Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Only the beginning of the journey

Three years ago, I received my mission call to the Ukraine Donetsk Mission.

Well, that's not entirely true. I didn't get my mission call on November 26th, 2011. I got it on November 23rd, 2011. But, I always remember that I got my mission call the day before Thanksgiving. I remember the mixture of emotions and memories associated with Thanksgiving more clearly than the actual date--being home for the break surrounded by family and a couple of close friends, a perfectly crisp and clear November day, my sister posting my call on Facebook before I got a chance to, never running out of things to talk about that Thanksgiving, and knowing that I would be very, very far away from home the next Thanksgiving--my mission is now inseparably connected with Thanksgiving.

This is probably my favorite picture from the day. :) 

[Also, just an aside--I always seem to have major life events happen on holidays--I was baptized on Halloween, got my mission call the day before Thanksgiving, went through the temple for the first time on Russian Christmas Day, was set apart as a missionary on Valentine's Day . . . there's a pattern going on here . . .]

Three years is a long time. There is so much that has changed over that time.

For one, my mission doesn't exist anymore. Which is heartbreaking to me and I pray every day that there will be peace in Ukraine.

Also, I changed have over three years. Oh, how I've changed. For the better. Not that I was a bad person before. But there was more that I could become.

Look at what I wrote the day before I got my mission call: "And . . . I feel like I'm on the threshold of a new era of my life. Here I am, mission-call-less, unsure of what the next 1 and 1/2-2 years will bring: where I'll go, who I'll meet, what I'll say, who I'll become. There's a better Megan waiting on the other side. A more refined person. A more loving person."

That, my friends, was prophecy. Because there was a better person who came out on the other side. And it was because my 21-year-old self decided to take that step of faith into the darkness and into the pain of the refiner's fire. And I'm grateful that she was brave enough to do that. For herself, for the Ukrainian people, and for God.

People. People are what it's all about. Our relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves. That is what we take with us. That is what shapes us.

Three years ago, I didn't know what I was getting into. It didn't feel real to me. I didn't know the joys and the sorrows I would experience--the experience that would make me wise.

It's been interesting to read my thoughts from that day. They are raw, but I don't mind sharing a few of them, because I think they are what most people feel when they step into the unknown--whether accepting a mission call, starting a new job, or beginning anything new:

"I am scared. Scared out of my mind. I'll be gone for practically 2 years. So much can happen in 2 years. Am I doing the right thing?

"But I definitely did feel an overwhelming sense of God's love when I read, 'The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life. Greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children.

"I cried when I read that. [. . .]

"But Ukraine . . . it doesn't seem real; I can't see myself there. But, I need to place my trust in the Lord. And I will."

And I did decide to accept the call. Because there's a choice. There's always a choice. And once I made that decision, the Lord confirmed it. A lifetime's worth of preparation, worrying, fasting, praying, doubting, believing, and deciding were summed up in these simple words:

"And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him." (Mark 1:18)

And I knew. I knew that's what I had to do, too. Not only for my mission, but my entire life.

And I didn't look back.

Straightway. And straight ahead.

How grateful I am for that decision.

It changed me forever.

I can't imagine my life without a mission. And I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was the hardest thing I've ever done--but also the best thing I have ever done.

A change in me. That is the best way I have ever been able to describe it.

"There's been a change in me. A kind of moving on. Though what I used to be, I still depend upon."

[. . .]

"For in my dark despair, I slowly understood my perfect world out there had disappeared for good.
But in its place I feel a truer life begin and it's so good and real, it must come from within."

[. . .]

"And I never thought I'd leave behind my childhood dreams. But I don't mind--I'm where and who I want to be. No change of heart, a change in me."

[forgive the cheesiness of the video/if it feels out of place with pictures of Ukraine--but it really does describe the change I experienced on my mission.]

I am grateful for that mission call. I am grateful that I accepted that call. And I am grateful that God allows us to serve--imperfect and weak as we are. Losing ourselves, we find Him. And by finding Him, we find ourselves.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My theory of devolution

 . . .  or on why I was never called to be a sister missionary on Temple Square.*

I have a theory that the further down the rabbit hole of the semester you go, the less you care about how you look. You know how at the beginning of the semester, everyone** is all bright and happy and wearing their shiny first-day-of-school faces? You wear your new shoes and jeans, curl your hair, make sure your makeup is perfect . . . it's like you have a date with success and expectation.

By Thanksgiving Break, you are ready to break-up with school. For good. Forever. El fin.

And so you just stop caring about what you wear.

I've noticed that for most people, the devolution starts around week 3 of school. I know that for me, it starts when I stop wearing my contacts and just put on my glasses. That doesn't mean that I'm dressed like a complete slob, but if I wake up later than I should and don't want to put on a lot of makeup, I'll just put my glasses on and call it good, claiming the favorite "Marian Librarian look." Classy, yet practical.

By midterms, it's practically over. There might be some days where people try--maybe there's that cute boy/girl in class that you are still trying to impress, maybe you are someone who believes in looking classy every single day of your life, but for most of us, we're just too tired to care anymore.

And by Thanksgiving Break, oh honey, it's game over. It's long gone and you are just waiting for finals to be over so you can spend all day in your pajamas and eat chocolate oranges.

First day of school. Notice the bright eyes filled with hopes and expectations of good things to come and the carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfits. Also note the curled hair, bright colors, and sheepish grins.


This just screams: Help me. I am drowning in papers and tests and not even awesome fishtail braids or BYU hoodies can save me. I have given up trying. I don't even care what other people think. 

It's a thing, people. It's a thing. The struggle is real.

*There is a reason I was never called to be a sister missionary on Temple Square, if you couldn't already tell. Because there are some days when I don't want to care what I look like. I am perfectly fine being a Frumpy-McFrumpster when I want to be. I remember in the MTC the MTC presidency telling sister missionaries to remember to put on makeup and a "belt or scarf around it" to complete your outfit. But believe me. When you're freezing in Ukraine and wrapped up in thermals, leggings, two pairs of woolen stockings, two pairs of gloves, sweaters, a heavy coat, scarf, and hat--you don't care what you look like. You are just trying not to freeze. 

**And by everyone, I mean almost everyone. Because there are always the people who never care. Ever. And who can blame them? 

In which I have another epic fail moment

First of all, you know those Pinterest Fail websites? I think they are the funniest things in the world. Because, my friends, schadenfreude. It is a real thing. Enjoyment from watching the failures of others. Ahh, I am a terrible person. But at least there's a term for it.

But really. I think they are just hilarious. I mean, just take a look at some of these epic fails:

This is what would happen if I tried to make it. 

Those are just frightening. 

Anyway. Pinterest fails are a favorite pastime of mine . . . both laughing at others' Pinterest fails and my own. (And if you want to see more epic Pinterest fails, go here, here, or here.) 

I've decided that I could start a  fail blog based on all the awkward things I've done. Because, if you know me at all, you know that I am both awkward and endearing. The queen of awkward. But I own it. Which makes it okay . . .? I don't know. In any case, I'm awkward. And I'm cool with that. 

This week, I had another FAIL blog moment. Here's how it went down. 

I was walking to the campus forum and I was climbing the stairs to the Marriott Center, when I saw a friend who I hadn't seen in about a year. We've been friends since sophomore year of high school, so you know, we're good friends. And we have seen each other's awkwardness. He's certainly used to mine. 

Anyway, I saw him and I decided to give him a big hug--because, you know, friendship. And then, out of nowhere, this girl appears next to him . . . a girl who he was waiting for and going to listen to the forum with. And she didn't look happy to see me there at all.  

Me (thinking): This looks really bad. 

So we did quick awkward introductions and I backed off as quickly as possible. 

"Oh heyyyyyyyy. How do you know each other? Oh, that's great! That's just great. Yeah, nice to meet you. I'm leaving now. Enjoy listening to Mitt. I'm just going to go run away now. Okay, byeeeeeeeeeee." 

And I made a quick exit and disappeared in the crowd. Go me. 

Nailed it. 

I promise I do more than write papers.

But sometimes it doesn't feel like it.

Especially when I have a rough draft of an 18-paper paper due on Tuesday (helllloooooooo, History 490), plus two other term papers I haven't even thought about yet because, well, because of my history term paper (which kinda takes precedence this weekend).

But I just finished my fake rough draft of the paper. Read: I haven't put in any quotes yet/synthesized information, but I have put information down on the page . . . basically, it's like an extended outline. With gems like this:

"Note to self: More quotes from letters about how sad everyone was."

"Example: That couple Louisa talks about that got kidnapped in Austria during that one war and who were almost killed. SCARY."

"However, most Americans don't side with the French (primary source?). They side with the Prussians because they think that Napoleon III is an idiot (which is true . . .)"

And, my personal favorite:

"This is really cheesy and will be changed but right now I don't even know how. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

Oh, you know, just a day in the life of your favorite English major/history minor.

But. I did finish a big project for the day. Which means STUDY BREAK! Like, a real one that is more than just quick Facebook-ing or Pinterest-ing. Which, don't get me wrong. I love those study breaks, too. Especially when you find gems like this on Pinterest:

[yes. yes. all the yes.] 

[this one really shouldn't be that funny to me . . . but I can't stop laughing.]

Um, it's amazing that I get anything done.

Monday, November 17, 2014

You can't always see when you're right

This semester. Oh, this semester. It's been a tough one. Just really busy, with no time to breathe. A semester that is in-between. Neither here-nor-there. Where I'm moving forward and hoping and praying that dreams come true. But without knowing if they will. Or if they will turn out quite in the way I'm expecting. 

After a while, it starts to wear on a soul. 

But there are the glimpses. The glimpses of glory. And the reminders of how far I have already come. 

And a realization that things seem to work out the way they're supposed to, even if a few of my perfectly-constructed popsicle stick dream homes are destroyed in the process of reality. Because I didn't really want them, did I? When it comes down to it, they are not what I truly want. 

Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true. 

When will you realize . . . Vienna waits for you? 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Down to the pueblo huts of New Mexico

Last week I went down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the American Folklore Society Conference. I, along with other research assistants, presented on the research we've been doing on fairy tales in television. Pretty fun stuff. I just wanted to post some pictures of the trip because Santa Fe is beautiful and charming. Everything Jack Kelly thought it would be. 

Love the Gothic architecture next to the adobe. 

This is the center of town. Yup. 

Alley art. 

And this. Because, I mean, I have to share it. It's Santa Fe. And it was stuck in my head all weekend long. 

Sing it, Jack. I mean, Batman. Or Christian. Whoever you are. 

Is it Thanksgiving Break yet?

In the past 48 hours, I have been twelve kinds of awkward.

-Accidentally walking into the men's bathroom? Check.

-Literally running into someone as I turned the corner in the JFSB? Also check.

-Forgetting to put the milk I just bought in the fridge? You betcha.

I probably have bright red lipstick on my teeth. It would be my luck.

All of the awkward. All of the time. I just can't help it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

This is just cruel.

I'm down in New Mexico for a conference, and we stopped at Albertson's tonight to get some food for tomorrow. Normal, right? Grab some bagels and juice boxes.

But then. Then, I saw this in the frozen foods aisle:

Blue Bell ice cream. The best ice cream in America. And I can't get any because we don't have any way of getting it back Utah.

This, my friends, is cruel and unusual punishment.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Seeking vs. Assuming

Last summer I had the wonderful opportunity of interning at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. In addition to working in the archives and getting to learn and write about the lives of incredible Mormon women, I also enjoyed time to ponder to-and-from work on the Front Runner and during lunch on Temple Square. Another perk of the Church History Library is that they have good Mormon artwork on all of their walls--the kind of artwork that you wish your chapel had. [Now, I know a lot of people would disagree with me. I know that what makes "good" art is an entirely different debate and not one I want to enter right now. I also know that Church art serves its purpose . . . but for this blog post, just know that my favorite Mormon artists are Walter Rane and Minerva Teichert. And that the Church History Library has a lot of paintings by Walter Rane and Minerva Teichert, so it made me happy.]

Anyway, one of my favorite things was when I first got to work. I would climb up the back stairs of the Church History Library, reach the third floor, open the door, and turn left.

And there, on the far left wall, was one of my favorite paintings of the First Vision.

by Walter Rane 

I love this picture for many reasons. I think what I love the most is the look in Joseph's face. That look of surprise, relief, and awe that is evident in his eyes. He had no idea what his question would bring. But I love how he looks straight up and is bathed in light--an answer after months and years of seeking. He looks up in wonder, never expecting that the greatest theophany since the New Testament would happen to him. He had faith that God would answer him, but Joseph did not know that Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, would appear to him to answer his heartfelt question and soothe his fears. 

In Ukraine, there was a dear investigator who also loved this painting of the First Vision. "That's how I feel," he said. "I feel like that boy. Looking up, asking, but confused. Not sure what's going to happen next. But asking." 

I think that's beautiful. Because when it comes down to it, the story and experience of the First Vision is our own. I'm not saying that each of us will--or that we even need to--see the Father and the Son in this lifetime. But I do believe that we have to find out for ourselves that God lives and that He loves us. We have to seek His face, because if we do not comprehend God, we cannot comprehend ourselves. 

And in order to gain that light and knowledge, we have to seek. We have to seek, ask, and knock, and be willing to receive. 

As a student of history, and especially as a student of Church history, I think a lot about the connections between faith and history. Some people think that it's not possible to combine faith, reason, and history--that no true historian can bring faith into her studies, and that history is godless and undermining to faith and testimony. 

I disagree. 

My study of history has strengthened my faith. Not because I blindly believe what I am taught or that I refuse to accept historical facts. Because it is important to be thoughtful when learning by study and by faith. But in all areas of study, it is important that we do not come from a place of assumption. To assume from a place of belief or disbelief is dangerous because the assumption of  "Oh, I already know that," or, "There's no way that could have happened--it just doesn't work that way," leads to intellectual and spiritual pitfalls. 

The body and spirit, heart and mind need to go together. To place one over the other leads to neglect and makes it so we miss out on beautiful insights. Assuming closes us off to finding truth, and it closes our hearts to empathy and understanding. 

In matters of faith, reason, and history, it is important to seek rather to assume. Seeking requires action. It requires humility and going outside of your intellectual and spiritual comfort zone to ask questions . . . and to realize that there are some things that you might not ever understand. Not because the answers aren't there, but because our understanding or tools we have at the moment are inadequate. But we keep looking and keep seeking. Someday the answers will come. 

A willing, seeking mind is the first step to receiving revelation from God. It is also the first step in learning--whether academically or spiritually.  Just as Joseph Smith would not have received increased light and knowledge if he had not prepared himself  to seek answers to his questions, we close ourselves off to more light, knowledge, and truth if we choose not to seek. 

Seeking and faith go hand-in-hand. And something I have learned as I have tried to be a seeker of truth is the power of mercy and redemption. History is messy. It just is. It's not pretty. Church history is not pristine, either. Because history--any kind of history--deals with people. Imperfect, vain, clueless, scared, trying people. But, just because history is messy does not take away from those things that I have learned for myself to be true. Most importantly, I have learned about the absolute need for a Savior. We all need saving. We are a people in need of a Savior. His Atonement is real, and His work will go forth. 

But we have to find that out for ourselves. It is an individual journey into the Sacred Grove. But the answers are there. 

The question is whether or not we will choose to seek them.