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Two Americans (Mormon) play at the Panamanian beach on Thanksgiving

Not your average American (or Mormon!) Thanksgiving celebration

I missed truly celebrating American Thanksgiving this year as I spent the week on the beach in Panama with three of my best girlfriends. Sure, we celebrated by lounging about, napping, snacking, and even keeping up with the time-honored tradition of stating what we were Thankful for this year. (My dish–though a very great garlic shrimp concoction–didn’t live up to a plate doused in gravy.) In hindsight, I realize I missed taking stock of what I’m truly grateful for and how it affects my life.

How happy I am to be reminded of that today.

It’s December 1st and the beginning of my very favorite three weeks of the year. You see, the anticipation of Christmas is enough for me — the world seems to be a generally nicer, kinder, gentler place. Toss in a birthday and my overwhelming need to throw gatherings with cream-cheese frosted anything, and December is a cornucopia of good feelings, good food, and the goodness of people.

I was reminded today about the small and simple things that make me grateful.

As Mormons, we’re taught in the Book of Mormon that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6) Well boy howdy, today turned into the greatest day. Nothing massive or grand visions opened to me, but rather a steady stream of small and simple things that made me grateful.

  • A chicken TBM (tomato, basil, mozzerella) sandwich from Cosi (seriously, this place is ridiculously good).
  • 60-degrees on December 1st in Boston! (Rain can be ignored when it’s that warm, right?)
  • A fun, casual date to the Boston Celtics game — and a win to boot!
  • My sister’s annual Christmas music mix arrived in the mail today along with my wrapped birthday present. It took all my self control not to open it, but I’m learning self mastery. (Wink.)
  • Knowing my intense love of sports, my work registered and paid for me to attend the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It’s a fairly huge deal with great panels and infamous speakers (Bill Simmons in the house! Malcom Gladwell, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Cuban)… this is sports nerdery to the max.
  • And finally, I purchased my final Christmas gifts tonight. I’m officially ready for the holidays.

To be honest, sometimes I think I sit and wait around and wait for the grand event. What that is, I have no idea, but I’m learning that real life is a culmination of small, simple, and steady experiences that leave us better people. Some might call the wins in our life luck or coincidence, but I call them God’s outward expressions of love. He’s looking to bless our lives–and if it comes in the form of a great meal or entertaining conversation (or a good sandwich?) so be it. I’ll take the many small, simple, and steady blessings over the waiting around for the BIG EVENT.

Our modern-day Prophet and President of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson recently said, “To live with gratitude ever in our hearts is a touch of heaven.[1]” Saying thanks and being grateful for the blessings in my life has in fact drawn me nearer to God. And that’s something to be thankful for.

I don’t have much to say about the video, because the feelings invoked within my heart in a short 2:47 clip should say it all!

Rome: Where history and faith inspire renewed hope

More than anything, I can’t WAIT for the temple’s completion so I can have a reason to get over to Italy. (Though, me being me, do I really ever need a reason to travel?) I’m also happy to hear the “Faith in Every Footstep” song again — I’ve had a special place in my heart for it since the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1997. (Fun fact, I wore a bonnet my mother sewed to the parade through downtown Salt Lake. I do love pioneers. I should find a photo)

I love the temples throughout the world and the peace I find in visiting them–let alone seeing their photos!

A short post isn’t much consolation for four months absence on this blog, but I’ve just got to get it out of my system–

I absolutely believe that God knows me personally and is working miracles in my life.

Sure, the miracles I’m seeing aren’t as grand as the parting of the seas or the raising of the dead, but for several months over the summer, I felt like I was drowning. Caught in a riptide of work, personal, and familial situations out of my control, I was having a hard time keeping my spirits high. I wasn’t ever in serious danger, but as someone who generally feels a sense of control over most aspects of her life, I was in unfamiliar territory. And it was a drag. (For me and probably for those around me too!)

A personal Mormon prayerAbout a month ago I realized I wasn’t feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost nearly enough in my life. I promised God that I’d do all I could to recommit myself to doing his will and being a better servant. Not ten hours later, I received an email that’s changing the course of my life. I’ll get to telling that story on here a bit later, but the hours I’ve spent in church service have quadrupled overnight.

Busier, but couldn’t be happier.

While listening to a talk from our semi-annual church conference earlier this month, a quote from the apostle Richard G. Scott resonated deep in my heart. In fact, I can’t quit thinking about it:

An axiom we all understand is that you get what you pay for. That is true for spiritual matters as well. You get what you pay for in obedience, in faith in Jesus Christ, in diligent application of the truths you learn. What you get is the molding of character, the growth in capacity, and the successful completion of your mortal purpose to be proven and to have joy.

I wasn’t getting very much before because I wasn’t paying for very much. There really is no such thing as a free lunch–joy comes in extending ourselves in service to others. It takes faith and it requires obedience. I know this, I just forget when I turn my eye from the things that matter most. I’m denying myself personal growth, molding of character and joy! Heaven knows I need all of the above.

I’ll do better, I promise. I like the way I’m feeling these days. Still busy, still stressed, and a bit overwhelmed with what I’m being tasked with — but I’ve felt the guiding hand of the Lord as I’ve knelt in more earnest prayer and recognized His ideas and grand plans through the voice of the Spirit. This is Mormonism 101!; the love of God through revelation and I’m grateful for the reminder. Remembering will be like swimming in a life jacket! And really (as literally not a very strong swimmer) this sounds like the best idea of the year.

Funny title I know, but remember our commitment to commitment? I have a good feeling the majority of the world thinks of Mormons as “Sunday People” only. But what about the other days of the week?

The purpose of this blog is for me to discuss what it’s like for me to be a Mormon. And in time I’ll (attempt to) explain it all to you. However, like an onion, the levels will unfold in time.

But today, I want to talk about what I do for the five workdays that aren’t Sunday and how it relates to being a Mormon. I’m a project manager at an award-winning full-service interactive agency.  (A what?) To be short and simple, I’m involved in redesigning websites for clients. Day in and day out, I manage the people who are organizing content, redesigning sites, or building web pages. That’s what I do, and five days a week that’s who I am.

(Pause for a minute, letting my brain catch up. My coworkers know that I’m a Mormon but don’t know what it entails. My Mormon friends and family know that I’m a project manager but don’t know what it entails. Is this post going to remove all the irony in the word?)

This week, my two worlds collided in a fairly major way.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons or LDS for short) has a bevy of websites they own and operate, but the two largest are LDS.org and the newly redesigned Mormon.org. Do you see where I’m going here?

Design comps from Mormon.org redesign

Design comps from Mormon.org redesign

I live, breathe, and work daily in the web community. And let me tell you what, the redesigned site hits every Web 2.0 Best Practice squarely on the head. I’d spent quite a bit of time yesterday digging into the just-launched site and marveling at all the greatness. Today, a good friend passed along a blog post dedicated to the entire process behind the redesign. If you have any interest in knowing how a site is redesigned (or what I do for a living), GO READ that article. I haven’t ever read a web case study (even from my own agency) as clear, concise, or interesting as this one is.

Already, I’ve forwarded the redesign methodology and case study along to people in my agency. Clients all over the world are trying to lure their readers/users/buyers into submitting (industry term alert!) “user-generated content.”  It’s my opinion that Web 2.0 is founded on the belief that we trust each other more than we trust businesses. The new Mormon.org site already has more than 1,000 user-generated profiles of people all over the world, from all different religious backgrounds, of different ages, races, and political persuasions. We’re all just people, doing the best we can.

Jane Clayson Johnson's Mormon.org profile

Jane Clayson Johnson (former CBS news anchor & former ward-mate of mine) shares her story about transitioning from national network anchor to Motherhood. Click image to view her lovely story.

In closing, I love that the key five design principles North Temple has mandated for the redesign are Joyful, Reverent, Inspiring, Authentic, and Relevant. I likewise will attempt to conduct myself both online and off in each of these five ways.

Five, six, or all seven days of the week.

Longfellow Park Chapel fire

Longfellow Park Chapel fire - 5/19/09

Last year, our chapel in Cambridge dramatically caught fire during a Sunday meeting. All members were evacuated without injury while twenty-two fire engines from five surrounding communities battled the blaze. The Longfellow Park chapel was the oldest in the Boston area (1956) and a home away from home for thousands of Mormons who’ve passed through Boston in the last 50 years.

Since the fire that gutted the majority of the building, we’ve been meeting in the Harvard Episcopal Divinity School across the street from the Longfellow Park chapel. We have felt very welcome at EDS and our sincerest thanks are sent to our kind and generous renters of the last year.

While it was providence that provided us a location to keep our congregations together the last year, how thrilled we were to dedicate a building of our own this last weekend. Construction on the LP Chapel is not yet complete, but the first Mormon Stake Center in the Cambridge area has been completed not three miles away.

Mormon Stake Center in Cambridge

Mormon Stake Center in Cambridge - dedicated 6/27/10

The specifics of building size, square footage, and activities leading up to the dedication are available elsewhere, but newspapers and other media outlets do little to convey the feelings and spiritual insights at a time of such importance to members in the area.

True, I haven’t spent the majority of my life as a Mormon in Boston. I wasn’t born here and I probably won’t die here. But nearly four years into my life as a resident, I feel so connected to this place–that my history in the area has meaning and importance. I feel connected to the church members in this area as they’ve struggled to plant their seed of the Gospel in sometimes rocky soil and fertilize it the best they know how. “We all drink from wells we did not dig and walk across bridges we did not build,” our Stake President put so eloquently yesterday. I’m grateful for the fore-bearers who came before me in this place.

Printed on the interior of the service’s program is an excerpt from the original Longfellow Park Chapel’s Dedication Booklet:

“A chapel is not an end in itself. It is a place where people can meet and be taught the principles of the everlasting Gospel, and obedience to these teachings; where peace, love, and happiness can reign. Just as the righteousness of the saints in the past has brought the blessings of today, so will the righteousness of the saints today bring forth the Lord’s abundance of tomorrow. This is the simple expression of faith of the Cambridge Branch.

And so the saints of hope and pray that soon their faith and works will bring a Stake of Zion as prophesied; and that the time will come when a Latter-day Saint Temple will overlook the Charles River as it flows on to the sea, along the course trod by the Patriots who lived and fought and died that this land might fulfill its destiny.”

The original Cambridge Branch referenced above was one branch 54 years ago. That one branch has divided, and divided, and divided again — and 30 wards and branches now exist in this region because of the faithful service and diligent action of that original Cambridge Branch. I wasn’t even close to alive in 1956, but I’m eternally grateful for those strong members of the original Cambridge Branch patriots, because they’ve made Boston feel like a home.

Being a Mormon is a pretty large commitment. Scratch that–it’s a HUGE commitment. There are the lifestyle choices most people outside the church know about—not drinking alcohol or coffee (and boy do Bostonians love both!), not smoking, abstaining from pre-marital sexual activity, etc. And then there are the time commitments—to attending the three-hour block of meetings on Sundays, to devoting time to personal scripture study, to serving fellow members and the community and to strengthening family and personal relationships.

Like I said, a commitment!

But in a global society based on individual preference (“I do what I want”), no one is forcing anyone to be a Mormon. In fact, one of the key scriptures LDS Missionaries use when they teach church investigators (and it applies to all members)  is to “ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true” (Moroni 10:4). Members are taught to continually reaffirm what they know by studying out what they believe and asking God if it’s true. No bishop is holding me hostage in my church commitments. I’m free to leave at any time. (So put those “the Mormon church is a cult” claims away.) I’m here because I want to be. Over time, as I continue talking more about these things, I think you’ll begin to understand why I’m here.

A very long story short, I feel peace being a Mormon. It brings me joy. In a turbulent world, I have faith–and in today’s climate–that’s a rarity, isn’t it? The love I feel from God and from Jesus Christ are enough to help me endure the turmoil of daily living. Isn’t that something you’d want to pass along to your family and friends?

Much has been written about Stephanie Neilson since she was in a fiery plane crash nearly two years ago. Know the story or not, hearing Stephanie talk about her outlook on life, on beauty, and on motherhood give you a good idea what Mormons feel is important. I’m so impressed by her faith and fortitude. Our lives couldn’t be more different–so I’m in awe of her strength and endurance even more so.

I can’t get enough of watching this video. Stephanie is a gorgeous person inside and out and makes me guilty for ever complaining about the status of my life.

How can you not feel inspired after watching?

If you’re interested in the story above, there are others available at Mormon Messages . (They’re all fantastic, but this is my favorite yet.)

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