Listening to the Spirit

Listening to the Spirit

The last time I watched Disney’s version of Pinocchio, I found it incredibly thought provoking. The Blue Fairy promised the puppet Pinocchio he could become a real boy if he proved himself brave, truthful and unselfish. To help him in this quest, she assigned Jiminy Cricket to be his conscience. This conscience was meant to help him navigate and make wise choices on his journey to become a real boy. As Pinocchio chose not to listen to his conscience, several dire consequences occurred. Of course, the storyline is resolved when Pinocchio listens to his conscience and receives some magical assistance from the Blue Fairy.

Thankfully, in addition to a conscience, God has provided us with his Spirit to help us. Other terms for the Spirit include the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost or the Comforter. The Holy Ghost provides us assurances and certainty from God that extend beyond our conscience or natural senses.

Functions of the Holy Ghost

The Spirit has many important functions. He can guide our decisions and protect us from harm as we listen to his voice. Jesus Christ taught that he would send the “Spirit of truth” to dwell within us and that he would not leave us comfortless (John 14:16-18). The Holy Ghost can help us feel peace during difficult times and can teach us all things (John 14:26) The Spirit bears witness of Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven (2 Ne. 31:18). He can help us know the “truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5) as we seek knowledge.

Personal Experience

About two years ago, the beautiful Gilbert Arizona Temple was completed. The temple was then open to anyone who wanted to tour it and see what a Mormon temple looked like on the inside. Members of my faith were encouraged to invite friends and neighbors to attend this rare open house before it was officially dedicated as a House of the Lord. As I considered who I should invite to attend the open house, the voice of the Spirit simply said, “Just get Emily there.” The answer was clear. My top priority was to invite my sister to attend the temple open house with me.

Finally, on one of the last days to tour the temple, my sister agreed to go with me with slight hesitation. I felt calm and assured that I had listened to the Spirit, but I did not foresee how the experience would influence her. Two months later, Emily expressed that she felt something in the Gilbert Temple that night. Strong feelings of joy and peace led her to make several positive changes in her life. The Holy Ghost had touched her heart and spoken to her. It guided her to find faith in Jesus Christ and come to an understanding of his love for her. As Emily listened to the Spirit, she found peace, assurance and knowledge that God knows and loves her personally. That knowledge led her to lasting light and happiness in her life.

Conclusion

I am grateful for the influence of the Spirit that touched my sister’s life. Because of the Spirit, we can all feel the love of the Savior and Heavenly Father. The Spirit brings peace and comfort in times of sadness and confusion and guidance when we lack the answers on our own. My life is impacted by the Spirit on a daily basis, and because of that influence, I know God will never leave me alone or comfortless.

How has the Holy Ghost influenced your life? 

“And He Has Sent Me Here”

After the birth of my fourth baby, I braced myself for a new, crazy life. With four children under the age of six, I knew that life was going to be hectic; however, I was unprepared for some of the challenges that came my way.

When my youngest was about a month old, I noticed that I was having frequent, unbidden thoughts that caused me great anxiety. These thoughts were affecting my ability to be positive and happy. Some days, the anxiety consumed me so much that I had a hard time thinking about anything else. I struggled to keep up with my various responsibilities, I lost patience with my kids too easily, and I felt hopeless.

One of the feelings I have experienced most often is fear — fear of the world around me, which was seemingly spiraling into deeper and deeper turmoil; fear of terrible things happening to myself or my loved ones; fear of never being able to achieve my goals and dreams, for one reason or another. The thoughts of these fears coming to fruition made me unbearably sad, and sometimes extremely panicked. At times it was difficult to think about the future or feel any sort of hope, because I would immediately think “But what if…?” My mind was becoming trained to think that happiness was never coming.

With the support of my husband, I visited a mental health counselor to try to get some of these feelings sorted out. The counselor was very helpful and supportive, and immediately recognized my symptoms as signs of postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD. While the diagnosis was somewhat frightening, it was also somewhat relieving to finally have a name for my feelings — a label to put on an existence that was previously mysterious.

At the height of this trial, life went on. I had four young children to care for — feed, bathe, clothe, take to the doctor, and clean up after. The commonplace routines could not stop. It was one of those commonplace routines, however, that ended up giving me a major boost, right when I needed it.

I was putting my two-year-old son to sleep. It had been a difficult day, full of fearful thoughts and a generally troubled mind. When I asked my little boy what bedtime song he wanted, he requested “I Am a Child of God,” which is a song the children at our church sing very often. I began to sing,

 

“I am a child of God,

And He has sent me here…”

 

I froze. Many different phrases of this song, in their beautiful simplicity, had struck me before, but this was the first time this particular phrase really jumped out at me.

“He has sent me here.”

This world that I felt so afraid of? God sent me here. I believed that, and I had believed it from my childhood. And yet, if I really did believe that, how could I be so afraid all the time? Why was I afraid of this place that my loving, all-knowing Heavenly Father had sent me to? Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t need to be.

The peaceful feeling I had when I sang those words that night made it difficult for me to finish the rest of the song without quite a few tears. But as I have thought more about this phrase and what it means for my life — for all our lives — I have come up with a few ideas that have helped me battle my anxious thoughts.

 

1) There is a plan for my life.

God didn’t send me here without a purpose. Why would he? Why would he make us, his children, face life’s challenges for no reason? I believe that as loving Father, God sent me here because He has a plan for me. He wants me to learn, grow, and become better. Any challenge I face has that ultimate purpose.

2) God is at the helm.

I didn’t end up here by chance. God deliberately sent me here. He sent me to this time and to this place. He knows what He is doing. If bad things happen, it is because God knows that they need to happen in order for us to reach our full potential. He does not direct or inspire wickedness, but he does allow it to happen, and He has taught us how to persevere through it and in spite of it.

3) Earth is the best place for God’s plan to be carried out.

I was sent here, to Earth. This place, and its people, will help me to achieve God’s purposes. The bad things that may happen here will not stop His plan from being carried out. As long as I don’t let them, they will also not outweigh the tremendous happiness and joy that I can experience here.

 

It is not easy to remember these things in the midst of an anxiety attack — when my mind is racing and my heart is pounding and I feel like the world as I know it is ending. But the more I reflect on these truths during my good moments, the more they become a part of me, and the more power I give them to push away my anxiety and my fears.

I’m still facing my mental health challenges, but I have faith that God wants to help me overcome them and help me grow because of them. I have faith that God wants me to find help: He wants me to visit all the counselors I need to visit, to take the right medications if necessary, to care for my body and my mind in ways that will lead to happiness and peace. He wants me to be healed.

The fact is — I know that God is there. He is real. I know that He loves me. I know that I am one of His precious children. And I know that He sent me here. Knowing these things has given me strength and solace throughout my life, and I have faith that this knowledge will continue to help me through this trial, and through all my trials to come.

Dealing with stress & overwhelm

Dealing with stress & overwhelm has been a constant part of my adult life. As far as I can tell, almost everyone deals with this issue on some level, so today I want to talk about it.

I’m talking about mental exhaustion — like when you’ve been studying for hours and feel like you can’t fit one more thing into your brain. Or when you’ve just made so many decisions in a day and had so many demands on your time that you can’t seem to get your brain to keep working.

I’m talking about physical exhaustion — like when you were up with kids all night, then you had to get up early in order to get all of your work done before the day ran out. Then you stayed up late working on some project, and you had to do it all again the next day, the day after that, and for the seventeen weeks that followed.

I’m talking about emotional exhaustion — like when you had to help a friend or family member through an intense issue while trying to simultaneously keep your own insecurity, fear and self-doubt in check.

If it were just one or two of these issues, you could probably deal with it. Heck, you could probably handle four or five. But what about those times when you’ve had to deal with like.. twenty of them? At the same time? And when they keep popping up day after day, week after week, it kinda starts to get to you… you know?

For the faithful and conscientious, I don’t think stress and overwhelm are inescapable. However, I do believe we can get better at minimizing and managing it. Here’s the “recipe” I follow any time I feel these feelings starting to set in:

1. Take care of yourself. Get a grip.
It’s a little counterintuitive, but my FIRST step when I realize I’m feeling overwhelmed is to take care of myself. I’ve just learned that when I’m in that dark place I’m no good to anyone. By trying to force myself to “plow through”, I usually end up doing more damage than good to myself and others. So I like to take at least a small step back — take a power nap, get some exercise, leave work early.. whatever it takes. For more serious bouts, I may need to take a 3-day weekend or plan a fun (but simple!) outing with my family. One thing that never fails to rejuvenate me is to work on my relationship with God. That means reading the scriptures, praying, performing some quiet Christian service, singing a hymn or meditating.

As in all things, our example here is the Savior. In reading about His ministry lately, I was impressed as I noticed how often he rested. Surely if anyone was busy it was Jesus — he had a lot to accomplish in just 3 years. But even so, even He was careful to build in periods of rest and renewal. Another thing that impressed me was how he never felt sorry for himself. Even in the very act of being crucified, he looked outward at his mother and performed service by asking his disciples to care for her after he was gone.

2. Set inspired priorities (with patience!)
One of my favorite quotes is from Anne Morrow Lindbergh who said “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.” There are a lot of worthy places to spend our time! But there’s a basic math problem that results when you add up all of the time it would take to do it and compare it to the number of hours in a day. Like it or not, we HAVE to prioritize, and that means saying “no” to certain things.

Once I’ve got my mind right (#1), I go to work somewhat ruthlessly to set some priorities. I carefully look at each “role” or “responsibility” in my life and decide what needs to be scaled back, changed, delegated or outright dropped. When I’m done, I take a look at the total time needed to accomplish everything and if it’s still more than I have hours in the day, I go back and cut again. The goal here is to cut my schedule down to “I could handle this pretty sustainably forever” rather than “I could only get all of this done if I had a really good day, super human strength and nothing went wrong.”

In the scriptures, the Lord taught us “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided.” Similarly, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts. Sometimes we make so many commitments that they become like the vines in the allegory of Jacob, threatening to “overcome the roots,” including the “roots” of family relationships, friendships, and relationships with God.”

3. Re-set expectations
Once you’ve made the tough decisions (#2), it’s time to implement them. Start with the most pressing/biggest cuts and work your way down. What I’ve found at step #3 is that it’s pretty much never as bad as you would think. People don’t depend on us as much as we think they do. I think in many cases they’ve already been watching us and expecting the news, so bringing it up just opens up an opportunity to collaborate on a solution.

4. Ask for help
If God had wanted you to get through life alone, he would’ve put you on an earth all by yourself. What seems hard to you is easy to someone else, so let them share your burden! It can be hard to ask, but just think about how you feel when someone really needs your help — willing, right? For each of the remaining tasks/responsibilities on your plate after #2, ask yourself “who do I know that would be awesome at solving this problem?” then enlist their help.

As you think about who to ask for help, don’t forget Heavenly Father. He’s the ruler and creator of the entire universe. His knowledge, wisdom and power span from eternity to eternity — and he’s your dad! There is literally nothing you can do that will make him stop loving you, but he will not come into your life until you ask him to. Say a heartfelt prayer, then watch for His hand in your life.

5. Be diligent
Once you’ve taken care of your own mental health, set priorities, re-set expectations and asked for help, it’s time to take a breath, square your shoulders and go to work. Rather than bursting onto the scene, I recommend taking a “shifted gear” approach — slower perhaps, but also stronger. As you begin each day, focus on keeping your head down and accomplishing as much as you can, as opposed to worrying about whether it was “enough” or thinking about everything else that needs to be done.

Conclusion
I’ve been following this “prescription” for a couple of years now, and while I would never say that my stress and overwhelm has gone away, it has definitely helped. When I’m in that dark place, it always feels like there’s nothing that will work, but when I force myself to start down these steps, the clouds invariably start to clear.

What do you do to deal with stress and overwhelm?

The Two Choices You Can Make During a Trial

I’m always amazed by people who have experienced really difficult things in life. I am inspired when they tell their life-altering story and end with phrases like, “I wouldn’t change anything.” “I’m grateful for my challenges.” “I wouldn’t go back.”

I’ve heard these phrases from people who were in an accident and are now paralyzed, from someone who was burned in a plane crash, from parents who have faced horrific tragedies and lost loved ones and many others.

How long does it take them to be able to say these things, to accept what has happened and to move on? In the past I have wondered if I would be able to feel the same way about the hard things in my life.

Two Choices

Recently, I was reading the Book of Mormon during my daily scripture study. I had been reading for days about wars going on between the Nephites and the Lamanites. Then I read this verse:

But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility. (emphasis added)

I was struck that the people had all endured the same trials dealing with war, but one group chose to “become hardened” by the adversity and the other group “were softened” to be humble, turn towards God and let the trials make them better.

Was I Hardened or Softened?

This verse impacted me because a new year had just started and I was reflecting on the previous year, which had been filled with a lot of hard things in my own life.

My husband and I had just ended our first year running a new business. Although the business was moving in the right direction, things had not taken off as quickly as we had hoped initially. I could count on one hand the number of days my husband had taken off from work during the year. I was worn out from my own work in the business, running our household, parenting almost on my own and feeling financial pressure to make everything work.

I was so ready to put the year behind me and move on, but as I read I realized that just like the people I was reading about in the scriptures, I had a choice to make about how my trials were going to affect me. I could be softened or I could be hardened. This scripture was saying to me that I needed to embrace the challenges I had faced and instead of forgetting them, I needed to let them do the work of God in me. I needed to let the challenges soften me.

Seeing the Good Things

My perspective shifted. I started to focus on all of the good things that had come from the difficulties I had faced in the previous year.

Our marriage was stronger because we were communicating better than we ever had. We were living out a decade’s long dream of running a business together.  We had maintained our health despite the long hours and stress. Our children were learning about hard work and perseverance. Many good things had definitely happened in our life because of the hard things we were enduring.

I Wouldn’t Go Back

I can now look back on the trial of starting a business and other challenges I have faced in my life and honestly say I wouldn’t change anything, including the mistakes.

Helen Keller summed this thought up beautifully when she said:

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

My experiences have shaped me and made me who I am. The hard things I have been through have made the good things in my life all the better.

How have the hard things in your life softened you? How do you keep from being hardened? I would love to know your thoughts on this.

Power, Love, and a Sound Mind

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about faithful women — the struggles they face, the strengths they exhibit, and the amazing potential they have to truly make a difference in the world.

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, he mentions Timothy’s “unfeigned faith,” which dwelt first in his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, two women who clearly took care to pass their faith down through the generations. (2 Tim 1:5)

Following this reminder of the influence of these women, Paul then writes this meaningful passage:

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

As we strive to recognize and remember our divine, extraordinary nature as daughters of God, I would submit that we too strive to become women of faith like Eunice and Lois, developing and displaying power, love, and sound minds.


Power

First I’d like to talk about power. What does a woman with the spirit of power look like? She is a woman who does God’s will and trusts in His timing. She relies on Him, and trusts that He knows how to overcome any trial she may face.

Women face great trials. Single life, unhappy marriages, guilt for working outside the home, guilt for not working outside the home, terrifying surprise pregnancies, infertility, motherhood, cancer, body image issues, etc. Haven’t we all met women facing similar challenges, and so many more?

According to many researchers, women feel shame when they think that they are not perfect. That is, when a woman struggles with anything in her life, she feels that something must be wrong with her. What does God think of this misunderstanding? I’m sure His heart breaks to see us struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

The truth is that we are not perfect. No one is. But does a powerful woman let this discourage her, or let this make her feel bad about herself? No. A powerful woman recognizes that God is on her side in all her trials, and allows His will to become her own during hard times. She uses the power of the truth that she has been taught to have power over any efforts to discourage her.


Love

Next, let’s talk about love. I think that women understand love very well. In fact, I often feel as though women understand love so well, and feel it so often, that we sometimes forget to deliberately express or show love as much as we should.

As women, expressing love is important for a reason: we need each other. We need acts of love to help us feel noticed, wanted, and appreciated. Certainly, the grander gestures — stopping by a friend’s home with a treat or babysitting her kids for a few hours — all have their place. But I would encourage each of us to think about the small things we can do to make others feel loved: the text messages, the quick compliments, the “thank yous”. Don’t think about what others could do for you; trust that your needs will be taken care of as you take care of others. Trust that you will feel love as you show it.

Developing the spirit of love within us will strengthen our bond as women. We will learn more about the divine capacity for love that God has given to women. We will feel of that love, God’s love, which will give us confidence and purpose.


A Sound Mind

Lastly, let’s focus on having a sound mind. To me, this means seeking truth – in our homes, in our churches, in the scriptures — anywhere we can find it. As the scriptures say, “The Glory of God is intelligence.”

How will having a sound mind help us recognize our divinity as women? Most important, I think, is that it will teach us that the doctrine of the divinity of women is real. It is there for us to find. The scriptures teach us of Eve, of Esther, of Mary, of the woman at the well (to name a few). We also have many examples of women in our own neighborhoods and families who know who they are and what their purpose is.

I believe that if we earnestly seek it, we will learn that the divinity of women is not something said only to make women feel good about themselves. It is not idly taught. We will learn that we are literally daughters of our Heavenly Father. We will learn that we play important roles in the world. We will learn that we are inherently equal to our husbands and to all men. We will learn that we are not women by accident – but by divine appointment. There is a doctrine of women. Using our “sound minds” to learn it will allow us to recognize its reality, and apply it to our lives.

 


Conclusion

There are many real fears that come with being a woman. We may fear inadequacy or loneliness. We may be afraid of not being able to pay our bills. We may be afraid to fully repent. We may be afraid about the health or well-being of our family members, or of ourselves. We may fear being ridiculed or unaccepted. We may be afraid to speak up. We may be afraid of not being able to become better. I know that sometimes I personally feel overwhelmed by how far I have to go; I worry about the things I have to do and the responsibilities I carry; I fear that I will not earn or deserve the approval of others, or of God.

We do not need to be afraid. God has not given us the spirit of fear. He has given us the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. These gifts are readily available to us, if we will just work to develop and use them. As we do so, we will learn of our divinity as women. We will learn that we are not “just” mothers, wives, friends, sisters, or daughters. We are not “just” women. Whatever we are is what God has called us to be, because it is what He needs us to be. We can and will find purpose as women of God. We will discover that we are more capable than we ever thought possible. And we will have the impact we want to have, in our families, in our churches, and in the world.

To all women everywhere: thank you for your example, your love, and your light. I’m grateful to be a woman. We truly are extraordinary, and we can do extraordinary things.