Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Because I was Looking" - A Question on Faith

Today's thoughts are almost like a question/answer editorial.
This last week I got an email from my sweet cousin serving a mission in Russia.


"My dearest Monica,As thou art so wise and fabulous, I just wanted to ask you a quick question: what kept you moving forward on your mission? All of your emails were so incredible and inspiring every week! What gave you faith? and hope? I'm not saying I am having terrible experiences every day, but I was just curious.You are such an inspiration to me, and you were so successful (I am not talking numbers successul). When and how did you find your faith, if that makes sense? I love you so much, and wish you the best!
Sister Davis"

Sister Davis,

I've been thinking all week as to how to respond to your email. You raise such a good question.

I feel like calling me wise is like looking at my life in a vacuum. You really can't discount how much I have struggled and how much "didn't work out"-- but it's kind of a phenomenon that a grand many of our faith-filled experiences occur due to some sort of perceived failure because of how human we are. But it's funny how in those instances we come to rely the fullest on the Savior and all of a sudden He does something quite merciful to take us off guard and onto our knees: He allows us to see things as they really are. He lets us know that this isn't all on our shoulders. That we don't have to be super-human in order to witness miracles. That not all miracles lead to baptisms or happily-ever-after's but under no circumstance should those miracles we discounted for the worth they truly hold. Because they happened. As Joseph Smith once said about the miracle of the first vision, "I knew it, and God knew it, and I could not deny it."

I first want to commend you for understanding that success is more than it seems. Success is such a word that gives the connotation of number. And at many times, that's exactly what it means. But you would be surprised how much I realized how successful my mission had been AFTER the fact, as I have seen the ripple-effect of smaller efforts. Again, in the Savior's mercy and with the aid of technology, I've been allowed to see what has happened since. And of course none of those things can be directly pinpointed at me and my specific effort to produce those miracles. But I glory in the merciful idea that my hours on the hot roads with sweat dripping down my neck were not spent in vain, regardless of how fruitless some days appeared.

There is never an effort wasted.

So your question. Faith. Where does it come from. Such a grand question. Do me a favor and take some of these scriptures to a personal study with real intent for Heavenly Father to shed some light:

1. Faith in the Bible Dictionary. All of it, thoroughly.

2. Ether 6:1-12 (Think Allegorically and Symbolically)

3. Watch Because of Him and He Lives - the Mormon messages, once each. Pray first.

I highly suggest reading about Paul in the New Testament as well as your study day times permit. It's in Acts.

Honestly Sara, if I were to boil it down to the stock pot broth of why I was able to gain faith is because I was looking.

There is scripture after scripture about seeking and knocking. I never realized exactly how true that was until just now as I wrote that last sentence.

Faith is one of my most favorite topics and the thing I came to understand possibly the best of all the other lessons I learned.

And yet.

It is potentially the thing that so easily besets us the fastest. When the tide rolls in high and things aren't going as hunky-dory as one would hope, it seems to be the first thing cast off in the ship of confidence that Elder Holland always talks about is faith.

Sometimes we want miracles and success to be the measures of the reasoning for us to have hope. As the Bible Dictionary says, "Miracles do not produce faith, but strong faith is developed by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ; in other words, faith comes by righteousness, although miracles often confirm one’s faith."

To me it seems that the most common recognition of a miracle is after the fact. Because we looked, we understood. Had we not looked with spiritual eyes we would have never seen the beauty of it nor understood the depth of it-- and most of all, we would not have found meaning in it as God's hand was apparent.

To do this, one must seek out the divine help to gain true "spiritual sight":

"The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls” (Jacob 4:13; see also D&C 93:24).

My friend, "Forever Fan the Flame of Your Faith."


Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Last Day

Feeling a little poetic on my last day at the MTC.

My last day at the MTC drew me into some reflection...
That day was today, by the way.
The best way I can explain my feelings,
well... there's really no other way to say.

After such an experience-- oddly enough--
I express myself in the same way,
as did I at the close of my missionary service,
"How I felt on my very last day."

Full of Gratitude.

Thus, a poem... written from the desk I sat in on my last day, inspired entirely by Alma 26.

"I Have Seen Too Much"

God knew what he wanted to make of me.
I am an instrument peculiarly crafted;
an instrument in His hands I become,
when I open my heart to be drafted.

I have seen too much to ever leave my station.
Too deep in His debt.
Too filled to ever be truly empty,
too attached to ever forget.

I've seen too much in the "marvelous light"
that God shed on that station-
highlighting vision, miracle and step.
How could I have ever forgotten the thousands from Krungthep?

No effort ever wasted,
for the ripple-effect remains.
Though I may never see it all
in the remainder of my days.

Gathered in the garners, the people that He loves,
both missionary and member alike,
see the Holy Ghost as a dove,
and the gospel as a light.

He sees the potential in all residential,
conversion fights whirlwinds of strife.
I have never seen such a glorious thing,
not ever in my life.

"For if we had not come," they say,
Oh, my heart fleeth at the thought.
I would have never met the ones that He, not I, would have taught.

"And we lived after the manner of happiness." 
- 2 Nephi 5:27

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How to Act

Action over Permissive Passiveness
Agency is something that all men are born entitled to receive. Yet, it seems that with the temptations, noise, “counsel, advice, and promotions” (Richard G. Scott) that plague our Facebook feeds, we as God’s children can unknowingly fall under the tidal wave of sidetracking influence. We fall so unknowingly that in distraction’s subtle nature, we fail to recognize that we are being acted upon, not acting for ourselves at all. I have pondered this idea for an extended period of time and I propose that this concept of action over passiveness discussed in 2 Nephi 2:14, 26-27 can lead to personal growth, progression, and self-control.
Personal Growth
“And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning;” (2 Ne 2:26) As college students, it is easy for myself and others to fall into the influence of breaking good habits due to lack of time, a heap of tasks, and the pressures of social commitments. We desire for “profit and learning” yet find ourselves at times smitten with the scroll of a telephone or the constant stream of entertainment numbing our brain synapses. The concept of acting over being acted upon, (“these things”, as Lehi calls them) however, is meant to help develop personal growth, rising above these loud noises and distractions all battling for our attention. Lehi continues, “…for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.” In this, Lehi begins a “father’s last will” sermon to his sons: There are things to be acted upon and those (people) to act upon them.
With our spiritually inherited gift of discernment, we find ourselves able to distinguish for ourselves in which category we should be, knowing our entitled position of stewardship over the earth. Lehi details in chapter two the fall of Adam and Eve, leading to a responsibility of taking care of the earth—they were given the task of “tilling the land” by the sweat of their brow. The earth was not meant to have dominion over man- but rather, man over the earth.
With this portion of the verse it is also important to note that God created all things, both in heaven and in earth. That means that our Heavenly Father is foremost the creator of spiritual things. With faith, as Gene R. Cook says, “Any idea that has ever had any value that I know of, was first created spiritually in the mind. Then, because of his exceeding great faith, he brings it about temporally. He literally causes it to happen.” This concept is a key distinguisher in recognizing when we are acting and being acted upon. Are our actions faith-filled? Are they spiritually stimulating? If they are not, we can know that we are being acted upon and we are allowing circumstance, challenge or even the influence of other people to take away our ability to make our own decisions towards personal growth.
Because faith and works go hand in hand, personal growth is a result of righteous endeavors of directional action. When a college student like myself will act, setting the alarm thirty minutes earlier than usual in order to make time for daily scripture reading, the blessings that are entitled to one who consistently feeds their spirit rain down. Those who allow themselves to fall into sluggish passiveness and permissiveness allow themselves to be acted upon by circumstance, not the other way around. In fact, this phenomenon creates the opposite of the desired effect, where in reality our spiritual growth diminishes from lack of action. Thus, faith without works can really truly be deemed “dead.” (Holy Bible; James 2:20)
From personal experience, I can tell the difference between when I am acting and when I am being acted upon due to these reflections. In the last week, the time spent acting felt progressive, as if moving forward, time un-wasted and well-allocated. Where-as the fruits of being acted upon are passive regret and temporary pleasure. For example, those mornings used for an early run and scripture study began a much more productive day and uplifting spirit than the days spent falling out of bed ten minutes before class with no breakfast both spiritually and physically. As the day progressed ever longer, fatigue settled in and a domino effect of consistently allowing to be acted upon at each decision point surfaced. I no longer had dominion over the “things to be acted upon,” but they most certainly had control of me.
From my experiences pondering these verses in 2 Nephi 2, I have come to learn that the gift of choice leads to hope. “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.” We can choose to be liberated from sin, to avoid addicting behaviors, and to move forward. Not only that, but, “they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” Knowing that “the future is as a bright as your faith” as President Thomas S. Monson always says, we are able to live the life of “decisions determining destiny.” Our hope grows as we anxiously strive to choose God’s will, because this strengthens our faith in Him and His plans for us. He wants our progression more than we do, and He has given us a way to get there.
The Savior is the enabler and the source of our ability to progress. He gives us the knowledge of consequences to the law and allows us the choice to either follow that knowledge and improve or ignore it and perish. Adam and Eve, in the context of these verses, experienced a fall that was their own choice. God the Eternal Father had given them an explicit law: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Holy Bible; Genesis 2:16-17) It became their decision to act and receive consequence, or to remain unchanged and unable to progress in their immortal sanctuary of the Garden of Eden.
When Adam and Eve stood before the Lord, they continued to progress through built character, taking the responsibility for their transgression, saying, “I did eat.” Or in other words, the ‘decision was mine.’ This action led to their ability to leave into the mortal world and develop as a family unit, now having the capacity to have children. In their immortal state, they could not progress any further in the Lord’s presence before this action. It was only after the consequences were evaluated and an action was taken that they were able to keep “all” of God’s commandments and begin a family- the greatest progress possible. In this we see the reality of Christofferson’s quote: “It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama.”   
If it were not for the reality of fixed and immutable truths, the gift of agency would be meaningless since we would never be able to foresee and intend the consequences of our actions.” says Elder D. Todd Christofferson. A fruit of acting over being acted upon is the ability to change- to repent- because of our ability to anticipate the reaction to our actions. It is knowing good from evil and then choosing according to that knowledge. Punishment affixed to each action, we are enabled to use our agency to choose whether we want to control or be controlled by our decisions. Elder James E. Faust says, “Being acted upon means somebody else is pulling the strings,” but righteous use of agency and action leads to a soul-satisfying self-control.
Consistency is a key in self-control, I have found. So those days that I wake up to read my scriptures and connect with my Heavenly Father only become habitual as I do this on a regular basis. In his talk “Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Richard G. Scott says, “We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.” I know that this testimony is true. Just as Adam and Eve took responsibility for their lives and their actions, D. Todd Christofferson adds, “We must defend accountability against persons and programs that would (sometimes with the best of intentions) make us dependent.” The two apostles together support one another’s claims: It’s true that we become what we consistently do- so if you are consistently being dependent on things to act upon you, you will become stuck, addicted, and unable to progress. The future becomes what is consistently acting upon you, not what you are consistently taking into your own hands to make right.
Christofferson continues, “I am under no illusion that this can be achieved by our own efforts alone without His very substantial and constant help.” As I said about progression, the Savior is the foundation of these advancements in the right direction. Because of the Atonement of the Savior, Jesus Christ, or in the following verse, the Messiah, we can be redeemed, made new, and be consistent in correct choices: And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.”
Personal Testimony

I know that faith without works is dead. The controllable actions of our daily lives lead to the destiny to which our Heavenly Father so desires for us. He loves us. He is aware of us. He knows us. He knows what acts upon us “best”, so to speak, and He knows what it takes to remove that influence in our lives. I know from personal experience that “acting” in faith leads to personal growth, hopeful progression (even when all is not right in the world), and the ability to control our appetites through righteous self-control. Lehi’s last plea to his children was just this: to act and not be acted upon, as he says: “Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity.” This invitation is to all- may we take it, and rise.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Changing Lenses

She's Back.

Learning how to see with spiritual eyes for the miracles still happening.
There's really no way to express how much has happened in the last year since I got home from a mission in Thailand. For those that had followed that grand adventure with me, Welcome Back.

The Story Never Ended.

Like I said.
Really no good place to "begin", except with an idea.
Let's start there.

Changing Lenses.
That's where I'm going to start. One year later, with two perfectly good eyes that have seen miracles. So many miracles I cannot begin to number them. I have seen the impossible. The inspirational. And the down-right "there is no way that just happened."
That's the setting.

But when change happens, BIG CHANGE, how hard it can be for those eyes to adjust.
The environment is new, and for some, the miraculous experiences.... "few."

I have seen many people return from glowing experiences, bright eye'd and bushy tail'd with the future in their hands just waiting to be unfolded and explored.

"The future is as bright as your faith!" Thomas S. Monson says. And I believe that man with all I've got.

So what happens when it's the EYES that lose the... BRIGHT?
What happens when we forget how to see?

This is a blog about perspective. For 18 months I saw the inexplicable. I’m here to prove that miracles still happen… but not all see them. In order for these events to be recognized at all, however subtle, one must CHANGE LENSES and begin to see with spiritual eyes. For “if these things have ceased, woe be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief”. (Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:37.)

For some, not all, the transition to “normal” life can be a rough one. It seems to some the road once paved in miraculous events can seem dim, slow, or overall just unpredictable. Or the opposite: the pace is too fast and we get swept downstream. We get over-zealous and over-schedule. For some, life moves on and decisions must be made, NOW, but the “Aha!” moments are few and the divine intervention once explicitly felt can seem............................... far.
….But is it? 
I propose the following. All of us at one point in our lives or another can fall into what the Bible recalls as being in a state of: “eyes have they, but they see not: “
“In the scriptures, the eye is often used as a symbol of a person’s ability to receive the light of God. Symbolically, a person’s eye also shows spiritual condition and an understanding of the things of God.” *
You should never begin a testimony with doubt. (Just ask Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. "That's like stuffing a bird through the beak.") But I will level with those who have wondered, "What happened to the way I used to see things? Where has this lackluster feeling of the mundane come from? This is certainly not me." I've been there.
But I am an optimist. And I believe in the ability of mortals to change the way they see their daily life. Even those faced with challenge, heartache and uncertainty. I know because I've done it.
It's easy to say this when things in your life are going well. Harder when they aren't. This blog is for those on both sides of the spectrum as well as all who fall as a dot somewhere in between. This is for all 'above the water' and all 'below' it. (That will be next week's post.)
So that's what I'm going to be talking about.
How to see things "as they really are" in the context of the every day life. Every day discipleship.
Let's start with a story.
I could talk for days about the things I see in regards to Thailand, ripple-effects, and missionaries.
But today I'm going to pick the most temporal, real, and obscure story I can. God is in every piece of our lives.

It begins with the word "wow."
As for context, here I am sitting in the reclining chair of what I anticipate will be an unfortunate orthodontist appointment. For background's sake, I have been waiting on getting jaw surgery for the last 10 years. I was in the process of doing this pre-mission but it was going so slow, and I headed the call to leave out as a missionary earlier than I had expected. I was regretful to lose all the time we had spent with braces and no luck to flip my two bottom canines to get ready for surgery. "We will just have to start over when you get back home." my orthodontist told me.
In those first few weeks as a missionary, I was almost convinced it was maybe  the wrong time for me to go. Maybe I needed that jaw surgery right now based on how much it was aching there in the training center. I remember praying, having been inspired by some sermon about how God blesses His missionaries because they are dedicated to His will. I said that night on my knees, "Heavenly Father, as your missionary I am entitled to blessings to help your work along. I need your help. I'm asking you to do whatever is possible to ease this pain so I can go to Thailand and preach the gospel. Please do something. Anything. I know you can do anything. Move my jaw and I will dedicate myself to this work."
I awoke the next morning only to realize that I didn't feel much of anything. Wait, ... what?
It wasn't until I was brushing my teeth that I realized something off about me.
My ears were lop-sided.
One clearly higher than the other.
And zero pain.
I'll let you make the inference as to what happened.

And now here we are in the present- October 2015. Just your average girl having a very unfortunate adolescent phase all over again. I admit I was bitter. It's funny how easily you can forget the miracles of the past when faced with something unpleasant in the present.
Really? I still have to get this surgery? I still have to deal with braces all over again, for what, the third time now?
Insert any other negative way to see this experience.
And here I am in the chair, staring at all the things that are going to poke and prod at me. We had started over, just as he had said. The reason this surgery is daunting is because this is my FACE we are talking about. I almost feel like I'm going to wake up from the surgery almost not recognizing myself. Months earlier I had expected just as slow of results. Just as long and depressing of another adolescent phase as the first with little to no movement of those bottom teeth. Just as much discomfort in my own skin as the struggle for self-confidence would no doubt chase me.
But then I watched as time moved and so did the teeth. Almost with ease. Entirely, rotating all the way around by a full 90 degrees.
"Wow," he said. "This never worked before. Obviously you are being blessed from your missionary service from all those prayers you said. Because we tried this before with no luck. You will be ready for surgery by Christmas."

My friends, there is no way to explain that except that God has a plan for us.

So wish me luck towards a miraculously fast expedited preparation to surgery after finals. Braces and a surgery all within less than a year? God is good. He is in the details... and the timing.

I guess it's just all about perspective. But I'd call this a "jaw dropper."

Camera photos come as "negatives." They are dark and the figures are unclear. But held up to light?
.Well......You get the picture.

It's high time we began changing lenses,
because I don't believe in coincidences.
And I have so many stories left to tell.

* ( …. THE GUIDE TO THE SCRIPTURES - definition of eye/eyes )