Monday, January 25, 2010

Opening Doors

There are times that I, walking slowly down the path of life, wish the Lord would give me guidance and direction – open a door or move a mountain or anything to help me know where I should go and what I should do. I'm like a 6-year-old with too much energy to stay in one spot, waiting for a door to open so I can just run through it. Eventually, the Lord gives me everything I've asked for and more than I expected. This week I watched as doors opened, mountains moved, and miracles happened everywhere around me. It's going to be a long run.

This week was crazy at work. We are going in a dozen directions with a dozen different projects... and I don't attend most of the meetings yet I'm involved in every single one. My one coworker is quitting in a few weeks and won't be replaced, which means that I may need to shoulder a somewhat larger load, and we have massive projects that could easily drain all of my time. But the amazing things had very little to do with my work at the MTC – it was my work outside the MTC where miracles happened.

I registered the web address on Monday. It was a great deal and came with an Internet hosting package that looked like it would be easy to put together. But after hours of trying to build a shopping cart from one piece after another, I became somewhat discouraged. I realized that I lacked the skills to create exactly what I envisioned, I was constantly encountering problems, and reading online tutorials didn't seem to help the problem. I still had nothing to show for it – the site redirects to an “Under Construction” page. I was almost resigned to creating a website that didn't fit my ideal or having to learn a massive new skill set. So I prayed for help and put it temporarily on hold.

The next day, my brother, who was facing the same issues with another site, found a company that he thought might be able to solve our problem. Long story short, the owner of the web design company was originally not interested in the terms he offered. But after hearing about our business plan and vision (to offer high-quality, affordable natural healing products), he became very willing to help. The owner has very strong feelings on the subject – he is part of a national natural products board – and commented that his staff could easily create a site with all the functionality we need. Mountain moved. We have a meeting with him Thursday morning; we should be able to see if it will make financial sense to have his company create our site.

That same day, I got my hair cut by a student at a nearby hair academy. When the instructor came to check my hair, she casually asked me what I did. I ran down the list, stopping when she inquired about Nature's Fusions. She was suddenly very interested, related her own experiences with essential oils, asked for a catalog, and promised to be my customer. When she left I asked the student for an explanation; she simply told me that the instructor was very nice and that she was the owner of the academy. Door opened. That experience alerted me to the need to have something to give to people who were already placing orders. Enter the skill of desktop publishing – learned at home making fliers and refined at the MTC printing curriculum. 5 hours later, I had created a logo and the first draft of an order form. Major blessing.

Wednesday night I tackled the issue of formulating a few fusions to be both therapeutic and appealing. I chose the most difficult (in retrospect, I wonder why) - a fusion called “Chocolate” designed to ease women's pains. I had two goals. Make the fusion effective, and make it smell like chocolate. It seemed pretty simple at first – just put in all the therapeutic ingredients and then add some cacao and vanilla oils at the end. But the cacao oil smelled like cocoa powder, not chocolate, and the therapeutic oils were overwhelmingly floral – so much so that they drowned out every other smell. I realized that I had the knowledge to meet my first goal (efficacy), but I would have to become a perfumer to achieve the second.

Some research on Thursday revealed that cocoa butter could be the source of the smell we needed. More specifically, the smell comes from the antioxidants naturally present in cocoa butter. I probably could have asked my uncle who owns a chocolate factory, but I found the answer nonetheless. We purchased some cocoa butter and the search was over – it was our missing ingredient. Just one problem – cocoa butter is rock solid at room temperature. And if you add it to essential oils, the entire mixture eventually becomes rock solid and almost impossible to use. Formulating a natural mixture that smells like chocolate, has therapeutic value, and is easy to apply will require some research on my part in cosmetics manufacturing. I really don't have time to learn how to make cosmetics right now, as enthralling as that may be. It might be easier to make real chocolate and put the oils inside. In the interim, we'll change the name to Floral Bouquet or something similar, then maybe eventually have a set called Flowers and Chocolate. Problem solved.

Thursday and Friday I spent doing more research, then attended my great-aunt's funeral on Saturday. It was a beautiful service & I'm glad that she has moved on to the next stage of life. At the funeral I saw bunches of family members and realized that I could find ways to help people using my new business. With a bit of hesitation, I started making contacts. Lots of doors opened.

An aunt once told me that I should become a doctor. “You should do it,” she said, “so you can help find a cure for CF (cystic fibrosis).” I think I was 8 years old, and her comment ushered in a slew of conflicting feelings. At the time, I didn't know what I wanted to be, but I didn't want to be a doctor. I didn't feel like I should be a doctor. But I had multiple cousins who suffered from CF. I knew that without training in the medical field, I wouldn't discover something to help CF... and I felt that with medical training, I probably could. Years passed. Then a turn of events, a few opened doors, and suddenly I find myself deep in natural medicine. And I'm hopeful that I can find something that could help people – not only those with CF and other chronic illnesses, but everyone – to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.

I don't know exactly what the Lord has in store for me, or exactly what He wants me to accomplish while I'm here on this earth. Sometimes I think that I'm going to change the world of education. Sometimes I have no clue. And then sometimes I see His hand guiding me down unfamiliar paths that will change my life forever. The one thing I do know is that He is with me, guiding me, and that whatever He asks me to do, it is for a purpose. When I follow Him, doors will open and I will have the ability to bless the lives of others. At Institute recently, there was a quote on a handout by President Hinckley that said that when we actively strive to bless the lives of others, the Lord will open doors and cause us to prosper so that we can help them even more.

I know that God is an active part of our lives. Sometimes He encourages us to make our own decisions. And sometimes He intervenes, takes us by the hand, and allows us to run alongside Him in His work. I only hope that I will have the faith to keep up... or at least to ask for the strength to do so. As we strive to bless the lives of others, we can be sure that God will bless us for our efforts. So my invitation to you: look at your life and the things you do for others. Ask the Lord to bless you so that you can be a better servant. And ask what else you can do – what other blessings and opportunities He has in store that will bless you and the people you love. Then go out and share – go out and be missionaries!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Study in life and the gospel

This week feels like it has lasted a month. In a flurry, Monday's highlight was the arrival of my first shipment of supplies for Nature's Fusions – my new essential oil company. Tuesday through Thursday I was overwhelmed with projects at work, but by Friday I had finished most of my projects, as well as my application to the BYU MBA program. That night I auditioned for the Nauvoo pageant (the auditions went great; we have callbacks this week, so I'll let you know if I get called back). Saturday I went on a great riddle-scavenge- hunt-date that my brother made. Sunday was ward conference and home teaching, which meant that I was involved in Church activities for 13 ½ hours. And every spare moment I spent reading books on aromatherapy. Funny story: on Monday, after getting our oil shipment, I began unpacking the inventory. As I opened each box, I was greeted with a new mix of aromas. One smell was especially strong – and the culprit seemed to be garlic oil. I stuck it in a plastic bag and put it in a drawer to deal with later. After sorting the rest of the oils, I pulled the garlic back out and found that it was open and had leaked about a drop over the sides of the bottle. Most essential oils have nice smells. Some are stronger than others, but most are tolerable – especially if you only have one drop. Garlic, on the other hand, came with a warning on the purchase page – one or two drops could potentially fill an entire house with its pungent odor. That's what it did. Our room smelled of garlic, my clothes smelled of garlic, it got on my hands; everything smelled of garlic. Thankfully it wasn't permanent – it only lasted four days!

But with frustrations come more blessings. That first evening, my brother asked me for a fusion (oil blend) that would help him fall asleep at night, and another one that would help him wake up in the morning. After about an hour of research, I mixed an energy fusion for him called “The Toaster.” The name is based on a Garfield comic that he keeps near his bed back at home – Garfield is standing there with his eyes half closed, very obviously not wanting to be out of bed. “If we were meant to pop out of bed in the morning,” it reads, “we would all sleep in toasters.” I guess my brother feels the same way. I spent some more time researching oils for sleeping, put a few drops of oil in our diffuser, and we went to sleep.

I don't usually have trouble falling asleep, so I'm not sure if it helped us fall asleep faster, but the next morning both my brother and I were wide awake at 5:15 am. He never just wakes up early in the morning, so he commented that whatever had been in the diffuser had probably made a big difference. It happened again the next night, and the next. Since then, it has become our nightly diffusion.

My first order for a fusion outside of family was for a coworker who sometimes experiences painful back spasms. A few more hours of study and I had fusion for her that I thought might work. While home teaching last night, I noticed that a sister in my ward (who was just visiting the apartment) had broken her nose. She had a lot of congestion; when we got home we made an essential oil fusion and gave it to her at ward prayer. My brother came back from running this morning and asked what he could use on sore muscles. I mixed another fusion, he rubbed it on, and he didn't mention his soreness again.

My ability to mix an essential oil fusion that could potentially help someone didn't come overnight. Every spare moment for the past few weeks I've spent reading scientific literature, medical articles, websites, and everything else published on essential oils and their constituents. Clinical Aromatherapy by Jane Buckle. Advanced Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt. Hundreds of medical articles testing chemical constituents in petri dishes, then on rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and people. Organic chemistry texts that explain the differences between and classify terpenes, phenols, ketones, aldehydes, alcohols, and oxides. I've learned about oil safety, useful applications, and run into a whole lot of pseudoscience.

My experience this week has felt akin to learning the principles of the gospel as a new convert. I know this may seem like a stretch, but it feels that way to me. When I first learned about aromatherapy, I was beyond skeptical. It looked, sounded, and smelled like something absolutely crazy... and, perhaps most of all, I wasn't comfortable with it because I didn't understand it. Many of the people I taught in the mission field felt the same way about the gospel – it was simply incomprehensible. When they saw its blessings in my life, they wanted to understand it, but it was like standing, thirsty, at the edge of a lake of knowledge with a straw. Where do you start? In the gospel and in aromatherapy, there are hundreds of basic principles. You could spend your life studying essential oil chemistry; many of us will spend our lives studying the gospel. The wealth of knowledge is staggering, and sorting it out into meaningful parts is tough no matter who you are. Each oil claimed to be useful for a hundred seemingly contradictory things... just as each gospel principle can apply to a number of different situations – if you know how to find and apply them. Applying the principles of the gospel into your life takes time, study, effort, and prayer. Learning anything else follows the same steps. An example: I remember meeting a family that had lost a family member on my mission – they were grieving and believed that they would never see their loved one again. We could have read any of a number of scriptures, but, in that situation, it makes sense to read about life after death, the Resurrection, and the importance of enduring to the end. But if I hadn't studied the Book of Mormon, if I weren't conversant in those terms, and if I couldn't find the applicable scriptures, then I wouldn't be able to use them for my benefit. In the same way, I learned about the potentially calming effects of monoterpene aldehydes, read medical articles comparing their strength, and then made a choice as to which ones to diffuse for my brother.

Each of us faces problems in mortality. And while essential oils, medications, and other interventions may be effective in physical, psychological, or emotional issues, the principles of the gospel are the only real solutions to spiritual trials and spiritual pain (and everything, in reality, is spiritual in nature). But principles of the gospel can't be easily applied without prior knowledge. It takes time, study, effort, and prayer to know how to best approach every situation. Without that knowledge, bringing up certain doctrines may make some situations temporarily worse. With that knowledge, we know that we have an answer that will bless the lives of others and bring them peace and joy.

I know that God is our Father. I know that Jesus is the Christ. And I know that as we seek to learn the principles of the gospel, the Lord will open up doors for us to bless the lives of others. I spent a few days reading about the bactericidal effects of essential oils on staph and MRSA – an antibiotic-resistant strain often called 'hospital staph.' Within days, my brother was diagnosed with staph and a good friend, who has gotten staph almost every time she goes to the hospital, underwent emergency surgery. You learn a principle of the gospel in the morning and that afternoon the Lord may prompt you to apply it to bless your life or the life of another of His children. My invitation to you is to spend time to learn more at the hand of the Lord. Read the scriptures. Pray. Read medical articles if you are so inclined. As you gain more knowledge, you make it possible for the Lord to use you to bless the lives of others in countless ways. I mean – that's what we do at the MTC, right? We teach missionaries the gospel, give them good study habits, instruct them in basic teaching skills, and then send them out into the world to be an influence for good. Go out and be missionaries!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Strange Lessons I Learn...

Wow. So much has happened in a week. I finally finished unpacking
(well, at least enough to hide it under my bed) from the move last
night and collapsed in a heap. But it happened. Monday I had work,
packed, and went to FHE. Tuesday was the same, with ward council added
in. Wednesday and Thursday I spent every spare moment packing. Friday
I learned that my brother was going to St. George for a convention
until Saturday night, so I couldn't even go to work. For the next two
days straight I focused on moving (my date for Friday night was out of
town, and I was crazy stressed anyway). Add another major surgery for
a family friend, and my week could have easily been deemed terrible...
but where last week I was still stressed and sick, this week I feel
peace. Maybe it's added perspective that I gained last week and the
weeks preceding. Probably it's because my To Do list has only a few
more deadlines on it (graduate school applications, auditions for
Nauvoo, etc). Either way, I feel like life is great.

I had an interesting epiphany this last week between taping boxes.
It's a bit eccentric, and you probably knew this without having to
have divine revelation, but for me it's big.

I'm incredibly frugal, and (as most people) I project my own
personality on to others' decisions. If I think about it, I know that
most of the people around me don't flinch about going out to eat (fast
food included). They don't have massive internal struggles every time
they see people throw away food or anything else. And they don't do
all their day-to-day shopping in bulk or at thrift stores. I know why
I spend & save the way I do – with every dollar I spend, I wonder how
I could have used it better – what I could have done with that dollar
instead. And, after hearing stories and seeing the sacrifices of
others to gain the blessings of the gospel, there aren't many personal
expenditures that really seem necessary when I could save and somehow
bless the lives of others. While being frugal (if impulsively buying
things that are on amazing sales is being frugal) does run in the
family, I don't know of any who impulsively doesn't buy things.

I remember learning about the Law of Consecration when I was probably
8 years old... and knowing about the City of Enoch, the Church shortly
after the Savior's Resurrection, and the people in America following
His Ascension. In each of these scenarios, there was a different type
of society. People didn't work to “get ahead” or to earn money to
spend on frivolous things. Everything they did was dedicated to
building the kingdom. They worked hard in whatever they could do,
willingly gave what they had, took only what they needed, and were
happy, industrious, and there were no poor among them. In most cases,
the scriptures described them as the happiest people on earth. I
looked at my society, with its greed, corruption, and vice, and longed
for the opportunity to be part of a Zion community – to be able to
simply do my best, give it my all, and dedicate everything to the
building of the kingdom. I thought that simply allowing people that
chance would do it, so each night I prayed that the Lord would
reinstate the Law of Consecration. In my mind, that also meant the
abolishment of money, barter, or any form of currency. When you need
an apple, you just ask and the apple farmer willingly gives one to
you. And you do the same in return. Thus we would be free to work and
serve one another. I mean – that's the way that the human family was
originally created, right? I doubt that Adam paid his children for
working alongside him; it was simply expected that they would, just as
it was expected that he would take care of them.

The Lord responded to my prayer and explained that He would reinstate
the Law of Consecration in His own due time. But, He explained, I
could still live by its principles without the formal organization. So
I tried. On the giving side, I tried to spend my life volunteering.
Sometimes it worked. Other times, I would babysit for others and then
refuse to be paid. That confused people. Whenever I bought something
in behalf of someone else, I gave it as a gift. That was only a little
less confusing. Even at my present job at the MTC, I began as a
volunteer, happily working long days without pay. At the same time, I
lived a somewhat ascetic life. I only bought things that were
completely necessary and accepted money from others only when it was
necessary as well. While I'm incredibly happy with extreme frugality,
I've begun to realize that it may not be as scalable as I first

The thought itself actually came as I was trying to determine the
pricing structure for my new business. I had determined most of my
costs and was trying to figure out the right price based from a moral
perspective. Donating everything was my first thought, but that meant
that I would need to fund my endeavor with an alternate income stream.
I'm not terribly wealthy, so, barring massive donors, that would
definitely not be sustainable on a large scale. But providing
meaningful service to others without cost is a big tenet for me, so I
decided to accept part of that model – donate oils to people who
really needed them and couldn't afford them otherwise. The next
potential model was to simply charge my cost and donate my labor time
– sort of like doing service. That seemed like a more sustainable
approach, since I would end up recouping my actual dollar costs to put
into more inventory, and the initial investment would just be a
donation to the cause. But even that approach presented problems.
Being willing to rake your neighbor's leaves is one thing. But if a
thousand people call you to rake their leaves, you have a problem.
Also, if you work all day and sell a thousand products at cost, you
have no money to buy food.

And so I hit an impasse. I realized that I couldn't afford to charge
nothing for labor in a large, long-term business, but something inside
me pushed me to do just that. On the one hand, the business would have
to rely on outside funding & labor in perpetuity. On the other, it
wouldn't pass the regulations I had imposed on my own behavior. I
wondered what the answer would be under the Law of Consecration. The
first choice was obvious. If there is no monetary system, and you have
the assurance that as you work and give you will be able to receive
according to your needs, then it makes complete sense to donate
everything you can. The second choice – selling everything at cost –
is just as absurd as it is for a business in our society. If everyone
sold everything at cost, no one would be able to buy anything. And
that was the epiphany. In my mind, a Zion economy was the antithesis
of money. You give your all, the best that you can, and everyone else
does the same. Together you succeed, together you struggle. Together
you face every trial. There's no need for money. But the scriptures
don't say that the people of Zion did away with monetary systems. In
some cases, I know they didn't. Take the story of Ananias and
Sapphira. They lived under the Law of Consecration in the early
Christian Church and were condemned because they had withheld money
from the sale of a piece of land. More thought on the matter revealed
that, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gave tithing as an
eternal law... for those in service-related fields, paying tithing
without money can be very hard. And even an isolated, non-monetary
Zion would still need to interface with the outside world. We can't
just be self-sufficient and call it good, as the people of Enoch or
the Nephites in the time of Christ did.

And so my realization: The Law of Consecration does not have to mean
freely giving everything away and expecting the same in return. If you
live without a monetary system, in a society where everybody opts in
to abide by its precepts, that is great. But in our world, today,
consecration means dedicating everything you have (blessings, talents,
time, money, and everything else) to building the kingdom of God. And,
in a business model or anywhere else, that translates into working
hard, performing honest labor, and receiving fair compensation for
your efforts. The key word is fair. Then it means being willing to
share what you have with those in need, giving meaningful service, and
finding ways to bless others and build the kingdom.

And so I solved at least the first part of my moral dilemma. For my
business, I just need to determine what fair means and apply it to my
pricing structure. At least I'm closer. It also means that I don't
have to feel bad about being paid to work at my job at the MTC
anymore, as long as I am not being paid too much and as long as I am
working honestly. Most of all, though, the whole experience
demonstrates to me that the Lord is willing to help me come to a
better understanding of gospel principles any time I want to apply
them in my life.

Sometimes our experiences, and the lessons we learn from them, are
universal. We learn patience from undergoing trials. We learn love and
long-suffering through feeling pain. Sometimes our experiences, and
lessons, are completely unique – like coming to a better understanding
of the Law of Consecration while trying to apply gospel principles to
a business venture. Each of us can have the same experience in our own
lives, because each of us is engaged in the pursuit of perfection. The
principles of the gospel apply everywhere, in everything we are doing
in life, and the Lord has infinite things to teach us, if we are
willing to listen and to ask Him for advice. In my case, it helped me
better understand something I have wondered for most of my life. For
each of us, it will be the knowledge and wisdom the Lord knows we need
to progress, no matter where we may be.

I know that God loves us and wants to be involved in every part of our
lives. If we will let Him, He will give us guidance and direction in
every facet of mortality – opening our eyes to see the spiritual
significance behind the physical world. My invitation to you: look at
a mundane, worldly part of your life. Try to apply a gospel principle
to it – whether studying what the principle of “cleanliness is next to
godliness” really means as applies to your home or “be thou an example
of the believers” should be influencing your driving habits. As you
strive to better understand the gospel in context, I promise that the
Lord will teach you great things... and your testimony of those
principles will grow. Then go out and be missionaries!

Monday, January 4, 2010

For God so loved the world...

All the stress in my life built up and smashed into me this week. It started Tuesday when I was in a car accident trying to get to my carpool for Savior of the World. I slid off the road, smashed a mailbox, and bottomed out my car on a snowbank. I just wanted to push my car off the snow, but half a dozen people couldn't move it, and the people whose mailbox I smashed refused to allow anyone to pull my car out with a tow rope. They insisted that I call a tow truck. A few hours later I arrived at the performance, very shaken. I had missed half of the first act. Wednesday I read a chapter on stress management at work and took a “stressful events in life” assessment. The assessment assigned a value to life events in the past year, like the death of a family member or being in an accident, and then you added them up. Research showed that people with low scores (less than 150) had a lower tendency towards illness and injury. People with medium scores (150-300) had a greater tendency towards stress-related illness and major injury, and 80% of people with higher scores (over 300) would contract a major illness or have a major injury in the next year. I scored a 597. I think that means that I am officially stressed. Most of the time I don't notice stress until it completely knocks me over... and, even then, I don't like to admit it because it then insinuates that I'm inadequate. But knock me over it did, and I am definitely inadequate. Take moving, ending Savior of the World, finally getting to shave (glory to God!), sick family members, more stuff for graduate school... and I was exhausted. End of story: Saturday night, only hours after my family left for Chicago and Savior of the World was officially over, I woke up in the middle of the night nauseous and sore with a raging fever. I was shivering even wrapped in a blanket next to the fireplace. The next morning, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try using some essential oils. I got the nausea to go away, then took a shower and rubbed a few oils over my body to try to get rid of the ache. Four seconds later, my skin was on fire. Soap and water lessened the pain. And while the ache was much less, for the next 40 minutes I had hot, bright red hand prints covering my body. I learned something important: one drop of cinnamon is way too much.

As I've looked at my life recently, I think I've come to better understand the love of the Lord in my life. I used to think that I understood charity. To me, charity was simply the ability to see the divine potential in everyone. It entailed loving all people enough to never judge them, to never harbor a grudge, to forgive them and to treat all men equally. It meant dedicating your life to the betterment of each person in your life, and reaching out to invite others to come unto Christ. And it made sense. But now I realize that there is so much more.

During my growing-up years I struggled with a powerful dichotomy. I realized that I had been greatly blessed by the Lord in many things – from sports to music to school to church to family to everything else. According to the world, I had everything, and every reason to be successful, happy, and accomplished for the rest of my life. But, at the same time, I realized that everyone wasn't given the same talents and blessings I took for granted. A good example is a classmate in my AP classes who had a learning disability. She was incredibly dedicated and spent hours studying in order to remember information for a test, then had to take hours on a test because she had trouble distinguishing between fill-in-the-blank bubbles. I wondered: if God loves all His children equally, why does He bless us so unequally? Why does He bless one and allow another to suffer?

In my mind (and from what I could find in the scriptures), there were two options that would explain my problem. Either God didn't have the power to intervene, didn't care, or was unjust – which was definitely not an option – or those who were blessed were somehow better than everyone else. In the scriptures it explains that all blessings come from adherence to gospel principles... and the parable of the talents explains that the Lord gave each man talents “according to his ability.” But the thought that I was just more righteous in the premortal life, or had forebears who were incredibly righteous and prayed down blessings for me, etc. never sat well with me. It sounded too egotistical... and I struggled to understand it for years and years. I was like the apostles who asked the Lord what sin the man who was born blind (or his parents) had committed to merit such a state. They knew that blessings were given from faithfulness. But the Lord taught them a sublime truth – neither the man nor his parents had committed a sin to merit his condition. He had been born blind to fulfill the purposes of God.

Where I had gone wrong in my question was in my core principles. In the world, we believe that those who are talented, gifted, healthy, popular, and rich are the “blessed,” while those who are disabled, poor, hungry, and sick are experiencing trials. But, in the Lord's eyes, blessings and trials are exactly the same. Both are simply opportunities for us to grow, and He uses both indiscriminately in helping us to return to Him. It's sort of like following recipes in the kitchen. Some recipes are sweet, others are savory. One is not better than the other, but each requires a completely different experience.

Hence, God does not bless one righteous person more than another. If He did, He would become a respecter of persons, and God loves every one of His children. No. He simply blesses them with different things. So, then why does God allow bad things to happen to good people then? The answer is that He doesn't. God has promised us repeatedly in the scriptures that, if we are on the right path, all things shall give us experience and be for our good. All things. That includes experiencing the depths of depression, unspeakable pain, betrayal, as well as the pinnacle of success. Everything in life is designed to help us gain the perspective necessary to return to Father someday. God knew that it was essential that my classmate experience a learning disability in order to progress. I don't know why. But He, her Father and creator, did, and that is why He put her through the fire in that way.

God is in complete control of what happens on the earth. He is all-powerful and He cares about everything that happens in our lives. In fact, God has designed our lives individually – to suit our every need. The scriptures talk about the Lord being a silversmith and trying us by fire. And His love is all-encompassing – not only loving us enough to give us the sweet things in life, but loving us enough to give us the bitter. I look back on my life on things that were incredibly painful. I see my trials and my weaknesses – how easily I wander off the pathway to righteousness. But I also see that those same difficulties – the temptations that beset me, the pain I felt, and the process of turning to the Lord – have taught me things that have changed my life forever. I would have never learned those lessons without having those experiences. And I think that that is the true measure of charity. The Lord knows exactly what things in life we have to experience in order to gain the perspective necessary to return to Him. And He loves us so immensely that He sent us out of His perfect presence to a world full of hunger, war, disease, and pain. He could make the trees and flowers give fruit spontaneously. Instead, He teaches us the value of hard work. He could bind the devil and free us from temptation. Instead, He teaches us to turn to Him, repent, and keep His commandments. He could cure cancer, protect every innocent, abused child, and right every wrong. Instead, He teaches us forgiveness, unconditional love, and faith. God's love is present in all events in our lives, since charity is doing everything possible to enable men to achieve their eternal destiny. “And in nothing doth man offend God... save those who confess not his hand in all things.”

I feel like I love the people around me. I try to see others as children of God, to labor for their success, and to understand their circumstances. And, once, I thought that was enough – that truly wanting good things for others was the measure of charity. But the pure love of Christ extends far beyond wanting to bless others with good things. I see the blessings that have come from my sister having cancer, from the death of my grandmother, and from every other thing in life. I appreciate the experiences that others have had, and I am grateful that the Lord was willing to teach them. But I don't yet love them enough that I would be willing to light the fire of their refinement. God's love is doing anything to give us the wisdom and perspective to return to Him. I still have a lot to learn.

Each of us is on the road to coming closer to the Lord. Sometimes we may think that we completely understand a gospel principle... but, often, we have only understood a portion. As we turn to the Lord and ask Him to bless us, He will give us all the experiences (whether good or bad, painful or pleasant) to help us to become like Him. I know that He loves us that much. Go out and be missionaries!
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