Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A year of growth and joy

Last night was a great night.  My fiancee and I spent the evening with close friends, enjoying dinner and games and just the company itself.  It was a lot of fun.  Typically I would have been in bed well before.  I don't like late nights the way I used to, and I've been striving to go to bed early (or at least as far before midnight as possible, with emphasis on before).  My life is better for it; I don't miss being out late.  That said, there is the rare exception, and last night was one.  

I'm led to reflect on another such exception, which took place a year ago.  The local Young Single Adult stake was having a dance to celebrate New Year's Eve, and I didn't want to go.  I was happily attending my family ward, where I had grown up.  Life was comfortable, and I didn't want anything to do with singles wards.  But thanks to a few good friends and their encouraging texts, I eventually found myself at the Salt Lake Community College Institute building, met with a host of unfamiliar faces and awkward moments on the dance floor.

Truth be told, I had a great time that night.  I found my friends, played some fun games, and yes, even danced a little bit.  But I had no idea at the time how life changing it would end up being.

After the new year was rung in and the celebration settled down, the stake president gathered us all together and gave a brief message before having us clean up and sending us home.  I don't remember everything he said, but I do remember the challenge he gave to us: to do hard things during the year of 2012.  He promised that if we left our comfort zones and faithfully pushed ourselves, this new year would be a time of growth and many blessings for us.  I felt great strength as I listened to that challenge, and I accepted it.  I resolved to do hard things in 2012.

With this resolve came my first consideration--ever--of actually attending a singles ward, and actively participating in it.  I was nervous about the transition, and had all sorts of worries over who I would know and whether I'd even be noticed in my new ward.  It was a really hard thing for me to do.  But I jumped in with both feet.  I had my records moved, and the first Sunday in February, my name was read in.  Later that month, I asked a cute girl in the ward on a date... but more about that in a bit.  ;-)

This ward turned out to be a wonderful blessing in my life.  I made new friends and received inspired leadership.  Opportunities were given to me to serve in the ward, and with every assignment to play a musical number or teach Sunday School or visit a ward member or a myriad of other things, I grew.  I felt like I was making a difference, but more than anything, this ward, these friends, these leaders and opportunities, were making a difference in my life.  There was no way I could have foreseen this a year ago, when I was so against having anything to do with a singles ward.  Oh, what I could have missed out on if I had taken the comfortable route!

I met challenges to grow outside of church, as well.  At the start of the new year, I was working hard at my job with UPS.  It was a good job, and one I was lucky to have.  And in May, I accepted a promotion.  My job responsibilities expanded greatly, and there was much to learn in a short time.  Some of it was overwhelming.  But I jumped in with both feet and did my best, and got a lot out of it.  I learned a lot about leadership, teamwork, and communication.  I learned how far my limits actually stretched, and how to increase them.  It was an excellent opportunity for me, and I'm grateful to have had it.  I grew a lot.

But another hard thing was soon to follow.  Over the summer I realized that I couldn't keep up the workload I had both at work and at school, and that something would have to give--especially if I wanted to graduate anytime soon.  The decision took much prayer and consideration, as well as time.  If I had ever faced a more difficult choice, there certainly would not have been many of them.  Yet I trusted God, and despite the sting of lost income, I came to know what the Lord wanted me to do.  I chose my education over my job, and refocused my efforts at school.  I do miss the paycheck, but I've learned more and more to put my trust in God and keep an eternal perspective.  And this spring, I'll be graduating with my associates degree.  The Lord has provided me with my needs, and things are going well.

As for the cute girl I mentioned... well, she's the one who really made the year for me.  I couldn't imagine my life without her, and in just a couple of weeks, she and I will begin our new life together.  It's taken a lot of faith and a lot of work for both of us, but it's been a fantastic experience, and I'm so happy with where it's taken us.  Valerie is my greatest blessing.  She has taught me to love more deeply than I have ever loved.  She has helped me grow in ways I just can't describe in a blog post, because what words really are adequate?  I am a better man today than when I started 2012, and it's because of her.  She makes me want to try harder, do better, be stronger, and no one brings me more happiness than she does.  Just imagine what I could have missed out on if I had chosen to remain in my comfort zone!  Where would I have ended up?  There would be a hole in my life and in my heart that never got filled, and I never would have known the joy I know now.  Life was good before; it was comfortable.  But this... this is so much better.

So, I'm really happy with how 2012 turned out.   It wasn't an easy year, but challenges became opportunities, and it ended up being my very best so far.  And 2013 is looking even better already.  I'm excited to see what life throws at me, and to rise to the challenges it brings.  Happy New Year, friends.  Let's go and do some hard things.

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