Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Decorating

We were slackers this year and didn't get to decorating our pumpkins until tonight, the day before Halloween.  Oh well.  At least it got done.  We've wanted to do it as a family and last weekend Ben was gone, and I work Monday through Thursday nights, so it's been hard to find a day that worked for everyone.  Glad it finally happened, though.  Tonight Jake pulled out the laptop and showed the kids examples of jack-o-laterns, so they could all get an idea of what they wanted to do on their pumpkin.  Emma wanted a vampire pumpkin face, Josh wanted a scary face (and Jake added the soul patch).  Ben scoured the internet for an idea and finally decided on the Loch Ness Monster.  I tried to draw the thing free-hand and I think it pretty much looks like the one on the web (at least Ben's happy with it and that's all that matters.)  We had fun scooping out the pumpkin guts, and putting candles inside and lighting them.  Now the kids are asleep, I'm sure dreaming about all the candy they will be getting tomorrow.  I'm glad there is no school and we can sleep in a little.  I have a dr appt. at 9:30am but then we are pretty much free the rest of the day, until trick-or-treat time.  I was looking over my calendar tonight and couldn't believe next week is Daylight Savings (yay!), and then 3 1/2 weeks until Thanksgiving.  Time is going by way too fast.

Strengthening Our Faith Amidst Life's Trials

I was asked a few weeks ago by my Stake President if I would speak at our Saturday night session of Stake Conference on October 22nd.  I was given the topic "Strengthening Our Faith Amidst Life's Trials" and it was a talk I have definitely needed lately.  I wanted to put the talk on my blog so I can pull it up and read it, and just remind myself of why life is hard sometimes.  

Strengthening Our Faith Amidst Life’s Trials

We are told in the scriptures that it is essential to endure to the end:
“Wherefore, if you shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day” (1 Nephi 22:31).
“Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days” (D&C 24:8).
“Behold, we count them happy which endure” (James 5:11).
Do you notice that not once do the scriptures tell us the exact length of time we have to endure? When we are told we will have many afflictions, we are not told exactly how many?  What we are told is that if we endure to the end, we will be happy, we will have peace, and we will be “saved at the last day.”  So, how do we endure well?  
Elder Robert D. Hales tells us that “The basic requirements include knowing who we are, (children of God with a desire to return to His presence after mortality); understanding the purpose of life, (to endure to the end and obtain eternal life); and living obediently with a desire and a determination to endure all things, (having eternal vision).  Eternal vision allows us to overcome opposition in our temporal state and, ultimately, achieve the promised rewards and blessings of eternal life.”
Let’s be honest, though.  Sometimes we get tunnel vision, especially when trials come and life gets hard.  We don’t understand why when we do everything right, bad things still happen.  We begin to wonder, “Why hasn’t God answered my prayers?  Why doesn’t He care about me?”  We know in our hearts that yes, God really does care, but sometimes we allow ourselves to forget this.  It is when we start looking for the mini-miracles and tender mercies in our lives, that we will eventually find that they are happening every day. It is then we are reminded that we are not forgotten.
Two and a half years ago my husband lost his job.  It was a very scary time for us and our family and I remember one day falling to my knees and crying to the Lord.  We had sent out hundreds of resumes and applied to jobs all over the country... and still nothing came.  I didn’t understand how this could happen to us.  We had been married in the temple, had three beautiful children, paid our tithing, went to church every Sunday.  Why did this hard thing have to happen to our family?  Eventually my husband did get a new job, making significantly less than he did at his previous job.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to pay all our bills on our new salary, but thankfully with savings and his severance we were able to make ends meet for awhile.  Because of this situation, my husband and I thought it might be a good time in our lives to try a different career path and go into the Foreign Service with the Department of State, living abroad and experiencing different cultures.  My husband passed rigorous exams and made it to the point where our entire family needed extensive medical tests done to make sure we were all well enough to travel internationally.  I was just recovering from a bout with pneumonia when I needed this physical, which included an x-ray.  My x-ray showed a mass in my right lung, which I was told was the pneumonia.  The State Department was not satisfied with these results and ordered another x-ray done a few months later.  So I had another x-ray, and again, the same mass showed up on the film.  And again, 3 months later I had to come back.  At this 3rd x-ray the dr saw the mass was still there and so ordered a CT scan.  An hour after I left the hospital I received a call from my dr, asking to meet me in his office as soon as possible.  I was told I had a cancerous tumor in my lung and on June 23, 2010, 13 days later I was in the hospital, undergoing surgery to have 70% of my right lung removed.  Thankfully, labs came back after the surgery saying the tumor was gone and I was cancer-free. 
I learned a lot about perspective through this experience.  If my husband had not lost his job we would not have pursued the Foreign Service.  If we had not pursued Foreign Service we would not have been ordered to have extensive medical exams, the same exams that found my cancer.  My husband ended up expiring off the Foreign Service register before being offered a position, and so that experience never was realized.  But because of our new perspective, we knew we learned what Heavenly Father needed us to learn by going through the process, these trials... and this process saved my life.  Sometimes we cannot grasp all the reasons for our challenges, but when we do what is right and show our faith, He may reveal to us greater understanding about our trials and the purpose of them in our lives.
Apostle Orson F. Whitney explained: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.  It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.  All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God... and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”
Trials give us opportunities to show Heavenly Father and ourselves that we will be faithful.  We can choose to feel sorry for ourselves and ask “Why me?” or we can grow from our trials, increase our faith in the Lord, and ask “How can I be faithful in the midst of this trial?”  We can let the hard times drag us down or we can let it refine us and make us stronger.
So, how do we strengthen our faith during these hard times?  Here are 5 ideas to help us do this:  

1. We turn toward Christ.  Elder Robert D. Hales taught that “our older brother is our greatest example of faithfully enduring to the end.  When suffering on the cross at Calvary, Jesus felt the loneliness of agency when He pled to His Father in Heaven, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  The Savior was left alone by His Father to experience, of His own free will and choice, an act of agency which allowed Him to complete His mission of the Atonement.  The Lord could have called on legions of angels to take Him down from the cross, but He faithfully endured to the end and completed the very purpose for which He had been sent to earth, thus granting eternal blessings to all who will ever experience mortality.”  Christ has felt our pains, our heavy burdens, our sorrows.  He knows what we are going through.  There is nothing we are enduring that Jesus does not understand.  I often think of Nephi when he was told to go back to Jerusalem to get the plates and he is having a hard time doing it.  He says to his brothers “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save He shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which He commandeth them.”  Sometimes the trials we are faced with really are too much to bear alone, and it is when we rely on Him that a way is prepared for us to endure.  We hear often “God will never give us more than we can bear” but I think the truth is, “God will never give us more than He can bear.”  And He can bear it all, if we will let Him.   

2.  We live with integrity.  Keeping the commandments-- no matter how trying-- makes us stronger and helps us overcome every challenge in life. Through faith and obedience, we qualify for the divine spiritual guidance we need to guide us along unknown paths.
3. We keep an eternal perspective and don’t give up.  I took up running a couple years ago and it’s something I really enjoy.  I’ve ran a handful of 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons.  I know when I race that I will never take 1st place, or even 2nd or 3rd.  That’s not why I do it.  I run so I can push myself to do something hard, and ultimately cross that finish line and be proud of my accomplishment.  This summer I ran my first half marathon since losing much of my right lung.  I knew this race would probably be the hardest race of my life, and I was right.  Mile 11 and 12 were extremely difficult.  I fought hard to keep my breathing regulated, but I never gave up.  I crossed the finish line with a time 24 minutes slower than my personal best.  But it didn’t matter.  I did it.  Just like in life, we need to pace ourselves, push even when it gets hard, focus on the end goal, and we need to finish.  Our trials can often give us a deeper and more expansive perspective, a more eternal perspective.  And it is this eternal perspective that motivates us to endure well to the end.
4. We be patient and understand that it’s “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.”  In a devotional address given at BYU-Idaho by Larry Richman 4 years ago, he explained that “We live in a world of instant gratification.  We want fast food, quick loans, and instant solutions to our problems.  However, the Lord may ask us to show our faith by enduring some problems patiently.  And even if we exercise our strongest faith, God will not always reward us immediately according to our desires.  Sincere faith gives understanding and strength to accept the will of our Heavenly Father when it differs from our own.  And God will respond with what is best for us in His eternal plan.”
5.  And lastly, we don’t doubt what we already know.  My dad told me a story that happened years ago.  A sister in his ward was teaching a class where she handed out a little slip of paper to everyone.  On it were written the words, “Don’t doubt in the dark what you can see in the light.”  He decided to take that counsel to heart.  He went on to tell me that during those times in his life where he felt sure of his Heavenly Father’s love and of his testimony, he told himself that there would come other times when he would not be as sure, times when the light in the room would be turned off.  And then he promised himself right then that no matter what happened, no matter how he felt, no matter what other reasons he might find to believe otherwise, he would hold on to that fact.  He has done this, and he has always found that sooner or later the light is turned back on and all is right again.  He has also found that even while the light is off, knowing and even believing this, having unwavering faith, gives him the ability to deal with all the problems that come his way.
It is my prayer that we keep an eternal perspective, an eternal ‘vision’, that we rely on our Savior and His Atonement, and that we remember to hold onto what we know in our hearts.  If we do these things, we will be able to weather whatever storms may come our way, and endure well to the end.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

80s Rockstar and Mohawk Hipster

Emma got to wear her Halloween costume to her friend's birthday party on Friday.  She LOVES this outfit and it fits her personality perfectly.  She loves makeup and jewelry.  She loves leggings, slap bracelets, and anything that looks like dance clothes.  She even loves her side ponytail and says she wants to wear her hair like that now.  Oh my.  If you want to know what I loved 20 years ago, just look at Emma.  I loved bright neon colors, big hair, jewelry.  Pretty funny.
Yesterday morning Emma and Josh were quietly working in their bathroom, door closed.  I knew something was up.  When the door opened, Josh emerged with a huge mohawk and the biggest smile on his face.  "Look what Emma did to me!  She gave me a mohawk!"  Emma was proud of her creation.  Those two crack me up!  Ben could have gotten in on the action but missed out because he spent the weekend at his cousins' house in Lehi.  I'm sure Emma will try to get him next time!  (Emma didn't want her hair down or makeup off from her party the night before, so she looked like this all day long, even to our trip to Costco.  Yes, I am that parent who lets my kid do that.  We have to pick our battles right?)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Hip Hop Boys

We didn't have very many kids sign up for our all boys 4-8 year old hip hop class so I told my boss I would bring my kids if she wanted.  She was all for it so they have been in the class for about 3 weeks.  Last week they started learning a routine to the song "Dynamite".  They both love that song and I recorded them this afternoon, practicing the little bit that they learned last week.  They are free-stylin' it the last 20 seconds.  My little guys are adorable.  Can't wait to watch them perform in the recital next year. ;)