31 March 2013

But He Held His Peace

In preparation for graduate school and with the assumption that I will be spending countless hours reading academic and theoretical writings, I decided to make a summer reading list to get in the mode of reading such texts. My first step was to scour my step-father's bookshelves to see if there were any readings applicable to conflict, security, world affairs, biographies of certain people, etc. Lucky for me his library is extensive and quite varied, so I found a few. (Thanks, Bob! P.S. Hope you don't mind I'm reading your books! haha)

The first book I read was My Hope for Peace by Jehan Sadat, the widow of Anwar Sadat (Egypt's former president who was assassinated by radicals who disagreed with his efforts to make peace with Israel). It was wonderful! It was a great refresher course on certain points of Islam, which I have previously studied, as well as a semi autobiographical look on how she lived and viewed her husband's peace policies, and how they have shaped her current role as peace activist and professor. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

This week I read The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute, which was absolutely fascinating! It breaks down principles of conflict and peace and teaches their application on personal, familial, and global scales. In a lot of ways I think it took basic Gospel principles and put it into nonreligious language, so I found a LOT of truth in what I learned. But it also took abstract concepts like overcoming certain personal weaknesses and put them into concrete ways of self-evaluation, which I find enormously helpful. The basis of everything it teaches is that there are two ways of being: having a heart at war or having a heart at peace. And you can do basically anything and everything with either way of being, though the outcome can differ drastically. I know that doesn't seem to make too much sense but if I describe it any more in depth you might not go out and read it. And you really should read it!

The main reason why I wanted to share that tidbit in particular is because of something else I read this week. In honor of the Holy Week and Easter I was reading the accounts of the Savior's last week in the Gospels. I came upon something that really resonated with me this time, because of everything else I've been learning.

In the middle of Mark's account of Jesus' trial with the High Priest (Caiaphas), Mark records, "But he held his peace..." (Mark 14:61).

That simple description suddenly means SO much more to me than just Christ refusing to answer Caiaphas' questions. I now understand it to mean that His heart was at peace despite being in the middle of a terrible conflict upon which His life depended (and ours' too for that matter!). I know that seems obvious, but in the context of having just read that book, I was able to look at this in a whole new way and see Christ yet again as the perfect example to understanding a new principle. Really, it is so cool. So you all need to go read this book (only took me a few days) and then go read in Mark 14. THEN you will be able to fully comprehend and appreciate how cool it really is. :)

Honestly I LOVE making those "text-to-text" connections (Erika would be so proud!) because it helps me remember and appreciate both lessons so much better. And I just LOVE that I'm constantly finding new ways of applying the scriptures in my own life. They really were written for our day!

Miracles at Macey's?

Some of the best experiences are the unexpected ones. Anyone who knows me can attest to the seemingly randomness of my life, but I learned along time ago that nothing is really random. I believe that coincidences are just the small miracles in which God wishes to remain anonymous.

Yesterday I had one of those unexpected, random, small miracles. I needed to get groceries, so I started driving to Smith's. At the last possible moment I turned to go to Macey's instead, which I haven't been to since I went to BYU. It is always a madhouse and I avoid it at all costs whenever I visit Provo. So why did I decide to go to Macey's? I regretted it as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. But I was already there so I braced myself and went in.

After at least 35-40 min of not-so-skillful maneuvering around people to reach what I wanted, I headed towards the checkout. This cute little Latina stopped me and asked if I spoke Spanish. I replied that I did. She then asked me if I was LDS, to which I responded in the affirmative. She smiled and started asking me questions about me and my family, my schooling, my mission, etc. After about 10 minutes, she asked if I could give her a ride to BYU. Sure, why not. I didn't have any groceries that I needed to get home immediately. And BYU was 5 minutes away.

So I checked out and we walked to the car I had borrowed from my aunt to go grocery shopping. As we headed to BYU, she then asked if I could wait for her and take her home. "Where do you live?" "Springville." hahaha Uh sure...I can get her to Springville... but only she can tell me how to get to her house. And my terrible Spanish has to be able to understand any directions she does give. Well, good thing I like adventures! 

So after waiting for her at BYU for about 10 minutes, we set off for Springville. I learned a little more about her, and she re-asked all the questions she'd asked me at Macey's about my family and all the missions we've served. Her name was Pastora Esperanza (in English it means "Shepherdess Hope"), and she was from Honduras. She joined the church 30 years ago there after meeting the missionaries one day. She read the Book of Mormon in 3 days and was baptized the next week. She never married or had any children, but she came to the US to live with her sister's family about 24 years ago. Her faith and trust in the Lord was visible, even just in her trusting me based on my membership in the Church. I was certainly touched and uplifted by her sweet spirit, and I was grateful that I'd agreed to take her home to Springville. Not only was I able to get to know her better, but I was able to help this sweet sister in such a simple way. And don't worry. We made it to her house with surprising ease!

I wish I could say that I'd been searching for the opportunity to help someone. But the truth is, I needed to be pulled out of my thoughts by a complete stranger and directly asked to serve. Too often I pray for the chance to serve someone, but then I go about my day and my business with blinders on. I'm grateful for the reminder of how wonderful service is, and how I need to be more vigilant and purposeful in finding and taking the opportunities to serve others. I don't know if I was "meant" to be at Macey's to meet Hermana Pastora, or if something caused her to talk to me instead of the people in front of or behind me, but I'm grateful that I was and that she did. And I'm grateful that I didn't blow the opportunity to serve this time. My day was definitely made all the better by meeting Hermana Pastora, and I hope she feels the same about me!

Crossing Oceans and Seeing the Promised Land

So from the moment I had this experience I knew it was one I needed to share, mostly for my own sake because I don't ever want to forget how merciful the Lord was in this moment of my life. However I don't know how to tell it without first giving it some context.

Over the last few months I've had several job interviews, all of which have gone very well. And all of which are eventually followed up by an email or voicemail telling me that someone else has been hired but I'm at the top of their list if for some reason that person doesn't work out. Of course I've felt disappointed, but surprisingly enough, never distraught or worried about my seemingly perpetual unsettled, unemployed state. I have come to recognize this as a huge tender mercy in its own right, because I tend to fret about money and plans and the lack of both. So, Big Fat Blessing (BFB) #1.

At the end of February, I interviewed for a job that I was IN LOVE with. If I could create my dream job, it would probably look like that one. And the interview was fantastic! I loved them, they loved me! We had a grand time and talked for almost an hour. Seriously, it was probably the best interview I've ever had. Period. And they ended the interview in such a way that definitely led me to believe that I would be hired. And I was SO EXCITED! I thought that surely this must've been the job that Heavenly Father had been saving me for.

Well, it wasn't. I didn't get it. And for the first time in about 6 months, I felt a wave of discouragement and maybe even a brief moment of despair as I contemplated what on earth I am doing with my life, or not doing, rather. I prayed, and pleaded, that Heavenly Father would help me find something else... that SOMEHOW and SOME WAY my life would be able to progress.

Then I opened my scriptures and started reading where I left off the night before. Ether 6 in the Book of Mormon. It has always been one of my favorite chapters because the symbolism and imagery is so powerful, and I have often felt akin to the Jaredites being tossed upon the waves and buried in the deep, and yet somehow always heading for the promised land. Well, one verse jumped out at me that I'd never paid much attention to before:

"And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water." -Ether 6:11

344 days! That's a L O N G time to be stuck in a barge. Suddenly I realized that I probably have been home from my mission, and symbolically stuck in my barge, for about that long. I decided to count it out. It turns out that my 344th day home will be 13 April. I decided that if the Jaredites could do it, so can I. Receiving personal revelation=BFB #2. So what did I do?

I prayed. Again. And I may or may not have given the Lord a deadline... (Not a technique I normally advocate haha) I asked Him to throw me a bone by April 13... a job, a calling, a volunteer opportunity, getting into grad school, moving somewhere, a man, a new friend, SOMETHING. By April 13. It was 6 weeks away, so I felt that was plenty of time for the Lord to help me find something new. I was being perfectly reasonable. (As long as you don't consider one setting the date of when she might snap as unreasonable...haha). And I fell asleep completely at peace about life.

I woke up the next morning with the Travis Tritt song "It's a Great Day to Be Alive" playing in my head. And for some reason I was convinced that it really WAS (BFB#3). I felt a strong desire to read my scriptures first thing. So I did (BFB #4). While reading, my phone beeped that I had a new email. Turns out it was from the director of Women's Voices Now telling me how stoked she was to get my application for their internship because I'm more than perfect for the position. WOW!!! That has never happened to me, and certainly not anytime recently (BFB #5). She asked some questions about my availability and I responded immediately. Then I left my phone on the other side of the room and went back to finish reading, so happy and incredibly grateful for this bone I was being thrown. And I didn't even have to wait til April 13 to get it!

My phone went off again and I assumed it was the same woman I'd responded to, so I decided to leave it. After I finished reading my scriptures I got dressed and ready for the day, totally forgetting about that second email. So about 45 minutes later I finally go and look at my phone. And to my great surprise, it was from the University of Birmingham offering me a place to study there next year (BFB #6)! I crumpled to the floor and wept like a baby. I was (and still very much am) SO HAPPY! SO RELIEVED! SO GRATEFUL! SO HUMBLED! SO OVERWHELMED by God's Goodness, Mercy, and Grace--even towards a daughter who tries to give Him deadlines. How did He respond to that deadline? He blessed me twice over with both an internship and grad school the very next morning! 

As simple and personal as this experience was, it was further testimony to me that God lives, that He is MY Father, and that He knows me and my needs and abilities perfectly. He hears and answers our prayers, but according to His perfect timing, not ours. I hope we all can have a multitude of similar experiences where we allow ourselves to feel our Heavenly Father's love for us and recognize His answers to our prayers! Those Big Fat Blessings are all around us!