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.

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.

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:

 

 

 

The Truth About Grad School

tumblr_mlbrr4bROJ1s3gs1lo1_500.jpgIf I had $5 for every time someone asked me how I was making a full-time job and grad school work, I would have way fewer student loans.

As I’ve answered that question 1,000 times over the last 9 months, I’ve developed a few polite responses:

  • You just take it one day at a time.
  • It’s crazy, but I’m surviving.
  • Yeah, I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I’m told it’s worth it.
  • Luckily I really love my job and school is interesting, so it’s a win-win.

While all of those are true statements, they are definitely my sugarcoated answers. I don’t think we all need to spill our deepest, darkest secrets about how messy our lives are, but I also think that we do others a disservice when we don’t let them see that our lives aren’t perfect. When we let them think that they’re the only person out there struggling to do it all. So here you go, my real answers for how am I making my life work with a full-time job and grad school?

  • I shower less because I don’t have the time/energy to do my hair every day. Whatever number of days is in your head, add one. Or two.
  • There are multiple days a week I don’t wear makeup.
  • I don’t cook, or eat real meals anymore. Cereal, anything microwavable, chips and melted cheese. These are now my dietary staples.
  • I do way less homework than I did as an undergrad. Not because I have less, but because I just can’t be quite as obsessed and go to the library every night like I used to.
  • It’s come down to exercise or sleep since I really only have time late at night or in the early morning, guess which one wins?
  • I don’t think about student debt if I can possibly help it.
  • There are multiple times a week when I get home and just lay on the couch  without moving for hours because I just need to stop and do something mindless.
  • I feel guilty a lot about not putting as much time or energy into things that I would normally want to do my best on.
  • I see a therapist.
  • Things are so overwhelming sometimes that it’s a never-ending battle against apathy.
  • Ice cream.
  • As tired as I get, and as much as I’m 100% done dealing with people at the end of the week, spending time with friends and family is really important and keeps a little sanity in my life.

Autumn

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Growing up in Las Vegas where there are only two seasons (blazing hot oven and sort-of bearable), moving to Utah opened my eyes to what seasons could really be. And ever since the moment I looked up on my way home from class and the mountains had started changing colors and the cold nipped at my nose and ears, I have loved autumn…until this year.

For whatever reason, I was NOT ready for fall this time around. Summer is about rest and adventuring. Fall is about returning to school and friends and setting goals, and for whatever reason, I was not quite ready to be responsible just yet. I didn’t feel ready for the balancing act of homework on top of work work and social responsibilities. It’s not that I didn’t want it to come, I just wasn’t ready for it to come quite so soon.

But yesterday, a fellow autumn-lover taught our lesson at church. The topic was the sacrament, which normally makes you think about spring and Easter, right? But she shared something I didn’t know about fall. You see, if all the trees didn’t turn bright orangey-hues and let go of their leaves, they would die. They wouldn’t be able to survive the winter and they wouldn’t be able to generate new growth in the spring. Fall and the sacrament is about shedding our burdens and growing deeper roots so that we can get taller and be green again.

If you’ve ever had a time in your life when you’re just kind of living day-to-day and weren’t sure what you were doing or if God was even that interested, and then something subtle jumped out at you and you were like, “This! This was for me! This is what I needed to hear right now,” that was me during this lesson yesterday. Not only did I need to hear about the sacrament, but I needed to hear it in terms of something really personal to me. As stupid as it sounds, I think God knew that my negative feelings about fall were bugging me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and why something I normally love so much, was bringing me the opposite of joy. And so He reached into my heart and gave me a new reason to love this time of year.

People always say that God is in the details of our lives, but sometimes I don’t give Him enough credit. Happy Autumn everyone!

 

The Gift of Writing

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It doesn’t really make sense that I became a writer.

I never knew a writer growing up. My grandparents’ careers included pianist, dentist, model, president of a local arts organization, stock broker, and real estate appraiser. My mother is a dance professor and my father is a physical therapist.

I’ve always attributed my passion for the written word to be the result of my insatiable appetite for books as a child, but today I think I found a different answer.

Today is Mother’s Day, and like many individuals I received a letter from my mother in the mail. This letter made me cry. It made me grateful. It made me love my mom even more. It helped me see things in my life differently. It helped me see myself differently.

I was blessed with a mother who has a gift for letter writing.

As I read the letter I received today, I remembered the countless letters I have gotten from her over the years. Letters that started from as soon as I could read. And I remembered how formative they were. Somehow the fact that they were written out made everything she loved about me more real and I wanted to be all the wonderful things she said I was.

Since those early experiences, writing has become a core part of my identity. I was a bookworm all through middle school and high school. I majored in English in college, and a large part of my current job involves writing.

Looking back, I think my mother’s letters have subconsciously shaped every aspect of my life. Because learning to read and write was never just about doing homework or even telling stories. It was about making people feel loved and connected. Writing was a powerful tool that I wanted to learn how to use because my mother had shown me how much good it was capable of.

This is kind of a strange way to express how much my mom has impacted my life and how grateful I am to her, but then again it’s not. So much of who I am is the result of her love and example, even if I don’t always realize it.