Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Farewell

I'm off. Off and away to be Sister Pugh for the next 18 months. Here's the farewell talk if you missed it. All the love, dear readers.

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Lately I’ve fallen in love with the hymn “Come Thou Fount,” because the line “bind my wandering heart to thee” is one of the most astute things I’ve come across. I feel like I’m the owner of a wandering heart. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve been getting ready for a mission, and trying to figure out what to do with this wandering heart of mine. And the hymn gives a suggestion; it continues, “here's my heart, o take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” While the image of literally offering one’s wandering heart to God is lovely, I find the logistics of what that actually entails somewhat slippery.

The best way I’ve found to offer a wandering heart is to act in faith. Terryl and Fiona Givens recently published this wonderful book titled The God Who Weeps. In it, they say that, “the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts” when “we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom between knowing a thing is and knowing a thing is not.” I love this concept, because in my life faith does feel like a choice. Faith for me exists where there are reasonable but not certain grounds for belief, where a choice has to be made.

One of the things that can aid the choice to believe is spiritual gifts. In fact, the first gift discussed in D&C 46, which is the section that deals with spiritual gifts, is the gift of faith. However, spiritual gifts have a much larger spectrum, and the scriptures promise they come “to every man” according to what we need most. Elder McConkie taught that “spiritual gifts are endless in number and infinite in variety.” The list of spiritual gifts from the scriptures, conference talks, and other writing is enormous. Some of my favorites include the gifts of listening, of being able to weep, of seeing the best in others, of seeing the best in ourselves, of a tender heart, of forgiving, of having compassion, of healing, of being healed, of not passing judgment, of looking to God for guidance, and of caring for others. One thing they all have in common is that they often act as manifestations of grace. Now, grace is an incredibly complex doctrine that I don’t have much grasp on, but I learned a little bit about it from a yoga class I ended up taking last semester.

I took this yoga class to fulfill a PE credit, and I really liked it, even though I wasn’t especially good at it. Theoretically, you’re not supposed to be “good” or “bad” at yoga, you’re just supposed to do it, but I was bad. In fact, my instructor frequently referred to me as “the one with the weird right leg” because, according to him, I carry my stress in my right hip socket, which makes my right leg weird. Whatever.

The reason I liked yoga despite the right leg situation was that it taught me something important. I would generally describe myself as a goal-oriented person, because I think that’s the nicest way to say achievement-oriented person. Sometimes, this is a good thing, but sometimes it’s not. I learned this semester that one of the times it’s not good is in yoga. To quote my somewhat Zen-mastery-y yoga instructor, “yoga is not about getting there, it’s about getting.” If I’m being honest, when he said this during the first class, I rolled my eyes and started mentally listing all the things I was going to accomplish. However, once the actual yoga started, it promptly became clear that was the wrong way to go about doing yoga. Not only was I miserable trying to be perfect through every class, but I quickly realized there would always be another thing to work on – I was not going to master every aspect of yoga in one semester. Once I accepted that and took the trying-to-be-perfect out of the practice, I started enjoying it, because my only purpose for the whole 90-minute class was to show up in the best way I could and find something meaningful there.

My experience preparing for a mission was very similar to my experience in yoga. When I first got my call to the Ukraine, I was like “I’m going to read the entire Book of Mormon every week and I’m going to memorize every page of Preach My Gospel and I’ll become fluent in Russian from youtube videos!” And very soon I was dreading mission prep every day, because in making it something I had to achieve, I had made it into a chore. I didn’t feel the Spirit as strongly because my head was in it, but my heart wasn’t. So I cut down to a more reasonable amount and focused more on feeling the Spirit and drawing closer to God. And even though I haven’t read the Book of Mormon a hundred times or memorized Preach My Gospel or learned Russian, I think I learned more of the things I needed to by taking away the destination and focusing on the actual process.

I’ve thought a lot about this process-oriented way of going about life in the past couple months, as I’ve been deciding what kind of missionary I want to be, and I’ve come to the conclusion that grace works in a similar way in my life. Grace compensates for my weird right leg and says “it’s okay that you’re not perfect right now, because you’re slowly getting better. Just show up in the best way you can and find something meaningful in the practice.” In real life, grace covers the mistakes I make while learning and progressing. The Bible dictionary discusses grace as a “means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.” Elder Bednar extrapolates that “grace, the enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, helps us to see and to do and to become good in ways that we could never recognize or accomplish with our limited mortal capacity.” Grace takes away the impossible destination of striving for perfection, because when we offer the best we can, Christ offers the rest.

As I said before, grace is oftentimes manifest is through spiritual gifts, given by the spirit to help us become better. Elder Oaks taught that one of the primary purposes of spiritual gifts is to “compensate for inadequacies and repair imperfections.” In this way, spiritual gifts are one way that the Lord fulfills His promise to “make weak things strong” given in Ether 12:27. This is a scripture and a process that, for me, illicit a lot of faith. I have days when I look at myself and struggle to believe that those terribly weak places might really become strong. It’s awfully humbling to think of the Creator of the Universe bothering with my weak places. This scripture always makes me think of one of my favorite lines of poetry, from a Franz Wright poem, that says, “But if You can make a star from nothing, You can raise me up.” It takes more faith for me to believe God would bother to make my weak things strong than to believe He’s able to.

But, this past year helped me to learn that He does in fact, care about my weak places, and by extension me. I ended up the one and only Mormon at my college. To be fair, it’s a tiny college outside Philadelphia, and when I say tiny, I mean there are 1500 students there. I love my college, and I had a really great experience there, but it was somewhat of a shock going from Sandy Utah to the only Mormon in my whole school. Every once in a while it felt like I was living in the Great and Spacious building, but by and large, it was really good for me because it put me in the position of having to both figure out what I believe and live that testimony for myself. It required more faith for me to be a Mormon, because I was going it on my own. And while there were those days when I was coasting on the faith fumes, it also strengthened my testimony in ways I’d never anticipated. It was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to make it on my own. So as tried to do those things that came my way that were harder for me, whether it was the 45 minute commute to church, or the caffeine-free all nighters, or explaining why I’d chosen to take 3 semesters off for a mission, I learned that when I asked for what I needed, I was blessed. And because of that, I learned to start relying on the Lord for things I used to try to do myself, because I have learned that He is really, truly mindful of me. As that has happened, I’ve developed a different relationship with my Heavenly Father.

I think that certain aspects of this new relationship may be best described by my very favorite moment in one of my very favorite books. This book has a letter that a father writes to his daughter simply because she asked for one. The letter ends, "I hope one day you will have the experience of doing something you do not understand for someone you love." I find this so apt in conveying my relationship with God and The Church because there are many things that I still do not understand why I’ve been asked or commanded to do. But I’m learning to put my trust in Heavenly Father and proceed anyway. And usually, a confirmation eventually comes that I’m doing the right thing, though not necessarily an understanding every aspect of the why. I've learned to be okay with that, because I can do something I do not understand for someone I love.

For me, the decision to go on a mission required a lot of this kind blind faith. While it was a surprise to everyone when I decided to go, I don’t think anyone was quite as surprised as me. When I heard about the announcement I was struck with a powerful feeling that I needed to go. I remember feeling like, “Wait, what? Me? On a mission? Me?” But for some reason I prayed hard about it, and allowed myself to contemplate and sincerely consider more seriously than I ever had before. I got my answer and decided I would go. In that moment of decision I felt peace such as I've never felt before. I felt aligned. I knew it was right. And yet, I still think that deciding to go on a mission is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But I know the right thing for me at the moment, and I’m willing to put all the trust in God that I need to, to I’ll be able to do it.

I think the word that most closely explains how I feel not only about going on a mission but about the process leading up to it, is the Hebrew word Hineni, which is found several time in the Old Testament. It roughly translates to "Here I am" and is used almost exclusively by humans addressing a divine presence. But it’s not so much a physical "Here I am" as a moral and spiritual "Here I am." It means "This is where I am. What do you need from me, Lord? I am ready." Right now, it means that I’m ready to do whatever I can - learn Russian, live in the Ukraine, be cold for 18 months, have a companion, cover my knees 24/7 - and I hope that doing all I can is all that God asks of me. I think it is.

But it might apply even better to the period of time in my life between when I decided to go and when I got my call. When I decided I would go, I was sure it was right, but I was also acutely aware that the path ahead wasn’t easy. For a while, the idea of my mission felt much more abstract than concrete, because it felt so far away time-wise and spiritually. It was during that time that I had to say, “Here I am, Lord. I know what You want. I am ready.” There was a lot of leaning into the discomfort. “I am ready” meant “I am ready for the process ahead, which I know will, at least in certain aspects, be very hard.” And it was. But it was also so rewarding. I grew a lot, and I think that growth was possible because it was so hard. And you know what? Even if something terrible happened tomorrow and I never made it on a mission, my decision to go would still be the best decision I’ve ever made.

Standing here today, leaving for the MTC on Wednesday, I feel somewhat reminiscent of the scene at the end of The Hobbit. Gandalf and Bilbo get back to the Shire after their great adventure and Gandalf says, “My dear Bilbo! Something’s the matter with you! You are not the hobbit you once were.” The past year or so has been a long journey for me, but I’m very grateful for the hobbit I’ve become. It’s such a privilege to be gong on a mission. I’ve had a lot of help from family, friends, teachers, church leaders, and many others who’s subtle, simple gathering of kindnesses stretched out over months and years have been the kind of love that has been most meaningful in my life. Thank you all so much for your support and for helping me get here. I’m especially grateful for Lorin and Judy and Sam. Getting to spend the past two and a half months of mostly family time has been incredibly valuable to me. We joke about how I’m the favorite daughter and sister, but I really feel lucky to have been raised by parents and grown up in a family where I’ve always felt intensely loved, and to the point that I maybe kinda actually believe I am the favorite. Regardless of where I’ve been at in life, I think I’ve always known and felt that I was loved, and I think that’s the greatest blessing you three could have given me. I love you guys, I’ll miss you so much, and I’m very glad I get to be part of our weird, occasionally-dysfunctional, wonderful little family.

My best friends and I have this saying: “you fill up my bucket.” It means that at the end of the day or week or year, someone puts more water into your metaphorical bucket than they empty from it. It kinda means I love you. Right now, I feel like my bucket is overflowing, and I hope that I’ll be able to go fill up some buckets in the Ukraine, with this gospel message that has come to mean so much to me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

ONE WEEK

I've been packing and organizing and buying things up the wazoo. And going on lots of lunch dates. And lots of temple trips. But right now, Whimzy and I are taking a break. We're bffls now. I should have known better than to get attached to her right before leaving. Oh well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Countdown

California was awesome and beautiful and I had a great time with Winnie. And I don't have any time or energy to blog because this is consuming my life. XOXO

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Southwest Flight 3119

I've been watching How I Met Your Mother with a rabid addiction. I'm about halfway through season 8, which is the last one produced. We all know that when I watch TV or read books or find a new hobby, I do so with fierce (addictive) attentiveness. So it really shouldn't surprise us that I've watched 7.5 seasons of HIMYM in the past month. Anyway, I'm on a southwest flight right now, and I bought wifi so I could keep watching, but it won't let me watch because it "takes too much bandwidth," so now I have internet for the flight so I was like fine, I'll blog.

WHATEVER I'M BLOGGING IN THE SKY. NBD.

In other news, I leave 3 weeks from tomorrow. It sorta snuck up on me, but I also feel like I've been waiting years for July 31 to come. I'm getting all prepared and stuff. It's exciting. I've been going to the temple a lot. I considered writing a post about it, but I think I won't. It's nice, and it's going in the "things in my life that are too personal to blog about" bin, which seems to have been getting fuller and fuller in past months. I think that means I'm growing up.

Did I blog about how when I was at the cabin over the 4th weekend I went fishing a lot? Lorin built a pond a few years ago and he stocked it up to the brim with fish. I was sitting on the porch and I was like "I'm going to go fishing." So I grabbed a rod and caught a fish ON MY FIRST CAST. Really, that's not a measure of how good I am, but rather of how many fish are in the pond. Anyway, I spent some time fishing and caught 5 fish! With the last one, everyone else had gone in, so I caught it, took the hook out, and put it back in the pond all by myself. It was sort of awesome. I'm going to keep fishing when I go to the cabin. I'm going to bring all my friends up there and we're all going fishing. Yay for fishing!

Oh, I forgot to say why I'm in the sky. I'm going to CA to visit Winnie! It's my last adventure before I leave, and it's going to be legend-wait for it-dary.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Making friends with Whimzy

We all know that historically, Whimzy has not been my favorite, because she barks and smells and farts and is generally irritating. She's also kinda moody. Whimzy is notorious for snuggling for half of a movie and then getting tired of it and jumping off the couch to sit on the floor by herself. (Whenever she does it, Judy says "that's okay Whimzy, that's what we do in this family, we do our own things.") Also, after 8:00, she goes to bed and will snarl and bite if she's disturbed. Though we have an electric fence, she runs away quite a bit and refuses to be caught until she's good and ready. Pretty much every time we go to the cabin we end up on ATVs driving around the valley trying to track down our stupid terrier before she gets beat up by a deer, again. 

But, since I got home, I've become friends with Whimzy again. Maybe it's because I've been spending more time around the house, cleaning and doing mission prep, and Whimzy likes to hang around. It's also possible I like her more because she's getting older and therefore more tired. She's funny to watch because she'll play for a little and then get wiped out and have to sleep for an hour. It's quite endearing. She also can't jump as well as she used to. She often goes to jump up on something, misses it, and falls down. Then she gets angry and walks away indignantly. 

I let her sleep in my bed, because that's where she slept when I went to college, and I felt badly about taking it from her. Also, it's helpful because I've been working on getting up at a decent hour. Whimzy usually doesn't sleep in, and it's easier to get up at 8 if there's a dog barking and threatening to pee on your carpet. So usually we do fine sharing a bed.  But the other night, there was a thunderstorm. 

Like most dogs, Whimzy is afraid of thunder storms. When there was thunder and lighting the other night, she freaked out. She was panting and shaking and convinced that the only safe place in the whole room was my pillow and face. I tried to move her several times and I even held her to calm her down, but it was to no avail. She wanted to be right on my face. Whatever Whimzy. Since it was 3AM and I had no patience for her craziness, I put her to bed on an old comforter in the storage room, which has no windows. And I think that worked just fine. 

I've since forgiven her for her midnight freakout. Mostly because I discovered she eats watermelon like a person. And that is the single greatest thing she can do. 

video


Monday, July 1, 2013

14 hours in the Grand Canyon

So that road trip. I guess I should just preface this by saying there were all kinds of bumps, but it was full of all kinds of awesome. Mostly because I got to spend 4 days with 2 of my very favorite people in this whole world.

We left Wednesday at about 12:30. Since we decided to go to the South rim - because even though it's further, it's got the famous views - we were planning on a roughly 8.5 hour drive. Which it was, until just south of Page, AZ, highway 89 was closed. We should have recalibrated at the first "ROAD CLOSED" sign, but we didn't, because as Alex put it "I'm just used to having all doors open to me all the time." So we drove past 18 miles of ROAD CLOSED signs only to reach the road closure which consisted of an insurmountable barrier across the road. It was really, truly closed. So we turned around and took the 2 hour detour. Plus the 30 minutes we spent at a standstill because an accident closed the lane on our detour freeway. So it took us about 11 hours, but luckily, Arizona doesn't do daylight savings time, so we got an extra hour for free, which got us to our campsite at a decent enough hour.

The next day, we got up early, ate oatmeal, made tea/coffee, and headed into the park. We got to the permit office just when it opened at 8:00 and got a permit to spend a night in the canyon. After that we headed back to the campsite, packed up camp and prepared for our backpacking. Since it was SO FREAKING HOT, the rangers told us not to leave until like 4, so we would have some shade. In the meantime, we took the Hermit Road shuttle around the canyon and looked at all the spectacular views and uttered the sentence "that is grand" about a thousand times.

4:00 came and we got ready for our backpacking adventure. By the time we actually got on the trail, it was about 4:30. This is important only because it shows that it was actually 14 hours we spend in the canyon. So we set off down the South Kaibab trail with 35-40 pound backpacks, 4 nalgenes/person, +100 degree weather, 7 miles to our campsite, 3500 feet to descend, and "I'm just used to having all doors open to me all the time" optimism. And it was rough, but it wasn't that bad. The worst I suffered was that I didn't tie my hiking boots tight enough and my toe nails got bruised. The worst Kat suffered was that she decided to run down part of it, and she fell down and skinned a large portion of her knee. Alex didn't suffer, because she's fit and coordinated.

We got to the campsite about 8:30, made dinner, pumped water, set up camp, and were in bed by 9. But there was one problem. It was 90 degrees OUTSIDE THE TENT. So inside was insufferable  At like 9:30, I finally left to sleep on the campsite table. Because risking scorpions was better than sleeping in that tent. Anyway, by 11, none of us had been able to sleep, we were all miserable, so we decided to take the 9.5 mile, 4500 vertical feet ascent hike back up to the rim. Which, in the sense that we were subjecting ourselves to ramen noodle dinner filled, 16.5 mile hike, 8000 feet vertical change, 40 pound pack carrying, 24 hours without sleep, 14 hours in the Grand Canyon was a very poor decision. In the sense that we were avoiding the next morning hike in 120 degree temperatures which would have inevitably led to heat stroke and possibly to us calling a helicopter to bail us out, it was a good decision. Either way it was the decision we made.

So we started the hike in the dark. The first 3 miles I was a champ. Then I started dying. Kat and Alex held it together for about 6 miles until they started dying. I don't think I can write a lot about my 7 hours from Bright Angel campground to the rim. Can I just say they were reminiscent of Kilimajaro? Can that be enough? I swear, if anyone ever asks me to climb switchbacks in the dark ever again, I will stab them. When we got to the top at 6:30, which we did, despite each of us thinking we wouldn't make it at various times, we were all kinds of dead. I think this picture of Kat encompasses it:


Kat had asthma attacks all the way up. When we got to the top, I said, "Kat, if I could, I would give you a lobe of my good lung." She started crying. We were that kind of exhausted. We got on the 10-minute bus to our car, and all fell asleep immediately. That kind of exhausted. I've honestly never been so tired in my whole life.

So after that, we went to the campsite we'd stayed at the first night, parked their illegally, stole a miserable cold shower, and all fell asleep unwittingly for an unknown amount of time. We woke up, discussed driving 10 hours home, realized none of us had that in us, and decided to take the 4 hour drive to Alex's house in Vegas. We took turns driving while the other two sunk into deep REM cycles despite whatever loud music the driver was rocking out to. We ate funyans, because while they are disgusting, our bodies were like "GIVE ME SALT." We did everything possible to avoid moving out increasingly more sore bodies. We made it to Vegas.

Once we got to Vegas, we waddled into the house. I think each of us was the most sore we'd ever been in our whole lives. Our bodies were just like "what is this shit? You can't subject me to this." We all immediately collapsed on the couch. Intermittently, we awoke to watch whatever tv channel was left on before we fell asleep, to eat, and to bathe. We basically didn't move for 24 hours, because it hurt so much, until the next day when we got in the car to drive back to Utah. We did manage to get take out, curbside delivery dinner that night as well as fancy breakfast on Saturday, because when your whole body is traumatized  you just need good food. None of us could move on the drive home, but it was okay because Starbucks has drive-throughs, and that fueled us enough. And we made it back home  safe and sound.

Moral of the story? I'll give you two: Don't be a dumbass who goes to the Grand Canyon in June and if you are that dumbass don't be enough of a dumbass to try to backpack it OR even hellish backpacking trip can be all kinds of fabulous if you've got best friends as wonderful as mine.