Home Sweet Home: More Than a Location

Why did I take this class?
It was a question I hadn’t stopped asking myself for the previous 48 hours. I asked it when I lay shivering in my soaked sleeping bag, when I stood in dripping wet clothes as snow came down in large flurries, when they separated me from class and left me to survive on my own in the wild. Why did I take this class?
The survival class sounded like a good idea two months ago when I signed up for it. They told us the final would be four days long, that they would separate all of us and survive based off the skills we had learned. I could be home! I thought.
At the time I was sitting by my homemade shelter made from branches and bark. Home. I stood up and searched and found a large piece of bark and then started carving that very word: Home.
Later, in charcoal I would add below the poorly carved “home” the words “sweet home” to read “Home sweet home.” This little signed changed everything. I began to “tidy up” camp, brushing away the dead leaves and twigs, dragging a large fallen branch over to sit on, creating little tables for my tools and food.
Suddenly, I wasn’t just surviving: I was thriving, and it was all because I had created a “home sweet home.” So many times even in my own, snug, cozy life I had been living moment to moment, simply trying to  get by to the next day. In the back of my mind, I knew that I would be leaving that makeshift shelter in just a day or so, but that didn’t matter. This home had become a place that I thrived in, and I knew coming back from the final I would do everything in my power to make my little apartment a place where I could continue to thrive.
They say home is where the heart is. I used to see that as a passive phrase, that home would just happen to be wherever my heart was and that where my heart would be was completely out of my control. I know now that you can make a home by working to put your heart and love into wherever you are.

An Answer to ‘Why Won’t This Just End Already?’

17547006_10208923470350166_8335172653398119601_oDarkness encompassed us, coming up from behind and stretching out as far as the eye couldn’t see. Mixed with the darkness was the rain, rain which brought out the smell of gravelly dirt and the sagebrush and juniper on either side of the path. Soaked as it were by the sky, I kept walking. We all did.

It sounds surreal, like a scene from a gloomy nightmare or depressing movie, but this scenario was very real for me and my classmates. We signed up for a survival class and for the final test went on a four-day excursion to prove our skills. Little did we know that for the first few hours of the trip, our teacher would march us through the desert with no light, no way to tell the time, and no knowledge as to how far we had walked nor how much further we had to go.

None of us had eaten since 6:00 p.m., and we had started the hike around 10:30 p.m. Later, we learned that we had hiked for around four hours and a total of eight miles in that dreary desert, but again, at the time we had no sense of time or distance.

At one point, because of medical issues, one of the girls had to be picked up by a van and brought to the end of the hike. I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t that be nice? I wish someone would just pick me up and take me to the end.”

I thought about life and the past few months, how so much of this past winter I had felt like I was on a metaphorical dark road, hiking through the night with no idea how much further I had to go. Why couldn’t God just pick me up and take me to the end of my trials? Why can’t I be that girl?

And then distinctly I felt the words: Because I know you can do this. That girl couldn’t physically complete that trek– but I could. I was still on that dark road, both physically and metaphorically, because God did know the distance, knew my capabilities, and knew that I would be able to make it through the rain and the darkness to the destination.

If you feel like I did on that desert road, dreading every step and wondering how much further you have to go, remember that someone else has walked that road before. Christ knows you and He knows that road perfectly, and if you haven’t been driven to the end, then know it’s because you can do this. Keep hoping; keep walking.

Sparks are Not Enough

17505045_10208923466470069_4737470717217372731_oSparks. Over and over again just sparks. I sat on my makeshift camping chair (a large, fallen branch) for two hours striking that “flint” (a rock I found in the woods) with my steel buffalo striker, rubbing my knuckles raw, and nothing.

A week later I read this verse—one that had always puzzled me but suddenly made sense—in 2 Nephi 7:5:

Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

I remember that feeling of compassing myself with sparks—that flash of hope you get when out of the darkness you see a brief flicker of light, and then you strike harder and harder and get spark after spark, but none of it sticks; nothing lasts.

And there’s an analogy in that, of course: all our “walking in our own light,” our self-made successes are temporary. They are just sparks. They light our life for a moment but leave as quickly as they come. They don’t catch.

After a couple hours, I had a little savior. My friend brought me charred cloth. The sparks had something to catch on, and when one finally landed perfectly on the charcoal material, the small nest of sticks and plant fiber lit up and finally, I had a fire.

Our attempts to do it by ourselves, following the sparks of our own successes, are not enough to build a lasting fire of warmth and light. Ironically, charred cloth can only be made by another fire, and so we rely on someone else’s previous fire to give us material that can make our own.

Our Savior has made that fire; he has prepared for us the material to make our own. Without Him, nothing in this life can truly catch—can truly stick and sustain us.


Why “Getting it Right” Could be the Wrong Mindset

15995265_10208318980438296_4272440191820180508_o (1)“I just want to get it right.”

I bury my face in my hands, finally realizing what it was. I just want to get it right. The past few months—past year even—felt like a complete failure. That, of course, was also me being a little melodramatic, but it was also me realizing how perfectionistic I was.

The counselor looked at me, waiting for me to say more, but I didn’t.

“And who wanted to get it right?” He asked.

I lifted my head out of my hands, confused. He repeated the question.

“Before we came here, who wanted to get it right?”

“I…I don’t know…” I said.

Then he said something that changed my life.

Many of us have heard the story about Heavenly Father presenting a plan to his children before we came to this earth. In this family council, there were two ideas offered up for how we would be saved. Satan essentially presented a plan in which he would force us to do everything right, taking away our choice.

“But what did the savior want? Did he want us to ‘get it right,’ as you say?” My counselor asked.

“No,” I said a bit hesitantly. “No, he wanted us to… to make choices.”

My counselor nodded his head. “Exactly, he wanted us to make choices. He knew we wouldn’t get it right, and that was ok, because he provided a way that no matter what happened, we could still return home. The savior wanted us to have experience.

Then my counselor continued, “We like to compare life to a test, like we are given a set of multiple choice answers and there’s only one right answer. If you make the wrong choice, you get deducted a point. But I don’t like that analogy.

“I think we came to this life to write the textbook. We came to this world to gain experience, to make decisions and learn from them. We look at our decisions—decisions that have nothing to do with morality or sin—and place them in categories of right or wrong, but maybe we should look at them like they are: experiences that teach us something, different options representing different chapters in the textbook of life.”

Satan wanted us to get it right, and Jesus Christ wanted us to make choices. I liked the idea, but I struggled with it—and sometimes still do—because I couldn’t help but feel like there had to be one choice that was better than another. I learned that sometimes there are, but the good news is we have someone who makes up for those poor decisions, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Hiking Mt. Timp at Midnight is My Life Right Now

16179116_10208395298066189_8314522102961824922_oThe trail was very dark, the sky lit with stars. With a small silver flashlight in hand, I could only see two or three steps in front of me, but well enough to know I was quickly falling behind the very fast and fit group of hikers whom I had come with. I had hiked Mt. Timpanogos before, when I was younger, but never with a group of complete strangers and at the very late (or early) hour of midnight. My quick and jagged breaths made futile any intentions I had of talking to the cute boy behind me, and I quickly regretted not having slept more in preparation for this feat.

It was quite an experience being on a trail in the pitch black of night not knowing how far I had nor how much farther I still had to go. Here I was, surrounded by people I did not know, except for my roommate who had invited me, unable to speak and too afraid to be the one who asked for a break. So I moved forward, with no view of where I was going and only my thoughts to keep me company.

There’s something eerily similar between midnight hikes and life. In this world we are shrouded in darkness with only a vague idea of how far we’ve come and little to no understanding of what’s to come. Our perceptions are often warped, thinking we have come five miles when really we’ve only gone three. Yet we continue onward with the sunrise in our sights. It’s much like faith: we do not see the sunrise; we have not experienced it for ourselves yet, but we know it will come. The question is, will we come? Will we continue on this difficult journey with only small stars of light and little flashlights to guide us?

11013017_10204578637052049_9071274963685201989_o.jpgTruly, the sun has already risen. Coming down the trail, I saw all I had traversed. All this time, I had been surrounded by exquisite creations and views. The journey was beautiful; I just couldn’t see it at the time. Someday we will be able to see our lives with the glory and vision of the sunrise. We will see how truly wonderful this world is and what marvelous plans Heavenly Father has made for us. We will understand the beauty of the trail in it’s fullest, made possible by the sacrifice of One.

—Jessica Olsen

How to Be Unapologetically Yourself

12032830_10205006954999730_3784542288696410601_o“Honestly, I just love how you…you…”—I couldn’t quite think of what it was—“you live so unapologetically. Yes, you are so unapologetically yourself.” I didn’t realize it was this, all along, that had drawn me to one of my best friends. We were sitting in my kitchen, all of us girls, chatting about boys. Invariably, the conversation had led to us to one of those chick-flick worthy heart-to-hearts, building each other up after a confusing day with our crushes. I remembered the first time I had met this friend, the one who lived unapologetically. I had been somewhat skeptical of her bubbliness and kindness and ability to open up people so swiftly and easily. I learned very quickly this was no façade, but just an incredible, high-spirited girl.

And it was true; she was unapologetically herself. People couldn’t help but gravitate towards her confidence and sincerity. Yet, I couldn’t help but be skeptical of the idea. Live unapologetically? I mean, it’s a nice idea, but I have flaws—imperfections— parts of me others might find rather annoying. From what I understood, to live unapologetically meant to embrace all of those things. All throughout childhood I was told to be aware of my shortcomings, change my bad habits, and become a better person, which ultimately meant abandoning the person I am now and striving to be another. How could I truly embrace myself if “myself” was always in a working state of change?

It didn’t help that saying sorry was a bad habit of mine. It was like one of those automatic responses people give even when it doesn’t make sense, like when someone says “Happy birthday!” and the other responds “You too.” I apologized for everything: in the middle of conversations when I felt like I was talking to much, when I tripped up the stairs (when no one was there), and even when people complimented me. I was the epitome of living apologetically, and though I wasn’t unhappy, I still wasn’t satisfied with the idea of fully embracing myself—imperfections and all—quite yet.

I couldn’t quite understand this concept until the understanding of my identity—true identity—shifted. To live unapologetically means to embrace our truest selves, and we are, in the truest sense, sons and daughters of God with a divine nature and divine potential. We are not our imperfections, nor are we our mistakes. We are defined by our ability to change. We are a work in progress, and we need not apologize for this fact.

—Jessica Olsen