my turning will me quicker the next road block I face.

My question for you, is how has turning outward blessed your life?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reaching Out to Others in Service Helps Me Find Light Again

Reaching Out to Others in Service Helps 
Me Find Light Again

This year I seem to be struggling more than last year.   I have felt myself retracting and wanting to retreat inside of myself.  The holidays are NOT supposed to be a time of sadness, yet I have found myself resigned to sadness because my husband is not here to share this time with us. Christmas was always such a big thing for Scott and so everything about it reminds me of his absence.  Having just gone through the anniversary of his death and Thanksgiving, I am now facing his birthday, our wedding anniversary, Christmas and then my birthday all in the next month. 

I don't want it to be this way...
 so I have been praying a lot to try to 
find that light inside of myself that 
feels like it is dimming.  

I know in the past that reaching out to others has helped to lessen my sorrow, but that can be hard to do when you feel sad and don't feel like you have a lot of light to share. Even when I don't feel like it, I know that it is something that I need to do.  

A month ago we had a family discussion about Christmas this year and decided to make some changes.  Financially things are different for us now and I never really liked the huge emphasis that was placed on expensive gifts anyway.   We decided to purge the parts of Christmas that caused stressed and didn't help us feel the spirit.  We wanted to simplify and focus more on the true meaning of Christmas. 

For family night this week we watched a little video called #ShareTheGift about the first gift of Christmas. It reminded me of our plans from a month ago, and I felt a little light inside of me. 

We had decided that we were going to give the gift of service this year to others who were in need. So after we finished our family night, I called a local shelter for teens looking for a volunteer opportunity for myself and my two teens who are still at home with me. As I talked with the coordinator on the phone and explained our situation, we began to brainstorm about possible service activities. I felt more light inside, and I began to feel excitement to get involved.  I saw beyond a single opportunity and realized that this would be a great ongoing monthly service project for our family.  I even thought of others that I could invite to join us.  

Acting to find a way to reach out was the catalyst that started that light back inside of me, and continuing to act will give it the fuel to keep growing brighter and brighter.  

I have discovered something about the light inside of me...

The only way to grow it is to share it 

I thought that I would share some of our plans in hope that it will give you ideas of how to #sharethegift and how to grow your own light...

  1. A Gift for Christ: This year we are each going to wrap a present for the Savior... a goal of something that we will sacrifice or do to show our love for Him.  I was touched by a talk by Neill Marriott  in a recent Women's Conference where she shared her goal to memorize the document, The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles as a gift for the Savior this Christmas. We decided it would be good for each of us to think of something we could offer to the Savior.  We are going to wrap these ideas up, open them Christmas morning and share our experience of sacrifice with each other.
  2. Sharing with Those in Need: We have always participated in the giving tree, but my children have never had to personally sacrifice gifts in order to do this.  I wanted them to be more involved, so we discussed how we can use our Christmas budget to modestly get gifts for each other and then to help those who are in need.  We are allocating some of our money for presents to help others.
  3. Service to Others: From Thanksgiving to Christmas we want to participate in a family service project each week. We are volunteering in a live nativity, at a local shelter, and local service center for newborns.  We are also going to the temple and cleaning for my sister who just had a baby.
  4. Service to Each Other: Instead of just buying presents this year, we are giving each other the gift of our time by gifting a coupon of service for each family member.