Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Choosing Clayton

It’s funny. I had a secret crush on Clayton for a year before he finally asked me out, but after we became boyfriend and girlfriend, my nerves were suddenly wound so tight it was hard to really enjoy dating him. Doubts seemed to flood over me at the most inconvenient moments. Weeks passed before I let him kiss me again. Some days, I felt like I was on cloud nine with him. Other days, I was convinced breaking off the relationship would be better for both of us. I rarely mentioned details of my internal battle because Clayton seemed to have completely fallen for me and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. My decision to marry him evolved through weeks of serious, near-constant reflection.

One night six weeks after our first kiss, we decided to go to a few classes at BYU’s Education Week. There, I learned a principle that changed my life: Love is a choice.

"People talk about love like it's an accident sometimes," said our teacher, Justin Top. "We say, 'I fell in love,' as if we were walking along, tripped and faceplanted into love. But love isn't an accident; it's a choice. It takes effort and sacrifice."

Two days later on Sunday morning, one of the talks in church was about receiving personal revelation. For weeks, I had been praying, asking God if advancing my relationship with Clayton would be a good choice, and it suddenly hit me: God had already answered my prayer. His answer was: “Love is a choice.”

I felt amazing that day. I recognized God had given me an incredible gift: an opportunity to love and be loved by one of the best men I’d ever met. But Sunday passed and doubts crept back in. By Tuesday, I was trudging to the first day of my autumn institute of religion class, thinking once again it would be best to break up. There was only one problem: I couldn’t bear the thought of letting Clayton go. But didn’t he deserve someone who was totally sure she could marry him?

Happily, my inspired religion teacher came to my rescue that day. At the beginning of class, he asked everyone to say their name and one attribute they admired about themselves. I said my name was Jessica and I was an optimist. My teacher smiled at me and commented, “Just like President Hinckley. That’s a good quality.”

It probably didn’t seem like much to him, but to me that remark made a world of difference. As I thought of President Gordon B. Hinckley, I remembered some of his teachings and his optimistic, faith-filled attitude toward life. I realized the fear and anxiety I’d been experiencing as I contemplated marrying Clayton did not come from God, but the strong spiritual experience I’d had on Sunday did. That night I wrote in my class notes, “If I chose optimism, I’d choose Clay.” Since then, I’ve never reconsidered my decision to marry him.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What is love?

I went to a class about finding true happiness at BYU on Aug. 19. The teacher, Justin Top, is a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, and the first thing he talked that day was love.

"People talk about love like it's an accident sometimes," he said. "We say, 'I fell in love,' as if we were walking along, tripped and faceplanted into love. But love isn't an accident; it's a choice. It takes effort and sacrifice."

As my mission president David Glazier once said, "You love what you sacrifice for and you sacrifice for what you love."

Chaplain Top's words have echoed in my ears since I heard them. What is love? Love isn't an accident; it's a choice.

We choose to love. Of course, there will be traits that initially attract us to another person, but since we're all imperfect human beings, inevitably one person will do or say something to upset or annoy the other. The only way love can possibly last is if both people are willing to forgive and work at getting along and improving.

This concept applies to all different kinds of love. Consider the love between a parent and their child, two close friends, or even a pet owner and their animal. Work and sacrifice are both very important parts of the love equation.

Romantic love is even more special because it is one of the primary reasons God created the human race. Consider what the late prophet Howard W. Hunter said:
Life’s greatest partnership is in marriage—that relationship which has lasting and eternal significance. ... It is not good for man nor for woman to be alone. Man is not complete without woman. Neither can fill the measure of their creation without the other (see 1 Cor. 11:11; Moses 3:18). Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God (see D&C 49:15–17). Only through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage can they realize the fulness of eternal blessings (see D&C 131:1–4; 132:15–19).
I believe love should be eternal. That's why God also commands men and women to be faithful to their spouses and why he goes to such effort to teach us how work and sacrifice help make love last for eternity.

After all, what better example do we have of love than Jesus Christ, who out of love for humankind suffered for our sins and sacrificed his life, that we might find mercy and one day live with God again? Jesus' love is eternal, offered to people from every walk of life forever. God's love is also eternal, for he sacrificed his own son so that humankind could find mercy for their sins.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The best years are the ones you're living

I told someone recently, "I went to El Salvador in 2013, but I never really came back."

It's true; I still think of that beautiful country and its wonderful people every day. When I finished my mission and came home in January 2015, I left part of my heart behind.

Yet I try not to live in the past too much. As my old mission president David Glazier once said, "I never want to hear you missionaries talk about your missions as the 'best two years' of your lives. The best years of your lives will be the ones in which you're living. Live in the present, not the past!"

I've tried to take that counsel to heart, and it's amazing how the more I pay attention to the present, the more beauty and wonder I experience. It could be a rainbow, a sunrise, the stars. Or a fun activity with a friend, an opportunity to serve, a joke with a coworker.

I love my people of El Salvador. But I love those who surround me now, too. To me, this is one of the secrets of happiness.

Remember the past. Plan for the future. Live in the present. And try to love people!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why I believe in God

For the past several months, I've been reflecting on my beliefs. I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For a long time, I went to church because my parents did. In my early teenage years, I decided if I was going to continue going to church, I'd better learn for myself whether it was true. So I read the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, and prayed. I started paying more attention to what was being taught in church, and found it was helpful and applicable to my daily life. I kept going to church.

When I moved away for college, my faith wavered again. In this new environment, my parents weren't around to remind me to read my scriptures and say my prayers. Not all my roommates went to church, and I learned it takes a lot of courage and determination to attend on your own. I did my best to keep up the habits I'd formed in childhood. I gained a better understanding that one does not attend church to hang out with friends; one attends church to get closer to God. I kept going to church.

On my mission, I was immersed 24/7 in church things. My companion and I dedicated two hours each day to scripture study. We prayed constantly. We shared our beliefs constantly. I felt the Spirit testify of our words.

And yet, even still my faith was not perfect. It wavered every time an investigator or less-active member asked the hard questions. Most of them were "why" questions: "If God really exists, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people?" "If God really loves everyone unconditionally, why do we have to follow the commandments to be saved in the kingdom of heaven?" "Why do you say there's only one true church - don't we all worship the same God?"

I studied. I prayed. I had deep discussions with my mission companions. I learned I did not have all the answers. But the amount of things I did know far exceeded the amount of things I did not know. I knew God was real. I knew He loved me. And I knew that through the grace of Jesus Christ, everything would work out. As the saying goes: Because of Jesus Christ, all bad things are temporary and all good things are eternal. Additionally, one day we will have all the answers.

Long story short...I kept going to church.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. The first day of the last week of Jesus' mortal life. As I sat in church, my thoughts turned again to self reflection. Why do I believe in God?

I pondered the experiences I've had with prayer and scripture study. I thought about my mission. Then I realized the answer to my question could be explained much more simply than by going through all that.

I believe in God because of the Spirit. I have felt the Holy Spirit testify to me, soul to soul, on many occasions that God exists, and that He loves His children. The late prophet Harold B. Lee once said:
I bear you my testimony that I know the Savior lives, that the most powerful witness you can have that He lives comes when the power of the Holy Spirit bears witness to your soul that He does live. More powerful than sight, more powerful than walking and talking with Him, is that witness of the Spirit... ("Chapter 5: Walking in the Light of Testimony." TEACHINGS OF PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH: HAROLD B. LEE. Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000. 37-46. Print.)
Easter is approaching. It's one of my favorite holidays because of the hope it instills in me. Jesus suffered greatly during His last week of life, but He overcame it all. His perfect example of obedience and faith are inspiring, and His sacrifices in Gesthemane and at Golgotha enable me - and all mankind - to be forgiven for our past mistakes and become better disciples. They also enable me - and all mankind - to one day live again as resurrected beings.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

Monday, February 8, 2016

I love the Drapers

Whitney and I arrived safely in Sacramento on Saturday, and the first thing we did (after dinner) was meet my Draper family at a church family dance. :)

The Sabbath this week was wonderful. The Drapers don't have church until 2pm. I spent the morning looking at all the cool new toys Matthew and Nathaniel got for Christmas in the years it's been since I've got to play with them. We all also made Valentines and went on a walk.

Church was special. My favorite part was when a young boy, who Scott said was from a recently converted family, bore his testimony of the Book of Mormon. The kid even shared his favorite scripture.

After dinner later that day, we played Telestrations as a family and we were laughing so hard, our stomachs hurt.

Sorry I don't have pictures to share.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making skeleton cookies

I tried to make cookies for my work Christmas party on Sunday. First I cooked them too long and Federica and I wound up scraping them off the pan. Then they fell apart. Sometimes I just can't win... haha.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Serving the people of Bayaguana, Dominican Republic

On Nov. 6, I left for a humanitarian mission organized by the nonprofit Lift A Life with my brother Tyler and Sarah, a family friend. Lift A Life has brought groups of doctors, nurses and dentists to provide free health care for children in Bayaguana about 2-3 times per year for several years. Each trip lasts about 10 days; the volunteers set up a temporary medical clinic and work for five days, followed by a few days of relaxation at a beach resort.


Last year, Lift a Life raised money to build a permanent medical clinic. It is spacious, with at least two rooms dedicated as classrooms and about 12 more rooms designated for medical exams and dental care. The clinic also includes a pharmacy and a few rooms for storage.

Nov. 8: Tyler and I stand outside Lift A Life's new medical clinic

When Tyler and I arrived with 50-plus other volunteers (including doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and an optometrist), the outside of the building was done and beautiful. Inside, however, workers had to put in long hours to finish hooking up the plumbing and electricity. Each team also worked hard to prepare their rooms to serve the people from the village Nov. 9-12. Tyler and I worked as Spanish/English translators for the pharmacy and dental teams.

Nataly is from Bayaguana and studies English in school. She came to help me translate on the first day the clinic opened. She was a big help with crowd control!