Little things and life plans.

For those of you who know me, you know that I am constantly thinking about what in the world I am doing with my life. What should I study as an undergraduate? What kind of job do I want to have in the future? How much can I really fit on my plate day to day? I want to do it all; can I do it all? Since graduating high school these questions have worn on my soul! I’ve been constantly stressed about whether or not I was on the right track in life and if I was pursuing goals the Lord would have me pursue.

Note: If I didn’t believe that my education and career were important parts of my life mission I wouldn’t work so hard to identify my strengths, try new things and find a life path that fits me mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.

So…

Rewind and freeze! (ten points to whoever can name that movie.)

November 2015: I’m sitting with a group of missionaries in our mission president’s living room. We’ve all shared some deeply personal thoughts about the Savior and His gospel concluding our 18-24 months of service. I am excited about opportunities that lie ahead of me, but I am nervous about facing those same daunting questions. Our mission president’s wife closes the evening with a bit of council: she said that there are lots of good things you can do in your life and with your career, but the most important things you will do are the little things… studying your scriptures daily, praying deeply and meaningfully morning and night, worshiping at church weekly, attending the temple often, etc. I nod in agreement, but do I really believe that? Am I really wiling to put my daily decisions of discipleship before my daily stresses of life planning?

Fast forward a few months…

I get accepted into a program of study I’m not 100% sure I want to pursue. I am feeling these strange tugs to seriously consider other programs and life paths. I am taking all kinds of classes that aren’t necessarily getting me closer to graduation in hopes that I will find a path that clicks. I am feeling a little alone and a little confused. I am getting down to the wire in credits: I have so many that I really need to nail something down soon! In stress and anxiety I talk things out with my parents; I’ve already determined that praying and fasting for an answer about what I should do isn’t going to get me the answer I want. Instead I am praying for an awareness of my gifts and talents and to find a program of study that will help me reach my potential. I am studying the scriptures and attending the temple because those little evidences of my commitment to discipleship are more important than my impending stress about choosing a major. Gradually this became less about finding something impressive to study, less about how much money I would make and more about how I could gain knowledge and develop talents that would enable me to most effectively build up the Kingdom of God. When that little change in perspective became more firmly settled in my mind and heart, opportunities began to open up.

Zoom in on today…

I know what I want to do. Maybe not exactly, but I finally am getting a clear picture of where my strengths, my goals, my desires and my efforts fit together in this plan for my life: a plan that the Lord and I co-created. He opened up opportunities for me to try new things and recognize my strengths and desires. I committed to put Him first in study, prayer and worship and worked hard to maximize on those opportunities to learn about myself.

Eventually, I sorted out these thoughts and feelings, pursued more information, and fell completely in love with a path… I don’t know how it is all going to work out, but the uncertainty is gone. The stress is gone. The anxiety is gone… and in their wake I am left with a path I can’t wait to walk down!

I am so enthused about life! My heart is full of gratitude and my whole being is full of energy! I am equally grateful for the plan I finally have as I am for the mental challenge that got me here: without the uncertainty, without the nights when pleading for direction the Lord answered with a gentle “you don’t need to know now” or a “try again” or with simple silence, I would never have learned so much about myself and my potential opportunities. Certainly, uncertainty can be painful and confusing… but when we put the Lord and his kingdom first, we can be certain that everything will work together for our good.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33 … read verses 19-34 if you want even more guidance and certainty about the Lord’s promises.

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It’s in the little things: put His kingdom and His righteousness first and He will bless us with all good things… and with an abundance of life we could never imagine!

 

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All right.

It’s time to begin again.

So many thoughts and conversations recently have reminded me that I should start writing again. I don’t know exactly what to write about… I have tried to define my purpose, make a plan of what I want to write about… but with little progress! I recently read this quote from Frank Smith: “Thoughts are created in the act of writing.”

Beautiful!

So I don’t have to have something to say before I start saying it? at least in writing this may be true. Maybe I just have too many things to say but not a clear or purposeful way of saying it. Instead of stalling any longer, I am going to trust that the words will come and that any of you reading this will be forgiving.

Months and months and months ago I determined that I was going to more diligently notice, record and publish times when I recognized the Lord’s hand in my life. I have learned that maintaining this attitude and perspective can be a great source of strength, peace and balance. Being perfectly honest, these last few months since that post have been challenging and I have not consistently maintained that perspective. There have certainly been many days full of wonderful experiences, happy reunions, joyful relationships and incredible opportunities. But these great times have been punctuation on general decline of spirituality and enthusiasm for the gospel. I hope this doesn’t come off wrong: I LOVE the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it is true. I know that Christ lives. I have just let go of some habits and attitudes that previously helped me feel close to the Savior. Some of these habits are small and slight. They reflect only small incremental changes in attitude as I approach regular daily habits. I don’t know if I can describe these incremental differences very well right now. I hope to be able to as I rediscover and reintroduce them day by day. Generally, this minor difference is what I would describe as inclining my heart toward God, consecrating every attitude and action toward his work and purpose. It is more a condition of the heart than it is a specific action or activity.

I was humbled today by messages from Church leaders who reminded us of the simplicity of the gospel and the power of the Savior’s love and atonement. In particular, I appreciated President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s message. He taught that there will be a day of judgement when we will feel deep sorrow and anguish or our choices and or our stubbornness that caused us to miss opportunities and blessings BUT! We will be satisfied, even overwhelmed, by the Lord’s mercy and his goodness to us nonetheless. He is good. He requires much of us. And He provides the help we need to accomplish His will and fulfill our potential. He reminded us to approach the gospel with simplicity, awe, wonder and gratitude… to not take testimony, faith and blessings for granted.

And guess what… its already online!

Watch it here: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2016/10/media/session_1_talk_3/5150993228001?lang=eng

An informal portrait of President Thomas S. Monson, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and President Henry B. Eyring wearing suits and ties and smiling.

So here is tot he start of another journey. Not to “get back” to Eden, but to press forward to Zion. There is so much good ahead of us! So much good to do, to discover, to see, to appreciate. I am grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches me this perspective and inspires me to move forward!

-by Lauren

Little kodak moments

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I recently started taking pictures for the outdoor festival where I work. Our group just wanted some photos to document the fun we were having at the festivals, but it has rolled into a big project where we are using photos for online and print publicity and for an annual photobook of the festival series.

I started taking pictures when my sister coaxed me into joining the high school yearbook staff… best thing she ever made me do 😉 It was fun to be behind the scenes, capturing moments that students would want to remember. Until now, that was the last exposure I had to real photography. Thanks to the Venture Out! Festival Series and generous people who have let me borrow their cameras, I’ve gotten to capture even more little moments.

So here we go with a few moments from the Venture Out! Festival Series this season…

 

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These little moments are joy. family. life. energy.

These are moments where simple things become the best things.

These are everyday people, in an everyday neighborhood, doing extraordinary things.

These are little moments I love.

 

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Power of little things

Well, hello! So, I am no longer a full-time missionary in the Arizona Tucson Mission. But thank you for being present through the last 18 months of usually less-than-consistent blog posts.

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As I begin a new chapter of my life, it only seems fitting to give this blog a revamp as well. Little things by Lauren will be a little less about my life, and hopefully a little more about little things we are grateful and where we can see the hand of God in our lives!

As a missionary, I learned to LOVE and appreciate the power of gratitude:

The quality of being thankful.

Readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Serving a mission was NOT what I expected. Nope. I don’t really know what I was expecting- I’d never even really seen missionaries around my own area! It wasn’t what I thought in the day-to-day, but by the end, it was everything I’d hoped and more. The great lesson I learned in the last few days particularly, was that the Lord will carry us according to our faith, hope, love, and ability to see His hand and His help. It’s there. We just need to develop the eyes to see and ears to hear Him.

My journey of developing eyes to see and ears to hear:

I was SO excited to serve a full-time mission. I had all these grand visions of what a mission would be like: walking down the street with my companion, garbed mid-calf length “sister missionary” skirts and adorned with a little black name tag, talking and teaching and having people open their minds and hearts to the glorious truths of the restored gospel. It was going to be grand! Miraculous! So, I get to the mission starry-eyed about what is ahead, and quickly hop down off of my cloud. This stuff is hard! Though generally I was happy (we really did see fun miracles and had a lot of really wonderful experiences), I was so consumed by what it appeared we didn’t have (baptisms, member involvement, overwhelming and life-altering experiences, etc, etc). I felt like I was running in a hamster wheel: expending a whole lot of energy and getting nowhere fast. This is no way to live. I had a district leader near this point, and he LOVED making muffins. Yum. He challenged everyone in our district (a small group of missionaries serving in a local area) to take a gratitude challenge: write down 10 things we are grateful for everyday. And he promised us a freezer full of muffins at the end of 6 weeks. Muffins? Challenge accepted! Looking back at my list from that time, I wrote many wonderful things (😉) like “Einstein pumpkin bagel with honey almond shmear,” “naps at lunch,” “service project,” and “getting letters in the mail.” Over the course of those weeks, my thoughts became a bit more meaningful, introspective, and focused on simpler things, “a companion who I can trust and talk with,” “differences that make us unique,” “understanding of the atonement in the Book of Mormon,” and “that my path is mine to walk with the Savior.”

I began to feel so FREE! What is this that was changing inside me??The muffins were, after these few weeks, just a wonderful bonus to the happiness, peace, contentment and love had grown to feel. I was no longer trapped by what I felt I lacked, but was seeing more often the simple and tender blessings given by our Father in Heaven.

It is beautiful.

This was not, however, the only time I struggled with the hamster-wheel-crisis. It is something that tends to creep up like most other bad habits and thought patterns. And weeds. But! I knew where I could go, and what I could do to jump out of the funk.

As I keep up this attitude of looking for the hand of God, I find that I am happier, more content, more aligned and more at peace with myself and my life. I find I am more capable of doing more good and receiving more good because I can recognize more good. These little things have brought me closer to family, to TRUE joy, and ultimately to God.

I hope you will join me this year in looking more diligently to see the hand of God in our lives, in the little things! I promise it is there and we will find it as we slow down, look, and appreciate that precious influence. I hope that as I share my journey to gratitude and contentment, that you will also share your thoughts and experiences…

Let’s start simply, shall we? What are YOU grateful for today??

(I AM going to share simple things I am grateful for, and ways I have seen the hand of God in my life. It might be simple, and it might be boring to you… If it is, I dare you to find something you are more grateful for, and tell me about it! Ha!)

I am grateful I got to bake bread with my mom yesterday. She says she just follows the recipe, but I swear there is more, it is so delicious! I’ve been wanting to make the time to do this with her for far too long, the opportunity just came up yesterday after church. Love that! It was a perfect time to learn more about and just be grateful for my wonderful mom! And her wonderful bread;) I just can’t wait to eat it!

   

Highlights from a beautiful week in Pima, Arizona

1. As we finished our grocery shopping last week and were headed out of the store, we were informed that we could not pay for our photo prints at the register. We walked back to the photo center, paid for our prints and began our course out of the store, now a few minutes behind schedule. (we really don’t have a very rigid schedule on P-days… it’s just for dramatic effect)… On our way out we see someone we recognize: a woman we had contacted that weekend at the fair booth. She had great things to say about children raised in the Church and had questions about our belief in the after life. That weekend she had needed to rush away before we could get any contact information for her. Gratefully, the Lord saw fit to let us cross paths again in Walmart that Monday. She asked us a few more questions and was willing to let us send missionaries from her area to meet with her and teach her more. It was wonderful.

2. We began teaching a returning-member family whom the Bishop of the ward had asked us to see. They recently moved back to this area with their newborn son and want to be more involved in the Church. We were excited to begin teaching them, and on our first visit this week, they had brought three of her young cousins… boys ages 12, 10 and 6… who all wanted to learn more about the gospel and come to church with them. Gratefully, we had brought a member of the ward who happens to be a preschool teacher and loves teaching children.

3. On Tuesday, we got a text from the mission office about a last minute meeting happening in Tucson on Friday. We rearranged schedules and headed in to Tucson at 9:30 am. We arrived at 12:30, had a meeting until 5, had dinner with a wonderful member in the city, and drove back until past dark. It was a long day… but well worth it. Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy was in town for the Tucson temple groundbreaking and was willing to give us a leadership training. He spoke about agency, responsibility, progress and being Christlike. He taught us about how when we seek to blame, excuse, rationalize or ignore our personal responsibility, we are really choosing to lose control of that situation and eventually of our lives. We fought just as much for responsibility in the war in heaven as we did for our agency- ability to choose. The plan of God is great. Through true, sincere, deep repentance, we can be cleansed, forgiven and changed. How grateful I am for God’s great plan of redemption!

4. We got to watch the temple ground breaking ceremony on Saturday morning. It was lovely. It was raining, but President Uchtdorf, his wife, and other general authorities and area leaders had big smiles (as usual) in the face of this wonderful opportunity! It gave us all a moment to reflect on our own personal worthiness to attend the temple, and our responsibility to find the names of our own ancestors to take to the temple, to help it be self-sufficient from day one. Having the temple, and having the ordinances and covenants that we receive therein is a great blessings… the most important blessing!
Life is good.
Keep it simple. 
It works wonderfully 🙂
Sister Thomas

Miracles abound

The Lord loves us a whole lot. Usually, it takes an act of faith (determination to do better, changing a bad habit, changing our attitude and mindset) to really notice it… and to show that we love Him too… much less perfectly, but we love Him.
This week, I just get to share experiences. Yay! Most of this is a version from my letter to my mission president this week, but they are share-worthy.
These last few weeks have been challenging and trying, but this week, the blessings just seemed to flow. It was beautiful.
“This week was wonderful. We got to do an extended exchange with the sisters in Wilcox prior to our Wednesday zone meeting. I hope Hermana E__ shares some of the experiences that we had on Tuesday because it was a wonderful day. Most of our morning and afternoon appointments fell through. She felt that she was running out of things to do, and by the time we had gotten out of a regularly scheduled appointment with a returning member at 2:00 pm, we were at a loss. But Hermana E__ was determined to move forward, wherever it was going to be. She started by looking at the old headquarter referrals that had automatically shown up in their area book planner app. We visited one who wasn’t home, but her neighbor was willing to talk with us and said that he had met with missionaries before and missed studying with them. We scheduled a return appointment for the following day. We went to visit another. He wasn’t home, but his sister was and as we talked about our message and shared some of the blessings that it brings to our lives, she was willing and interested in learning more. We set up a return appointment for that weekend. We went to another. He wasn’t home, but his wife and kids had just walked out the front door to play and she said that a member had talked with her husband on an airplane and that he was interested in learning more about it. She expressed her lack of purpose growing up, but her understanding of her purpose now as a mother. We shared our testimonies of the importance of the family in God’s plan, and she was interested in learning more. We scheduled a return appointment for the next week. It was amazing. The Lord blesses us as we work diligently and pray to be led by His Spirit to those who are ready to receive the gospel. We had a beautiful lesson with the L__ family, another of their investigators and a recent convert in their ward. It was a wonderful day. We were exhausted, but fulfilled. 
The next day after zone meeting, Sister H__ and I were left with some unplanned time since a blitz and other back up plans had fallen through. We determined to do what Hermana E__ had done the day before and went to visit a less active man who had been referred by his missionary brother through the church referral system. We thought no one was home, but we knocked on the door…. no answer. So we made our way back to the car and as we were pulling out of the driveway, a white truck pulled in. We all got out and started talking. She grew up going to church, and attends their services regularly with her family. She has recently been having many conversations about religion with her friend’s family. We asked if she would be interested in learning more and she said she’d just been thinking about how she needed to contact someone to start learning more. It was perfect! She let us right in and though we only had ten minutes before we needed to be at a member’s home for dinner, we got to explain our purpose, our testimonies of the gospel, share a Book of Mormon and invite her to begin reading and praying about it. We have our first appointment with her tonight. 
The blessings just kept coming this week. It was amazing. Something about conference chastened my heart. I’ve been really pessimistic and impatient in the last few weeks, but conference and exchanges really helped me to evaluate my heart, and taught me to make my life a place where the Lord could bestow blessings. It works! We had a sister picnic for lunch on Thursday and as we were eating and sharing the successes of the transfer at the tables under the pavilion at the temple, a girl came up to us from the parking lot, told us that she was expecting her mission call any day and asked us about how to prepare and what she could do. We all got to share some pieces of advice and invited her to come teaching with us. She came with us on Sunday night and long with contacting two potential families to begin teaching, we had a first lesson with a young woman, L__, who has been interested in coming back to church and being baptized since she had spent her early years of life in church. By the time we left her appointment, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much! We had a wonderful lesson with the other young woman we are teaching, she has begun reading and learning from the scriptures, and living commandments. She came to church yesterday with another semi-active young woman. We had another 14-year-old investigator come to church this week too. His mom, who hasn’t attended for years, dropped him off and picked him up afterward. We had some great home teachers and leaders who noticed him almost immediately and took him to his classes. It has been amazing to witness. 
It has been an amazing week in the Lord’s work. We had ANOTHER miracle regarding the Graham County fair this weekend. Two weeks ago we had asked a member for any suggestions about what we could do as missionaries to make that a productive weekend. We knew that most of the valley is involved in the fair and not only would it be a great opportunity to talk with lots of people, it would be more effective than trying to pin down families for appointments that weekend :). We found out four days before the fair that those members had connections to an outdoor booth that we could use. Within the next three days we had shade tents, tables, fall decorations, commissary, a mormon.org banner, DVD’s, a paper pumpkin craft, lights and shifts for missionaries to work at the booth. It worked out perfectly. The Lord wanted that booth to happen. As we were setting up at the fairgrounds on Thursday afternoon, we had a woman walk past and take a look at the Articles of Faith that we had displayed. We began talking with her and found out that she used to attend a church but had just moved to the area and was looking for one of her faith to attend. She has known members of the Church and taught children who were raised in the Church and was impressed by the strong families that Church members build. We shared with her a brochure of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” As we were about to say goodbye, she paused us and said, “Now, I have a question for you… this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently… what happens to people when they die? like, where do they go?” We excitedly got to teach and testify of the Plan of Salvation, gave her a card with our number and left her with a Book of Mormon and a reference to the verses in Alma 40 about the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body. If we set up that booth this weekend just to talk with her, it was all worth it. I know there were a number of other experiences, great contacts, interactions and opportunities to serve. It was a great success.
Sister Thomas

Ah. It was just sooooooo GOOD! The Spirit is real. He will guide and direct as we put our trust in the Lord and willingly follow Him. It is a lot easier too! Keep on keeping on with all your heart, might, mind and strength!
Sister Thomas

  

Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power

Dearest friends and family…
This was an incredible and blessed week.
I am grateful, first of all, for wonderful examples of diligence, strength, faith and valiance that I find in you and in those serving here. I have been strengthened and humbled this week.
To begin…
Our week began as usual, but quickly became unusual… On the way to our usual appointments in the evening, and to every appointment with an investigator from that hour until Thursday night, things fell through. People weren’t home, others were sick, everything seemed to be falling apart around us. By the end of a few days of this kind of situation, I was nearly at the end of my rope. We were burning through back up plans, trying to use time wisely to prepare for future appointments and teaching visits, etc. I was honestly, and regretfully, quite frustrated. Weren’t we doing everything we had been asked to do? Weren’t we working diligently? Weren’t we doing enough?? 
On Thursday night, we finally had our first appointment with an investigator that week. She had come to the church with a friend of hers… both young women… and we were going to be teaching her part of the plan of salvation that we hadn’t gotten to in the last lesson. As we taught, we discussed baptism, we watched videos, she read scriptures. Everything worked out perfectly. She enthusiastically, but gently accepted an invitation to follow the example of Jesus Christ and be baptized, and prepare to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It was perfect. So perfect. As we left for our car and she and her friend drove home, I was SINGING inside… the Spirit is amazing! And it was as if he were speaking to us saying, “See? Don’t worry. I’ve got this. Just do all that you can do.” 
We can’t do a lot compared to what God can do with us, or His work… but we sure can do a LOT! The miracles that followed this week have been incredible! People who we’ve been teaching for a while are progressing more rapidly, families that we’ve been trying to follow up with are willing to take steps to learn and live the gospel, members are willing to come, to share their testimonies, faith, talents and efforts to help. It has been wonderful. 
So, I now KNOW that this is true: 

Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, 

let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; 

and then may we stand still,

 with the utmost assurance,

 to see the salvation of God, 

and for his arm to be revealed. 
D&C 123:17

Through faith, diligence, prayer and fasting, the Lord can bring about GREAT miracles in our lives and in the lives of others!
This is the Lords work, and it does move forward!
Sending love and happiness and wonderful things!
Sister Thomas 🙂