My Stake Conference Talk: Willing to Be Disturbed and Willing to Disturb

The Backstory
A few weeks ago, President Hancock (side note: a man who gives me hope in the Church, and whom I deeply admire) asked me to speak at the adult session of stake conference. Talk about whatever you want, he said. I felt honored, blessed, excited and overwhelmed. I would be camping with my family for most of the time I had to prepare, and the conference session fell on same day as Carter’s fourth birthday party. It was a veritable outpouring of blessings (and work!) in a short period of time.

Preparing for the talk was perhaps the greatest blessing of all. I hauled my quad to Colorado as we camped all over the state, reading scriptures and swatting mosquitoes each night by lantern light as the kids slept in our tent. It was a welcome reminder that there is no excuse for shallow scripture study. Deep and meaningful scripture study connects my Spirit with God and gives me power. Recommitting to make my daily scripture studies more meaningful…starting now.

As I prayed fervently for inspiration, the Spirit guided me to study specific topics and read the book of Matthew. I didn’t receive any clear direction for my talk for several weeks. Instead, the Spirit seemed to tell me, as long as you are spending time asking for answers and searching the Word, inspiration will come. 

Ideas began to form, but I sat down to write the talk the Wednesday before conference nothing I wrote felt right. I stayed up until one a.m. trying to work through it, but eventually felt inspired to sleep. The next morning, I prayed (a little desperately) for guidance. On my way home from dropping off Aila at the babysitter’s, inspiration poured into my mind. Thank goodness for post-its in the car.

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Notes for my talk, scribbled at stop signs and red lights. Gotta capture the inspiration when it comes!

That night, I was up until 2:30 writing the talk. I think the Lord blessed me with words on Thursday, so that I could focus on prepping for Carter’s birthday party on Friday. I was grateful for this tender mercy.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to speak at stake conference. My life and family have been so blessed. And now…I’m glad it’s over!


Willing to Be Disturbed and Willing to Disturb

An Emergency Landing
Several years ago, on the London to Chicago leg of my journey home from Uganda, shortly after all the TV monitors turned to static, a flight attendant announced that we would be making an emergency landing. She went over the emergency brace procedures explaining, “When you hear “brace, brace, brace assume the bracing position.” I looked out my window to see a vast ocean stretching to the horizon, and wondered where we were going to land.

The plane was silent as people held hands and said prayers. We watched as the plane dumped its fuel. Suddenly, the loud speaker turned on and we heard the pilot yell, “We gotta go NOW!” Click. The ocean got closer and closer.

We found out later that a fire ignited beneath the cockpit, threatening the controls and filling the cockpit with smoke. The pilot accidentally bumped the loudspeaker control and just as quickly shut it off again.

As we descended rapidly toward the ocean, I imagined a water landing. I also imagined more tragic scenarios. I put on my jacket – because cold ocean. And I zipped my ID into my pocket…just in case.

As the ocean closed in on my window, a thought, clear as day, entered my mind. Your work is not yet finished. I looked out the window and thought, The ocean is right. there.

 Again, the thought, Your work is not yet finished, came with a wave of complete peace and assurance. I knew we would be okay.

As the ocean loomed mere feet away, we flew over a stretch of rocky terrain. I wondered what random rock we found in the middle of the ocean. Then, at the last minute, the rocky terrain turned into a smooth runway and we made a perfect, screeching landing. The passengers erupted in cheers and we evacuated on the runway, surrounded by firemen in silver, fire-retardant suits, training enormous hoses on our plane. We were in Iceland. Safe.

Great Things and Marvelous Works
This rather dramatic story has a pretty simple point. We each have a work to do in this life. And this work is greater than we realize. So great, in fact, that the Lord may find his way into your mind in the middle of an emergency landing, to remind you – to comfort you – that He needs you here to do it.

The Lord teaches us that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6). But, we are not here on this earth only to do small and simple things. Small and simple things are the means. We are put here on earth to bring about great things. We are here to do marvelous works. This is the responsibility of our lives.

Christ came to earth with a work to do. He was never satisfied with the status quo. He did not settle for “how things have always been.” He brought about great things and did marvelous works: He created the world. He triumphed over death. His Atonement met the demands of justice that we might have mercy.

The Savior disrupted old ways in order to change history and eternity for all humanity. As his disciples, we are here to follow His example.

Quaker medical missionary, Sarah Rowntree, said, “Remember Christ has no human body now upon the earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours, my brothers and sisters, are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion has to look upon the world, and yours are the lips with which his love has to speak.”

We Have a Work to Do
We are the Savior’s hands and feet and eyes and lips and there is NO SHORTAGE of work for us to do. There is too much of inequity, oppression, and injustice in our communities, country, and world.

I have worked in urban education and criminal justice for over ten years. These two fields sit at the intersection of complex social issues that start with race and span across poverty, immigration, gender, sexual identity, health care, environment, etc.

When I was in high school at Paly  we had glassblowing classes, robotics teams, and an award-winning journalism program. In contrast, when I began teaching, I helped to start the first public high school in East Palo Alto since 1967 – then and now, high schoolers in East Palo Alto are bussed into neighboring communities because they don’t have a high school of their own.  We started the school in a windowless warehouse that doubled as a homeless shelter on weekends. In all my years as a classroom teacher and administrator at this school, I had to use crowdfunding sites to buy books, and fund learning experiences for my students.

This just scratches the surface of inequity and injustice in the educational experiences for students on different sides of 101.

We have great work to do.

As disciples of Christ, it is our duty and responsibility to understand the history, systems, institutions and realities that oppress some and privilege others. These inequities exist in every aspect of society, even the Church. Without an understanding of history and systems of privilege and oppression, we cannot truly know, lift, serve, or love our brothers and sisters; we cannot do the work we were sent here to do unless we truly understand the work that needs to be done. But, “if [we] desire, [we] can be the means of doing much good in this generation” (D&C 11:8).

Like the Savior, we can disrupt old ways in order to change history. We can do this if we have a willingness to be disturbed and a willingness to disturb.

Willing to be Disturbed
Margaret Wheatley wrote, “As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally – our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think.

There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me…Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.”

Our willingness to be disturbed can help us remove the distorted lenses of the natural man. Being disturbed can:

  • Help us recognize our implicit biases, prejudices, and blind spots
  • See the gaps between our professed beliefs and our words and actions
  • Recognize strengths where we’ve only seen weaknesses in ourselves and others.

Our willingness to be disturbed can help us see old things in new ways.  It is how we can see more as Christ sees. It is how we begin to do the work we’ve been sent here to do – just as the Savior would do it.

Willing to Disturb
Our willingness to be disturbed prepares us to engage more deeply in the work of the Lord – which is the work of greatest love.

For over one hundred years, the Forest Service suppressed forest fires believing them to be harmful and destructive disturbances. In the 1960s, ecologists realized there were no new giant sequoia growths in California. It turns out fire has many benefits that include:

  • releasing nutrients stored in litter on the forest floor
  • diminishing the threat of insect infestation and disease
  • opening the forest canopy to sunlight
  • enabling reproduction (fire opens the seeds of some trees – like the giant sequoia)

Fire is a disturbance that stimulates new growth and protects forests in the long term.

Too often, we suppress our voices and actions – as the Forest Service suppressed fires – afraid to upset others and disturb the peace. However, suppressing our voices and actions only serves to perpetuate the inequities, injustices, imperfections, and downright evils of the status quo. We cannot bring the Savior’s peace to the world by suppressing our voices.

Eva Witesman, associate professor at BYU, teaches, “A peacemaker does not merely find peace or feel peace or desire peace. A peacemaker makes peace… A peacemaker fights the flame of prejudice not by letting it burn, but by quenching it with loving, understanding correction, by stamping out the embers of bias in her own soul and in the institutions in which she has a voice. And where she has no voice, she finds a way to speak.”

Speaking up may feel uncomfortable, even unnatural at first. Speaking up may disturb others,  but disturbance is the beginning of growth. Speaking up is the only way we can engage in the work of change.

If we are to do the work we’ve been sent here to do, we must be willing to disturb. We must be the fire that stimulates new growth.

Out Where Miracles Happen

The Lord “calls upon the weak things of the world” (D&C 35:13) to do his work. If we seek His guidance, He WILL lead and guide us, not only to know our work but to fulfill it. He will inspire each of us to do great things and marvelous works in His kingdom. Indeed, he has called us here for this purpose.

When we live on the edge of comfort where we must lean on the Lord for support and look to angels for wings, we live where miracles happen. This is where we can accomplish the work the Lord needs us to do.

Let us be willing to be disturbed and willing to disturb. As we follow the Savior in our work on this earth, He will help us to change the world.

He will help us reshape the world with fearless love.

4 thoughts on “My Stake Conference Talk: Willing to Be Disturbed and Willing to Disturb

  1. I like inspired change, from where ever it may originate. But are there institutional (or psychological, sociological, etc.) limits that we can understood about how/when/why system changes should be proposed?

    Thinking about change initiators, I think requiring only top-down change is hard to defend, but I don’t want proposal paralysis either by opening the flood gates of everyone’s ideas on everything. We can’t fully evaluate every new idea with a pilot program, etc.

    Thinking about human limits, how much system change will be tolerated by an average human within a system? It seems like we should constantly be noticing potential for growth (recording inspiration in a journal), but do we really want everyone trying to disturb the system every day? That seems intolerable to most. How do we implement change so that people can keep up?

    Thinking about inequity, who do we prioritize? Today’s needy few or tomorrow’s needy many? What is feasible?

    Like

    1. Can we also agree that it’s confusing to use fire as a metaphor where it takes two opposite conceptual roles? (allowing a fire that helps the “sequoias” vs. quenching a fire that is bad prejudice)

      Like

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