One of the most difficult transitions for me since moving to Birmingham has been finding ways to fill the nagging void that relentlessly creeps into my life when I'm not living purposefully and intentionally seeking the Spirit.
In Allen, I learned where my places of refuge were...where I could always go to count on enlightenment, encouragement and the spiritual sustenance I needed to keep the opposition at bay.
Of course, church is now and always has been one of those places. I LOVE Sundays. In Allen, I could count on spiritually uplifting, thought provoking lessons and talks and I always heard the Spirit whisper something personally relevant. But three short hours a week of personal illumination isn't enough to sustain joy and stave off that pesky insecurity and doubt. Seriously, it only takes about 48 hours for the light to dim, and that darkness to creep back into my head.
On Monday mornings, usually still uplifted from whatever I had learned on Sunday, I would jump in my car and drive to Plano for 90 minutes of Institute. Even on the days when I felt like a slug and just wanted to skip it, I would drag myself there anyway because I knew the Spirit would be there. Too many times, when I thought there was nothing that could possibly be relevant about whatever passage of scripture we happened to be studying, Kevin Hinckley would start his "and thus we see..." conclusion and poof! the whole 90 minutes would have been for my benefit. I can't remember a single class that didn't affect me in that way. I learned after 6 years of Kevin's influence that when you take your stuff (your burdens, your longings, your questions, your heartaches, your frustrations, your weighty matters) to a place where the Spirit is, and you have a desire to hear personal counsel from Heaven, you will ALWAYS get it. ALWAYS. Sometimes in weird ways, but it always comes.
Thursdays in Allen were my Temple days. Sometimes I went with friends, sometimes no one could make it and I would just go alone. Sometimes I would stay for a long time, and sometimes I only had an hour. But I faithfully went every week because wherever my head was the rest of the week, the temple would always bring back perspective and clarity.
Monday nights and Thursday nights I sang with two vastly different groups, but both brought confidence and improvement in one of the things I love most in the whole world...singing!
I also had a challenging calling that required a whole lot of effort, planning, and studying the heck out of the scriptures, and I had the luxury of spending hours in the middle of the days reading and and pondering stuff.
Living in Allen was like taking a spiritual bubble bath for six years.
My greatest desire when we moved there in 2010 was to be where the Spirit was, and to be able to hear the voice of the Lord in my life. And that is exactly what I found.
"The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the greatest skill we can acquire in this life." - Julie B Beck
In the six years we lived in Allen, I think I acquired that skill.
And then we moved.
The thing about acquiring skills in the Lord's Kingdom is that you never just get to sit and enjoy the new things you can do. There is really no sitting in the gospel at all. And "thus we are seeing" with this move, those skills I desired and received I now get to do something with.
When we got to Birmingham. I ached for my old places of refuge. The Birmingham Temple is farther away and the schedule is much less flexible than it was in Dallas. I have not yet heard of or found an Institute class here, although that doesn't mean one doesn't exist. There is no DMCO or 15th Street group to sing with here. And my cheerleaders are unavailable.
Craig is the Ward Mission Leader in our ward, which essentially makes him responsible for all of the missionary efforts in the area ..finding lost sheep, building bridges, supporting the full time missionaries. And since we have sisters in our ward, I get to help with a lot of those things, too. The sister missionaries come to our house every Thursday night for dinner. They meet with Craig on Wednesday nights at the church while the rest of us are at Mutual to plan their week and report on their appointments and upcoming events. And we have also opened our home on Monday nights for any FHE activities they want to schedule with members of our ward, or investigators, or whoever they feel impressed to invite. Somewhere in all that planning, Craig, the Bishop and the sister missionaries thought it would be awesome if I taught the Gospel Essentials class on Sundays, too.
That sounds like a lot of planning, feeding people, and orchestrating things, doesn't it? Yep, I thought so, too. At first, I thought "I already have two callings, and that CSM one is currently kicking my butt! How can I possibly also be responsible for feeding, supporting and nurturing missionaries, hosting weekly FHEs, and teaching every Sunday? I will spontaneously combust!"
And the first week I did.
Holy cow, I could barely keep up with the menu plans and which guests were coming on which day. This week, the calendar looked even more daunting because Saturday has it's own long list of things that have to happen. (More on that later...)
But after Sunday's visions and illumination about my whole reason for being on the earth, it occurred to me that maybe these new responsibilities weren't intended to be burdens. Maybe they were sent as answers to all those prayers I had been praying about needing a purpose in this place and needing to find some new places of refuge.
Sometimes the planning and orchestrating gets overwhelming for me. And sometimes I stress A LOT about the details. But my very wise, always rational friend, Stephanie, reminded me that "what matters most is the Spirit people feel when they walk in your home." So on Monday, when the sisters had an additional need, and I was running a little behind with the preparation for FHE, and I was starting to panic, I thought, "Do I really need to worry about all the stuff I'm worrying about?" I didn't. I was dressed. Dessert was made. The house was clean. The rest would have to just work itself out. "Did I want people to see me running around frantically trying to finish one more thing, and one more thing?" Nope. I didn't. I wanted to just open the door and then be available for whatever happened next.
I can't even tell you how much I loved that FHE on Monday night. It was so nice to just talk to this little family and get to know them better. I had no idea who was coming over or what to prepare for, so I didn't really. I just opened the door and then sat down and asked them questions until they got tired of talking. And they were delightful. We had such a great night, and when they left, I felt completely filled with that same joy and clarity I felt after an Institute class or after the Temple.
But, guess what...it was even different. All those things I did in Allen were for MY spiritual benefit. I usually came and went to those things alone, interacted with very few people, and put almost no time into preparing for them. All that was required of me was to get in my car and drive somewhere and then let someone else's preparation (and the Spirit) feed me.
With all of these missionary opportunities and teaching assignments and open house events, there is so much more effort required before I even get to the part where I start to feel the Spirit. They're a lot of work. But the JOY and FULFILLMENT after you do something that not only lifts your own life, but also potentially helps life someone else's is BEYOND anything I ever felt after leaving all those places I used to go for sustenance in Allen. It's such an amazing thing. And it makes all the work so worth it.
Once again, I am shocked at the way the Lord answers prayers and brings our strengths together with our needs and turns them into His hands. How grateful I am for missionary work, for the sister missionaries (my own and the ones in our ward,) for opportunities to serve that I didn't even know I needed or wanted, and for the fulfillment of being stretched beyond what I ever thought I was capable of.