A Letter to the Dejected

To the Dejected,

    I just wanted to write you to let you know you aren't alone. I can sense that there are times that you feel abandoned or forsaken. I've felt like that before. 
    There have been times when I have felt like no one really cared or understood what I was going through. It is a really scary feeling, feeling dejected. There have been times when the pain inside of me felt endless. I was walking through a dark tunnel with no light at the end. There have been dark days and dark nights when my mind felt like an inescapable pit of sadness. There have been times when I couldn't trust my thoughts, because those thoughts were unforgiving. There have been times when I would cry out to God and feel as though He was very distant from me. I couldn't understand why. There have been times when all I've wanted to do was give up.
    Friend, I've had times like yours. I know mine aren't exactly the same, but they are similar. I'm writing this letter to you to let you know that you are never alone. No matter how far gone you feel, no matter how dark the night, no matter how distant God seems--you are never alone. There is always hope. There is always light. Don't give up, don't quit, don't stop. Tomorrow is fresh and new, full of life and hope. Give it a chance. Give yourself a chance. 
 There is a God, and He is your father. He loves you, always, no matter what. "He knows of the times you have held onto the fading light and believed—even in the midst of growing darkness." Keep reaching to Him and trusting in Him. 

Love, always,

The Optimist in Progress


Mercies and Miracles

Guys, today was a miserable day for me. Like, straight up awful. I woke up at five this morning with a killer headache and couldn't go back to sleep. I spent all day in bed trying to ease the headache and study at the same time. (It doesn't work, in case you were wondering) When I don't feel well and don't get out and about, my depression kicks in hard. I felt low and numb. The weather was a pretty good comparison to my mood. Rainy, cold, dark, lonely. Can anybody relate? 

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed a little bit ago when I saw that one of my friends and former mission companions had shared a link to a conference talk given by Elder Bednar about tender mercies. 

"I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them."

Seeing that link was a tender mercy for me because it reminded me of the many blessings that I have. I've spent the day dwelling on insecurities and doubts, but I have many, many blessings that I could have tried to focus on. 

It's funny that Alyssa Hehl is the one who shared the article, because when we were companions, she taught me how to see the tender mercies and miracles that the lord was providing for us. We would have an appointment fall through but would randomly bump into someone who was ready to hear about the gospel. We would get back into the car after such an experience and she would throw her hands up in the air and say, "miracle!" 

One such tender mercy came while we were serving together in a city named Auburn. We were opening the area, and we were struggling. I had only been out for six weeks but had been asked to train sister Hehl and open this area. We started out with little to no information about the area and worked hard to get to know the congregation. During this time I became extremely downhearted and downtrodden. Sister Hehl did her best as a brand new missionary to comfort me, her trainer. 

One day, we came home to find out from our neighbors that a member of the ward had dropped off ten bags of groceries and a note. Sister Hehl and I turned to each other in tears. Miracle! Tender mercy! We unloaded the groceries with hearts full of gratitude for the unknown sister in the ward who had left us much needed food. We even tied the bags together and hung them up to remind us that Heavenly Father was aware of our needs. 

Fast forward six months. I'm going home early. My dad was able to pick me up in the Seattle airport and fly back to SLC with me so that I wouldn't have to be alone. We sit down on the plane and get ready for take off, and he eagerly turns to me and says, "Wanna hear a funny story?" 

He proceeds to tell me about when I was serving in White River. He and my mom knew that I was struggling and they wanted to help. My dad was in the area for a business trip, and knowing the rule that he couldn't see me, devised a way to boost my morale. He bought a bunch of groceries and then faked a note, pretending to be a sister in the ward. He found out my address and came to drop the groceries on our doorstep. But as he was approaching, our door opened and I walked out. He immediately turn around and walked away, and later left the groceries with our next door neighbor. He recounted that he shook for ten minutes after the close encounter, worried that I had seen him. I obviously hadn't! We had a good laugh together on the flight home about that. 

My point in telling this story is to illustrate that God really is sensitive to our needs. He loves us and provides blessings for us every day. Those groceries, though not what I thought they were, were a tender mercy. Finding that article today was a tender mercy. God is mindful of us and loves us. Like Elder Bednar said, the timing of the tender mercies often helps us to recognize and acknowledge them. Today was an awful, rotten day, but it was full of tender mercies. 


Practicing Positivity

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not athletic. I don't play sports. I tried a little bit when I was younger but I quickly realized that I have no coordination and even less flexibility. 

One of the sports I tried was basketball. Now, imagine a skinny, awkward girl age ten, trying to play basketball. Throw in the fact that she is afraid of any contact and you've got a pretty accurate picture of the kind of player I was. 

I only played for one junior jazz season. (I don't even know how long that was, but it was far long enough for me) I quit mainly because I didn't like the fact that I wasn't good. I wasn't one of the best, so I quit. Basketball isn't the only thing I quit because I wasn't good at it. I quit gymnastics, piano lessons, choir, art lessons, pretty much everything I tried. I quit because I sucked. 

My parents tried their hardest to teach me that I would get better if I stuck with it and practiced the skills I was learning. They tried to bribe me into practicing but I was too stubborn. 

Fast forward to now. I don't play sports, I don't have many hobbies, and I never have gotten any good at anything I've tried. (Besides eating chocolate. I'm dang good at that) Luckily, I am getting better at one thing: my positivity. Why? Because I'm practicing. 

How do you practice positivity? By being positive when you realllllly don't want to be. Just like strengthening a muscle, positivity becomes stronger as you use it in tougher and tougher situations. Some of the most amazing people I've met maintained hope in the most grim of circumstances. I don't think that's because they all of a sudden decided to be positive, but because they spent years developing a positive outlook. 

Here's a list of how I practice my positivity. How do you practice yours?

1. When I'm being extremely pessimistic about myself or a situation I am, I ask myself to come up with three to five good things
2. Not every cloud has a silver lining, but every rainstorm brings rain. Every trial does bring blessings. I challenge myself to find those blessings 
3. Find something to smile about. There's always something you can find if you're looking 


Realistic Resolutions

I've always had mixed feelings about New Year's resolutions. I love the idea of a fresh start, a blank canvas, but I shudder at idea of lists. I feel like resolutions are often petty, silly, or unattainable. But, resolutions give me a chance to take a step back and look at myself. Am I who I want to be? Am I a devoted disciple of Christ? Am I treating myself and others with respect? Self inventories are a wonderful thing, but for me, and I suspect for others, they have a darker side. 

When I do self evaluations, it is very easy to get caught up in who I am not, what I am not good at, areas that I am very weak in, and people who I think are better than me. The delight of a fresh perspective grows heavy and oppressive and a weight develops in my chest. Soon enough it is hard be positive about anything. So how do we stay on the light side of setting goals? How do we maintain a realistic but an optimistic view of ourselves? I have three suggestions. 

1. With every thing you come up with that you need to work on, come up with one thing you are good at. It sounds awful, I know it. It's like when counselors would come in during elementary school and teach you and your classmates to say nice things to yourself in the mirror each morning. But that sickly-sweet forced positivity isn't what I am suggesting. Rather, I'm suggesting that you remember to pair the good with the not so good. Here's an example of how to do that:
I am doing realllllly poorly at working out. I feel slow and unattractive. But, I've been doing much better with my eating habits. I know that because I've had success so far with one thing, I can with another. 
[okay as I read over that it feels stilted. But I think you get the point]

2. Remember that perfection isn't the goal, improvement is. Too often I find myself trapped by the fact that I'm never going to be perfect. But guess what. That's life. God sent us to learn and to grow, not to be perfect. If we were perfect there would be no reason for us to be here. 

3. Take a moment to look at yourself from the eyes of our Heavenly Father. He knows that we are very imperfect and often very flawed, but He loves us perfectly and flawlessly. We can't become who He knows we can if we sit still because we are afraid of messing up or feel like we have messed up too badly. In order for Him to help us, we need to be moving, reaching, pushing, trying. His love is very real and very unconditional. 

I'm excited for 2015. I'm excited for the challenges and changes it will bring. I'm grateful for the chance I've had to take a good look at where I am in my life and to reevaluate. So here's to becoming a better you.