Monday, September 18, 2017

Mountains²

I like to think of my life in terms of semesters. This is probably owing to the fact that I've been a student for most of my life. BYU has spring/summer terms, but I like to think of them as one collective unit. This spring/summer I felt impressed to live by the theme of Mountains². 

"What does that mean," you ask? Well, I felt impressed to spend time in the Mountains in the wilderness/ as well as the Mountains of the Lord--temples! I worked 40 hours a week this spring summer and had a long commute to and from Salt Lake, so there wasn't much time for fun trips and such, but I made the most with what I had. I focused my studies on learning about Mountains and learned that they are places of revelation, both physical temples and nature are places where you can feel so much closer to Heavenly Father and the Savior. This was a perspective I greatly needed this summer!
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Alyssa, Travis, and I went on a hike one Saturday Morning to the 5th Water Hot Springs. I'd been there before, but this time we ventured a little further up to a more secluded spot. It felt like we had a little oasis all to ourselves. 
^^We dubbed this, "mushroom rock."
I originally had a goal to try and find the best burger in Utah, and someone recommended Glade's Drive Inn in Spanish Fork. The burgers were delicious, and it felt like the joint was a community gathering place. There were baseball teams, local cowboys, and everyone recommended the same item—the super cheese. 
Over Memorial Day Weekend, a few ward friends and I went on a camping trip to Great Basin National Park in Nevada. The park is known for having some of the darkest skies in the U.S. and they did NOT disappoint. There was a telescope presentation at night where we got to see the Milky way with our naked eyes!!!

When we originally got there, the campsites were reportedly full, but we lucked out with the most perfect spot we could have hoped for.
^^Carlos' trunk was filled to the brim!
^^Travis had a huge desire to knock over this mostly dead tree.
^^We ate SO well on this trip. Shout out to Pinterest for some amazing suggested camping recipes. & of course I'm a firm believer that everything tastes better with a little Tapatío.
^^We tripled the membership of the branch that day, and they were so happy to have us that one sweet couple invited us to visit them the next day and meet their horses.

Towards the end of the summer, mi amigo Russell invited me to his friend's cabin for a small weekend excursion. It was a mini 97th ward old-timers reunion, and as we were picking up someone, we ran into our bishop! As a semi-joke, Russell invited him to our cabin trip, and he accepted the offer and ended up coming! It was the greatest, and seriously only something Tommaso could pull off.
^^I wish I could have done the moon justice that night! It was breathtaking.
^^Just playing games in a yurt with our Bishop. 
♥♥♥

Monday, September 4, 2017

97


Yesterday marked my first official Sunday in a new ward.

Hampstead was the place I'd lived the longest besides my childhood home in Compton, and it truly did feel like home. Bishop Cardullo and Bro. Swartz were released on my last Sunday in the 97th ward, and there was something so fitting about the finality of it all.

I stumbled upon the 97th ward by accident (but of course, is anything truly "by accident?"). It was sometime in July, and while undergrad-me would have started looking for housing in Dec, my mission had made me less high maintenance in the housing department and I just stopped caring about certain aspects. I had this newfound "bloom where you're planted" mentality and realized that all I need in an apartment to be happy was a washer + dryer and sufficient parking.

(first set of Hampstead roommates--circa 2014)

My last Sunday in the ward gave me serious mission vibes. The same emotions I felt during my last week in Louisiana swirled through my heart—memories of all that had transpired these past three years played themselves on repeat. I felt no sadness, no bittersweet stirrings, but instead a profound deep gratitude that Heavenly Father had considered it necessary for me to be a part of this ward along with an excitement for the experiences awaiting me in my new ward.

In accordance with those abovementioned mission vibes, I thought of President & Sister Crawford's departing home tradition. On our last day in the mission field, each missionary would create a scrapbook page and documented three lessons we learned and three reasons we felt we were sent to T.H.E mission.

I decided to do the same with my time in the 97th ward (a period of time double the length of my mission).

[LESSONS LEARNED]
*As I reflected on this, I realized that my lessons learned correlated extremely well with our ward themes.

1. Always abounding in good works (Alma 7:23-24)
(Sometimes I forget what stories I've already told on this blog, so forgive me if this is a repeat). I applied to grad school while on the mission. One time, I was seated at a computer in the Baytown library, and I overheard a mother dictating to her young son in Spanish the words he should type in for his essay on Pancho Villa. The kid was writing a direct Spanish-English translation which resulted in some very confusing sentences. I eavesdropped for a bit and told myself, "wellllp, too bad I'm a missionary and HAVE to work on my application right now, or else I'd help him out." Moments after this thought had echoed in my head I realized what I was saying, "I'm a missionary! If anything I should be helping this family out!" I stopped working on my application, and instead volunteered to help this child with his homework. After that, I felt such a strong desire to help Spanish speaking families with homework challenges and I remembered thinking "If only I could be a professional tutor!"

Flash forward to my first day in the 97th ward. I don't know how, but I had a calling by the end of the third hour. The calling? Co-chair of the tutoring committee. WHAT? Did this ward have a homework helping service of some sort? I knew I was in grad school, but I felt that hardly qualified me to help undergrads with their homework... I was very confused. Turns out, we were linked with a nearby Spanish congregation and provided weekly homework help to the children there. I instantly thought of my mission wish, and this calling and the process by which I received it became such a testimony confirmation that Heavenly Father was very involved in the process by which I had come to this ward. Even though that first year of law school was extremely time consuming, I had at least an hour's worth of time each week where I could abound in a good work. 

2. Clean hands & a pure heart (Psalms 24:3-4)
I refer to year two in the ward as "the Golden year." I think it was a combination of a) the people, b) already having a year under my belt, and c) feeling like I had a huge say in the direction the ward took (this was my RS President year).  I was incredibly involved this year (see reason c) and knew every inch of the ward. I worked directly with Bishop and Bro Swartz. Ward councils this year were on fiiiiire. I was called to be RS president at midnight the day I was to leave to Buenos Aires and found myself holding presidency meetings over skype and organizing callings and visiting teaching on plane rides. It was nuts, but I was so involved in the process that I couldn't help but be happy. Goodness, I loved this year! As I labored with fellow ward council members this year, I didn't even notice that my heart was being purified in the process. It was in this year that I learned the principle of attending activities not just for personal enjoyment, but to lift others. There's a President Eyring talk that is one of Bishop's favorites and he would often quote from it during this year, "I'm not here for the weeds." Meaning, we don't go to activities or service projects and the like for the actual act, we go there for the people, for the building up of fellowship.

3. Serve with Christ and find joy (Jacob 1:7)
I got a different calling midway last school year. To say that I was less than thrilled to be called as a Gospel Doctrine teacher was a HUGE understatement. Pre-mission me secretly envied anyone who had this calling. I wanted it, badly. Post-mission me realized how hard teaching is, and I can honestly say that I don't think I've had a more challenging calling. There were times when because of poor planning, I'd show up to the classroom, sit down, and realize no one had been assigned to teach...so, with a three-minute prep time I'd try and pull a lesson together. STRESSFUL. I wish I could say this happened once, but it was more like 4 times, and sometimes back to back. I had a weekly love/hate relationship with my calling.

The scripture referenced above talks about laboring diligently among people and "persuad[ing] them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God." It was a labor. I used my commute on the train to read through the lessons, study scriptures, and would sometimes use my lunch hour to put together a powerpoint to go with my lesson. Our ward motto coupled with the scripture was "Serve with Christ and find joy." I love that the word find is in there, it's not that joy is just going to lay itself in my lap or that I'd instantly get it after serving. I had to labor for it, I had to find the joy in my calling. I complained and vented about it. A LOT. But, the moments where I did find joy (and they weren't continuous) were precious. I re-learned to love the scriptures with this calling. I had missed my old friend. I'm not perfect at it, and I will admit that I felt a huge load was lifted off my shoulders after teaching my last lesson, but I also grew because of the challenge.

[REASONS SENT]
Rapid-fire answers because this post will be too long otherwise!

1. To Learn to Love like Tommaso
Bishop's legacy is a legacy of love. I've never met a man so skilled at turning strangers into life-long friends in a matter of minutes (besides my grandfather). When Tommaso talks to you, you feel like his favorite person on earth, and you are motivated to be just a little bit better. He is able to communicate the love God has for you in a way I've never felt before. Honestly, if I can even do that with 10% of my interactions with people, I'll consider it a win.

2. To strengthen my love for the ward council
I love meetings.
I'm probably one of the few people that do, but I just like being in the know. It's the journalist/inquisitive mind in me. I was on the ward council for 8/10 semesters/terms that I was in this ward. There is a power that comes out of a good ward council, I've seen it in action, and when done correctly it works miracles. I've never really had a problem voicing my opinions and I'm actually pretty good at persuading people, but I'm not always the best at volunteering for things or acting on inspiration. One Sunday, we were discussing two individuals and a thought came into my mind on how to fellowship them. I kept the thought to myself, but Bishop turned in his seat and asked, "Sister Flores, what do you think?" I proposed the idea, but ward council ended before anyone could be assigned the action. "It's too bad," I thought, "it was actually a good idea." I was sitting in sacrament meeting afterwards when I realized. "You. Lauren, YOU can do what was suggested." So, I did it. It was such an impacting lesson, and a true friendship was born out of it.

3. For leadership training 101
I couldn't have asked for a better ward to practice everything I had learned on the mission. I loved being in the know in the mission, and counseling frequently with my Mission President. I love that President Crawford and Bishop Cardullo share variations of the same name—Thomas. It's very appropriate. Serving under and with Bishop Cardullo helped me to apply the leadership skills I had refined on the mission with elders and sisters into a single adult setting. I honestly feel humbled by the experience and especially so realizing how much Heavenly Father has invested in me. I have this profound sense of duty to now apply everything I've learned from both experiences to my new ward setting!

On to the next one. Cue Jay-Z. the edited version, obvs.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Provecho + birthdays

I've always had this grown up/future-family dream that I'll have families from my neighborhood over every Sunday for dinner. I really enjoy playing hostess and I like feeling like I'm a part of a community. But, to be honest, this activity seemed like something reserved for a future I was not able to receive yet. During my second semester in the MPA program one of my professors mentioned that a lot of students have future charity goals,  e.g. ,"when I have more money, I'll do ______." The thing is, my professor explained, if you don't practice your large scale goals in some manner right now, then you'll never actually do the things you've set out to do.

This thought stayed with me, so I decided to combine my love of celebrating birthdays + my need to actually start making the recipes I've pinned on Pinterest to invite people over for Sunday dinner as often as I could.
Sometime during the last week of December 2016, I spent a significant amount of time writing (almost) all of my Facebook Friends' birthday's down in my planner. I decided that I'd try to make birthdays more special for my friends. When doing my weekly planning for the upcoming week, I'd look at whose birthday was coming up within that week, and choose someone to invite over for dinner. Everybody deserves to feel like a somebody on their birthday! I also made sure we had ice cream for every meal and bought little candles to stick on top of a scoop.

This was an incredible way to rekindle friendships and see old friends. Plus, it left me with a lot of delicious leftovers for the week. It's been a true labor of love and a way I've been able to serve with my limited-crazy schedule. Plus, as you'll see below I got excited every month at decorating my beloved chalkboard wall with a birthday themed design.
Angela (my former roommate) & her husband came over in January.
^I had made these ring dishes to give as Christmas presents, but when I missed the Christmas gift deadline, I decided to use them as birthday presents instead. 
Me + Michael from my freshman ward!
Amber Richardson, a dear friend who I love!
^Melinda Fox, an hermana from my mission who I always hoped I'd be companions with.
Me, Melinda, & Carly
Cristina & I get to be Audrey's visiting teachers, and her birthday landed on a Sunday, so we invited her roommates and had a birthday lunch!
^Marissa Getts, I'm slightly embarrassed that I only had Halloween napkins on hand that day. 🙈

My family came into town at the end of July. Me, Ezra, Pay, and my Mom's birthday all take place within a month and a half of each other, so I decided we'd have a combined birthday celebration. Our combined age total—151! We also sang a chorus of "happy birthday to us!"
This César Chávez quote embodies the whole reason I love having people over to share meals with me. I want this quote painted on my kitchen wall someday. Also, last chalkboard wall before I move!