June 29, 2014

Spiritual Conversion

Today I spoke in church. I was nervous and prayed for calm and the ability to speak from the heart. This is a version of what I said. Only a version because I found I couldn't make eye contact and read what I wrote. And then I stumbled on sentences. Apparently that wasn't super noticeable because I took those opportunities to add in a few unnecessary details. Except they were needed to buy me time to figure out where I was in my notes.
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I don't remember the precise time or place when I gained a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It came so slowly I didn't realize it was there. The first time I recognized that I had a testimony, I was 16 and living away from home as an exchange student. For the first time in my life, I didn't have to go to church if I didn't want to. I didn't have family scripture study. I could do what ever I wanted. 

Turns out that I wanted to go to church. My host mother found a phone book and with a rough translation of what the name of the church should be, she called the bishop and got directions to the church and took me there the next Sunday morning.

Fast forward a couple years.

After graduating high school, I was determined not to waste any more of my life away with useless education. So I didn't take any college entrance exams and looked for other opportunities. I found out about a program that sent Americans (native English speakers) to Russia to teach English to children. No college degree necessary. Yes! That fit my qualifications exactly. I pretty much signed up to go the same day. Interestingly enough, I had a few months to prepare and immediately registered for Russian classes at my local community college. So much for not going to school. Ha ha.

My father was nervous about my decision and conversations about communism and oppression were frequent in our home. My mother was more supportive and shared her only experience with Russians with me.  She'd had her passport confiscated in Berlin by the Russians in the 1960s when the wall was still up and she was going through a check point. She shared her fears and relief with me. I knew my journey might be scary, but the cold war was over. Going to Russia promised to be an exciting adventure where I would learn for myself what life was like in communist Russia.

I arrived in Moscow on a cold January afternoon in 1995. From there, my teaching group got on a bus for what should be a 6 hour journey to the city where we would live. Our host families were scheduled to pick us up at our new school later that evening. Except we didn't arrive when we should have. Driving on the snow had reduced our speed to about 20 miles per hour which pushed our arrival back to nearly 3 o'clock in the morning. We got all of our stuff from the bus and hauled it into the school where host families gathered. A lady took me, asked me my name, checked me off of the coordinator's list and took me home. She had a pot of borscht on the stove for me. It was delicious. I ate and went to bed.

In the coming days, we adjusted to our new lives. There were many differences and even though I'd traveled overseas before, I was ill-prepared for the culture shock that living in Russia brings. They do everything odd. Or so I thought. 

For example, not too many people have cars. They take busses everywhere. There don't seem to be enough of them, however, and they pack the people in like sardines. Literally. There are 3 doors in the bus, front, middle and back. When they open you get in whichever one has someone get off. Don't worry about paying for your ride. You just get on. And don't worry about finding a bar to hold onto, you're in so tight there's no way you'll fall over.  At first, when we saw a full bus, we waited for the next one. We soon found out they were all like that. So we pushed our way on like everyone else. 

There was one night that I was with a small group of friends waiting for a bus to come. Even though we were layered with scarves, sweaters, warm jackets and boots, it was cold. A few of us sat close together and another few sat on us to see if we could generate some body heat. It didn't work. We stood up and moved around to drum up some heat. A sign said the temperature was something like -5 degrees, but that didn't include windchill. My feet were frozen and hurt. The bus was 45 minutes late. Did we complain? Yes, but we were grateful when it finally came.

When I sent a letter home, I wanted to tell my family how cold it was. But I didn't know and couldn't easily find out. Google didn't exist.  I could have done the math, but I didn't know the formula. What I did know was how -5 felt. As the weeks passed, I learned how warm 0 felt in comparison. Then how +5 felt, which is our average Washington winter temperature. When the temperature reached 11 I stopped wearing one of my many layers. What I really like is 20-24. Those are my perfect days where the sun warms my face, a cool breeze feels welcome and I don't sweat. At 30 I need a fan blowing on me to cool down and at 35 I seek out air conditioning.

Learning for myself what temperatures feel like without relying on a conversion chart is similar to learning what the Holy Spirit and spiritual conversion feel like. You could look at a chart or in the scriptures to get a pretty good idea. But learning through experience will teaches on a deeper level. One that's hard to forget.

As I write, I'm curious as to whether or not my favorite celsius temperatures match up to their fahrenheit counterparts. I googled them with ease and amazingly enough, I'm right. I don't need the charts to remember what they feel like. 

Experiencing a spiritual conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ is much like the relationship I had with going to Russia and being immersed into a new culture. 

Likewise, coming to church may be one part scary and another part exciting. One part hassle and one part calm. One part frustrating (mostly with wiggly kids) and one part peace. Sometimes, old traditions and habits need to be put to rest. Taking action and being a part of change is hard for most of us. But necessary for our growth. 

So what about our conversion? The scriptures call it a baptism of fire and being born again. In a new setting, like with celsius and fahrenheit, we must learn to interpret our spiritual experiences in a new way with the lens of the gospel. We know that cold makes our arm hair stand on end, but did we also know the Spirit can have the same effect? We know that a hot flash can make us uncomfortably hot, but do we realize our hearts warm when we hear truth? Nerves make our hearts beat faster and so do urgings of the Spirit and calls to action. We cry both when we're sad and full of joy. The depth of our conversion matches the depth of the experiences it took to get it.

Conversion happens over our lifetimes and is not isolated to a single experience. We must build upon our experiences to help us understand our spiritual selves. I didn't understand -5 until I was at that bus stop late one night waiting. I didn't understand 11 until I needed to shed layers. I didn't understand 24 until the sun warmed my heart and soul. 

Sometimes, we experience trials we would never purposefully choose. Almost 6 years ago, when our youngest son was on the verge of death and a crew of over 20 ER doctors and nurses were working on him, Tymon and I took an opportunity to pray in a nearby empty waiting room. We prayed for our son with all our hearts and souls. I prayed that he would respond to treatments. Tymon prayed that the Lord's will be done. The sense of peace that filled the room was palpable. I knew that Heavenly Father loved us and that all would be well. What I didn't understand was that love and peace was what I would need to shore me up in the most difficult trial of my life. Our son passed away and we were helpless to stop it.

The scriptures tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. I never doubted the resurrection when my grandparents or favorite uncle died. I just knew I'd see them again. 

But my son's death hit me harder than I had ever imagined. Key gospel principles, like the resurrection, were no longer a given. My heart no longer believed what my mind told me was true. All that I knew was that Heavenly Father had given me peace. This peace combined with the love of my spouse, family and friends kept me afloat. I worked through the pain until my heart and mind became one. Many of you here were a part of that. Thank you for your compassion.

Today I stand before you with a deeper conversion than I had previously thought possible. When so much of the eternities seem abstract, I'm grateful for a very concrete link to heaven. I have no idea what it'll be like to be embraced by the Savior, but I know exactly how my Evan's hug feels. I'm reminded each time one of my children wraps me in their arms.

Did Jesus rise from the dead? My heart tells me he did. I feel peace. The gospel gives me a sense of focus in the midst of the many people, activities, opportunities and pursuits that vie for my attention. Challenges will continue to come to test the extents of my faith. I pray that my conversion will deepen with each one.

In the name of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Amen.

June 28, 2014

Doubt Not But Be Believing

I've been thinking about my spiritual conversion a lot over the past few weeks in preparation for speaking in church about the topic on Sunday. Conversion to Christ comes in many forms, probably as many as there are people on the earth. Mine fits into the category with growth so slow I don't realize it's happened, followed by a trial of faith (that may or may not include something dramatic happening), a period of searching for answers, finding peace and finally moving forward with faith. Then cycle repeats itself. Again. And again. 



When I'm 100% confident in the direction of my spiritual and religious journey, I'm happy. Right now, I'm struggling. For the past year, maybe two, I've been questioning and not finding the answers or peace I crave. A wise prophet once encouraged seekers of truth to ask God, with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in Christ to know the truth of all things. So I should be able to get answers, except I don't have real intent. I'm afraid of what the answer might be so I'm not asking any questions that commit me to action.

My finding peace would result in one of three options. The first option is being fully committed to a gospel community, which I love. Another involves leaving it. The third is a bit more complicated. It involves finding a way to reconcile doubts and fill my heart with faith. The problem with making a decision is that I'm not okay with all of my options. And since I'm not ready to act, I do not have real intent. And since I don't have real intent, putting effort into scripture study, meditation, or the kind of prayer necessary for settling my internal unrest has been put on the back burner.

I've got to figure something out before I speak in the morning. I feel pressure, which isn't necessarily good or bad. It just is. Sometimes, I need a gentle nudge to get me to take the next step in my journey to become more like the Savior.

June 25, 2014

Oregon Coast

New adventures this summer are well underway and sitting in the back of my mind are little nagging thoughts that there are things I didn't post from last summer and a few big events throughout the past year. Part of me wonders if the lessons from my experiences will be lost since I didn't get them written. Or like a hastily written essay with it's various pieces slopped together, it'll leave my soul wanting. Wanting clarity. Wanting purpose. Wanting to find meaning in the little things. Acknowledging the problem is only part of the process. Finding notes I've made will help. Rising when the house is quiet would probably seal the deal and give my heart release.


This past weekend, we went to the Oregon Coast with Tymon's cousin and his family. We go camping every summer and pick a new place each time. When we arrived we discovered that Canon Beach was hosting their annual sandcastle building contest the next day. What an amazing find!

We looked at the number of cars piling into the parking lot near the beach and wondered how there were still empty spaces. Ha ha. We soon found out that cars were being directed to park on the beach. Hundreds of them. What a great resource for a large event. Going in, at least 3 different people let us know that we needed to be off the beach by 5pm, since the tide would come in.


Well, the line to get off the beach was over an hour long...and when we got off at quarter after 6pm, the tide was less than 10 feet away from our vehicle. That's cutting it close - but there were probably at least a hundred cars behind us. I wonder if they had to move farther up the beach (into softer sand) or if they were able to make it off with the established route.  


I've only seen a few photos of sandcastle building contests in the past. Seeing these builders in action was amazing. They had specialized tools, random foundation builders, buckets and wheel barrows, rakes and chisels. Several teams were using water in weed control sprayers to carve into the sand. They used straws to blow out bits of sand from letterings. Fingers dripped sand into trees. People were so creative with their use of tools.


My favorite entry is the one with the spheres. I mean how did they get those to balance on sticks? The "Sandhawk" gave us warm fuzzies for our favorite team: the Seattle Seahawks. Some of the entries were so fantastic. Others not so much, but the teams had a lot of fun regardless of the quality of the output. My favorite team was a husband and wife with their 3 young boys. They worked together all afternoon with a peace that other frenzied teams didn't have. That's so cool. I'm sure those boys will participate in other contests with fond memories of their childhood

The entry with the parent and children (middle of previous collage) actually had two of those and a heart...and a proposal.  It was a middle aged couple who according to the sandcastle entry, each had a couple of kids. She said yes, and how could she not with such a creative proposal? Ha ha. She could have, but maybe not on the beach in front of so many people looking on.

I really like our summer camping expeditions. It's such a great way to slow down, immerse ourselves in God's beautiful earth and creatively solve the little dilemmas that pop up only using a limited number of resources that each family brings.

June 18, 2014

Upcycling Adventure - Floating Dock

One of the great things about our house is the forest in the backyard. It's not really ours. But we call it that. And then act surprised if any of our neighbors are on the trails back there. Ha ha ha.


A couple of months ago at work, we got a driving simulator that was shipped on several large crates. We could have taken them to the dumpster, but I didn't have the heart for that. It seemed like such a waste to throw them out. 

Tymon got this idea that he could build a raft or floating dock. Perfect!


We borrowed a big van and got them home. Tymon got some 55 gallon drums off Craigslist, watched YouTube how-to videos and put together the raft. Then he and his running buddy got together to put on the finishing touches and got it in the water. Yay!

It wasn't all fun and games. The first time Tymon got on it, it broke in half. Ha ha. Nothing like a good engineering challenge to get the creative juices flowing. They stabilized it this afternoon and now it floats just fine. Our first upcycling success!

What I really want is for the kids to learn how to swim. They haven't done well in the past with weekly swim lessons. Maybe this will motivate them to practice more. Although I'm sure that means more time in the backyard for me. :o)

June 11, 2014

Evan in Heaven Turns Seven

We release balloons every year for Evan's birthday. The kids love it and even throughout the year if they have a helium balloon, they'll send him one. Last night was the first time that Kira understood what was happening. And at first she couldn't figure out why in the world we'd just let the balloons go. Ha ha. It didn't take long for her to accept the idea.


I love lanterns with their bright lights in the dark night. They're also bring an element of excitement. Once we light them we can't put them down, otherwise they'd burn the deck. And then what if they start rising but get caught on the roof? Or drift into the neighbor's yard? That'd be terribly exciting. But physics say trapping hot air in a balloon makes it go up. And up and up. 


Part of me wonders what happens to the balloons and lanterns we send to Evan. Do they ever fall to the earth again? Or burn up in the atmosphere? Or maybe, just maybe Evan gets them and puts them with the rest of his stuff. Ha ha.

June 6, 2014

Kiki Cheeks. They're Delicious!

My sister and her family came to last week. It's been a long time since everyone's been together. We visited Deception Pass, which was beautiful and the weather was perfect. Kira poses for photos with some awesome smiles. And all I can think about is eating her cheeks. They're so good. Mmmm.


 
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