Arrows out: a birthday wish

Today is my 29th birthday. As I have reflected on my 20s these past couple days I’ve been filled with so much gratitude. The last 10 years of my life have been filled with many changes and life-altering decisions. Your 20s are often referred to as the “decade of decisions,” to which I shout a resounding AMEN.

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Eight years ago I was living in Orlando and heard Elder Jeffery R. Holland, an apostle of the Lord, Jesus Christ in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, give an inspired talk. I sat on the stage in the very back of a very crowded church building. I could barely see him standing at the podium. But his words pierced me to my heart. He spoke about service and compared it to a tithe on our lives. If we lived to the age of 100, he said, that meant 10 years were dedicated in service to the Lord.

I knew he we speaking of cumulative years, laboring all our lives to serve God and His children rather than a specific block of years. Regardless,  his words touched me profoundly. It was here, sitting on that hard metal chair, jotting down frantic notes, and wiping a tear from my eye that I decided to serve a mission. Elder Holland’s talk has redefined the last near decade of my life.

Just last week, I woke early one morning, thinking I would need to feed my sweet son, but he was sleeping peacefully. As he slept, my mind began to travel though a photo gallery of memories of the last 10 years. I thought of all the places I’ve traveled, the faces of the people I’ve met and loved and learned from. I thought of my family and how it’s grown. Challenges come, often times masking the progress I’ve made or the lesson I’m learning. Yet what always brings me back to myself is service.

Service has been a constant in my life. Not because I’m necessarily good at it, but because I need it. It has provided me peace, strength, joy and the most defining moments of my wonderful, blessed, beautiful life.

So for my birthday this year, I wanted to do something special. This year, I’m giving my birthday to someone. Anyone, really. Anyone who needs it. I want to fill this next year with intentional service.

Please don’t mistake this post for professing an inflated sense of self, or tooting my own horn, if you will. I simply know that if I don’t share, and provide a means of accountability, this goal will simply become a good intention.

I invite you to join me. Let’s fill our lives and the world with goodness, pointing our arrows outward rather than inward. My 29 ways to serve are quite simple. I have two small, demanding children at home who are my first priority. Yet as I brainstormed ideas for how to fill my time this next year, I thought of so many easy ways to serve and even involve my kids on a few.

Please share with me the ways you serve! Let’s lift each other.  And thank you to each of you for serving me with your friendship, kindness, words of encouragement, uplifting comments and wonderful examples. I love you.

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So without further ado, here is my list of 29 ways I will serve this next year!

  1. Donate blood
  2. Knit scarves for refugees
  3. 100 percent visiting teaching
  4. Have patience with my kids
  5. Participate in a food drive
  6. Cheer up someone sad
  7. Babysit a friend’s children
  8. Make baby blankets for the hospital
  9. Help someone move
  10. Write to a missionary
  11. Help a new mom
  12. Pay for the person behind me in the drive-thru
  13. Go to the temple each month
  14. Prepare five names for the temple
  15. Write letters to my grandparents
  16. Write thank-you letters to local police officers and fire fighters
  17. Make a blessing bag for the homeless
  18. Create a warm fuzzies jar for my home and teach my children about service
  19. Plant a tree
  20. Clean the temple
  21. Participate in the Light the World service advent calendar at Christmas
  22. Play Secret Santa
  23. Invite someone lonely to share a holiday
  24. Run in a 5K for a good cause
  25. Clean a church building
  26. Feed the missionaries
  27. Host a bake sale and donate all the proceeds to charity
  28. Send a care package to a soldier
  29. Feed a hungry child

An open letter to my students

 

I don’t talk openly about this chapter of my life too often.

When I do, it’s often for a well-timed, calculated purpose.

This time, it’s because a little voice in the corner of my heart kept telling me to share.

I am an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho. I love my job. I love my students.

One of the things I love most about them is their strength. It astounds me.

And not just physical strength. I’m talking mental strength.

I see so many student who carry tremendous loads and do so with grace and dignity. They bear the burden of anxiety. They trudge through the trenches of depression. They rise from the ashes of their pasts as pure, refined and triumphant champions.

But the scars are still there. And sometimes, the wounds are too deep to ignore.

I get it. I mean I really, really get it.

I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life.

I’ve been on and off medications, in and out of day treatments, even hospitalized twice as a young teenager for suicide attempts.

But I am not my past.

We are not our bleakest moments, whether those moments are locked on a replaying loop or ended years ago.

A 2013 study by the American College Health Association showed that among a sample of college students, 57 percent of women and 40 percent of men reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety.” Additionally, 33 percent of women and 27 percent of men reported experiencing debilitating depression.

The statistics of those who suffer are staggering.

If you do struggle with mental illness — and I pray that you don’t — know that there are dozens of good, strong, successful people who have felt what you feel and walk where you have walked.

They love you and support you.

I love you and support you.

Though my life is highly flawed, I thank God every day for how it turned out.

I’ve come so far, pushed so hard and prayed so fervently to fight this monster.

Often it is a daily battle to choose peace and joy rather than succumbing to the darkness that always threatens to cast a shadow over my life.

And as one that has swum in the deep side of despair, I want you to know that I believe in you. I believe in your strength to shoulder these heavy burdens.

You are doing better than you think.

Don’t be ashamed of your challenges. As cliche as it sounds, they really can mold you.

One of the greatest things I’ve learned from mental illness is my capacity to withstand challenges.

Allow the demons to refine you, not define you.

You are worth your struggles. You are worth your fight.

I know this because you’ve sat in my classrooms. We’ve chatted in my office. I’ve seen your strength, your triumph and your endurance.

Keep fighting.

Thank you teaching me what it means to press forward.

Let’s fight together.

 

 

4 things I learned about revelation while desperately seeking it

It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve laughed until I’ve cried and cried until I’ve laughed. It’s been wrenchingly emotional and highly stressful.

But as my good husband has recently reminded me, that’s just how I operate. I always have a million irons that I’ve happily thrown into the fire, and some nights (normally Thursdays) it comes out in break-down form.

What I’ve learned all these years of being an over-involved-over-acheiver, is that well, I’m still learning. A LOT.

Luckily, I have the best network of people surrounding me and cheering me on, including God. This week, as my stress level hit critical mass, I decided to seek refuge in the temple. I had lots of questions, and I just knew God would answer all of them. Why? Because I desperately needed answer. I had tried everything on my own, and now was begging for help from on high.

But that’s not how it works. At least it wasn’t for me this week. Instead of having a steady stream of blue-print like instructions from the Lord outlining my path, I received something else entirely. Continue reading “4 things I learned about revelation while desperately seeking it”

Binding up the broken

It was a sunny morning. The light was reflecting off the new snow.

As I had thousands of times before, I got out of bed, stretched and headed toward the kitchen.

But as I walked past my parent’s bedroom, I heard something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

“This will be the last Christmas we spend together as a family,” my mother told a stranger over the phone. Continue reading “Binding up the broken”

Looking for the light

I woke up to the hurried unzipping noise of our tent flap and knew in an instant that something wasn’t right.

“There’s been a disaster, girls. We need to get to the base of camp with the rest of the group.”

I felt fear. A lot of it.

Though it was pitch black, I knew it was a clear night.

The air was still, but there was a terrible howling noise coming from the amphitheater of our campsite.

It was coming from the loudspeakers. Continue reading “Looking for the light”

4 ways to keep my family spiritually strong

IMG_1820Children have always terrified me.

In fact, perhaps the most horrifying moment of my life to date was the birthing class I attended before having my daughter; a moment of trauma rivaled only by the time accidentally watched the hobbling scene from “Misery.”

But despite the fear of physically bringing children into the world — which turned out to be amazing — raising children in a world with crumbling morals is far more frightening.

As a woman of faith, creating a faith-promoting environment for my family is one of my top priorities. Continue reading “4 ways to keep my family spiritually strong”

3 things I learned from a week of not kissing my husband

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We are having a mono scare in the Whitlock home.

That turned our marriage into a kiss-free zone the past week.

Though far from fun, it’s been an insightful last few days as I’ve pondered on the importance of acts of love in marriage. Continue reading “3 things I learned from a week of not kissing my husband”