The four simple truths that matter most: And why we often forget them

My favorite teachers are three and a half feet tall.

They snort when they laugh, they get sticky hands when they eat suckers, and they hoard the crayons when they draw pictures.

My favorite teachers have barely filled in their school shoes, they still wear bows in their braids, and they dream of being astronauts, doctors, and missionaries in different countries.

They come in the shape of my nieces and nephews–and also my primary kids.

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Primary is a class we teach every sunday at church–and for the past year I’ve seen the same group of kids go from pre-school to Kindergarten. And from barely talking *because they’re playing the shy card* to barely letting me get a word in edgewise.

They’ve been my pseudo-children in a sense–and they’ve been some of my greatest teachers.

It really hit me yesterday how much they’ve grown in front of my very eyes, reminding me every week of why we’re here on earth, what we’re meant to do, and who we’re called to be like. Back to the basics, they teach me. Keep life simple.

And simplicity can be so hard.

Yesterday was one of those *Wow, I’m learning more from these kids than they are from me* days. I have those days a lot. But yesterday was something out of the ordinary, really.

 

I came to church straight from a work meeting, and I was frazzled beyond belief. Is there even enough hours in the day? I’m not convinced quite yet that 24 are enough. My mind was nowhere where it should have been, but I quickly rushed to class and tried to get in the mindset of the lesson.

We were teaching about the holy spirit. As we talked, the kids, one by one, all wanted to share stories. That’s not an uncommon thing really–but these stories seemed uncommon. Uncommonly simple and profound all at the same time. With these stories I was reminded of four simple things that I think we ALL tend to forget as soon as we grow out of our size four shoes, stop coloring out of the lines and no longer consider Spider Man our greatest hero.

It was good to get a reminder.

Kindness matters. 

David–one of the boys in my class– reminded me of a motto that I’ve always tried to live by. He told a story of a little boy in his kindergarten class who isn’t very nice. He says rude things to people and kind of likes to be alone. One day at recess the boy was coloring outside and the breeze whisked away a couple of his pages. Without even thinking David scrambled after them and retrieved the papers, bringing them back to the boy and letting him know that a good trick is to keep the loose papers under his foot while he’s drawing so they won’t blow away. I asked David why he helped the little boy out when he’s been nothing but mean to him. “Because it doesn’t matter how he is,” he responded matter-of-factly. “I’m supposed to be kind.”

How often do we forget kindness? We live in a society and a world where many believe that kindness is something to be earned, deserved, or given if the mood is right. But kindness–in its simplest and truest form–is actually running after those runaway papers in the wind simply because that’s what Christ would do.

Prayer works.

After David’s story, Kali’s hand shot up. It wasn’t about kindness, she prefaced, but prayer. Her dad had recently traveled to Mexico and when he came back from the trip he had given her a charm bracelet with beautiful stones. Well one day, she explained, the bracelet went missing and she couldn’t find it anywhere. She searched and searched and searched and finally she fell on her knees and prayed that she would PLEASE find that pretty bracelet from her Dad. After saying amen she had a feeling to check under the stairs. And there it was. Does Heavenly Father care about your bracelet? I asked. “Probably not,” she shrugged. “But he cares about me.”

Did you think to pray?

Count your blessings–then share them.

I sometimes forget this one and I bet you do too. Count your blessings, we hear. Count your blessing, Name them one by one, we sing. But what good is hoarding the blessings and not sharing them? As I watch these kids I’m reminded of the importance of sharing every piece of everything. They don’t hesitate to tell the new kid in class about Jesus. They don’t hesitate to share their jelly beans or share how to spell the word Heaven on the chalk board. They go to school each day and share with their teachers what they did at church, not even giving a second thought about how it may be perceived. They share the good news of everything that comes their way. Why don’t we?

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is one of my favorite quotes. And as I observe my class I often see a class full of blazing candles–all flaming like torches as they seek out wicks that have dried out.

Follow where others try to lead.

We’re a society aimed toward being revolutionary. Changing the world. Discovering new planets, changing the way politics operate, or being top in sales at our firm. And that’s perfectly okay to aim high. But whatever happened to the virtue of following? In the attempts to forge a new path I think it can be easy to forget that we’ve had many saints, prophets–even the Savior himself– pave the way already. We’ve had pioneers walk miles to reach a common place of rest, hearts all turned toward the same Zion. We’ve had prophets teach the same stories and generations of family members instill the same traditions and morals. We have so many heroes to emulate. “She wants to be just like you,” I’ve had mothers say to me when talking about their kids in my class. They never say, “She hopes to be way better than you”.

There’s so much fear nowadays in mediocrity and not enough desire to uphold the things that generations before us fought for.

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I could honestly go on and on about the things I’ve learned from these kids. But the simple things are my favorite. And the older I get the more I need to be reminded of the basics. The simple things that keep families together and the beggars with change in their pockets. It’s the simple things that were once preached on mountain tops and etched in stone and written by hand on parchment only to be passed down to us. It’s the simple things that turn us from a hardened, bustling, distracted adult into a child again– fresh from Heaven, and at the Savior’s feet. The beauty in the gospel–and in life– lies in its simplicity.

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “…Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is simple. It really, really is.
And I’m grateful to all my three-foot something giants for showing me that.
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The trouble with waiting on God

So—I’m kind of nervous. OK, more like really nervous. 

Today is the day before I start a brand new position in a brand new place and my stomach is doing the barrel roll because change is one of the most terrifying things that happens in my world. I go through it enough, you’d think I’d get used to it. But I don’t. And today, as I enjoy a day off before the crazy schedule kicks in again, I’ve become reflective. 

I’ve needed this change for a while now. I wasn’t going to where I needed to go–goals weren’t being met and I wasn’t growing the way I should have been where I was. I miserably trudged through work days, all the while knowing I should make a change, but I simply didn’t. “I’m waiting on God,” I would often say. “He must want me here.”

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And today, looking back, I realize the ridiculousness of that saying. Waiting on God. Waiting on him for what? To send a lighting bolt across the sky, the tail of it scrawling a message that tells me what I should do? Waiting on a grand vision? 

Let me tell you, it’s a phrase I hear a lot–always by people who want to make the best decisions and align their lives with Christ–but a phrase that shouldn’t be said half as much as it is. I’m waiting on God for my big break. I’m waiting on God for a husband. I’m waiting on God to start getting along with my estranged child again. I’m waiting on God to tell me if I should start up that business. 

Always waiting.

And that phrase quietly excuses us from creating the life that He actually has planned. 

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The truth of it is, I shouldn’t always be waiting on God. He’s simply waiting on me.

It’s a lesson that’s been hard to swallow because I have the tendency to absolutely love step-by-step directions from the Almighty. Where do you want me to go, Lord? Show me! I sometimes catch myself thinking. Because if he shows me, I’ll most certainly go there. I wouldn’t even hesitate. If I got a sign or some kind of dream or…well, you get the gist of it. I’m that kind of person.

But I have the power to choose for myself. And so do you. The Lord never gave us agency only to tell us later on that we can’t use it or that we have to wait for his cue. The Lord never says in the scriptures to wait for a sign before making a decision to change a miserable situation, to forgive that son, or to put a down-payment on a house for your family. Instead the scriptures say in Proverbs 16:9, “A man deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” 

In D&C 58:27 the Lord also discourages us from hesitancy and idleness but instead says, “do many good things of your own free will.” 

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Blasphemy, you might be thinking. How can Kayla say that I’m supposed to choose a direction and just start walking? I have to get the green light from God!

And I don’t blame you for thinking that. All my life I was Queen of seeking revelation. And sometimes I got just that. Sometimes I felt strongly to do something or felt guided by the spirit to take a certain path. But other times Heavenly Father falls silent–an unresponsive ear pressed against the windows of Heaven, and I would sometimes sit on my knees, wondering why something so important would go unanswered. I think that with many of us the silence of God is  the time when our faith trembles and our doubt seeps through the cracks, whispering lies to our hearts. That’s when we abruptly stand up from prayer, clench our teeth and decide he turned away from us. Or it could be the time when we decide that silence is merely our answer to just wait. Wait on God through misery, long days, depression, brick walls that stop us in our tracks from ever achieving anything we’ve ever planned.

So much of our life is spent waiting.

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I fell into that category. It wasn’t that I was lazy. No, I actually can be ambitious to a fault. I can be hard on myself at times or push myself the extra mile when I can easily be satisfied with where I’m at. But I still fell into the category of expecting God to hand over a blueprint and check off suitable directions. It was too terrifying to do it on my own. What if I made the wrong choice?

In the midst of my decision to leave something I had become comfortable with, a job that was good but not the best for where I was headed, I had to become comfortable with slipping into the driver’s seat and using the free will He gave me for such a time as this.

As I once heard in a sermon given by evangelist pastor T.D. Jakes, Heavenly Father never gave the world a chair. He gave the world a tree and we used our talents and our need for somewhere to sit in order to create a chair. He offers raw talents, raw emotions, raw circumstances and materials–and he lets you create your beautiful life.

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I wonder now how many times I passed up an opportunity to create something within my life simply because God was silent and I took that as a no or as a “just wait”. I wonder how many times in my life Heavenly Father simply folded his arms and waited for me to just work up courage enough to pick the path and then ask for help along the way.

Martin Luther King Jr. once eloquently said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” For too long I wanted to see the staircase. Too many times I simply want an answer on if I’m even ON the right staircase.

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But faith doesn’t work that way. Faith is using free will instead of waiting to be told. Faith is coming to God with a decision, and trusting that he’ll provide along the way. Faith is penning the business plan and investing the money even when the only kind of answer you have in your heart is desire. Faith is moving your feet.

Sometimes there will be days where you have to wait. Sometimes that’s the answer you get. Sometimes the Lord’s timing isn’t quite your timing and he’ll tell you so. But more often than not we’ll come to realize that we have a Father in Heaven who is just waiting for us to MOVE.

Now here I find myself, looking forward to a whole new journey ahead of me, and it’s natural to be afraid. I can’t help but feel fear that takes the form of the big knot in my gut and my pacing back and forth as I try to decide what to wear tomorrow for my first day.

But I also can’t help but feel that for one of the first times in my life I came across a tree in the path. And I decided–finally–to just get to work and make that chair. 

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Giving up on the quest to be extraordinary: And how it will change your life

My dad was an ordinary man.

He rose at dawn to go work at an ordinary job, tossing his lunch pail in the back of a maybe less-than-ordinary pick-up truck that lacked a solid floor on the passenger side. 

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He was quiet and attentive to conversations already begun–and he could pass through a room quickly without gaining much notice. He had a daily routine of reading the paper at half past six and watching every Seahawks game in his chair–it was only interrupted by play time with us kids–an ordinary hobby for many dads.

When I was a child I remember feeling sorry for my Dad. He mentioned he used to want to be a doctor before he decided it wasn’t for him. And in his youth he didn’t make much of a stir in his hometown newspaper or in sports–he just spent afternoons at the river’s edge with a fishing line and a can of worms. Ordinary things, really. 

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But me? I didn’t want ordinary. Not at all! I wanted to be extraordinary. I paraded around in dancing dresses, hosted backyard carnivals in the summer, auditioned for every school play, and dreamt of the day I’d see my name on a hardback book. I wanted to leave a positive legacy behind. I wanted to be ANYTHING but ordinary. And I loved my Dad so much–I used to cry that he could never be an important doctor.

And that mindset followed me well into my life. It wasn’t a mindset of pride or self-love. It was the desire to change lives and be known for something good–something special. But that desire, I’ve come to learn, is the desire of so many others who leave nothing behind except for a granite stone, piles of money, and bylines that quickly get shoved into archives. The desire to be great, if that desire is a sole purpose, will completely cloud over what really makes you someone to remember. But the desire to just live life fully and completely with love for people being your main purpose–THAT desire and THAT quest can change your life forever.

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As for my father with his “ordinary” life–I’ve come to understand the beauty of such ordinary things now, and the importance.

Since his passing, I’ve began to take notice of things he left behind. Ordinary things. Sifting through his things after his passing, I noticed old notebooks filled with notes from church sermons and past General Conferences–notes that he took to heart and lived. Notes he never shared.

My mother found stacks of receipts from his monthly tithing slips–tithing that she never knew he paid when she stopped going to church for a short time and he would sit alone in the pew every sunday.

Friends–from the job that everyone said he was “stuck in” for years and years–have filtered through the front door and across our social media pages, telling stories of a man with quiet faith, great love for those around him, and kindness. Always kindness. Even my father’s insurance agent from five years back called with tears in his voice, just to tell us that he’ll always remember Dad and the way he was so patient.

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Ordinary watches and worn-out wallets–thin from years of use–are now our flecks of gold. Yellowed photographs of summers at the river and tanned arms against a lawnmower are now precious heirlooms.

The ordinary, simple things that I once thought were like “every other dad”. But now, to me, are extraordinary. And he never tried to be.

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I think it’s easy, since we live in a world dedicated to proving how “special” we are or how “unique” we are, to measure ourselves at the end of the day by how many awards line our desk or how many nods of approval we get for special projects at work. But putting all of our efforts into that kind of journey distracts from the truly extraordinary. We shouldn’t give up on success within the world and careers we hold, of course–but we should also remember where true success lies.

Like being the mom that finger paints with her toddlers and doesn’t care that some hair dipped into the blue. Like being the friend that sits at the lunch table with the bullied kid in complete silence, just offering a presence. Like being the dad that works a 9 to 5 at a completely ordinary office and always makes sure to make every single ballet performance. Like being the artist that paints, that writes, that sings, that creates–just to make life more relatable, or more beautiful, for at least one person.

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How beautiful the world is when we count the little moments that make up our memories, our goodness, our friendships, our faith. How beautiful it is to leave behind something much greater than anything tangible, even while losing ourselves in ordinary tasks.

How beautiful that is. And how extraordinary. 

He knows how it feels to be sixteen

Well, it’s happened.

I knew it would.

Ever since my little sister was born, her perfect little self bundled up in a pink striped blanket and a little hat the size of my 7-year-old hand too-big on her head, I knew it would happen. One day, she’d grow up.

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And since I’m 7 years her senior and get the–honor?–of going through things before she does, I knew that one day she’d get her heart broken. Or that a boy would be mean. Or that someone would make fun of her and it’d be up to me to tell her they’re wrong. I guess I was just in denial that it would happen any time soon *or ever, really* because I just couldn’t handle it.

But yesterday, it did.

It’s a long story so I won’t get into it all (also because that’s her business), but part of it I suppose is my fault. I’m protective of my sister *like too much, maybe* and I saw something going on that was hurting her, and my entire family, as a result. An unhealthy situation, you might say. And now my sister is left with a broken heart. And in her words, “the world is ending”.

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I remember that feeling. You probably do too. Or if you’re a teen–sixteen, seventeen, eighteen maybe–you probably know what that feels like right NOW. And if I’m correct, you feel like it’ll never get better. Life just…sucks. Right? And everyone can tell you that this isn’t your whole life, that time heals all wounds, that as you grow and learn and experience life, those wounds you’re experiencing now will feel like NOTHING ten years down the road. I mean, I tried to tell my sister that. But of course that didn’t work, because right now the world is ending. And how dare anyone say different?

I felt helpless watching my sister go through this yesterday because I love her more than life. But nothing could stop the tears. No one could convince her that she needs to keep herself safe and sometimes being hurt now saves you in the long run. And deep down, I knew nothing would work. After all, nothing worked for me at that age. I had to carry the illusion of the world ending–I had to cry into my teddy bear and write in my journal that I hate my parents. It’s just what happens while you’re growing up. But for us who look back on that time, we helplessly want to CONVINCE those teenagers that they’re wrong–it WILL get better, and it’s not that bad compared to what’s about to come later in life.

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And that’s when my former bishop came over to the house and talked to us and I brought up the subject. His response was simply, “How do you think Heavenly Father feels with US even, when he has a much bigger perspective?”

And right then and there, it hit me. Heavenly Father, our perfect and loving parent, has been through it all. He knows what it’s like to cry over a boy in junior high or feel the stab of rejection at prom. He knows how it feels to lose a job in your twenties or have a spouse cheat. He knows how it feels to lose a parent–or a child– or face a doctor when they tell you it’s cancer. He knows how it feels to get older or weaker or to start forgetting things. He knows how it feels to die. But more importantly–he understands the joy at the end–the growth through the journey– and the reason to all things, simply because he has the bigger picture.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” -Jeremiah 29:11

And how many times, through scriptures, comfort by the spirit, and revelations does he try to convince us, just like I tried to convince my sister, that everything will work out for our good? And just like my sweet little sister, we fail to believe it. Because we haven’t ever faced something so hard.

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I still go through those times, of course–especially now, while laying beside my dad as his breathing is getting more labored every day, or dealing with financial struggles or hardships at work–where Heavenly Father whispers to me that I will overcome. That he knows my struggles and also knows I’ll conquer them. But like a sixteen year old again curled up in my bed, I sometimes simply can’t believe it.

But I have to trust.

There’s nothing I can say to make my sister feel better right now. Because life is a process you just have to experience for yourself and overcome each day. It’s a small, teeny oh-so-tiny tiny glimpse of what Heavenly Father feels for us and the sorrows he must feel when we shake our heads and say, “No Father, this isn’t fair. It won’t get better.”

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Because it will. And he knows that, just like I know my sister will get better.

He knows our pain and he knows the joys to come.

And he knows, girls *and guys*, exactly how it feels to be sixteen.