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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Jesus Wept

I was reminded of this verse in Relief Society today. It has been reflected on in many different ways and at many different times by others. The meaning that has been most powerful to me though, especially at the end of my mission (which was the most difficult era for me) is how it displays Christ's compassion. If you haven't read it recently, check out John 11. This is where Lazareth dies BECAUSE Christ tarries despite his family's pleas to come and heal him. We know now that Christ tarried in order for Lazareth to be considered truly dead by Jewish law (they believed it took 3 days for the spirit to leave the body) and thus prove His divinity by raising Lazareth from the dead, but they didn't know that. For them they waited anxiously, wondering why the Lord could possibly "tarry" while such a trial was at hand. I am sure the moments were agonizing, as their eyes searched the road for any indication that their Savior would come to them in this their time of greatest need. Yet He did not come, and seemingly, all was lost. I find it interesting, because when Christ did arrive, Mary and Martha both expressed Faith in Him AND His plan. One testifies that had Christ been there "my brother had not died" but that she KNEW that her brother would rise again in the Resurrection, that in the end it would be OK. She had the testimony of the Plan of Salvation LONG before Christ had officially conquered death. But the Resurrection must have felt a long ways away. Comfort felt far away. Hope felt far away. At that moment Christ knew that in a matter of SECONDS the very cause of sorrow for Mary/Martha would become an incredible joy as Lazareth came forth from the grave. Despite this knowledge, despite that to Him and His eternal perspective their pain may have seemed silly or short sighted, He did not say "It is going to be OK, be patient and get with the program, I'm about to wake your brother up" or "use your faith to cheer up and realize this isn't permanent" or "no matter how much I tell you guys about my power you still have cause for sadness?". What he did do was weep. He wept not for Lazareth or his death, he wept for THEIR pain, THEIR sorrow, THEIR discomfort. He knew they didn't know what lay ahead, He knew that they felt like Lazareth was gone until the second coming, He knew that they felt that this pain was unbearable and would last perhaps until their own deaths, He knew that they FELT pain DESPITE their Faith. So He wept. He wept with them.

I cannot even tell you the comfort it gives me to know that Christ can comfort me when I fail to see the big picture despite His ability to see it. He weeps with us, He really does, even if we are moments away from the greatest miracles of our lives. He weeps because He knows we felt alone because He "tarried" to better prove His divinity to us. He weeps because He knows how it feels. Most of all, He weeps because He loves us.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Practice Makes Permanent

Practice makes perfect, the adage goes, but someone wise corrected that half truth; practice makes permanent. Doing something over and over again will become second nature, but sadly that doesn't guarantee it will be a perfect thing. That is why it is vital we practice things the right way or we'd be better off not practicing at all. This concept became more important to me as I reread a story in the New Testament.

John 12 relates the story of Mary Magdalene anointing Christ with costly oils prior to his death. When Judas seeks to find fault with this action, proclaiming that it was a waste of money that otherwise could have been given to the poor, Christ rebukes him and tells him to "let her alone" for "the poor always ye have with you, but me you have not always." Although a powerful reminder to always putting Christ first (something Mary teaches us by example earlier in Christ's ministry as well) this story was presented to me in another light; the lesson in not serving but being served.

It is often easier to give than receive. We would rather give than feel we owe someone something. We would rather serve than have the embarrassment of needing help. We would rather listen and comfort than humbly speak out of our own pain and sufferings. The very moment we receive we are calculating a mental tab and feel guilty until we feel we have repaid the kindness. Unfortunately, this often doesn't stem from an acute sense of selflessness but rather a malady of pride, pride that not only robs others the blessings that would come from serving us but also the power that would come into our own lives by others kindness and service. But most of all it can be at times a symptom of something else.

The Lord will never give us an aspect of doctrine or commandment to follow without presenting plenty of practice. Most of what we do in life is type or shadow of something to come, a low stakes way to grow in order to be ready when it matters most. The acceptance of others kindness is no exception. As I listened to this familiar Bible story it came to me in an unfamiliar light, and it's truth was burned into my heart. The practice of accepting service is practice for us to accept the kindness and mercy offered us through the Atonement. How often do we feel unworthy, in debt, or too proud to accept forgiveness and spiritual healing? Or tell ourselves that if we ask forgiveness than we will have to read our scriptures longer or be more faithful in our callings? Or even worse, we tell ourselves that we can't ask for forgiveness until we pay extra fast offerings or home teach more than once this week. We somehow get into our minds that the Atonement has a price tag attached until it can be accessed. Nothing could be further from the truth, and this week I finally see a way to be better and do better: let myself be served. Practice the feeling of gratitude instead of feeling in debt. Practice humility instead of pride. Practice receiving and giving back out of love and not obligation. Only then will the practice of accepting the Lord's help become permanent, and our actions in the name of the Lord will be because we are grateful and desire to bless others, not because we feel we must pay God back.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Perfect Storm

When I began this blog, it was as Sister Michelle Green, missionary and representative for The Lord Jesus Christ and His restored Gospel. Gospel means "good news", and for 18 months I did all I could bring that good news to everyone who would listen. Now, a year since I came home, I sit in a chapel, again with my mother and grandmother, listening to General Women's Conference. As I listen to the words of many faithful women of God, I reflect upon my mission. It is, without fail, the most difficult and sacred 18 months of my life. Never had I felt myself break down in such a way, to the point where I felt there was little of me left. And today, right now, I see what is to be done. The parts of me that were not Christlike were torn down, and only I can allow the proper contractor to build me "right" this time.
In some way, we are all like an imperfect building, yet we are asked to be "perfect", or, as it is translated, complete. One can not rebuild what has not yet been knocked down. Every single day The Lord works on us, hoping to clear the way for His plans for us. Every day the adversary entices us to choose the wrong builder. Daily our windows break down, our doors squeak, our tile breaks, opening the way to use perfect materials this time. But there will be a time, for every single one of us, when a storm will come and beat us literally to the ground. A wind that blows through our glass, a flood to wipe out our insides, an earthquake to shatter our foundation. And one day, we will find ourselves in the perfect storm, the kind that will literally wipe us out in every way. It is in this perfect storm that we will finally be ready to be reborn, to be given an opportunity to become complete. It is in that moment that we have the eternally  fateful choice: who will build us again? Bitterness, anger, remorse? Or humility, hope, and the Atonement? I testify that every setback, sorrow, and burden we face leads us not only to the perfect storm, but to perfection within ourselves, but only in and through our Savior. May we choose Him as the architect of our lives.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sacrifice: an Inconvenient Investment

My poor father is most likely sick of me exploiting stories about him and connecting them to the gospel somehow, but, hey, that's what dad's are for, right? To teach us? And in fairness this involves more than just him, it includes my whole family.
In a family of eight we had problems keeping any sort of junk food around for more than 15 minutes. It didn't matter where you hid what you had, by the next day it was gone. As a opportunist child I often did extra chores to earn money to buy candy to keep in my room. Without fail it would be eaten by someone. It was at these times I would complain and whine until my sister would remind me of the definition of insanity; to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
The main culprit was my Dad, which caused me much frustration. He would always say he would buy me more than I had before but I was too upset and proud to let him. I didn't want him to pay me back because than I couldn't be mad at me anymore.
Fifteen years later I am back living at home again. I have long since given up on hoarding treats and hiding them. I have learned that if they get eaten they get eaten, and now that I have a license, its not so much of a big deal to just run out and buy more.
But this week something happened, and then it clicked. Lately I have had a huge addiction to frozen chocolate that I keep in our freezer to snack on. My mom ate some one night, but it was no big deal, because she replaced literally 10 fold.
As I stacked the candy in the freezer I had an incredible answer to my prayers and thoughts of late. When times are hard, there are a lot of things that get said. From "think about how much you will grow" to "it will be worth it" or "it can't last forever, it will get better". These are all really vital pieces to keeping hope through hard times, but it also isn't really that helpful in the moment. I think, "great, but what about today, right now, right here?" I suppose the Lord knew that I already had the answers, but that I needed to hear it in a new way. As I was putting those chocolates in the freezer it hit me; this is the result of a slight inconvenience-and it has yielded incredible results. Yes, that night when I went to get my candy and it wasn't there I was upset. In the moment there was nothing I could do about it. But after all my past experiences I realized that being upset or refusing a "refund" to make up for it was the wrong thing to do. Instead I said and did nothing. I forgot about it really, and then, the next day, I more than doubled what I had. I realized that I had lost that investment for years by not letting my dad pay me back for the treats he would eat. Even more importantly, I realized how often I had denied Christ the opportunity to make up trials to me. He may take the candy for a bit, a inconvenience and an impossibly long moment, but at the end of it all, I should never let my pride rob me of the investment Christ is ready to give me. It was then I realized that sacrifice is an inconvenient investment.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Filling the Bucket

Today was my first faculty meeting, which was a little bit intimidating. Besides being terrified and very overwhelmed it was actually a really good experience. Our principal mentioned a character development concept called "filling the bucket". He talked about how every interaction either fills or dips into our bucket and how important it is to fill others buckets. I am a huge believer of that. But what made me really think was the state of the buckets-because no matter how much you seek to fill others buckets, if there is a hole in it it will never make a difference in their lives. That's not to say you didn't help them at the time or that your efforts were wasted, but there is a better way. I like to think of it as being similar to "first seek to understand, then seek to be understood". The same concept could be applied, "first seek to fix a bucket, then seek to fill it". Find out where the hole is, find out how to repair it, don't just keep pouring water in it over and over again thinking some how it will be full; for it never will be. And both you and the bucket you seek to fill will become exhausted and discouraged and be none the more full for all the effort.

Now that doesn't mean the one who needs a bucket fixed is off the hook. There is only so much others can do to help us "retain" water, but in the end only we can fix our buckets. I know that many of you who read this may feel very empty right now whether its unloved or unworthy or unhappy or anything else in life causing a hole that drains out joy. Trust me, I've been there and still have quite few holes in my bucket. But from personal experience I realized that rather than craving and praying for others to come fill my bucket, I needed to fix my bucket. I needed to believe in myself and teach myself how to make that water useful rather than constantly casting it aside only to look for more later. I needed to relearn how to think and feel and react until my bucket was so tight that nothing could drip out of it. And now, I am seeking very hard to keep it that way. And today, I am going to do everything I can to go help someone fix their bucket-then I will be free to fill it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Mighty Change of Heart

When I was 11 or so my older brother took an M&M and told me it was the last piece of candy he would eat in a year. Frankly I thought he was nuts, and that he wouldn't make it through the night let alone the year. Well, he proved me wrong and one year later he sat down to eat his first piece of candy/junk food in 365 days (I believe it was a ding-dong if that matters). He was so excited and yet the moment it was in his mouth I saw his face crinkle up: he didn't like the taste at all anymore.

And that's what it means to have "a mighty change of heart" and no longer have "a disposition to do evil" (Mosiah 5:2) If we learn to deny ourselves of those things we know will bring us spiritual harm, then eventually, if we ever slip up and return to it, we will no longer even enjoy or want to do it. It will make us literally sick, and make us wonder why we ever wanted it at all. I know that it is the daily small acts by which we become who we want to become-to have not just our actions but our desires, our very cores, be what they were meant to be: like God. It is rarely a moment or an event that occurs in us, it wasn't the promise to not eat candy that made my brother hate the taste of it, it was the year without it. Drop by drop, dip by dip, chip by chip, we will fill our souls, wax strong in the gospel, and have the master sculpt us to be all that He intends us to be. And it is then and only then that we may proclaim in exultant joy, "I have experienced a mighty change of heart", and as I do what is right, I will "retain"(Alma 5:14,26) that. For just as we can fall out of love of sin, if we return to it enough, our heart will change back. There is nothing greater we can do than prevent that, for it is our heart the Lord wants, nothing more or less than that-so let's give Him a good one.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Do Not Let It Beat Me

In High School this could easily have referred to track and field. But it means something far more to me now. A few years ago my brother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS. Some of you may be familiar with this from "Tuesdays with Morrey". In a nutshell the patient has their muscles slowly shut down in random order and in random spurts, until, usually within 2-5 years, the patient dies from lack of breathing. Do I really know why this happened? I am beginning too, because despite what it has done to us, it has done a lot of things for us. And for the first time in my life, I really am beginning to understand what that means.
The Hunger Games is one of my favorite movies/books. I find myself having to defend the fact that it is about kids brutally killing one another for food/money/glory because of what the book is really trying to say. One of my favorite moments is when one of the characters, Peeta, tells the main character, Katniss, that even though he is about to enter an arena where he either dies or kills, there is one thing he will hold onto: himself. The government may have taken away many of his freedoms, it may be forcing him to enter into the arena, and it may have a lot to say about his life, but it cannot determine who he becomes. In short, they cannot beat him-for "they do not own [him]". No matter how ugly the situation gets, he will not fall into the trap of becoming hollow and cruel. I know we all wonder how we would be in extreme conditions, would we be the ones who gave up, the ones who became cruel, or would we rise to the occasion? And now I finally understand why that means so much to me, because it is what I have been praying for for a long time now.

Ever since I got home from my mission (which was this January), I have tried to come to terms with, Ben, my brother-in-law's-illness. In the mission field it was hard for it to seem real. When I left he had just been diagnosed and could still do most things pretty normally. Now, about all he can do is move his fingers, his legs, and his head. Even talking to hard and tiring, and frankly, I haven't known what to do. Part of me wants to stay distant, thinking it will be easier if I'm less attached. Part of me wants to be there every second and spend what time I have with him. Part of me is so scared that it is hard to be by him. Part of me is so grateful and hopeful that all I want to do is be by him. And all these parts of me have been pretty much an awful tug-o-war inside of me. But tonight, as I got home from work and sat in my kitchen thinking, I realized that this was what Peeta was talking about, and I asked myself, "are you really going to let this beat you?"
Then I realized, this is what it was like to be in a situation where you had to decide, and you had to decide quick. I always thought that it would be obvious when the time came, that it would be a huge crossroads, but until now, I wasn't even aware that that was where I was. No, I'm not in a war or a natural disaster or in a Hollywood zombie apocalypse where I am forced to become more human or more animal, but I am still in a place to choose. I, like Peeta, do not have to let ALS own me, define me, control me. I, like Peeta, can still show it and God and myself that it cannot change me for the worse, it cannot beat me, it cannot not make me what I don't want to be. And because I see that now, I have the strength to do it.
So watch out ALS, I will not let you beat me. And whoever you are, and whatever you are facing:

and do not let it beat you either.