Reflections on General Conference - October 2015

A quick note: "General Conference" is held twice a year in the Mormon Church. It takes place at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, right across the street from Temple Square. There are 6 sessions: A Women's Meeting held the week prior to conference, then two 2-hour general sessions, and one 2-hour Priesthood session held on Saturday, and two 2-hour general sessions on Sunday. Church leaders speak to the church as a whole, and if one is unable to be in Utah at the Conference Center, it's nearly impossible to miss out as all sessions are transmitted via radio, satellite, and live stream on the internet to most places around the world.  

I'm certain I will add to this after I read through transcripts of the talks, and after I've had time for more reflection, but I wanted to get started with initial thoughts on what I heard this weekend. 

There were three talks that I absolutely, hands-down loved this time. There were plenty of others from which I gained something, but I felt especially connected to these three.

1. Neill F. Marriott
There were about three times throughout her talk, as well as just after, when I uttered to myself, "She gets it." Her talk was poignant and honest. Vulnerable and far reaching. 

I felt especially connected to her words as I have recently been pondering the effects of the very real and difficult act of coming before God with a broken heart. Completely broken and knowing there is only one way for it to be healed.

Here are some highlights with brief interjections:
Transformation begins with a change of heart:
Have thine own way, Lord!Have thine own way!Thou art the Potter, and I am the clay.Mold me and make me after Thy will,While I am waiting, yielded and still. 
As our trust in him grows, we open our hearts and seek to do his will...and wait for answers that will help us understand.  
I've been focusing a lot on mindfulness, meditation, being still. I need those moments where my mind is clear. There's so much information all the time. So many distractions. But when I take even a few minutes to open my mind and heart to God, I am always filled - even with just a little something.
My own change of heart happened at 12 years old.
I also had my first big personal spiritual experience at 12. I was alone in the woods, praying, desiring to know who God was. What resulted felt like a conversation. A deeply powerful conversation where I knew that I was heard, known, and understood. It changed me.
Family motto: It will all work out.It doesn't mean it will all work out now, but it gives hope in an eternal outcome.
Things, both positive and negative, can work together for good.
A meek heart accepts the trial and waits for that time of healing and wholeness to come.
Paradoxically, in order to have a healed and faithful heart, we must first allow it to break before the Lord.
In the last couple of years of my struggle with Mormonism, I can't tell you how many times I've prayed for a humble heart. I'd be sitting in church, on the verge of tears, praying with all my might, Please help me to have a humble heart. Please help me to have a humble heart. PLEASE help me to have a humble heart. I felt inspired to say that prayer. And each time I did, I had a very distinct prompting. But I didn't want it to be the answer. I wanted so desperately to feel okay within Mormonism, that it took over a year to finally listen to that prompting. Answers to our most earnest prayers can be so far from what we desire. The answer was that I needed a break. And when I finally decided to take one, a huge burden was almost instantly lifted from me.
Our self-willed hearts begin to crack and break in gratitude.
In our broken-hearted reaching and yoking [with Christ], we receive new hope...
I can't begin to tell you how heart-breaking it was that my answer was what it was. And, at times, still is. But I have been learning and growing so much, and I know that finally listening to the answer was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. That's right, I found humility in leaving, not staying. And I work hard at remaining humble, waiting to see when the answer might be to return. But it's still "Not yet." And I know that that is right.
So trusting my all to thy tender care,and knowing thou lovest me.I'll do thy will with a heart sincere:I'll be what you want me to be.
2. D. Todd Christofferson
He spoke on why church matters. (He spoke specifically about the Mormon church, but my personal experience causes me to extend his words to all faith promoting churches.)
A major reason for church is to create a community of people who will sustain one another...the members minister to one another in the realities of day-to-day life.
I've missed having a faith community. Before my break from Mormonism, I'd been a regular church attender. And not just to my own Mormon congregation. While living in Oklahoma City, I went to several other local churches, spending the most time at the Unitarian church right down the street from Dot Spot (our home in OKC). Church matters to me. Faith communities matter to me. Whether they're big or small. We attended a handful of churches in Los Angeles, and I loved seeing their dynamics, how they worked. How they supported and lifted one another. We've been attending the same one for two months now. Today was actually the first day we missed since we started going because we stayed home to watch General Conference. Ironic, right?! Churches have the potential to do amazing things, both big and small.
Converted unto Christ. United in [a] church. 
Yes!! We're not converted to a church, but to the gospel. The gospel and the/[a] church are not the same thing. Being united in a church helps with sustaining and ministering unto one another, but being converted to God doesn't require a specific church.

3. Thomas S. Monson
This talk painted a lovely picture of discipleship.
As we emulate [Christ's] example, we will bless lives, including our own.
There is no transformation more powerful than the one that occurs as we live intentionally on the path of discipleship. Sometimes there are sudden transformations, but most of them take time. Some, lifetimes. Our work is never done.
Trust in the Lord and in his word. That trust will influence all we do.
Yes. And it is powerful to both experience and witness this in the lives of others.
Fears will be replaced by the courage of our convictions. 
I've been working at replacing fear with love. Love is my conviction.
[A note unrelated to his message: Starting around minute eleven of a thirty-and-a-half minute talk, it became very difficult to watch Thomas Monson. He sank lower and lower at the podium, and I kept hoping someone was right there to catch him if he fell. I started praying for him. By the time minute thirteen rolled around, I was crying, not because of what he was saying, but for him. His speech was slurred, his lips lost their color. I was relieved when I saw the shadow of two men come to assist him after he said "Amen." In addition to the sadness I felt seeing him decline through the course of his talk, I was also filled with gratitude for his servant heart.]

If the Super Blood Moon really did mean the world was ending

I can see a faint reflection of myself in the mirror leaning against a wall a few feet from me. My room is lit softly from the glow of my phone and the glow of the moon making its way out of total eclipse. I am sitting here in my underwear between my bed and the window, eating jalapeño chips, staring up at the sky and watching our collective shadow fade. There you are in Oklahoma. And New York and Tennessee and Italy and Kansas and Arizona and Vietnam. I see us all as we're sailing through this galaxy together, making a pass between the sun and our moon.

If tonight would have marked the end of the world, as some believe might happen during an event such as this, I think I'd be okay with it. I passed thousands of people spread out on lawns, standing on street corners, climbing hills, set, perched, poised, all looking up. Just like me. There are times when I am so in-love with humanity. This is one of those times. If it all has to come to an end, please let it be on a night like this. When we're all seeking and sharing what is so much bigger than us. When we're all looking up together.

[Photo Credit: Michael Anderson, owner of Performing Arts Photography in Oklahoma]

Soaking up the Last Day of Summer: A Series

I went to the beach to soak up as much of the last day of summer as possible. It was lovely.

Then this bird came along and was like, I'll show you a proper soaking up the last day of summer selfie.

As I was taking notes, he suddenly said, "Nah, we can do even better. I can fly." He took off at the perfect moment and, without saying goodbye, flew over my towards Malibu.  

So long, Summer Friend.

Day 413 in Los Angeles: A Year and Some Change

It came and went with little fanfare. It was a day when I was thinking of other things: the birthday of my brother and a sweet friend, the day after my parents' anniversary, which happened to be the day I called to wish them a happy 18 years. August 3rd marked one year of living in this new city. One year, and so much has changed. I've been writing this post in my head for a while (I've been writing many posts in my head for a while).

Just like the day that marked one year in Los Angeles went mostly unnoticed, so did the day several months ago where I finally found a soft spot for this place that is my current home. It went something like this: I was driving somewhere solo with my windows down, and the thought popped into my head, "I live in L.A.." And then it got louder: "I LIVE IN L.A.!!" And then I said it, "I live in Los Angeles." And then it exploded. I GET TO LIVE IN L.A.!!!" I do. And I don't want to just bide my time surviving here. I want to live here. I want to thrive here. This change in perspective was so good. (I think I'd lived here for almost 6 months when it happened.) That's right, I finally like Los Angeles. I might go so far to say I love Los Angeles.
(Tonight's Sunset)

I catch myself, at times, wondering if I allow myself to love it because I know that I will more than likely be leaving it in a couple of years. If I live in this city, I might as well make the most of my time here. And let's be clear, it's not all butterflies and candy hearts and roses. One of the hardest things was the decision Jake and I made to take a break from the Mormon church for a while. We did so at the end of October. I'd initially planned on a 6 month break. It's been 11 months. Moving somewhere and taking away the built-in community was really hard. I've just written and deleted many sentences about the last 11 months, but I don't want to spend any more time on that here. There were so many challenges when I first came, even some traumas that I'm still working through, but I'm making it.  I think I've met my match in this place in terms of keeping it real.

Ways L.A. keeps it real:

It is so crazy stupid expensive. Like ridiculously stupidly out of this world expensive. I would live in an apartment (and one that is likely without charm) for the rest of my life if I lived here expensive. Bleepin' bleep expensive. Like my sweet Dot would be WAY over a million dollars here, probably pushing two million dollars. This little fact blows my mind. I refuse to think this kind of expensive is normal. Or healthy. L.A. knows how to keep a budget real.

This is a city where people come and try to prove something. One of those somethings is that they can make it here. And even with how expensive it is, it is possible to build a pretty sweet life here, but many don't. They realize they could have built a pretty sweet life where they were from. They realize they didn't have anything to prove from the start. They leave. Everyday, people are coming and going in droves. It keeps things interesting, but it also makes for quite the transient population. Yes, I feel slightly guilty for contributing to that. But I'm also trying my best to really be part of the community. To feel a local connection. Make a new friend. Awesome! But they'll likely be gone in six months to a year. L.A. is good at keeping one from getting too comfortable.

L.A. (along with much of California) is drying up. This isn't the city's fault. But it's a reality that is impossible to ignore. It's sad and hard, and it makes it seem so inefficient and irresponsible to be living in a city that can't sustain itself. It's too big. The population is too taxing. It makes me want to head for the hills (not the Hollywood hills), and work hard to create my own little bubble of sustainability. L.A. Is good at reminding me that no matter how much I want something, my part is so small, that I must rely, on good faith, on others to do their part as well. L.A. has been the place where I've finally started taking shorter showers.

I'm still navigating. Still working out my place. But I finally feel like I have a place. My own little spot. My own little space of being.  Here are some things I love:

Driving in L.A.
Yes! It's true. I hate the traffic, but I love driving here!! There's a sort of vigilante nature to it. It's a puzzle. It has a rhythm. People are, for the most part, better drivers here than anywhere else I've been. What I'm about to say will blow you away: they're more courteous too! Yes, there are people are do really stupid things. But for the most part, it feels like a "we're all in this together" type event. People let you in, they make room if you need to turn left, it's great!! But it's different. I understand why they have a bad rap. If you don't drive here, it seems very foreign. But it's a good system. And it works.

Our Apartment
Every single day I think of something I can't wait to have when we move away from our apartment. For example: a bigger kitchen, hardwood floors, high ceilings, a REALLY BIG kitchen, a bedroom that's bigger than 90 square feet, absolutely NO honey oak cabinets, and hot dang, if I ever see a mauve counter top again... Basically, I hate our kitchen. And I don't think hate is a strong enough word. But our apartment has grown on me. I can see Mount Baldy and the sky scrapers of Century City. The street in front of our apartment is lined with Magnolia trees. It really is lovely. We could have had an apartment that faced the parking lot, or another apartment, or even worse, the 405 Freeway. But we don't. I have officially decided that we live in the best building in our complex and have the best view. I occasionally long for a three-bedroom, but I would have to give up my view, and I don't really want to. AND! I feel like I'm sticking it to the city because our apartment is below market value because it's part of UCLA's grad housing. Win/win, even if Jake has had to tell me why I can't redo our kitchen more than once. I would really be doing UCLA housing a favor. Dear Oak: I am so sorry we ever put you through the "honey" and "golden" phase. You didn't deserve it. Nobody deserves it.

(Master Builders at the kitchen table)

The Ocean
If I could spend every single day of my life at the beach, I would. I love it. It is perfect and peaceful, and I'm able to get lost there. I love being there with my family. I love being alone there. I love that I'm so close. 3.5 miles. Because I know we will likely not end up in L.A., I tried really hard not to get too attached. I failed miserably. Everyone needs an ocean to help them feel small and big all at the same time.

The Moon
I have the moon everywhere I go, and L.A. is no exception (obviously), but because the city is so bright, and there's so much going on, seeing the moon peek from behind a building, or rise above the trees - I stop and dwell on it more. When I was a teenager, I made it a point to spend some time with the moon every night. I thought it was magical. I don't spend every night gazing up, but when I do here, it makes me feel more connected to everyone I love. It's still magical, and here it's become even more sacred.

The City
L.A is a big mismatched mess to my aesthetics. There are pockets that are pleasing like Hancock Park and parts of Hollywood, streets of bungalows in Pasadena, little strips of historic "downtowns," etc. But when I'm not in those places it feels like row after row after row of strip malls. But there are so many great places to stumble upon. I love the shops on Abbott Kinney, the twinkle lights on Main in Santa Monica. I recently visited Olvera Street for the first time, and it was fantastic. I was excited about the museums, and they are wonderful and contain amazing collections, but I prefer the museums in Chicago to the museums in Los Angeles by quite a bit. The Museum of Science and Industry blows the California Science Center out of the water. LACMA and The Getty haven't stolen my heart like the Art Institute. There are fun places to explore, but L.A. is not my favorite large U.S. city. There is something disjointed about it, but that is part of what it is, and I've been learning to accept L.A. for just that. I no longer compare it. I no longer spend ridiculous amounts of time thinking about where I'd rather be. I'm here. And here in SoCal with its laid-back vibe is exactly where I need to be.
(Union Station, Los Angeles)

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to live in California. I was jealous of my cousins who lived here. When I started my senior year in high school, I was certain I wanted to go to UCLA (or Stanford or Sarah Lawrence, or NYU - but UCLA was at the top of my list). Now I'm here, and not attending UCLA, but I'm in this place in which the little girl who used to reside in me built a dream life. Jake and I are currently making a bucket list to make sure we see so many of the things we're so close to for the next couple of years.

I've been able to do some amazing things this year. I've been with dearest friends as they've become mothers. I was with family as we walked my grandmother from this life to the next. I've explored various faith communities. I've spent a year in mourning, grieving for a friend who took his life shortly after we moved here. I've rekindled old friendships and made new ones. I've found myself locked in a showdown with the dreaded anxiety disorder that I'd hoped I'd kicked for good. I have re-entered the workplace after 7.5 years of working at home with my children. And, oh, my precious daughters, they've taught me so much about resilience and just going with it. They're brave, and being their mother makes me brave. I'm learning and growing and being and becoming. Always becoming.


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