3.20.2016

Never Lose Your Sense of Wonder

I am not the type of person to throw my problems on other people. I'm the type of person that if someone asks how I am doing, I will always say, "So Good!" with a big smile, even if I have the flu, just failed a math test, and lost my keys. This is definitely a weakness, because then I just bottle everything up until it explodes. Which is what happened about 6 weeks ago. There were a lot of things that had accumulated. I had been doing all the things that returned missionaries are supposed to do, like going to the temple regularly, getting an education, reading scriptures, praying, paying tithing, and so on and so forth. But I was not feeling happy and I could not figure out why. Basically I was just exasperated and fed up with this stage of life! So I drove to the temple, sat in my car and cried and prayed for about an hour. The only word I can think of to describe that hour is "pathetic". But somehow Heavenly Father understood everything I was trying to express, just like He always does. And of course He gave me answers and direction, just as He always does. Maintaining a good relationship with Him is so key, because He knows the answers to everything, and gives us little pieces as we are ready for them. The answers I got didn't come all at once, because there were some other things I needed to learn by working for the answers, but they did come. And let me just tell you, Heavenly Father knows us SO perfectly! And when you ask, "What lack I yet?", He will tell you, so be prepared!


This really is my favorite place for so many reasons!

I came to one major realization that night! I had totally lost my sense of wonder and enthusiasm for life. I was surviving, but not really living. I was doing good stuff, but not enjoying it. Happiness is not a destination or stage of life! It is something we can experience on our entire journey! And we get to choose whether or not we will embark on it! Agency is a powerful thing. I was the only one holding myself back from absolutely loving every minute of my life! Both the good and the bad. Some of the answers and direction I got probably seem like no-brainers, and a lot of them I was kind of already doing. But I just needed to put more effort into them and appreciate them way more than I was. Of course all these things should be done hand-in-hand with the commandments and principles of the gospel! Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what brings lasting joy and happiness to this life and the next. And the most important time to do the things God asks of us, is when they are the hardest to do. These other things are just the colorful sprinkles on top that make enduring to the the end a little more enjoyable!


So here is the list of 12 Things that I have been focusing on 
incorporating more into my life:

1. Make Friends- This has probably been the most rewarding of the 12 things! I have never been an outgoing or very social person. I've always had a few close friends, but have never been a people person. I value deep conversation, but am not usually one for shallow chitchat, which unfortunately is pretty necessary at the start of any relationship. One of the strongest impressions I received that night was that I needed to get out of myself because there are people all around me who can add so much to my life. Heavenly Father always answers our prayers, but He most often answers them through other people. That has happened to me countless times. We need each other! We are not meant to trudge through life alone. We need people who can understand us, support us, challenge us, and above all, love us. And sometimes it takes a conscious effort to develop friendships like that, but it is effort that is never wasted. And if you want good friends, then be a good friend.  


Just a few of the people I have come to love so much over the past 6 weeks. 
There are so many more who I just don't have pictures with. 
Be with people who love you for who you are, but inspire you to be better! 
I sure have been blessed with the best! 



One of the funnest days of my life was when we had a 
flour fight, then drove two hours to go to the hotpots! 
Adventure is out there! Sometimes you just have to go find it!

2. Sing- I am lucky enough to have a 10 minute drive to and from school. And you can bet that I sing that entire drive every day! With or without music, it doesn't matter. Sometimes my sister will be in the car with me, and then we harmonize, which usually just results in us laughing at each other. But even if we aren't perfect at singing, it has still been proven that singing is really good for our health. If you are singing a happy song, it is impossible to not be happy! Singing makes my heart lighter and fills me with joy! I am also a part of my college's non-audition choir, and the institute choir, which just gives me more opportunities to sing. And to hide behind other people's amazing vocal talents!

                      
    The struggle is real!                                 Just me and a couple of 
                                                                my amazing choir buddies!

3. Give Sincere Compliments- I am the type of person that is always very aware of whats going on around me, and I notice lots of details. Every single day I am honestly so impressed and inspired by the people around me! But in order to avoid what I thought was embarrassment for me and them, I have never been the kind to compliment people or comment on the great things that I notice. But then I got thinking about how much I appreciate compliments, even if I am pretty awkward in my responses and don't always know how to accept them. So I decided to start giving sincere compliments every day! And not for things that I know people want to hear, but for the things that I notice and appreciate. Trust me, people can tell when a compliment is sincere or not. It could be anything from, "That shirt looks so good on you!" to "You have the most gorgeous smile! Thanks for brightening my day!" or even "Thanks for being such a great friend! I love talking to you!". Now I love watching people's faces light up! It is actually kind of addicting! So often we focus on the negative in ourselves and others, but it is really not that hard to change the culture! Try it! 


 

Probably my "most favorite" short film ever!
There is power in words! Be the change you want to see
in the world! You never know what kind of a difference 
you can make in another person's life.

4. Get Outside- I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world! People come from all over to see the mountains and rock formations of Utah. Since I have lived here for most of my life, I tend to take the beautiful scenery for granted. Australia may have some of the most marvelous skies and beaches I have ever seen, but the biggest "mountains" I saw were roughly equivalent to our foothills. That's when I realized how spoiled I have been! Since then I've tried to do more star gazing, hiking, walking, and driving to lookouts. And on a side-note, the wind blowing through my hair....mmm....one of the many reasons I have kept my hair long. That is something you can only get outside! To me, all of nature testifies of a loving God, because it is all so beautiful and just made for us to enjoy! 
     
 

One of my favorite places in Australia, Narooma! 
And one of my favorite places in Utah, Zions National Park!  
                                           

 

Hiking with friends is always more fun! Just make sure 
you go with people who don't mind 
stopping at the top of every hill to "admire" the view!
                                                  
                  
Just a couple of the exquisite sunsets I have seen in the past few months. 
And no edit of course, cause I don't know how to do that stuff...

5. Laugh- There is a reason they say it is the best medicine! And we are not talking just the weak-smile-chuckle. Nope, full on tummy laughter! In the words of Charlie Chaplin, "A day without laughter is a day wasted."! Some of the things that never fail to make me laugh, are game nights with friends, Studio C episodes, making other people laugh, impersonations, Snapchat, and my younger siblings. So find things that will make you laugh, easily! And pull 'em out when you need a pick-me-up, or just because!   

      
  
 Younger siblings are my greatest entertainment! They are just the cutest!


But Studio C is a pretty close second! 
One of my favorites because it is so clever! 
Love how they make fun of English majors too! Haha 

6. Serve and Be Involved- I am in a single's ward that is full of YSA who are very active and great at fulfilling their callings. This is awesome, but it means that the bishopric has to get pretty creative with callings. For the first several months after getting home from my mission, I didn't have a calling, and I was scared to ask for one. After a while though, I realized that even if I was called to be the official hymnbook hander-outer, that it would be better than not having a calling at all. I missed feeling like I was helping to serve in the Lord's kingdom, and I didn't care what my assigned part was, as long as I had one. So I asked, and became the first official member of the Family History Indexing Committee. It has been one of my favorite callings I have ever had! There are quite a few of us in the committee now, and I love the other YSA I get to serve with. We meet every Tuesday to index and come up with new incentives to get our friends to index too. It has definitely been the "little extra" that I was missing for a while. The church has made programs like singles wards and the institute so that we can be involved. I used to not go to activities, but now I absolutely love them! Just go and be friendly and you will have fun!


Just a few members of our fantastic committee! And the super cool poster we made for our competition! I am usually not competitive at all, but if the winners get to throw whipped cream pies at the losers.......

7. Bucket List- I am a huge fan of bucket lists because they are just so fun! And having one written out helps remind me of all the exciting things I want to do. I guess they kind of fit into the category of goals and dreams too. Some of mine are pretty simple, like learning "The Cup Song" with my sister, and finishing my quilt. But some of them take a lot of forethought, planning, and saving. Like my study abroad in FRANCE!!! Yeah that is going to take a lot of hard work and saving this summer, and two more semesters of studying French. Other things on my list are to go paragliding (cause skydiving is just too scary), to visit all 50 states (only 7 left), to be in the Manti Miracle Pageant (totally happening this summer), and to see the Midway Ice Castles. Also, I LOVE reverse bucket lists! I didn't think I had done very many cool things, until I started writing them down! It is so fun to have a list of some of the funnest memories of my life! It also helped me to see how many blessings and opportunities I've had! Some of those things were being in Washington D.C. on the 4th of July, sending off floating lanterns, being with someone when they passed away, and singing in the backup choir for Gentri and Lexi Walker in BYUTV's "Christmas Under the Stars" production. 

      

Two of my favorite bucketlisters! Riding that roller coaster and filming
 the Christmas program in Goshen were both unforgettable! 
                         
      8. Quit Counting Calories- Confession: I gained 35 lbs during the 18 months that I spent in Australia. I don't know how it is in other places, but in Australia, if people love you....they feed you! Lots! So I was just feelin' the love! When I got home, I was desperate to lose all of that weight, because I didn't even feel like myself. Thankfully, I was able to lose 40 lbs in the first 6 months that I was home. But for a while there I was pretty obsessed with keeping tract of exactly how much I was eating. It was stressful, consuming, and I felt guilty whenever I ate something that previously I would have really enjoyed. Yes, it is important to be aware, and I know some people enjoy counting calories, and if you're getting ready for a wedding then that is a different story. But I was wasting energy by worrying so much about it. Just eat healthily, reduce sugar, drink water, cut down portion size, and exercise. It is that simple. And the less unhealthy food you eat, the less you'll crave it! Yeah I'll never be "skinny", but life is more fun when I can enjoy the piece of pizza I just ate without worrying about how long I am going to have to work out later to get rid of it. 


My partner in crime is always up for adventures.....whether the exercising kind...
...or the stuffing our faces kind.

9. Be Open- A couple of months ago, one of my friends asked me, "If you could more fully develop any virtue, what would it be?". Initially I said charity, and being able to love people more. But as I was thinking about it, I realized that I LOVE people so much! And I love people very quickly and easily. It's not loving them that is the problem. It is showing them that I love them. I have real issues with being vulnerable. Maybe it's just because of past experiences, or because I am so independent, and prefer to feel in control of my life. I feel all emotions very deeply, so by loving people, and letting them know that I love them, I am giving them power to hurt me. And that scares me to death. In psychology there is the principal of least interest, meaning that the person who cares the least is the one who controls the relationship. Well, it feels like I am never the one who cares the least, and I am so gosh dang loyal. But, I was talking with one of my friends this week who feels things the same way I do, and she said,"It is a gift. I would rather love deeply and feel deep pain than love only a little bit." And she's so right! Yes, people will still walk out of my life, on purpose or by accident. And yes it will hurt! But that is just life, and people are growing just like I am. Sometimes we grow in different directions, but I will forever be grateful for each person and the things I learn from them. The important thing is to let people know how much we love them! Let them know what differences they have made in our lives! Don't be afraid to be vulnerable and open with the people that we care about.

       

By being open with other people, they feel like they can be open with you. That makes for the strongest relationships, and even if you go for months or years without seeing each other, when you meet up again it feels like you were never apart. 

10. Be Organized- My bedroom is evidence that I have not mastered this one yet. But I have started making to-do lists on the Google Keep App, and that has been the biggest lifesaver. Having a to-do list has helped me to more fully invest in each thing I do, because I'm am not trying to juggle in the back of my mind all the other things I have to do. I can just write it down and forget about it. Right now I have 1, 2, 3.....19 things on my to-do list. It feels like for every thing I mark off, I add two more things. I've been trying to do better at keeping a calendar too! Sometimes I still double-book...oops but having it on my phone is SO helpful! My Mom is the Queen of Organization! I guess she would have to be with 10 kids. But I am not about to carry around a 5 lb. Franklin Covey planner like she does. Thank goodness for modern technology!


Proof that I wasn't exaggerating! 
My Mom's planner seriously looks like this every single month.

 11. Do Not Categorize Yourself or Others- This is one of my biggest weaknesses. I stick myself into boxes like "introvert" and "perfectionist", then base my decisions around those boxes. This has resulted in several missed opportunities, all because I limit myself. But I am the one who gets to create my character and personality. So if there is a characteristic I want to practice more, or a skill I want to develop, I can! I've noticed that I do this sometimes with other people too, usually after a first impression. I'll subconsciously get it stuck in my thick skull that they are a certain way, then I am super surprised when all the sudden they do something totally contradicting to that assumption. We are all changing! Every day we are learning new things and having different experiences that have an affect on us. It is so important to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and to just love them for who they are. Don't stick people in boxes because every single person you meet knows more about something than you do. And the person you initially thought was too cool for you could end up being your best friend.

            
         
Such important reminders, because we are all changing all the time. I am not the exact same person I was even a month ago, and neither are you!


12. Trust the Lord and His Timing- Definitely the absolute most important lesson I was reminded of during this whole experience. A little bit ago my younger brother heard me talking to my Mom about how five more of my best friends are getting married in the next few months. And I feel like I am still trying to just figure out how to enjoy life in the singles ward. He jokingly said, "I thought Abbey learned how to trust Heavenly Father on her mission?". That made me chuckle because of course I learned how to trust the Lord on my mission! And that wasn't even the first time I learned it. But each phase of life brings new challenges. And each one requires that we develop a deeper trust in Him and His plan. Right now I feel like I have some of the most important decisions of my life to make. But I don't have to make them alone. So far, my life has gone pretty differently then I thought it would back when I was in high school. But absolutely everything that has happened has been for the very best! Even if it is impossible to see that in the moment. I am so grateful that my life is not in my hands, because so far Heavenly Father sure has done a lot more with it than I ever would have thought possible. And that pattern is just going to continue, so all I need to do is trust Him! He will not ask me to do anything I can't do with His help. ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR OUR GOOD!


      




3.06.2016

My Journey to the Wonder Down Under

This next week I will hit my 8-month mark since getting home from my mission, and my sister will be leaving on her mission in less than 2 months. So I have been reflecting a lot on the wonderful experiences I had, and what it took to actually get me out there. The question I probably get asked the most is, "Why did you decide to serve a mission?". I have been asked this question more times than I can count. Usually by 18 and 19-year-old girls who are trying to decide whether or not serving is the right thing for them to do. I have definitely asked other returned sister missionaries this question a fair few times myself, and it has been very interesting to hear the variety of responses. I guess this is probably because it is not expected of us to serve, so prior to serving, we are all looking for direct revelation and direction as to why we should go. Everyone's experience is unique, which strengthens my testimony of how perfectly Heavenly Father knows and loves each of us.  

Well, as for me, I never wanted to serve! I would joke around about maybe going on a mission if I wasn't married by the time I was 21, but I honestly had no desire to go. I admired girls who did serve, but I just didn't feel like it was something I needed to do. By the time I was a junior in high school, I already had my entire life figured out, or so I thought. They were good plans, and I was excited about where my life was headed. One morning I was sitting in seminary.....I was 17 at the time, and the theme for seminary that year was Proverbs 3:5-6.


I had heard this scripture 1000 times, and even had it memorized, but for some reason it hit me particularly hard that day. I remember receiving the clear impression that my plans were good, but Heavenly Father had plans for me that were even better. But He could only direct my life if I let Him. Without even giving it much thought, I basically just told Him that from there on out I wanted to follow His plan for me and do the very best thing. That same week, the plans that I originally had started to fall apart. That was one of the hardest weeks of my life, and for a while I was heartbroken because those were things that I had thought about, prayed for, and worked at for a long time. But, as I have been learning ever since.......


Several months later, in August, I headed out to Provo for hair school at Paul Mitchell the School. I loved my time there, and had several experiences, right from the beginning that helped to keep the idea of serving a mission always in the back of my mind. But I was still only 17, and 21 felt so far away. Then October General Conference rolled around, and I was driving in the car with one of my friends when the age change announcement was made. I remember feeling like I had been hit in the head by a brick, and wrapped in a warm, soft blanket all at the same time! I had the most powerful prompting that I was one of the sisters who needed to respond to the age change. I guess Heavenly Father knows me well enough to know that I would have kept putting off a mission, unless I had clear and undeniable instructions that it was the right thing for me to do. 

So it really was not until after I knew I needed to go, that I started thinking about all the reasons I should go, and all of the blessings that might come from it. My Mom had served a mission, and I had grown up seeing how much that has blessed and strengthened my parents' relationship, because they are very unified spiritually and in their desire to always put the Lord first. I knew that serving a mission would also help me to become a much better wife and mother. Plus, I LOVE the gospel so much, and even though I knew I could never repay Heavenly Father for all He has blessed me with, I still wanted to give Him as much of myself as I could. I also wanted to become completely converted to the gospel, and knew that would happen as I devoted everything to sharing the gospel with others. A lot of my initial motives changed and adjusted once I got out on my mission, and I ended up staying on my mission for slightly different reasons. But, my desires were enough to get me out there, and then Heavenly Father was able to really start the refining process....but that I'll save for another blog post. :) 

Opening my mission call was one of the most exciting moments of my life! My family and I actually drove up into the mountains to open it, because I just wanted to be as close to heaven as possible, and the mountains have always been a kind of temple for me. I am so glad I did that, because it made it very personal and special. I had really wanted to serve somewhere French speaking, because I had been learning the language for a couple of years, and really loved it. But when I read that I was called to serve in the Australia Sydney South Mission, English speaking, it just felt so right! Like there was no where else I could possibly go! I had no idea what to expect, and it took a lot of work to get FBI clearance and a visa, but everything fell into place just the way it needed to. My mission was not easy. In fact, it was really really hard sometimes. And there were days when I would think to myself, "Now why did I decide to do this again?" But it was so worth it!  I saw so many miracles and developed relationships with people that will last forever. I learned so much about the gospel, other people, myself, and the Savior! Best of all, I got to see how the gospel can change people. My mission was definitely the Lord's university for the rest of my life.





But I know that not every sister needs to serve. I have a number of really good friends who chose not to serve for various reasons. The Lord is still using them with each of their individual and unique gifts and talents. He has blessed them with opportunities to learn many of the same things I learned as a missionary, and those friends are still helping to build the Lord's kingdom. The Lord has very special plans for all of us. The most important thing we can do is submit our will to His. And if that means go on a mission, then do it. If it means get married, then do it. If it means stay in school and bless the lives of everyone around you, then do it. The Lord will use us to accomplish His work if we allow Him to. And that will be in different ways and with different timing for each one of us. One of the very most important things I learned through my whole journey of starting my mission, was just to trust the will of the Lord, because His perspective is eternal and He sees so much more in us than we will ever see in ourselves. There are people all around us who need our help. Some could be right next door, and some could be across the ocean. Some might even be on the other side of the world in Australia. But one way or another, the Lord will lead us to them if that is what He needs us to do. 





  







2.27.2016

Abbey Weather and Hard Blessings

Well, let's be honest. It was really only a matter of time before I started a blog. I LOVE writing! Always have! I still have files on my bookshelves and in my computer, of all the unfinished short stories I started as a kid. And journaling has always been a favorite pastime. The two Webster-sized volumes I have from the 18 months I spent in Australia are pretty clear evidence of my obsession with cursive and filling blank pages. Although the underlying reason I love to record memories is probably just because I have the worst memory, and the only way I remember anything is if I write it down. Now that I am an overbooked English-major, carrying around a hardback journal is completely impractical, and just doesn't happen. So the best way to combine my love for journaling with my love for online scrapbooking is obviously to start a blog! I love how my thoughts seem to organize themselves and start to make sense once I get them down on paper, so this blog is more for me than anything else. And procrastinating writing homework by writing about my life just makes so much sense! 

Choosing a name for my blog was more difficult than anticipated. I wanted something that was meaningful to me, but not too cheesy. Well, I nailed the meaningful part, even if the cheese is oozing a little.  

Rain has always been one of my very favorite things. My family even calls rainy weather, "Abbey Weather". Rain for me is like sunshine for normal people. I feel rejuvenated and fresh! Don't get me wrong, I love sunshine too, but there is just something special about raindrops from heaven. In our world, I feel like rain is often stereotypically used to signify sadness and hard times....even in movies, when they show rainy scenes, it is usually just for fights, funerals, goodbyes, or walking alone...at night...in the dark....after something tragic has happened. So to put it simply, rain = trials. But I love rain, and the last few years I have been trying to learn how to love trials too. I have not had any major, catastrophic trials in my life, but I have had several that were extremely hard for me at the time, and I'm sure I'll have quite a few more. But I have learned from them! So much! And once they're over, I'm grateful they happened. At least I try really hard to be.

Yep, there is an actual name for my condition. 

Now for roses. Who doesn't love roses?! For decades, red roses have symbolized love! We get them from loved ones on Valentine's Day, birthdays, anniversaries, as congratulations for an achievement, and if we are lucky we might even get a red rose just because. Roses are beautiful, delicate, and smell AHMAZING! Roses represent happy times and good memories. So to put it simply, roses = blessings. But roses cannot grow without water.....or for the purpose of this analogy, they can't grow without rain. Just as we cannot grow without trials. It is both the trials and the blessings that make life meaningful, rich, and wonderful! Every trial increases our capacity to feel both pain and joy. As frustrating as that can sometimes be, it is just a fact of life, and true for everyone. No one is immune to trials, but all of us can choose happiness through growing from those trials.


A question I have been pondering lately: Is it possible that trials are really just hard blessings? 

One of my favorite songs says it perfectly: 
‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise


My life motto is "All things work together for our good"! At least they can if I want them to. It is definitely up to me. That is still a lesson in progress, and one that has not been the easiest to learn, but I know it is true! God is so good! Life is beautiful! We are all in this together! and can Find the Blessing in Everything because
Trials are just Hard Blessings!