Elysha's World

Elysha's World

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Fight to be a Better Me – “Into the Burn”

I had stake conference last weekend. I have an amazing stake. There are so many talented people, and so many people with crazy cool life stories. Michael McLean came and sang for us as well. He’s a famous LDS singer. He came and performed in Taiwan while I was serving there. He reminded me that there was a typhoon that was supposed to hit the island the day that he was to perform in Taiwan. However for some unknown reason the typhoon redirected and he was able to perform. He said he believes it was because of the faith and prayers of the young members in Taiwan, that the Lord made it possible for him to perform. I had a lot of members and non-members go and see him and they loved it! 

While at stake conference I got a very strong impression that I needed to talk to a certain person in our stake, and I needed to clear the air/ make things right with them. That person happened to be conveniently sitting a few rows ahead of me. I had no desire to talk to that person. I realized in that moment that I really didn’t even know that person. That person was in a different ward than me, and we weren’t really friends. In fact I knew quite a bit about that person, because we’d been in the same stake for several years. We had some mutual friends and whenever there was drama my friends would come tell me about that person. That person had hurt a few of my friends, and so I didn’t feel a lot of compassion towards them. We’d been conveniently avoiding each other for the past year. Often we’d see each other in the hallway, and then walk past each other pretending like we hadn’t seen the other person. (I’m not proud of this, but this is what happened) To appease myself I told myself that if I had the chance I’d go talk to that person, but I knew that I wouldn’t get that chance anytime soon. 

I re-read a BYU Devotional this week and it was amazing! It’s one of my favorite talks. It’s called “Into the Burn” and was given by Val Jo Anderson a few years ago. I’d like to share part of it here. 

“Another great lesson was learned when as a young man of eighteen I took a summer job with the U.S. Forest Service. One of our duties was to be part of a twenty-man fire crew that could be called out from time to time to fight wildfires. Earlier, a wildfire had claimed the lives of four firefighters when in a panic they failed to follow the direction of their crew boss and tried to outrun an unexpected and fierce advance of a fire. The shockwaves of that incident were felt all around the region, and rigorous training ensued. Following the command of the crew boss without question or hesitation was given particular emphasis.

We fought several fires that season, and then, late in August, our crew was called out to fight a wildfire in Southern California. This was a large fire that had many crews dispatched to fight it. Our crew, along with two other crews, was assigned a sector of the fire. It was a chaparral brush fire that had a tremendously fine fuel load of dried grasses and weeds in the understory. We were obliged to make a two-mile hike from the nearest road through the brush to where the fire was burning.

It was not a particularly intense blaze, and we were to build black line—a fire line right against the burning edge of the fire. As our three twenty-man crews, marching single file through the brush, approached the fire, the sector boss suddenly appeared on a nearby ridgeline. His urgent command was to become indelibly impressed upon my mind. His voice screamed through our radios, “She’s blowing up, she’s blowing up! Into the burn!”

My pulse raced and my heart sank as I watched the small campfire-type flames, fanned on by an intense wind shift, transform into a raging inferno racing directly toward us. The command “Into the burn!” meant that we would charge through the fire and into the area where the fire had consumed the fuel. My instinctive impulse was to turn and run, and I could see others considering that option. Our crew boss, without hesitation, reiterated the command “Into the burn!” and though it did not seem the intuitive thing to do, my training and my memory of the tragic earlier deaths compelled me to follow my leader through that wall of fire. On the other side we found a blackened moonscape where the fire could not return. With eyes and lungs burning from the heat in the whirling smoke and ash, we resorted to dancing on the top of hot rocks to protect our feet from the searing deep ash. We had made the right decision and were preserved.

After about thirty minutes the wind died down, and we were able to cross back out of the burn and begin our black line. That was an intense lesson that helped me to understand the importance of knowing in advance who you should trust and follow without hesitation, especially when the correct choice may be obscured by our own limited experience or instinctive bias.”

I love this story. He knew who to trust, and by following instructions survived! For FHE on Monday our stake combined with another stake to host a huge party. They rented out a place with laser tag, bowling, an arcade and all sorts of other things. Towards the end of the night a lot of people had left and I had just finished playing a game. I turned around and started walking to go find my friends, when I saw THAT person standing alone. I knew that I had to go and have a conversation with that person. I figured it was now or never, and that for whatever reason I needed to clear the air.  

I swiftly walked over before I had a chance to change my mind. As I walked over THAT person locked eyes with me (like we often did) and turned and pretended like they had never seen me. That person was pretending to suddenly be anxiously looking for someone (anyone) so that they could ignore me. I stood my ground; I wasn’t going anywhere. After a few minutes of this I realized that I knew what their name was, so I called it out. Nothing! That person wasn’t even fazed. That person continued to anxiously search for a person that they’d never find. A guy happened to be standing close by and also knew that person. He called out that person’s name, and not surprisingly he got a response. The man pointed at me and said, “She was trying to get your attention.” 

That, my friends, was divine intervention! I truly believe that if you feel like there is something that you are supposed to do, and you’ve done everything that you can in the situation, and it’s what the Lord wants you to do, He will help you make it happen! 

That person walked over to me and pretended like they hadn’t seen or heard me. It was super awkward. I said something like, “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve been doing this or not (which they had), but I’ve been avoiding you for about the past year, and I felt like I should come over and clear the air. I know we have a lot of the same mutual friends, and I’ve heard a lot of things about you over the past year, but I realized that I don’t actually know you at all, and wanted to say that there is no judgement here.” That person responded by smiling and saying, “Oh hey, yeah, what’s your name?”
That person may or may not have known my name, but I’d been to that person’s house on many occasions. However, because I’d started the dialogue we actually had our first conversation. All of the angst, awkwardness, and wanting to avoid that person disappeared. I learned a little bit about them, and I felt like I’d done what I needed to do. After a few minutes of small talk that person said, “Well I’ve got to go find my ride.” We parted ways and I wondered what it would be like now that I didn’t have to avoid that person in the hallways at church. It was a very freeing experience. I don’t know that we’ll ever be good friends, or even that we’ll ever have another conversation, but I’m glad I stepped into the unknown in order to make a stranger a friend. 

I’d like to end this blog with one other story from the BYU devotional mentioned above. I’ll post the video at the bottom, and encourage you the listen to it if you get the chance.
“I was invited to participate in a grizzly bear study in Alaska, where we were to observe the response of grizzlies to the influences of smells, sounds, and colors that humans bring into the backcountry. Part of that experience was a safety training session that included instruction of what to do if approached or charged by a bear. If we were charged by a grizzly, the instruction we received was to turn and face the bear (do not run and invoke the predator/prey killing response), make yourself as big in posture as possible, and yell at the bear to go away. Well, I had been in Alaska before and had searched to see a bear with no such luck, so I wasn’t too concerned and took the training somewhat lightly.

Shortly after the training, the bear biologist who had trained us asked if I wanted to go with him to wade the river and count bears. Of course I couldn’t wait. We donned our chest waders and were off for a two-kilometer walk in a river. I couldn’t believe all the bears and how close we were and how much they didn’t seem to care. In that walk we counted over forty grizzly bears.

On our way back we got behind a mother bear and her three little cubs. She was going painfully slow, and I suggested we pass her. The biologist said that was only a good idea if I was tired of breathing. So we followed patiently behind the bears until we reached a place where the river made a great horseshoe bend and we had our chance to cut through on a brushy trail to get ahead of her. In our haste we apparently intruded on another bear that we hadn’t seen, and as I waddled down the path behind my guide, I heard the huff and paw pounding of a bear coming up behind us. I spun and saw a large bear coming upon us fast. The biologist, true to his training, faced the attack, taking up a firm stand—right behind me! As I turned to face the bear, armed only with my small can of bear mace, it dawned on me why they had invited this great big, juicy botanist to join the party. I mean, what bear in their right mind would choose a tofu–diet-burger biologist when they could have the super–double-deluxe meal of a tender and juicy botanist—and, yes, fries with that!

While turning to run seemed the prudent thing to do, I trusted and followed the instruction I had received. Facing the bear, in my deepest, most menacing voice I yelled repeatedly, “Go away, bear! Go away!” The bear pulled up just short of me, paused for an eternal moment, twisted her head back and forth, and finally turned and slipped away into the underbrush. As I regained my faculties, I realized that I had begun to breathe again. After checking to be sure that I still had all of my body parts and functions, I trundled off back to camp, following my biologist friend who was explaining that this charge “wasn’t really so bad!”

I have often reflected back on these occasions and considered the faith I had in the wisdom and decisions of my Forest Service crew boss and the bear-biologist trainer and in the pre-event decisions I had made to follow them. I have pondered the analogous circumstances in which many of the recorded prophets found themselves faced with commands from God that were, if anything, counterintuitive. How and why did they respond? I think of the response of Adam to the angel when asked why he offered sacrifices: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6) […] through training and the development of faith, I take courage in the words of Nephi when he told his father Lehi:

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. [1 Nephi 3:7]”

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Plateau

The last few months have been a journey for me; a journey of retrospection and change. I had a really good friend facilitate a few small group conversations and I’m a better person for participating in them. I found that I’m not alone in the things I worry about and struggle with. I’m always surprised how very much not alone I am in my thinking. 

Lately I’ve been telling others that I feel like I’ve hit a plateau in many aspects of my life. I don’t know if that is an accurate description, but that’s kind of what it feels like. I was embarrassed to admit that to anyone and didn’t for a while.  I’ve gotten to that awkward stage where it feels like a lot of other people have moved on with their life, and that I missed the boat. 

As I started opening up about this quarter life crises I was going through, I had a very positive response. I thought that this was a bad thing. We aren’t supposed to feel unsettled or down. I’m not supposed to feel a little lost and confused. It seems like everyone else has their lives planned out, and if you are completely lost just pretend like you know where you are going until you end up somewhere. 

It’s amazing how many people around us are struggling and we have no idea because we can’t see past our own problems. I stumbled across a quote last week and it states it better than I can. 

"How much larger your life would be if [you] could become smaller in it. . . . You would begin to be interested in [others]. You would break out of this tiny . . . theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers." [G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1959), pp. 20–21]

So how do we remedy the dark days? By following what this quote says. God has a pretty great way of letting us feel sad and then finding ways to turn our frowns into smiles. Last Sunday I had a conversation with a girl in my ward, and we decided that we were letting the little things slide. Instead of doing homework, being with people, cleaning our rooms, we’d turn on Netflix and be unproductive. We decided that we wouldn’t turn on the TV until we got our necessary items done first, and then we’d check in with each other every few days to see how we were doing. 

I thought it might be hard, and it was maybe the first two days, but I filled my time with other things. It didn’t change everything about my life, but it made me fill up my time in a different way. I decided to just go cold turkey and didn’t watch any shows that week. I started to reread a book series that I've been trying to find time to read, and found that I was happier not being pulled into the drama of whatever TV series I was watching.

I came home one day feeling very discouraged about things. I had what felt like a million little things weighing down my mind and heart. Something had happened in my personal life and I was having a hard time dealing with it. I broke down in tears. I had prayed a few days earlier for the Lord to show me who I really was. I prayed not in an “I want to know that I’m your daughter” kind of way, but in an “I need to see myself as I am and how I can be, because I’m blinded by those things ‘which so easily beset me.’” (2 Nephi 4:18)

I was sitting on my bed facing my back window so I could see the setting sun. The Lord answered my prayer and let me know a few things that I could work on. I was thinking of all the new things about myself that I had not previously been aware of. I was sad, and I let myself be sad. I felt so stupid that I hadn’t seen it before. I felt peace and assurance as I waded through the unknown.  After a minute I looked up and thought, “Well, now I know what I need to work on and at least I’m facing the sun.” I felt the rays of the waning sun and looked at the clock. I realized that I had a friend coming over that I’d promised I’d help with some homework. The time for worrying and thinking about me was over, and I was glad I had an opportunity to get busy and serve someone else. I took a deep breath and decided to make some dinner before anyone came over. 

By the time my friend came, there was no trace that I’d been crying. We worked on homework and then I went to institute. I invited my friend to come with me. We had an incredible lesson on personal revelation. After it was over we went to dinner. As we were talking he opened up and told me that he hadn’t felt divine guidance in his life for a very long time. Ever since he’d come home from his mission he’d felt lost and out of place. We talked about it for a long time. Once again I realized that my problems and questions were small, and as I helped my friend talk about his problems, I found answers to things that I’d wondered about. 

The next day I came across a quote that is one of my new favorites.

It seems like when days are mundane and get hard, if we fight to see the light, it will come crashing in! That’s what happened for me. It felt dark for a little while, but now the light is streaming in with more power and beauty than before. While driving in the car this week I had this new song come on the radio! If you’ve read this blog at all you’ll know that I’m a fan of Casting Crowns, but this is a new song and it’s amazing! It’s called “Oh My Soul.”

I’m going to end this blog with one more song that I’ve been listening to this week by Ben Rector. He had a new album come out recently. I’ve been a fan of his music for the last few years. He has a song called “30,000 Feet.” I really like the chorus. 

I've walked into harder times, I've walked out the other side
It seems in like you end up getting what you need”            

I truly believe that we do get what we need. Sometimes it’s harder to see that or know that, but I can tell you that if you just hold on it will come. Sometimes it’s a longer wait and feels like it would be easier to give up and walk a different way. Never give up! Never Surrender! We can do this! 

There is a story of how to face life's storm as taught by Dallin H. Oaks in a previous blog I wrote a few years ago called "Life is Beautiful."