Monday, November 16, 2009

Time Out for Women

I'm so not Molly. Anyone who knows me would probably agree. Not that being Molly is a bad thing (take no offense Mollies). Anyway, I'm as surprised as any of you to have found myself attending a rather Molly function this past weekend...Time Out for Women presented by Deseret Book. It was a two day conference held at the Salt Palace. I went with some long time friends--Maree & April as well as April's mom and sister Rachel. All I can say is that April must have been inspired to invite me all those many weeks ago because this conference was exactly what I needed. I laughed, I cried, I laughed so hard until I cried and I learned a ton.

A lot of what I heard really helped to validate and reconfirm things that I am experiencing in my life. Feeling this "God confidence" (i.e. peace of conscience) really helped to increase my self-confidence. I feel like my heart was very open and receptive and I was touched by so many things. Allow me to share just a few:

  1. If the veil were thinned and we could remember who we stood by (Jesus Christ) and the covenants and commitments we made to Him and each other, we could begin to fulfill the measure of our creation. Sister Nelson said we all have a "pre-mortal commitments to do" list and that as we seek after these commitments and follow the associated promptings we will become more our true selves and find joy in fulfilling the measure of our creation. I believe I have been experiencing this to some small degree as of late.
  2. As women, and particularly as latter-day women of God, we have a unique influence. Who am I influencing? Who and what am I allowing to influence me?
  3. The adversary has 3 main tactics to derail us from our divine potential: a) he tries to confuse us about who we really are (divine daughters of God); b) he tries to keep us from understanding the Atonement and how God can help us; c) he tries to keep us from learning how to receive personal revelation.
  4. It is crucial that we know not only who we are, but who we have always been.
  5. We have the ability to create a little piece of blue heaven even when we are surrounded by dark heavy rain clouds. We need to cultivate optimism--cheer and happiness are choices we actively make.
  6. You can go to sleep with the assurance of knowing that God is still awake. One sister has a plaque in her kitchen that reads, "At the end of the day I turn all my problems over to God because I know He'll be up all night anyway."
  7. As the Christmas season approaches, we need to ask ourselves, "Is there room in my heart to let in the miracle of God's son?" (comparing this to Joseph asking if there was room in the inn for the imminent birth of the Savior.)
  8. Appearances can be an outward manifestation of an inner commitment. But do we spend so much time on the appearance that we neglect or fake the inner commitment?
  9. Giving up our will to Heavenly Father may just be the hardest thing we do, but it will change us in ways we can't comprehend.
  10. Of course Heavenly Father will give us things we can't handle--why else would we need the Savior? What He will not give us is anything that we can't handle when we rely on the enabling power, the grace of Jesus Christ.
  11. A sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself and your circumstances is an extremely powerful thing.

That's only a sampling of the many truths that were imparted. I love hearing the gospel related in such down to earth and humorous ways. There was great power in being assembled with over 3,000 other women who were all there for the right reasons. For all you Mollies and non-Mollies, if you ever have a chance to attend one of these conferences--DO IT!!

On a side note, we escaped the hectic atmosphere at the Salt Palace to have a nice quiet lunch at The Beehive Tearoom. I love quaint little random places in this city and if you haven't been to the tearoom, you should definitely check it out.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A mighty change...

Ezekiel 36:26 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

If you have been around me over the past few months, you will have noticed that I have become a very changed person in about the last six weeks or so. Such a noticeable change that while my boss was on vacation she got numerous emails saying that it was like she had a new person working in her department. So much so that a housekeeper I never talk to came up to me and asked why I was smiling so much now because she had never seen me smile before. So much so that people have wondered if I am taking medication or have started dating someone (neither of which is the case.) So much so that people tell me I even look different physically.

On one hand, it makes me very sad to come to the realization of what an unhappy, miserable person I must have been...and for quite a long time. But on the other hand, my heart is so full of gratitude for the change I have experienced and the new outlook I have on life. I guess my purpose in blogging about this is to document it for myself, but also to explain a bit of what I have gone through in hopes that it may be helpful to someone else.

Becoming such a miserable unhappy person didn't happen overnight. It was a gradual and subtle process influenced by many factors. The weight of life's daily stresses, my own unfulfilled expectations, neglecting things I should have been doing, being critical of myself and others, you name it. Each one of these little things, unattended and undealt with, hardened my heart more and more with each passing day. I chose to turn away from God and embrace my anger, bitterness and unhappiness. I hated the person I had become, but didn't know quite what to do about it. I felt consumed by negative thoughts and emotions. I was unhappy about practically every aspect of my life.

In May, I was at my wits end and didn't want to live my life like this any more. I decided to meet with my bishop to see if he could give me any guidance. He explained to me that what I was experiencing was extreme spiritual discouragement but that I shouldn't be too hard on myself. He taught me that it was an inevitable part of my discipleship and that this discouragement existed because I wanted to be a better person. But that in some ways I was creating my own distress because the natural man in me was trying to manipulate my circumstances to be what I thought they should be instead of trusting God's design for my life.

He told me that certain aspects of my life circumstances are part of the plan that I agreed to before I came to Earth. They were pointed out to me and I understood and agreed to them. He told me that the mere act of being on our knees and giving thanks to God for our trials and life circumstances will change us. This would require the understanding that these trials are tailored to my personal spiritual growth and to help me increase in faith. He recommended that I read a book called Spiritual Lightening by M. Catherine Thomas (great book!)

I learned a lot from this book but it was hard to internalize it all. Here are a few of the ideas that stuck out most to me:

  1. In most cases, the actual details of the elements of our lives matter less than what we choose to become in the midst of them.

  2. When we move toward the light, immediately the great plan of redemption is brought about unto us (Daniel 10:2 "Fear not [Alyssa]: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard.")

  3. Resistance to our spiritual natures manifests itself as guilt, despair, resentment, self-pity, fear, depression, feelings of victimization, fear over the scarcity of needed things & other forms of distress (this described me perfectly!!)

  4. It is easy for us to live on the assumption that we have a right to be satisfied by life events and by the people in our lives. But those that we have relationships with were not given to us to satisfy us, nor were many of the most important events of our lives. Our expectations are a function of the futile mind, the telestial, selfish and self-serving mind, not the mind of God.

  5. We have been endowed with the divine power to generate positive energy--mentally, physically and spiritually--by carefully choosing attitudes, actions and words according to the teachings of the scriptures. We can choose to generate positive spiritual energy to which the Spirit of the Lord is attracted, with which He connects and which He magnifies for good.

I could go on and on, but that will do for now. Suffice it to say that this book holds many profound teachings. But as I mentioned earlier, at the point that I was reading this book, I was not yet at a point to fully internalize it or apply it to my life. In fact, just now as I have been reviewing my journal to write this blog I am just starting to realize how the gradual application of what I read has played such a big role in my change of heart.

Anyway, I digress. Meeting with the bishop and reading the book were helpful but didn't really make a significant change for me. I think this may have to do with my own pride and my inability to let go of my perceived suffered injustices, etc. But as we learn from the Book of Mormon, "blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble..." Seeing as how I did not choose to humble myself, the Lord saw fit to compel me a bit.

In the span of a few weeks time, four of the main pillars of my life were turned completely upside down. I felt like my little snow globe life had been turned upside down and shaken vigorously and that I was left in the midst of furious flurries, wondering how the pieces would all settle. I was angry and discouraged. I am a strong person and felt that I could handle maybe one or two major trials...but four at once? How could that be fair? Or possible to overcome?

I felt overwhelmed. It was all I could do to get out of bed and put one foot in front of another. When the fourth, and most unexpected, pillar was overturned I really questioned my ability to recover and ever find happiness in my life. I was so very angry with God. I could not comprehend why He would do this to me. I reached out to friends and family for comfort but despite their wonderful efforts, found little relief.

There comes a time, or maybe at different times in our lives, when we hit rock bottom. My rock bottom came on a Sunday afternoon. I had gone to Liberty Park to try to clear my head a little. I had my ipod and a little notebook with me. I sat myself under a tree and began listening to one of my favorite church cd's--Journey Toward Zion by Jenny Phillips. Although I had heard this music numerous times, on this day the songs spoke to me as if they were written specifically for me and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I had so much pain in my heart, so much sadness that it was almost unbearable. On a page in my notebook, in all caps, I scribbled the words, "I CAN'T DO IT ALONE GOD. PLEASE HELP ME!!"

I truly believe that that moment in time was my turning point. I had been compelled to be humble. I released my pride. I turned to my God. I submitted my will to His. I put my trust in Him. And immediately the plan of redemption was brought about unto me. In the following days I somehow began to put into practice the idea of creating positive energy. I came to understand that I really can choose happiness. My life circumstances have not changed. But my attitude has. And taking back my own free agency to choose happiness and optimism is the most liberating thing I have ever felt. The weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders because I turned to God. Interesting to realize that perhaps the weight of my world was my will---the will of my natural man.

Doctrine & Covenants 58:3-6 "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand. Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow. Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause have I sent you--that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come."

We read that scripture in Sunday School the very day I had my breakdown in Liberty Park. It touched me at that time. It inspired me to trust that God did have a design for me which I could not comprehend at that time. I know that there are many parts of that design that have not come about yet, but I am prepared at this point to give testimony of the blessings I have received from that day to now. I am a different person, a better person, a happier person, a kinder person. The Lord has mercifully removed my heart of stone and has given me a heart of flesh. For that I will be eternally grateful. Now it is up to me to continue to do the things that will keep my heart soft and pliable in the hands of my Creator. Thanks for letting me share my journey with you.