Seeking Charity: A Study of the Heart

In a recent study of charity, I came across an unexpected pattern. I had expected references to service, love, and charity to be plentiful in the Book of Mormon, but found that they were generally isolated to specific contexts such as King Benjamin’s sermon. However, there was a word that is often linked to the concept of love that showed up with surprising frequency: heart. In fact, the heart is referenced on average every 1.17 pages in The Book of Mormon.

These references include the people of Alma expressing that baptism “is the desire of our hearts” (Mos 18:11) and then that their “hearts [were] knit together in unity and love” (Mos 18:21). We see individuals “pour out their hearts to [God]” (Mos 24:12) and are asked if we have “experienced a change of our heart” (Alma 5:26). The state of our hearts is an integral part of conversion, perhaps because of its close relationship with repentance.

We see the Lord “prepare their hearts to receive the word” before Alma and Amulek teach (Alma 16:16), then Alma states that “the word […] must be planted in their hearts” (Alma 33:1). Those who were taught by Ammon and his brethren testify that repentance had “taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the mercies of his Son” (Alma 24:10). And after conversion, it was the origin of incredible joy as Ammon exclaims, “my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God” (Alma 26:11).

But the most prominent usage of the word heart is in reference to the dichotomy between hard heartedness and soft heartedness. While we can dedicate our hearts to the Lord, time and time again, The Book of Mormon makes reference to those who have set their hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world. While it is at the core of conversion, repentance, and divine joy, it can also be at the core of hate, bitterness, and greed.

Instead of thinking about charity as a series of outward expressions such as love, kindness, and service, this line of study convinced me that is deeply internal. Although it manifests itself in these outward expressions, it is actually a state of being at the center of who we are and what we value.

This new insight made Sister Carol F. McConkie’s talk on holiness from April General Conference stick out to me in a new way. Like charity, holiness seems to be an internal state of being, and in fact, Sister McConkie uses similar language in her opening statements: “I see the beauty of holiness in sisters whose hearts are centered on all that is good, who want to become more like the Savior. They offer their whole soul, heart, might, mind, and strength to the Lord in the way that they live every day.”

Charity and holiness go beyond righteousness that can be described in a list. Referencing the story of Mary and Martha, Sister McConkie teaches, “Sisters [and I would add Brethren], if we would be holy, we must learn to sit at the feet of the Holy One of Israel and give time to holiness. Do we set aside the phone, the never-ending to-do list, and the cares of worldliness?” In other words, upon what do we set our hearts? She continues, “Prayer, study, and heeding the word of God invite His cleansing and healing love into our souls. Let us take time to be holy, that we may be filled with His sacred and sanctifying Spirit.” It isn’t enough to do these actions, we must let them change us. That internal transformation is what leads to outward expressions of love, forgiveness, patience, gentleness, meekness, long-suffering, and compassion.

She concludes with a hope for all the sisters, “May our lives ever be a sacred offering, that we may stand before the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

I would venture to say that the state of our heart is linked with our holiness and I particularly loved the imagery of a sacrificial offering. As we think of charity in terms of the pure love of Christ, Christ’s love was manifested in how he consecrated all he did to the Father and then gave his life for each one of us, it seems to follow that charity could be seen as offering our hearts and lives to the Father as well.

One of the most beautiful discussions of this concept is a poem written by George Herbert, an Anglican priest in Wales during the 16th Century.

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,

Made of a heart and cemented with tears;

Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;

No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.

A HEART alone

Is such a stone,

As nothing but

Thy pow’r doth cut.

Wherefore each part

Of my hard heart

Meets in this frame

To praise thy name.

That if I chance to hold my peace,

These stones to praise thee may not cease.

Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,

And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

I pray that each of us will have heart-changing experiences, that we may choose to set our hearts upon the things of the Lord rather than the vain things of the world. I pray that this soft-heartedness will be manifested in all our actions and that we will exemplify the pure love of Jesus Christ.

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Reflections on My Mission: Purpose and Grit

The beginning of my mission was hard. Soul-crushing, lonely, the stuff resilience is made of hard. Everything I had been excited about, so sure about came crumbling down around me with every investigator who flaked us and every person who sped by me without so much as a glance. I came to appreciate people who would actually say “No, thank you” or “I’m not interested” as they walked by because at least they were acknowledging me as a human being.

Then one day on a crowded bus I had a brief conversation with a graduate student. I told him about my missionary service and he told me about his research. He was from somewhere in Western Europe—the Netherlands, I think—and was studying how humanitarian relief efforts were approached in different countries. With every word, I was filled with more and more envy. If I’d written down a dream life on a piece of paper at that time, it would be exactly what he was doing. As far as I could tell, he was doing something big and important and interesting and noble and I knew that that was what I had given up to come on a mission.

The conversation ended when one of us got off the bus, I think it was his stop, and I was left with this lingering feeling of emptiness and the questions that had been on my mind for weeks flooding back with incredible magnitude: “Why was I here? Was I even accomplishing anything? Couldn’t I be making a bigger difference doing something else?”

Almost as soon as those thoughts crossed my mind, for the hundredth time, another one rose to meet them: “What he is doing is good, but what you are doing is essential.” Humanitarian aid would help people survive and hopefully thrive, but what I was sharing would transform lives eternally. I was offering people the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In the parable of Mary and Martha, I was choosing the better part. And in that moment, I knew that no matter how many people ended up listening to me while I was on my mission and no matter what I ended up doing after I got home, that this was one of the most important things I would ever do.

After that day, my mission didn’t magically become any easier, but the realization shaped the way I dealt with frustratingly fruitless days, heart-breaking disappointments (because having an investigator call off their baptism is heart-breaking), and not give up in the face of mental health challenges. It gave me a reason to keep fighting and made the small miracles all the more sweet.

Aunthood

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There’s a baby photo on my phone’s home screen that wasn’t there a week ago. On Tuesday, August 1st, my brother and his wife became parents for the first time, and I became an aunt. For the first time in my adult life there’s a baby in my family–a new little human we’re responsible for.

I got to spend the weekend cooing over his sleeping form and holding him until my arms ached. It’s amazing how a baby can be a catalyst to make you rethink everything. What you’re eating, what you’re talking about, what you spend your time on, and what you prioritize.

Now this sweet little boy is the first thing I see every time I check the time. He is the backdrop to the breaking news alerts and new messages that pop up. He has flooded my photo library with pictures of every facial expression he has made in his short life.

It’s amazing what a child’s presence can have. Somehow the context of a newborn helps me see the world in a new light, one that is precious and full of so much hope.

Growing Pains

I used to be so brave. It didn’t seem brave to make big life decisions and move forward with so much optimism and hope, but looking back at those moments now, they seem so bold and big. When do we loose that fearlessness and how can I get mine back?

I’m moving. After three years in this lovely little home, I’m saying goodbye. I remember getting offered the job on Friday and driving up to Salt Lake the next day to look for a place to live. Moving up with literally no friends and no furniture besides a bookshelf didn’t seem that crazy at the time. Me and my books in an empty apartment, listening to audio books while I cooked in the kitchen and sleeping in a sleeping bag on the ground. It was hard, but I was sure it was going to get less hard and I had no doubts that this was a good choice.

This time around, I’m so full of anxiety. So full of wounded vulnerability and fear. Will I like the next place, will my roommates like me, will I have friends, will I feel safe and happy?

Maybe that’s the key to this puzzle. The last three years have been really hard on me. I feel bad for saying that because I’ve been so blessed. I’ve met a lot of fabulous people, I’ve gotten to learn from leadership opportunities in the community, I’ve done most of a Master’s degree, and I’ve grown so much at work. I wouldn’t take any of those things back, but still… it all left me pretty tired and pretty broken.

Do you ever feel like you’re in a rut that you can’t get out of? You make progress. You find joy where you are. But it’s just not the same as before and you desperately want to get out? That’s where I’ve been for a while.

Although a move can’t solve my problems, I’m hopeful. I have hope that it will bring new experiences and a new start. That maybe it can be the catalyst for change and eventually peace I’ve been grasping at for the last couple of years.

Thoughts on Hidden Figures

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I went to see Hidden Figures last night. It was one of those inspiring, “I want to live my life better” movies. And I had a few thoughts I wanted to put down on the symbolic paper of my blog.

To me, the movie was a testament of what can happen when women support each other. I am in no way discounting the role that their husbands played, because they could not have done what they did without the support of their families, but ultimately it was a movie about women lifting and encouraging each other. Of not just looking out for themselves, but getting the colored women’s restroom sign removed for all the women, seeking to cross train the the west computing group so that they wouldn’t be out of a job when the IMB got up and running, and convincing Mary to not give up on engineering school even though she had to the petition the courts. Being a woman in a man’s world is intimidating and no one else quite understands it like other women, which is why we need each other.

It reminded me that sometimes you have to ask for, and even demand, more opportunities for growth. I like to think that I can keep my head down and work hard and that’s enough, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people have never even thought about why you’re not invited to the briefing and they never will unless you convince them otherwise.

The film inspired me to be more confident. I was blown away by how confident the women were in their own abilities to literally get a man to space. I have no doubt that women are capable of being just as smart and talented as men in whatever field they choose, but sometimes, I don’t think that principle applies to me. I wish that every time I doubted my abilities I could channel Catherine when she meets her future husband and tells him off for underestimating what a woman can do.

It reminded me that societal rules sometimes exist to be broken. So much of the racism and sexism they faced was subtle. Their culture had built a system of societal norms designed to keep women, people of color, and others separate from the people with power. The choices people made that were often so hurtful were justified by a desire to keep the status quo. They only cared that she drank from the same coffee pot because their society had taught them that it mattered. Kirsten Dunst’s character didn’t feel like she was racist for never pushing for Dorothy’s promotion, but didn’t realize that it was built on the idea that we can pay women of color less for equal work.

But we can’t just keep the status quo. We have to look at all of our rules and norms, and sincerely ask ourselves why some of them exist. We have to read about them and see if people feel like they are being hurt by the norms (because those who are not negatively effected are usually oblivious to the damage they’re doing on others), and then we need to advocate and deliberately go counter to what our society would dictate.

Hidden Figures reminded me that I have so much privilege. I can relate to the challenges of a woman trying to succeed, but I have never had to deal with racism. I have never had to petition the courts to take classes. I have never worried when I was pulled over by the police. I have never been kicked out of the library because I wanted a book in another section. And so my response should be to listen and support those who do have to deal with the challenges of race. To be humble enough to not think that I am perfect of that I have all the answers. To be willing to make changes to my behavior and my beliefs when I realize that they’re wrong.

I loved that the film showed good people feeding into these flawed and destructive systems of oppression, and their ability to change. That it doesn’t always have to be us versus them, and racist America is evil… that although good people sometimes fall prey to following and defending the status quo, they don’t have to be destroyed to destroy the system. Even Catherine’s biggest critic on the task force, eventually became her ally. I can’t help but think that there are thousands if not millions of good people who fit into this category in America. It’s not fair that it takes time. I understand the desire to shake them and make them realize what they’re doing, but in my experience that doesn’t really work. I’m not sure what does yet, but I have hope in America. I have hope in good people who can change their minds, behavior, beliefs, and thoughts.

One of the highlights of the movie to me wasn’t even the movie. It was the little girl sitting right behind me. You see, at one point the protagonist, Catherine, grabs a cup of coffee from the communal coffee pot, putting the cup underneath the nozzle and pulling the lever to start filling, and then going back to her calculations while it fills. Everyone in the room stops to stare at her for the audacity of using their coffee pot.And the girl behind me, trying to understand why everyone’s so anxious in the scene, determined it’s because she’s not looking at the nozzle and her coffee is going to spill. That was her only logical explanation about why these men might be upset. And it struck me, we have sooooo far to go in regards to racism and equality in America, but the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement have moved the needle, because a little girl in Salt Lake City, UT had no idea why a white person would be upset that a person of color was drinking from the same coffee pot as them. It’s not everything. We shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve arrived at racial equality by any means, but still, I am so grateful for that little girl’s innocence.

More than anything, that was the reoccurring thought I had during the movie. I couldn’t wait to watch it with my children someday. To make sure that they know the hidden figures of history. To make sure it’s not just a story about John F. Kennedy and John Glenn, but it’s also a story about Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson.

As the credits started rolling, the audience clapped. I haven’t been in many films where the audience clapped, but it was difficult not to. As much as we all loved the film, I think most of us were clapping for these women. These incredible women who faced almost insurmountable obstacles and didn’t let it deter them. Who thought, “I want to be in the room where it happens, and you know what, I’m going to get there.” Who did amazing things because they dared to dream. Despite the difficult things I read on the news every day, it was a good reminder that humans are amazing creatures who have incredible potential and it reminded me not to give up hope.

Choosing the Right Co-pilots

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On Friday, one of my dearest friends got married. The wedding was in Twin Falls, ID and so I filled up my car with incredibly talented, mutual friends to road trip up for the event. It was wonderful and we were all filled to the brim with love and friendship and joy. Then we loaded the car up on Saturday for the drive home. On the way, we hit some ice and slid off the road.

To put all your fears to rest, we were incredibly blessed. No one was injured, we didn’t even get whiplash, and there was minimal damage to my car. By all intents and purposes, it wasn’t a major life event, just a delay on the way home. But the experience has made me reflect a lot.

As my tires lost traction and we began to fishtail, I will never forget the response I got from everyone in the car. The women in the back were calm and focused. And my co-pilot gently reassured me and coached me through what I should be doing. “You’re doing good. [pause] Try to straighten it out. [pause] Keep pumping the brake.”

There wasn’t any panic in her voice, although she probably was anxious. There wasn’t any judgement or criticism, just reassurance and reminders. And in that moment, that was exactly what I needed to navigate a difficult situation I’d never been in before.

As soon as the car came to a stop in the snowbank, their first response was to make sure everyone was okay, that I was okay. We all took a minute to collect our thoughts, and then they threw their shoes on and got out to push the car and see if we could get it out of the ditch. (Unfortunately I had no traction on my back tires and was going to need a tow.) Long story short, these two incredible men pulled over around the same time and towed us out with one of their trucks. I was so humbled and grateful for their help and will always be impressed with how much they took the parable of The Good Samaritan to heart.

Because of their help and what I believe were some major blessings from God (seriously, thank you to the mothers and fathers who said their prayers this week!), we drove home and went about our lives with barely a delay. But even beyond that help and all the blessings, I think I would be a lot more shaken up had I gone through the same experience with another group of people.

When someone says they’re choosing a partner or a co-pilot, I think we automatically jump to choosing a significant other, and there are certainly connections between what I learned on Saturday and choosing a spouse, but if I stopped there I would be missing out on a much wider set of implications. Co-pilots are roommates, co-workers, friends, business partners, counselors, mentors, family members, and so many others.

It became all so clear to me in those slow-motion seconds on I-84 that who we associate with and experience our difficult moments with matters. It impacts the journey and it impacts the outcomes. Someone else at the wheel would likely need a completely different reaction from his/her passengers, and so, in a way, this life is a quest to find people who complement you and whom you complement. And when you find your people, don’t let them go. Foster those relationships and support them however you can, because when you have your “Jesus Take the Wheel” moments, in whatever form they may come, those are the people you want in your life.

Tomorrow

I woke up this morning to the sound of buzzing. The group text I had been engaged in the night before had started promptly at 6:00 am MST with my east coast friends who were now starting their day.

As the hazy morning came in to clarity, so did the reality of last night and the decision our country made. I rolled away from the phone as it continued to persistently vibrate on my nightstand, trying to fall back to sleep. But as the minutes ticked by the buzzing intensified and I finally gave up.

I picked up my phone and cracked open one, squinting eye, blinded by the sudden light emanating from my screen in the otherwise dark room. I started to read what I expected to be more texts of shock and despair, but what I found was the opposite.

I found determination and action.

These amazing women who had been up half the night worrying about their brothers and sisters of color and the message this election sends to them about their value. About those struggling under the weight of a criminal justice system that is designed for them to fail, and the millions of women who just heard that a man can brag about assaulting them without consequences. About the LGBTQ community who already are at risk for suicide and widespread discrimination, and about immigrants and refugees who dreamed of a future free of fear only to find that America is just as driven by fear as everywhere else.

I woke up to women who were disappointed but determined not to give up. Who were brainstorming things we could do to combat a future that we cannot stand behind.  Who realized that our country needs our support, our time, our money, our talents, and our voices more than ever, and I want to share some of their ideas.

Immigration reform:

  • There are free legal clinics that provide consultations for people who are seeking to be in this country legally, a process that is incredibly long, complex, and expensive, consider supporting them with money or volunteer hours.
  • Learn a foreign language and become friends with people from other countries and cultures.

Refugee outreach:

  • It’s safe to say that most refugees are not feeling particularly welcome right now, volunteer with a refugee resettlement agency, to help them acclimate to a new culture and country.
  • Tell your political leaders you want to accept more refugees for resettlement.
  • Teach English as a Second Language.
  • Give a refugee a job if you own your own business or are a hiring manager.
  • Donate goods and money to organizations like the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services, and Deseret Industries that help refugees.

Sexual assault response:

  • Many hospitals and non-profits have volunteers who sit and talk with assault victims so they don’t have to be alone in the hospital or police station as they report their rape. Consider getting involved there.
  • Volunteer at a local women’s shelter or donate goods that they need.
  • Lobby your local and national political leaders for stronger laws against perpetrators and hold the police force accountable for pursuing and prosecuting cases of sexual assault.
  • Stop blaming the victim.

Empowering women:

  • Lean in. Don’t be afraid. We need women to aspire for more and to be successful. We need more positive examples of female leadership.
  • Mentor women at a local school or community center. Big Brothers & Big Sisters is a national organization that can pair you with struggling youth.
  • If you’re involved with a community organization or religious congregation, consider having a Career Day for the girls to show them what they can dream up and become.

Freedom of the press:

  • Subscribe to a newspaper, or several. Give subscriptions as a Christmas present. Newspapers are going to be attacked in the coming years for reporting the news in the way the President of the United States doesn’t like, and the only way to combat that is to read what they write and to help them make a profit.
  • Read a newspaper that represents “the other side’s” perspective. We need to better understand each other over the next four years because this polarization of America isn’t working.

Civil justice system:

  • Call your political leaders and police department to find out what they’re going to do to decrease police brutality and numbers in our prison system.
  • Lobby for more training on inherent biases and de-escalation practices for law enforcement.
  • Volunteer at a half-way house.

Religious freedom:

  • Learn about other religions (especially Islam) and worship together.
  • Most religious organizations value service. Rather than serving in your individual silos, seek opportunities to serve side-by-side.
  • Talk about shared values and beliefs.

Global warming:

  • Support legislation that establish incentives to decrease greenhouse gases.
  • Take public transportation, use solar power, buy an electric car.
  • Limit your waste.

Organizations to volunteer with/assist:

Helpful websites/articles: