Monday, May 27, 2013

Missionary Pictures

After church today I asked Mom to snap a few pictures of me before I head out next week. Mom is awesome, and I love looking at these and just imagining how much I will grow through this experience. God is so good. I am so grateful for this life and His love and His gospel. He knows us so much better than we will ever know ourselves.

Don't think I've really ever been happier about anything in my life.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sacrament Talk

I can hardly believe that time has passed so quickly and that next week I am leaving for Chile! It's a little crazy, but I think I am pretty much ready to go. Typically, before missionaries head out, they speak in their home wards (church). I had the opportunity to speak in both my ward, and also in my old bishop's ward. I really enjoyed writing this talk and sharing it:

About a year ago, I tried to convince anyone in my family to sign up for a mud run with me after seeing pictures of some friends who had recently run one. After some serious begging and convincing, I got Suzanne to say yes. We eventually signed up for another one because they looked so fun, so we were looking forward to doing two mud runs in May.

Our first race was three weeks ago, and then we ran another one last weekend. The race courses were about three miles long, filled with several different obstacles and lots of mud, as expected. By the time we were done running, we were covered from head to toe in thick, nasty mud. It was everywhere, but it was a ton of fun. After the first one, we just hoped in the car mud and all to avoid waiting in lines to rinse off, so when we walked in the house still caked in mud, and Dad just started laughing at us.

Looking back and thinking about the mud runs Suzanne and I just finished, there are a lot of parallels to our experiences here in this life, whatever we may be doing.

I guess the first lesson that could be taken away from this experience is to be very cautious of others trying to tempt and convince us. I had to work on Suzanne for a while before I got her to agree to run with me. Gray was a little more resistant, and he never let me convince him to run with us. So I guess you’d have to ask Suzanne for sure, but I don’t really think I convinced her to do any evil, and we had a good time. However, there are so many situations today where we are easily tempted and people try to convince us every day to lead us away from this gospel and the Spirit. In Alma Chapter 34, verse 39 it reads, “Yea, and I also exhort you, my brethren, that ye be watchful unto prayer continually, that ye my not be led away by the temptations of the devil, that he may not overpower you, that ye may not become his subjects at the last day; for behold, he rewardeth you no good thing.” We learn from Alma that having faith in Christ, being humble, and continually leaning unto Heavenly Father and Christ through prayer will help us identify and resist the temptations of the devil. The Lord often helps us to avoid temptations, and we are blessed as we endure them. Just like the lyrics of the song Taylor just sang, I know that Christ has the power to ransom us from Satan’s grasp and power, and that as we truly come to know and believe in Him, we can feel of the peace and love He wants us to for eternity.

Another prominent lesson we can pull from our mud run is the importance of preparing, and being humble. For the past few months Suzanne and I have looked at each other and said, “We need to start running every day again.” But unfortunately just thinking about running never actually did anything for us—we definitely could have been a little bit more diligent with our efforts in order to be more prepared. The first run was a lot of fun and it was more obstacles with just short periods of running in between. The course was pretty flat, and we ran it with really no problem. I was thinking the second run would pretty much be just like the first. Then the night before, Suzanne was looking at pictures on the internet and she turned to me and said, “This course looks a lot harder than the last one.” We started running the course a week ago, and there was a lot more uphill and climbing then we had anticipated. When I think about my lack of diligent and consistent preparation for this race, it reminds me of the importance of our spiritual preparation during this life. It needs to be a continual and consistent thing, and I do not want to be the “servant, which knew the Lord’s will, and prepared not himself” (Luke 12:47). In Alma Chapter 5 verse 29, it reads, “behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand.” If we make the efforts every day to prepare ourselves a little more to face each day, to go through life’s experiences, and eventually see our Father in Heaven and our Savior again, we are told in D&C that “if we are prepared, we shall not fear.” This earthly life is a preparatory state, and I want to be as prepared as I can be to meet my Father and Savior again someday. I don’t want to finish my life and know that I could have definitely prepared a lot more, like I was thinking for the mud run.

 So we started running, and there were a lot of obstacles, just like we face in this life. Some of them were a lot of fun, and we actually enjoyed being knee deep in the muddy water with hundreds of other people. Some obstacles we didn’t enjoy so much.

One of my favorite obstacles was an underground tunnel. Suzanne hated this one. There was a tunnel that was only big enough for you to crawl through on your hands and knees, and it was actually pretty long. We started crawling through, and after a few feet, you really couldn’t see anything—it was pitch black. The turns in the tunnel were unexpected and you couldn’t see them, so you sort of just had to feel your way through the tunnel. Suzanne was behind me, and I guess it turns out she is a little claustrophobic because she was making a lot of noise back there. In Job Chapter 29, verse 3, it reads, “and by His light I walked through darkness”. Similarly, in Micah Chapter 7, verse 8, it reads, “When I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.” Through Christ’s light and through the light that the gospel brings into our lives, we can make it through dark and trying times. There have been several times in my life when I haven’t really known which direction to take, and it definitely brings peace to my mind knowing that we have a Heavenly Father that loves us so much and a Savior that has done so much for us, that they do not want to leave us in the dark. We never have to be alone.

Another fun obstacle they had was a huge, raised balance beam that went uphill, you jumped over a few higher boards, and then balanced back down. It reminds me of how life can be a balancing act. For me, if I looked down, I would lose my balance a little bit—looking straight ahead was a lot easier for me, helped me focus more. I think of my Mom when it comes to balancing. She has to balance the lives of nine kids, work, exercise, finances, church, serving others, friends, and so much more every day. She is honestly one of the most amazing women I know, and she does so much for everyone else, and it is definitely a trial in and of itself to balance everything that she does. Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Coping with the complex and diverse challenges of everyday life, which is not an easy task, can upset the balance and harmony we seek. Many good people who care a great deal are trying very hard to maintain balance, but they sometimes feel overwhelmed and defeated.” He made several suggestions to help us establish and maintain a balance in our lives, such as setting priorities and goals, establishing family relationships, and studying the scriptures. He said, “when I am in tune spiritually, I find that I can balance everything in my life much more easily.” I feel so blessed and grateful to know the purposes of this life, and to have an eternal goal to be able to live with my Heavenly Father again one day. I had Sister Phelps as a seminary teacher for four years, and I remember her saying all that time that as we put God first in our lives, everything else will fall into place how it is supposed to. That has definitely helped me obtain a balance in my own life, especially in deciding to serve a mission when I have many other things going on. The eternal goals and truths I have help me keep a central focus and give me an eternal perspective to help me make it through earthly life.

One of the hardest obstacles was having to pull ourselves up a muddy, slippery hill using a rope. You couldn’t really even crawl, because there was a network of barbed wire just above our heads. I definitely am not the strongest person in the world, but if you didn’t cling on to that rope, you would slide right back down to the bottom of the hill and have to start all over again. I had a death grip on that thing. To me, this one is so obvious. When I don’t cling to the gospel with all my might and strength, things are so much harder. The gospel has helped to guide me, and has lifted me up just when I needed it to. I find peace and direction from the scriptures, the prophet, and so many loving leaders. In 1971, President Harold B. Lee said, “If there is any one thing most needed in this time of tumult and frustrations, when men and women and youth and young adults are desperately seeking for answers to the problems which afflict mankind, it is an ‘iron rod’ as a safe guide along the straight path on the way to eternal life, amidst the strange and devious roadways that would eventually lead to destruction.” That was forty two years ago, and it remains very true today. There are so many paths that try and lead us away from happiness and peace in the gospel. Undoubtedly, at times I will slip and fall. I struggle just like everyone else. However, just like the rope in that race never went away, the gospel will always be there for us, and that is such a gift. We can quickly regain hold of the iron rod. Through the atonement, we have the gift of being able to repent and learn from our mistakes and trials. Christ suffered all of our pains, sorrows, and sins so that we can have a way to return to our Heavenly Father despite our imperfections, so that we can grow here in this life. In Mosiah Chapter 13, verse 28, it reads, “and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish.” Whenever I fall just a little bit, I can always come back hanging on even tighter. God’s divine plan is so incredibly merciful, and he has provided the way for us as we lean to Him and have faith in Him.

I’ll tell you about one last obstacle. At the end of the race, there was one last mud pit again with barbed wire over top. You could see the finish line about twenty feet in front of you, and we watched other people finish the race as we tried to get through this last mud pit. This mud was incredibly sticky. It felt like it was sucking my feet deep into the ground, and I lost my shoe. I was tempted just to leave my shoe right there in the mud, since we weren’t keeping them anyway. Trials can hit us at any time. Satan wants to cause us to sink into everlasting misery and woe, just like him, and I’ve found he will try to work on us as hard as he can. However, in Doctrine and Covenants, section 6 verse 13, we are taught that “If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” Working through life’s experiences, through all the obstacles, having faith and building our testimonies to cling to, trying hard to prepare for the next life, and enduring to the end will all be worth our while.

I am definitely grateful for the fun experiences we had doing those mud runs this month. I am grateful for my crazy sister who let me convince her to sign up for a three mile run where we get covered in mud from head to toe. The relationships we have with our families are so important, and I have such a strong testimony of eternal families. I am so blessed to be sealed for eternity to such a crazy and fun bunch of people. Families give us teams to lean on and to work alongside—they are some of the best people to run this race of life with.

This life is a race with so many obstacles and so much nasty, thick mud. In Hebrews chapter 12, verse 1, we are counseled that we might “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Also, we are told by King Benjamin that “it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize.” As we have faith in Christ and prepare ourselves to endure and grow in this mortal life, we prepare ourselves to obtain the immortality and eternal life the Lord desires for us to obtain. The little medals and t-shirts Suzanne and I got from running our mud races were nice and cute, but they pale in the comparison to the prizes we can obtain from faithfully and successfully running the race of life. We had so much fun running those two races. We have so much fun in everyday life, and this race can be just as fun, but it too requires a lot of work and effort.

I love this gospel so much, and I love the guidance that it gives me in my own race of life. About a year ago, I was in Germany visiting the Shield’s family and taking care of their four little kids for a week. We walked to church one Sunday and during sacrament meeting, a sister missionary was speaking about her experiences after just returning home. I wrote the following in my journal that night: “At dinner, Aubrey asked me if I was going to serve a mission. Honestly, I think I would LOVE that. I’ve thought about it on more than one occasion, but who knows where my life could be in two or three years. I guess it will all work out in the end.”

During the Saturday session back in October, I actually wasn’t even watching conference. I had no idea about the age-change revelation because I was racing in Philadelphia for a Crew Regatta with VCU. My great friend Kavya and I had been talking about our plans for the future that day, like we so often do. Her education and life for the next several years is pretty much planned out, and in comparison to hers, my plans for the future have always been a little bit haphazard. We were talking that Saturday about what we were going to do after we graduated, and I mentioned possibly serving a mission, but like always, who really knew what would happen. I had time to figure it all out anyways. She thought I was just a little bit crazy, like always.

When I walked into our house late Saturday night, Mom asked me if I had heard the news, but I had no idea what she was talking about. She told me about the age-change, and I hopped on the internet to read it myself. Initially I was definitely shocked and surprised. Hours before I had just been talking about wanting to serve a mission, but at that point it was something I wanted to do in the future. Now, I could go now if I wanted to.

I didn’t decide immediately that I wanted to go—but after a little bit, I was ready. Honestly, even though I wanted to go, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t happen because so much depended on what VCU would say. I emailed a dean at VCU asking him if my spot and scholarship could be held for two years, and to my surprise, they had no problem. Then, one night I opened up my scriptures and read 3 Nephi Chapter 28. I read verse 18, and I knew then that now was the right time for me to serve a mission: “But this much I know, according to the record which hath been given—they did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching.” Everything added up perfectly. I put in my papers, I got my call, and now I am just a little over a week away from leaving and heading to Chile for the next eighteen months.

When I think about why I want to serve a mission, Luke Chapter 22 verse 32 comes to mind: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” I have a testimony of this gospel and the peace, happiness, and strength it gives to me in my life. I want to share it with others, and I want to share the love that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for us. I know that by sharing the gospel and my testimony with others, that they can be strengthened and they can find hope and purpose, just like I have. I know that the gospel enhances so many aspects of our lives, and helps to lift us up, and it is a humbling thing to be called to share the gospel with people in a completely different part of the world, in a language I really don’t know yet. I am so grateful for the trust, faith, and love Heavenly Father has shown me these past few months, and I am so grateful to be called as a Missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So I guess this is the next obstacle in my ever-changing race-course of life. I know it’s going to be hard, but I also know it’s going to be the greatest thing I have done so far in my life.

In Zechariah chapter 10, verse five it reads, “And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the Lord is with them.” I want to live a life where the Lord can be with me, where I can be guided by the Spirit, and where I can be mighty for His purposes. I want to tread down my enemies in the mud and sludge of this world, and be able to return home again one day. I hope that I can be a mighty missionary while serving in Santiago, Chile, and I know that as I have faith in and try to follow the ultimate example of the Savior, I can be.

I want to close with my testimony that I love this gospel. I love the scriptures and how much they apply to our day, and how they can apply to my life specifically. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and I know that Joseph Smith was the Prophet of the Restoration. I know that Thomas Monson is the living prophet today, who leads and guides us with so much love. I love my family, and am grateful for them every day. I know that the ultimate prize if we endure to the end will be greater than we can ever imagine. I am grateful for the experiences in life that allow us to reflect on our eternal potentials. I am humbled and grateful to serve the Lord over the next eighteen months, and I am excited to see how this experience will change me and others. I know this gospel is true and I know that the Lord truly does have a plan for each of us and knows us all so well. I love how Heavenly Father truly knows the direction of our lives, and He truly hears us and loves us. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

sooooooooooo close.

so close to being done i can almost taste it.

sitting in a random building on campus. it's pretty quiet in here. my friend deserted me to get some sleep. i guess it's a good thing that at this hour of the night you need an ID badge to get in here, lol. the library is way too busy these days. standing room only.

eight hours til i am free from organic chemistry. studying is going a lot better than i expected, so let's just hope this exam goes the same way.

tomorrow i shall pass out.

**Update: hahahaha. that exam did NOT go well. but that's okay, because i am done with organic chemistry classes forever.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Seriously Decreased Enthusiasm

Classes officially ended yesterday. Folks, I sat through my last college class for two years yesterday. Now I just have to make it through these next two days studying the crap out of organic chemistry in hopes to make an A. My final is Friday morning at 9am, so as soon as that is over I will be done worrying about school :) I have two nursing finals next week, but I know I'll do fine on those ones!

This semester both seems to have really drug on and also flown by super quickly. It has seemed to fly by whenever I've looked at the missionary countdown on my computer and see that I only have so many days left before I am in Chile. When I'm in classes and working through exams and papers and labs, it seems like it will be forever before I am in Chile. To say my enthusiasm towards school has seriously decreased would be one hundred percent accurate. I called Dad last night and he said he knew that would happen. Ha. Yeah, something about moving to another country in just about a month and living there for eighteen months not having to worry about homework, lab reports, papers, exams, etc, makes school just seem that much more frustrating. At this point, I'm just ready to be in Chile.

My room is completely pack up, and has been for almost a week. I still have a week left in this room.
I'm ready to be home and away from Richmond.
And I am almost ready to head to Chile.

Struggling through to the end.....