May 8, 2016

How Service has Blessed my Life, an ode to Mother's Day

I had the pleasure of speaking in sacrament meeting at church today and was given the topic of how service has blessed my life. Since today is Mother’s Day, I decided to start by talking about my amazing, incredible mother. Many of those in the congregation had the pleasure of knowing her, and I hope that after reading this, those of you who didn’t know her may be touched by her sweet spirit of selfless service.

My Mom and me
My mother set one of the greatest examples of service for me. Aside from her love for the holidays, her example of selfless service is my most vivid memory of her. She was so caring and loving to all around her, and always there with a kind word and a hug for those who needed a friend. I remember her often making meals for families in the ward and for the missionaries. She was almost intuitive with her ability to discern when others were in need, and she was spiritually in tune enough to recognize how she could best help meet those needs. 

Her favorite calling, and I even this remember to this day, was as Ward Compassionate Service leader. I remember that she was somewhat intimidated by the responsibility at first. She was worried she would forget someone in need. But, my mother fulfilled this calling beautifully, exactly as the Lord desired of her. I know so many people have had their lives blessed by my mother’s sincere acts of service.

After my mother passed away, her funeral service, both here in Texas and at her burial in Payson Utah, were filled with so many people in attendance—so many that the chapel was filled to capacity. Their lives had been touched by my mother’s genuine love and concern for them. She never even knew the impact she had. She never even knew she made a difference. She didn’t realize how often she served as an instrument in the hands of our Lord to help His children feel His love. She helped to bless their lives with her service.

With all the people she served, the lives she blessed the most were within her own family. My brothers and I were raised in a loving home built on the foundation of our Savior and His gospel. We knew our parents loved us, as they were always there for us. My mother served us in every possible way she knew how, without even having to think about it. She was there to comfort us when we were bullied or sad. She was there to support us in our aspirations and goals. She was there to encourage us when we felt inadequate, overwhelmed, or discouraged. We knew we could count on my mother, because of these small acts of loving service for us. 
The greatest service she did for us was to teach us the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She lived her testimony each and every day, in every situation. She likened the Savior’s teachings to just about every scenario in our lives. She taught us to live the gospel as she made sure we always had family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, family church attendance, and as she and my father regularly attended the temple. She set the example of a righteous covenant-keeping woman of God. My life is forever blessed through her selfless service as she fulfilled her divine calling as my mother—a mother in Zion. Her example is the one I want to follow. I hope that one day I will be like her.

However, even with the love and service of my family, there was a time in my life where I lost sight of the things of God and instead found myself focused on more worldly pursuits. I fell into a dark place, especially after my mother’s passing, and there was a long time that I believed that I deserved all that pain, sorrow, and despair. I was filled with a poisonous guilt that was affecting every aspect of my life.  This rancid guilt had me feeling like it was too late for me, and that life would never get any better. Worst of all, I truly felt that I was unimportant—that no one cared about me and that I wasn’t worthy of being loved.

It was during this time that an inspired Relief Society president assigned to me the exact person I needed most as my visiting teacher. Month after month for a year she faithfully visited me, even though I was resistant at first. She would call to check up on me regularly. She remembered my birthday. I’m fairly certain she monitored my Facebook posts as she seemed to always be there for me during some of the hardest points in my life. Soon, her visits became a welcome light within all the darkness my life seemed to settle. She always invited me to start attending church again, without being pushy. Quite the opposite, she genuinely wanted me to be happy and she knew that the only way for me to achieve this was to return to the covenant path. Her friendship made me feel that there really were people who cared about me. I can’t describe what this meant to me, what it still means to me, especially at that time. She was the answer to my prayers and remains to this day, a blessing in my life. Her sincere, consistent service as my visiting teacher softened my heart to the point where I started to allow the missionaries to visit me and even attend church again, even when I faced serious opposition from another person close to me.

This faithful caring sister worked hand-in-hand with the elders in our ward at that time. I feel strongly that one elder in particular was assigned to my ward at that exact time for me personally. Each week, he and his companions visited me. Sometimes they would share a message, but mostly they would find ways to serve me. As my husband at the time was often not home, they would help me out with the yard work and the heavy lifting, specifically moving large pieces of workout equipment. I even remember one time they came over and I was frustrated after trying, and failing multiple times to get rid of a troublesome gopher that was ripping up my recently hydro-seeded lawn. They came at just be perfect time to solve my gopher problem, and I’m fairly certain they had a blast trying to figure out how to catch it. 

With each visit and each act of service from them and from my visiting teacher, my heart softened until I was ready to receive the message the Lord wanted me to hear. During one of the visits by the elders, I had a particularly trying day as I struggled with my relationship. I was facing quite serious opposition to the point of hostility about my church attendance and gospel involvement from my now ex-husband. It was that night, in the summer of 2013, that that Elder felt inspired to share the scripture that changed my perception and my life forever. If you’re curious, it’s Matthew 10:34. Basically, it says that nothing should be put before Christ and His gospel. He should always come first, and if He does, then everything else will either fall into place, or fall out of your life.

Those who served me and helped me back to the covenant path
That’s the moment that everything clicked for me. That’s the moment that I realigned my priorities with my Heavenly Father’s will. That’s the moment that I stepped back onto the covenant path. My life has been eternally blessed through the heartfelt service of that faithful sister and that faithful elder. Their love and support helped me to find my way back to the covenant path and back to my Savior. The blessings of their acts of service have eternal ramifications as it affects not only me, but my entire family to come.

There are so many more examples of how service has blessed my life. So many in fact, I couldn’t possibly name them all. So many friends, family members, ward members, and coworkers were there for me and my family during my mother’s unexpected passing with kind words, much-needed meals, beautiful flowers, a hug, and even with services and means donated that allowed us to have a beautiful funeral service and burial. Their love and kindness mean more to us than they could ever know. They were there for us when we most needed a friend, and when we most need to feel the Lord’s love in our lives. These caring people acted as His hands in our lives as they served us, and we are forever grateful to them.

In times of trial and great strife, I find solace in reaching out to and serving others. I have found that as I turn my focus outward, instead of inward, my problems didn’t seem so bad. As I helped to bear the burdens of others, it felt as if my own burdens were being lessened. But the greatest blessing I receive as I serve others, is the great outpouring of love I feel. I feel love for the person I’m serving, and at the same time, it’s almost like I can feel the love the Lord has for me. There is an increased presence of the spirit through this love, and that is an amazing feeling.

As I strive to emulate my mother’s example of loving service, I often find that the greatest blessings I receive come as I serve others. Through heartfelt service, our lives are blessed, just as the lives of those we serve are blessed. In fact, we will never know in this life the impact our service will have those we serve, just like those who serve us will never know the full extent they have impacted our lives. I think that is the beauty of service—all involved are better for it, and all involved can feel the love of our Heavenly Parents for them through it.

Apr 27, 2016

Race Report: Insane Inflatable 5K

Insane and Inflatable is a fairly accurate description of the 5K Alex and I ran earlier this month. I’ve wanted to run this race for a while now. I mean, the name alone makes it sound like a giant adult bouncy house. How could that not be fun?

We drove down to Lubbock early in the morning, and it was a cold morning. Here it is, April, and we’re looking at 33-degree racing temperatures. I had to completely forgo the super girl costume I was going to wear, and instead don a more comfortable and much warmer Skirt Sports Khaleesi pullover with redemption capri’s—a much wiser choice in fitness apparel. Alex even had to layer up too.
We had to bundle up to keep warm!
Wow, this race was so much fun! The obstacles were a blast. Although just about everyone around us was running through them as fast as they could, Alex and I took our time and bounced around like a couple of kids. I mean, what else are we supposed to do when faced with giant bouncy houses? The fun of the bouncy houses even had us running faster than we normally do from obstacle to obstacle, just to get to the next bout of goofiness.

Just conquered the Wrecking Balls obstacle
There were inflatable balls to dodge or kick, inflatable cones to avoid or tackle, many inflatable ladders to climb so that we could slide down the very tall inflatable slides, just straight up inflatable bouncy houses, and even inflatable hills to bound upon. We finished each obstacle out of breath and tired. I guess jumping and bouncing are pretty good workouts.

The slide to the finish line
 Another awesome thing about this race--the swag! We got shirts, medals, and even cake balls. I had such a great time running the Insane Inflatable 5K, that I am considering signing up for another one this weekend.

Sporting our finisher swag

Apr 11, 2016

Lessons learned as Young Women President

I’m coming to the end of my time as the Canyon Ward Young Women President since we’ll be moving in the summer. I’ve learned so much in this calling, and I have had the pleasure of working with and serving such wonderful, inspirational young women. These girls give me so much hope in the future.

When I first was called as young women’s president, I felt overwhelmed—especially in planning mutual activities! I wasn’t sure how I was going to not only choose activities the girls would enjoy and attend, but also plan them, organize them, and ensure they even occurred…each and every week. That, along with the other responsibilities I was called to seemed daunting.

After realizing that I was becoming far too stressed out trying to do this on my own, did I also realize that this should be a girl-run program. So, I changed my approach. Instead of just asking the girls for suggestions and trying to incorporate these into a big plan, I instead made the first activity of the year a planning activity. All the girls attending each got a space on a chalk board and took five minutes to write a list of any activity that came to mind that they would enjoy. Afterwards, we sat down and I had my laptop open to a calendar document, in which I had already included the currently planned stake and church activities, we started filling in activities with dates. Additionally, and this is the part that has brought so much success to the program in our ward this year, we chose a girl to lead and plan each activity. Usually it was the girl who came up with the idea, and some of these activities had two girls in charge. Since we had a stake young women presidency member and our bishop in attendance, we were able to get approval on our activities right there and then.

Along with a girl being assigned as the POC (point of contact) for each activity, I made sure I had a young women leader assigned as well to offer advice and help as needed. However, I wanted the girls to do the leading and work on these activities, so the leader was there as they were needed. If the activity didn’t get planned, or if it just plain fell through in spite of planning, we would make sure to have an easy back-up activity. Usually, it was a personal progress project, which also seemed to motivate the girls to follow through with their commitment to plan.

Activity planning checklist for the young women
About six weeks out from each activity, I would create a checklist for the girl in charge so that she would know what was expected of her and what needed to be completed for the activity to be successful. The young women said that these checklists took the stress and uncertainty out of coordinating their activities, and as the leaders would follow up with the girls on these tasks, they felt that they were being held accountable for their activities. Basically, the checklist included: announce the activity, decide on a location for the activity, decide on a time for the activity, coordinate refreshments if desired, make sure to have proper authorization if needed, and acquire items needed for activity (have a leader assist if needed). None of the activities were too complicated, so this basic checklist worked for just about all our activities.

With the girls involved in the planning, leading, implementing, and organization of their mutual activities, they really enjoyed them. We have done all sorts of activities that the young women came up with. Some of their favorites include:

- Where's Waldo: we went to a mall and had to find six members of our congregation. These "Waldo's" dressed up in disguise and stayed in one area of the mall for the 45-minute activity as the girls searched for them. Once found, they were to take a photo of them. At the end, there was a brief spiritual thought about finding others to share our light with, prizes, and a snack.

Rocket Launch
- Rockets: over three activities, the girls assembled, decorated, and launched hobby rockets. They learned very very basic rocket science over lift and engine function while assembling. They also learned problem solving for the times the rockets weren't launching as they should. This is also a great activity to invite families to as younger children love to chase after and catch the rockets as they float down.

- Glow-in-the-Dark Olympics: we did this as a joint activity with the young men. Our young women in charge procured glow-in-the-dark paint and tape which we used to cover volleyballs, soccer balls, basketballs, and the youth. They also sported glow bands, necklaces, hats, really any sort of light-up accessory. She brought black lights and the youth played these games in the dark, along with a relay using a glow stick at the baton. They had a blast, and were rewarded with glow-in-the-dark medals. In this activity, they learned teamwork and the importance of communication. 

- Heart Attack Service Project: this was our Valentine's Day activity. We made big signs that we covered with Valentine's, candy, and attached balloons to. Each sign had a personalized message for our intended recipients, something inspirational that conveyed the girls' love for each individual. Then, we drove out to the houses and quietly taped the signs to the doors, then rang the doorbell and hid to watch the person receive their gift. The girls really loved this one. 

- Pinewood Derby: the girls wanted a young woman pinewood derby, and so we had one. I passed out pinewood derby cars to the girls, and the young women in charge coordinated the location, prizes, refreshments, and procured the track. We decided that we weren't going to have any rules for car assembly since this was not an official race. The girls had a blast creating their cars and racing them, as did their dads.

Programmable Lego robot
- Robotics and Programming: our bishop is a Computer Science professor at the local college, so we did an activity where he taught the girls how to do basic programing of Lego robots. He wrote up four objectives and the girls could choose which one to complete with their robots. This activity was great for our science-minded girls, and even the ones who thought they wouldn't enjoy it found they had fun as they had to solve problems and puzzles with their own robots.

We also did plenty of homemaking activities, like sewing skirt extenders and casserole carriers, making cupcakes and delivering them to friends of our girls, and cooking dinners at the Ronald McDonald House. I found that the girls really just wanted a variety of activities, so that's what we gave them.

The girls took charge of their mutual activities when we put them in charge of their mutual activities. Since this is to be a girl-led program, having the girls actually lead and plan was an effective way to put this into practice. Not only were we doing activities the young women actually wanted to do, but with them in charge, they were personally invested in the success of the activities. And, since everyone had a chance to lead an activity, the girls were more eager to participate so that they could support each other and help each other be successful.

Mar 28, 2016

The Great Outdoors

I love being outside. I love camping, hiking, backpacking, trail running, road running, running in general...really any activity that involves being out in the sun and out in nature. Except with bugs. I am not a fan of bugs. That being said, it's so awesome that Alex also enjoys the great outdoors. With the weather taking a turn toward spring, we picked up a National Parks pass and a Texas State Parks pass and started exploring nearby parks.

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah
In January, we made a road trip out to Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah so that we could look at potential colleges. On the drive back to Texas, we saw signs for Arches National Park out near Moab, Utah. We were tired of being in the car and thought it would be a great idea to stretch our legs on a hike. And we did just that.
Learning about geology at the visitor center

Balanced rock

Double arch
There was still plenty of snow on the ground, which made for some pretty muddy trails. Since we didn't pack hiking shoes, we were limited to a few not-so-muddy trails just off the road. With these hikes being fairly short, we did a number of them to view as much of the landscape and geology as possible for our brief stop. We saw the Moab fault, petrified sand dunes, balanced rock (a sandstone boulder perched on top of a rock pedestal), garden of Eden (a series of rock towers and formations), and double arches (two rock arches attached to the same anchor rock). Each of these are incredible rock formations, and having a geologist right there with me made the experience even better. I'll admit it, I'm a science nerd, and I loved learning about how these rock structures were formed.

The view from underneath Double arch

After a couple hours, and a brief tour of the visitors center where I got June a souvenir park patch and myself a park magnet (because I collect them from trips), we had to get back on the road. There is still so much more we want to explore in that park, and so many more trails we want to hike. The views are just so surreal and so different from what I'm used to viewing. I'm really glad we stopped there. I'm hoping we make this a regular road trip tradition: taking rest stops at national/state parks.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas
Our local state park is Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States. Full of hoodoos (tall, thin rock spires) and caves, this park has many areas to explore. The most famous hike, and my favorite one, is the Lighthouse rock trail. This is the hike Alex and I did together earlier in February. It's a 6-mile round trip hike up to the signature feature of Palo Duro canyon, a hoodoo called Lighthouse Rock.

The trail is easy at the beginning, then becomes more challenging the closer to Lighthouse Rock you get with the final segment being a decent climb up to the formation. It's a gorgeous trail however, with stellar views of the canyon's other rock formations such as Capital Rock and Monkey Head Rock. Trees even line the trail toward the end and that shade feels so good when the weather heats up. Even on this trip, where it was a bit chilly, the shade felt good.

I wore my brand new Emerald City Skirt Sports dress for this excursion. I've never felt so dressed up, or so comfortable, on a trail before in my life. I got so many compliments on the dress, and the Skirt Sports shorties I wore underneath (I wore the 5.5 inch shorts) had enough pockets to hold my phone, keys, and some Powerbars. I find that when I feel like I look cute in my workout outfits, that I perform better and just plain feel better. This was proven true today as I scaled rocks, then climbed back down them to complete this hike.

On the way back of the hike, the sun was starting to set and the weather was getting cooler. We could hear the coyotes in the distance howling over a kill. We even saw a recently-hatched rattlesnake making its way across the trail. That day was a great day to hike, a Monday evening. There were only a couple people on the trails and we basically had the path to ourselves.

Following this hike were many day hikes out to Palo Duro with June and other family members. We explored the Big Cave, and a smaller cave in a mesa, and did a couple easy hikes with the kids. June loves hiking and being outside, and I really enjoy my time with her and Alex, geology facts and all.
We found a hidden alcove with beautiful plants, where Alex was explaining the geology

Family day hike to explore the Big Cave
Caprock Canyons State Park in Quitaque, Texas
Since Alex also had Leap Day off, we decided to go hiking again. This time, we went to Caprock Canyons State Park. When he was attending college, this was the place that they did a lot of their field work, so Alex was eager to show me some of the geology he had to identify, map, and study. And I was eager to hear all about it.

We hiked a couple trails that added up to a total of about 6.5 miles. We started with the upper canyon trail which followed right alongside a creek and led up the canyon wall, and that trail led straight into the Haynes ridge trail through the brush of the canyon rim, and that led to the last third of the canyon loop trail which took us back into the canyon and to the car.

Alex's favorite Caprock geology spot
On our way up the climb of the canyon wall, Alex took me off trail a bit to show me his favorite spot in the canyon, a flat rock protruding off the canyon's side. The view from that spot was spectacular! I could see just about the entire canyon stretching out beneath us. It was the exact perfect place for us to enjoy our picnic lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, apples, and PowerBars. I felt fairly dressed up for our canyon date in my Skirt Sports Jette capri and Eclipse tank top in Alex's favorite colors: blue and green. I also got a really great tan from those 3 hours of hiking and climbing and picnicking.
Playing around the creek

I tend to be fairly terrified of wasps, and there were quite a few of them out during our hike, but luckily they mainly stuck to the water areas and left us alone. I also have a fear of falling (not heights, but falling off heights), but this hike I felt much more confident on the trail--even the steep climbs and downhills! I think all this recent hiking is building my confidence and helping me to conquer my fears. Maybe my fear of wasps and spiders will be conquered next.

Hiking with Alex is such a blast. He makes everything more fun and just plain better. He even carried the camelbak full of water for the both of us and packed a lunch for us to eat while on the trail. He is so incredible, and my favorite hiking buddy.

Mar 14, 2016

Race Recap: Warrior Dash Texas

My amazing fiance Alex knows me so well that he got me the perfect gift for my birthday, a racecation to Austin to see my cousin and run the Warrior Dash.  And cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory. But, the highlight of this post is the race!

The last time I ran a Warrior Dash was in Colorado 2013, and it was a blast. Warrior Dash is one of my favorite race series. The course, the obstacles, the swag, the medals, and the entertainment are well organized and just plain fun. So, when Alex registered the both of us for this race, I was pretty excited.

We wore coordinated costumes: he wore a Superman shirt and I a Supergirl tank--complete with capes. I'll be honest with you, I was a bit skeptical about how the capes would perform with all the mud and obstacles, but they were no problem at all. In fact, the capes billowing behind us looked pretty cool, according to the comments we received on the course from fellow warriors and volunteers. I felt like I needed to perform better and run faster due to wearing such super attire, so as not to sully the Superman legacy.

My favorite thing about the Warrior Dash race are the obstacles.  Although they are pretty challenging, they are also do-able. The last mud run I ran, the Gauntlet, had obstacles so challenging that I could only complete about half of them, so this experience was a great boost to my confidence and helped me to feel strong, like a Warrior. I have a sort of intense fear of falling and of drowning. Many of the obstacles required us to climb a great height, then complete an additional challenge at the top of whatever structure we scaled (like a balance beam or crossing a net), then climb back down. With the encouragement of Alex, I completed all of these obstacles.

More terrifying to me were the two water obstacles. I have always hated the water. I don't really like swimming to the point where I took swim lessons for the first time when I was 28 years old. My head being under water terrifies me. So, on the Alcatraz obstacle, which had water about 6-feet deep, was frightening. My shoes weighed down by dirt and mud already, I had a hard time even floating, so I just kept grabbing onto Alex. Poor Alex had to help get me across that obstacle to the floating island, and then continue supporting me the rest of the way across to the opposite bank. I'm seriously so thankful for him, because I was pretty freaked out as I kept sinking under the water. Still, I made it and survived. Hooray!

The most iconic obstacle of these sorts of races is the fire jump. I always psych myself out with this one, but I gathered my courage and superman-ed over the flames. I hope this made for a good picture, but I usually tend to have a weird face when I get that close to fire.

You can't run a mud run without mud, and this Warrior Dash course had tons of it. The mud was so thick, it was like pudding. There was a muddy low crawl, a number of mud mounds to scale, and the final obstacle was essentially a swim through the thick pudding-like mud underneath barbed wire. We finished that obstacle covered with a thick layer of mud looking like the mud monster from the classic Scooby Doo episodes, and crossed the finish line to receive our now-muddied medals. The kids passing out the medals were pretty cool and wanted all of us muddy finishers to give them muddy hugs. I need to throw the word 'muddy' in about two more times because I feel like I just can't convey how muddy we got doing this muddy run!

We felt great at the end of that race! We braved the long shower lines to rinse off with the provided hoses, which really just got some of the dirt off. About two real showers later got most of the remaining mud out of my hair. But that's what just adds to the jubilant atmosphere of the Warrior Dash.  Alex and I proudly sported our finisher shirts, finisher medals, and fuzzy red viking helmets the rest of the day (okay, we only wore the hats for the drive back to my cousin's, but still). I had such a great time, even in light of the post-race soreness, that I want to do another Warrior Dash this year.

I do wish we had brought some people to take pictures of us though, because the Warrior Dash had these huge structures put up just for picture opportunities. It would've been a bit risky to try and carry a phone around when we were caked in mud from head to foot. I'm just happy that they provided free photography along the course and at the finish, but next time I will be sure to take advantage of the photo ops.