September 16, 2015

Science and Religion

Well, howdy friends! Its been a long time since I've written anything in my blog. Though it was originally created to document my adventures as a missionary in Brazil, I've come to the conclusion that miracles actually happen to all of us, all the time, and there is no reason to stop sharing stories about the role of faith in my life just because I am no longer a full-time representative of the Savior. Missionary, student, in Brazil, in Provo - the role of God and religion in my life is exactly the same.

Disclaimer: Everything I say in this article is my personal opinion. It doesn't necessarily reflect official Church doctrine, and shouldn't be taken as such.

So...Science and Religion!!!!

I'm taking my last-ever GE this semester and instead of sitting through physics, chemistry, or geology I opted for the DINOSAUR class. Yes, I am in a class 100% revolving around dinosaurs. Its basically my dream come true. (No really....I've been talking about being a paleontologist since before I could read. Its a thing.)

And over the course of this science class cleverly disguised as a fun class, some interesting topics have come up. Namely, dinosaurs and fossils, the theory of evolution, the age of the Earth. One might wonder, how are such topics treated at a religious university? Taught in a cursory manner? Labeled as junk? Swept under the carpet? Set up as alternate theories to the Biblical creation account?

Hello! We're at a university for crying out loud, and that means science. We are in the business of discovering truth. A new building was built on campus recently, and in the dedication Elder Russell M Nelson (a man who we believe to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, like the ancient apostles of the New Testament) said, "This university is committed to search for truth, and to teach the truth. All truth is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is compatible."

Also, "There is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from either an incomplete knowledge of either science, or religion, or both."

Wow. Can you just read that statement again? Those are powerful words.

It is a fundamental belief of members of the Church, and myself personally, that we should try to understand the world around us - find patterns, discover laws, create, invent, try to make sense of the universe. Clearly, it is a process. I happen to study the political and economical laws of the universe (in my humble opinion, a much more daunting task than studying the laws of nature). However, I have the utmost respect for the research and discoveries of those in the fields of physics, biology, astronomy, medicine, and the like.

Just after a few weeks in this class, I have a greater appreciation for this beautiful Earth that we live on. The flora and fauna that we see right now only represents a TINY part of what has ever existed on this planet. To me, it is just another testimony of the love God has for us. Look at all the work he put into creating a world just for us - the different ages, different species, different continent arrangement. All this has culminated in the earth that exists today - our Earth, with breath-taking mountains, soaring eagles, delicate roses. I don't have time, nor will I ever have time, to express my gratitude at each individual creation that makes my life better just for its simple existence. I'm just beginning to comprehend the vast expanses of time that have preceded life as we know it - and I am in awe.

To quote Carl Sagan, a respected astronomer AND self-declared agnostic, "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is way better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed?' Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge."

I would like to claim the privilege of participating in such a religion, one that welcomes the advances of science and the insight they give into our universe - all this only serves as further evidence of the greatness, power, and wisdom of God. As we learn more about our world, we learn more about His creations, and we learn more about Him. God created the earth and works miracles by obedience to the natural laws of the universe - so why not seek to understand these natural laws?

A word of caution - not all science is created equal, and just because a discovery is new does not make it truth. Every proponent of the scientific method can agree with me on this fact! There is still quite a bit that we, as the the human race, do not know and new discoveries in the next 20-30 years will most likely disprove a great deal of "truths" preached today in the scientific community. Change and development is a fact of life! I have very low tolerance for anyone, scientist or preacher, who claims to have all the answers to everything. We don't. Humility, or the ability to admit our own limitations, is a dying virtue. Again, any apparent conflict between science and religion returns to this powerful statement: conflict only arises from incomplete knowledge.

I'll end my little rant (and thanks to you that have stuck around until the end) with an elegant scripture found in the Book of Mormon, Alma 30:44: "Yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."

I know that God lives. I know that he created the heavens and the earth, and he did so because he loves us. They were created for us. I know that He created them through the power of His Son, Jesus Christ, but I don't know exactly how He created it all. I believe that through study, research, the scientific method, combined with the influence of the Holy Ghost, we will be able to understand the "how" a little bit better. And I am grateful that He has given us this opportunity to learn from the world around us. And that, friends, is what I believe about science and religion.

Another few fascinating links for anyone interested on additional reading on Mormons and Science, here are a few:
One of my professor's views
Official Church stance on evolution
Dedication of the new Life Sciences building at BYU
Man was created in the image of God

January 29, 2015

I Know the Secret: How to Be Truly Happy

Well, since sharing your testimony is never a one-time event, I figured it would be cool to keep this blog going to have an outlet every once in a while for my spiritual soapboxes. And also, as every RM knows, its really hard when you don't have a companion to talk to about what you learned during personal study. I'll just share it with you :p

How Can We Be Happy?

That is the question. Everyone wants the answer. That's why there are so many commercials for sex and drugs and alcohol. Because people think that just maybe, it might make them happy. WRONG! Dead wrong. And what about video games and nexflix and endless social media? ALSO WRONG. Money? Fame? Being pretty? wrong, wrong, wrong.

Everyone wants to be happy, but just look at the news or your nextdoor neighbors or yourself and you'll realize that its quite elusive.

True happiness, like anything worthwhile in life, only comes in and through Jesus Christ (Moroni 7:20,22). He laid down His life to bring to pass the great atoning sacrifice- and through the Atonement, we can do anything. The power of the Atonement can make us clean again, which takes away the heaviest burden that is ours to bear (and the one that most destroys our happiness) - the burden of guilt. But we all know as well that the Atonement of Christ can lift all burdens and cure all heartaches - that of disease, addiction, heartbreak, sorrow, loneliness, feels of inadequacy, little stresses and big stresses (Alma 7:11-13). He can cure them all (1 Nephi 11:31). He can even change our attitudes, our desires, our very nature, who we are - all that is within His power to change because of His atoning sacrifice. So really, happiness is only possible because of the merits and grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 2:8).

In this way, happiness is very much outside of our control. We can't EARN it, we can't CREATE it, it doesn't belong to us like an object that you can purchase at the store. We are not the great creators here. But it is OUR CHOICE if we are going to have access to this happiness or not. Let me repeat. It is OUR CHOICE if we are going to have access to this happiness or not. We make the conscious, personal decision to seek after this happiness (Alma 27:18).

What can we do to choose happiness? Well, it is a gift of the Spirit, just like faith or charity or humility or the gift of tongues. We receive it by being worthy. Choosing happiness means choosing to obey God's commandments - all of them. And when we don't quite reach up, it means choosing to be HUMBLE enough to repent. (Sometimes this means we need to make uncomfortable changes to our attitude, belief system, and lifestyle. It always requires sacrifice. In this way, the path to real happiness often beings with very real pain that comes from an honest self-analysis. But it gets better!) Happiness is choosing to forgive when someone has wronged us (who is happy when you're angry at other people all the time?) And when the storms of life come - the things that aren't your fault, the challenges that you think aren't fair - happiness is choosing to open up in prayer and let God in  and invite Him to lift you burdens with you. When you try to do it alone, you wont be happy. You will be stressed and complain a lot and very likely won't succeed, and will probably miss what matters most in the process. That is not happy. But with God's help and the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement, you will be happy in ANY circumstances- rich or poor, whole or a little broken, strong or weak, loved by all or alone. By choosing to accept the gift of Christ's Atonement, you are choosing to be happy.

And I do know that this is true, through tried and tested experience.

End of One Adventure, Onto the Next One!

You know, coming to the end of the mission everything just starts to fall into place. I think I have never felt the Spirit so strongly in everything I did - helping the sisters, teaching moments, finding new investigators, talking on the street, studying - everything was just ONE with the Spirit! Which, in the end, is really the best and most effective way to do missionary work. It was just quite sad because it was at the very end. I feel like I was leaving just as I learned to be a real missionary.

Did I do anything special or different my last week?
Well, no, I ...worked!
I was bound and determined to finish up my mission running here there and everywhere, and that is exactly what happened :) Endure to the end!

We had a few dinners with some members that I realllly love, and a day of running around and saying goodbye instead of packing my suitcases, and a wonderful goodbye party that the members put together where they sang hymns for us and of course I cried but there was Coca-Cola which made it all better.

My LAST day in Sousa turned out to be a real scramble! (Of course.) We get to the bus station, ready to buy bus tickets for the bus that leaves at noon and gets to Natal 9pm but....wait. There is no bus on Tuesdays. SAY WHATTTTTTT!!!! The next few hours were a mess of bartering and begging and praying and trying to find some transport from the middle of nowhere to the mission office so I could, you know, have a last interview and catch my plane and stuff. In the end, we found a van that was willing to take the 6 of us, with luggage, to Natal. FAMILY ROAD TRIP TIME! Everyone was very cuddly for the 6 hours it took, our luggage on top of the van tied on tight. It was really neat, because the missionaries that were going to train that upcoming transfer went with us to Natal which included: Sister Lawrence! (my lovable comp!) and Sister Are'valo!(my best friend ever!) so the car ride was really quite enjoyable.

I guess the biggest surreal moment was when we got there to hear the testimonies of all the newbies on the mission. Woahhh. Brought me back to my first day on the mission. But the most interesting thing was... the difference in the testimony. Listening to each new missionary, I felt the Spirit. It was wonderful. But their words were just that...words. They believe with all their heart what they are saying, and have had quite a few incredible experiences in their lives that have given them these testimonies. But they haven't lived their testimonies. They haven't defended their testimonies day in and day out. They haven't had the privilege of sharing their testimonies not only daily, but hourly. They haven't been torn down in their weakest spots just to be rebuilt again, stronger. They haven't yet learned to rely on the Atonement, for forgiveness, for faith, for physical strength, for patience and love. In short, they haven't served their mission yet.

And the difference between the testimony meeting on Tuesday, which the missionaries just arriving, and the testimony meeting on Wednesday, with the missionaries going home...there are just no words to explain.

I'm grateful for what Heavenly Father has created in the past 18 months. I didn't notice the changes in me, because I was too busy worrying about everybody else. That's good, that's what real service is. But without me noticing, Heavenly Father built me up into a true servant, a faithful servant, and a prepared servant. I'm ready to take my place in His Church, preparing the world for the Second Coming of Christ. I'm ready to be a wife and a mother, I'm ready to serve in whatever calling, great or small, that he calls me. I'm ready. And I'm grateful for the Atonement of Christ that made me who I am today.


Merry Christmas! Brasilian style!

Warning: What follows is not your typical happy, feel-good Christmas story. Its MY Christmas story and the very important life-lessons that I learned. (we are reading excerpts from Sister Carroll's journal here)

So this year's Christmas has brought on some serious reflection...

I'm not going o lie. I don't like Christmas all that much in Brasil. Its super hot, there's no snow, I'm not hearing the good ol' fashioned Christmas carols, and its literally just a giant excuse for people to drink and party and it all-around Satan's holiday in Sousa.

Em fim, its the exact opposite of what Christmas should be - the Christmas that I'm used to.
And I was getting a little frustrated and let down, because in the epoca of miracles and softened hearts, we can't find anyone all week that wants to hear because they are all drunk. Its spiritually and emotionally draining.

So its Christmas Eve, I'm sitting there on the mattress in our study room in a white jumpsuit that's HOT as all get out, just crying. Everyone is asleep and I'm there, crying, not sure exactly why. Its hard to describe, but almost like... homesick? But not homesick for home and family and normal Christmas. More like, homesick for my heavenly home. Almost like, internally, I just FELT that Christ's birth should mean more and I'm just in a very fallen world very far away from my Heavenly Father and not able to feel close to Him. And I was sad.

So I grabbed my companion's hymn book and it fell open to one of my favorite hymns - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

"But in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on Earth, I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, goodwill to men
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong will fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, goodwill to men."

After reading that, I felt a lot better, said a prayer, and went to sleep.

We spent Christmas Day visiting recent converts and giving pictures of Christ to them in cute little picture frames. Most of them were pretty down as well, with things going on in their own families. Lots of tears. But I had gotten my crying out of the way the night before, and God gave me a message of hope, so I was prepared to give that same message of hope to everyone else the next day. I could help everyone :)

It wasn't Christmas the way I wanted it to be, but maybe it was Christmas the way it needed to be.

But as I was studying the next day, God gently chastened me and I realized that whether or not I feel close to Him depends more on my personal effort and less on what happens around me, and I didn't put in my best personal effort this month. With only 3 weeks left in the field, I want to do EVERYTHING possible to:
(1) Truly come to know Jesus Christ
(2)Truly teach the doctrine of Christ to help other people come closer to Him
(3)Truly BE a representative of Jesus Christ through my words and actions.

I know that the only thing that brings real, lasting happiness in this life is the gospel. It is the only source of peace, and the only solution to the world's problems. That is why I am a missionary. I know that it is our choice if we are close or far from our Heavenly Father, and as we make the daily simple choices to do what is right, we will feel His love and support.

Merry Christmas to all!

December 18, 2014

Sprint at the end of a Race

                                                                                                 December 17, 2014

Hi everyone!
Sorry I´ve been a slacker about email lately, the past few weeks have been a little busy (yay for today! it’s the first real pday I´ve had in 3? weeks!)
But what´s going on here in Sousa. We had transfers last week, and looks like I´m finishing up my last transfer here in Sousa with Sister Lawrence! Which is just fine by me ;) Seriously, this area has been an area of miracles every single week and my comp is THE BEST EVER. So I´m really quite happy.
Last week was a whirlwind of spiritual highs and lows! Mostly based on Nezinho, a sweet little old man that we have been teaching. He is so pure! We were helping him prepare for baptism. He was getting a little nervous towards the end of the week, but we had an INCREDIBLE lesson where we literally got to see the Spirit touch and change his heart. Nezinho was a little indecisive and wanted to go to the country this past weekend to help his brother-in-law build a house INSTEAD of going to church and getting baptized. Lame excuse. But we taught about the Plan of Salvation and eternal families and temple marriage. Nezinho´s wife passed away 6 years ago and when he finally understood that he could be with her again, after this life, he started to cry. I don´t know the last time I´ve seen a grown man cry, but then I started to cry too!  We read in the Book of Mormon, 3 Néfi 13:19-21
Don´t treausre up treasures on Earth, where moth and rust consume and thieves steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and thieves cannot steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Forgive the translation...I don’t speak English anymore....)
The Spirit literally used me to explain to Nezinho that he can choose to go to the country and help build the house, but one day this house is going to get old and fall apart. Or he can come to church and be baptized and take the first step in the journey towards creating an eternal family, something that is permanent, something that will last for all time. He began to cry again and promised that he would be baptized on Sunday :)
Unfortunately, due to circumstances out of all of our control, he wasn’t able to be at church on Sunday. It was .... a really hard day for us. We are trying to help him and work things out for him to be baptized this Sunday. Please, PLEASE remember Nezinho in your prayers!
In other news, as much as I would like to avoid it, I´m officially in my last transfer. Sometimes I forget about it, when I´m teaching and finding and everything, but sometimes I get really excited to see my family and eat my favorite foods, and a lot of times I just get really panicky about doing my very best and how hard it will be to leave. This time is truly sacred and every day and every night I am just so grateful for the chance I have to serve. One of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon gives the best visual - Jacó 5:71-72. The Lord of the Vineyard, laboring side-by-side with his servants. It doesn’t matter the heat of the day, it doesn’t matter if I’m walking half a marathon every day, it doesn’t matter when the people don’t want to hear, or when they want to hear but the voice of the world is louder. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because I spent my day working side-by-side with the Savior. I´m doing His work, because I love Him and His purpose has become my purpose.
I´m grateful for my mom and dad because every week when they send me an email they prove to me that service in the vineyard of the Lord doesn’t end with the mission. If we are looking for chances to serve and when we have the vision of our purpose here on Earth, the Lord will always give us the opportunity to help. And they help so so SO many people and I´m proud to be their daughter. Maybe someday I can be just as good as them :)
I love you all! Have a great week!
-Sister Carroll


A few other fun tidbits from her personal response email 
We give out 10 #sharethegift cards every day! its going great!
We (the 4 sisters) are going to sing Christmas carols to everyone in our apartment building next week and give out the heisthegift cards. It’s gonna be great! We (us and the elders in our ward) have started singing Christmas songs for our message at lunch. The members love it :)

December 6, 2014

Eyes to see Miracles

                                                                                                            November 17, 2014

Yesterday, an Elder told me that I have a gift - the eyes to see miracles. He told me that I have a gift that I´m able to see miracles that other people can´t, or won´t, recognize. I don´t know if that´s true, but this week really was a week of miracles!

Monday we went back to Natal (did you know that a bus ride from Souza to Natal is almost as long as the plane ride São Paulo to the US?) and Tuesday Sister Cabral and I had the afternoon free to do what we wanted. So what do we do? Go to the beach? Go Christmas shopping? Hang around the mission office? NO WAY! Visit our Recent Converts, of course :) It was the best afternoon ever! Granted, it’s only been 3-4 weeks that I´ve left Natal but it was neat to see the people I taught and baptized still going strong. The highlight of the night was seeing Lucas and Vagner, two YM of gold. I didn’t even have to go looking for them, they were just hanging around the Church waiting for a youth activity to start! Just a few short years and they´ll be on their missions :) also, Marceilda, a YW that was baptized in my first area, went to the temple this past week!!!! She sent me a letter and told me that she has a calling as a ward missionary, she is reading the Book of Mormon for the 3rd time, and she went to the temple <3 a="" bit="" cried="" got="" have="" her="" i="" letter....="" little="" may="" o:p="" when="">

All the traveling didn’t sit quite well with me so I got a little sick this week. The Lord definitely helped us, because we only had 3 days to work in our area and everything worked out in the end, even with the time I spend sleeping (almost 12 hours straight!) I have a renewed testimony of priesthood blessings - the Lord WANTS to heal us! It’s just our faith that is the deciding factor!

Dona Francisca was baptized on Sunday! She´s just the sweetest little old lady (74 years old!) with more backbone than any other investigator I know. Satan threw a bunch of complications our way, but it all worked out in the end. There is a huge drought here in Brasil, the situation is critical. We didn’t have any water to fill the baptismal font so we had to ask the firefighters to fill the font! (If you could pray for rain....we need it. if it doesn’t rain before January, the city will stop functioning). Then when we got to her house to walk with her to church, her family said that she had ALREADY LEFT!  it’s a 30-40 minute walk! In the hot sun! We were so worried about her, we just walked around the whole city trying to find her. Well, we calmed down a bit and stopped to say the most fervent prayer of my life....and then she appeared on the street corner! Ohhh Francisca :) God really hears and answers prayers.

Saturday night was a devotional to celebrate.....THE TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE CHURCH IN SOUZA!!!!! Wooooohhhh! The church is soooo new here. It brought me to tears to hear all the stories of the early efforts and see the sacrifices of the members here. Missionary work is their life - they spend the whole week visiting the members to help everyone get to church on Sunday! Most members have to walk 30-45 minutes in the hot sun to get to church! They really inspire me to be a better missionary. I feel like I´m part of something a lot bigger than me. We´re just all together, literally fighting for the life of Souza inch by inch. I feel like the early missionaries that served in England - it’s the best comparison there is. It was so interesting to hear the conversion stories, one sister of the ward said that it’s not the beautiful chapels but the way the members received the visitors that makes the difference. There wasn’t a church building when she started out, but the irmãs hugged and kissed her and made her feel at home. And that is simply how the church grows. The Presidente da Missão made a goal with the missionaries and church leaders last night that before June 2015, Souza will become a stake!!!!

So, it was a good week! Keep praying for my comp, she´s going home on Saturday and I don´t know what I’m going to do without Sister Cabral!

Please pray for Manual, Daniel, and Serverinho also!
 -Sister Carroll

When in a hurry write your email in Portuguase

                                                                                                   November 10, 2014

Translation of Portuguese email – some phrases didn’t come through quite so well

So .... Maybe I'll start sending emails in Portuguese. Father, mother, if that's too boring I'll stop but it is much easier to write in Portuguese.... and you have Google translate!

This week was WONDERFUL! One of the races of my mission, with a 3 day split with S. Garcia (S. Cabral went to Pombal, a town one hour from here), and then a change. Our old apartment was on the fourth floor, and moved for an apartment on the 3rd floor across town. Thank you for the elders, brothers, and the priesthood in general for help in changing! Sorry for the mission secretaries, arranging contracts is a HEADACHE! After all, ended the week well with the most important things: the Manuel baptisms, Daniel (2 brothers!) And Cícerio (the brother of a recent convert)! It was GORGEOUS and I love them all heart. Daniel wants to go on a mission, lack three years for him. Manuel stopped drinking during these weeks, and when we were on the way to the church for his baptism, one ''amigo'' called him to drink and he did not stop, only said, I do not drink more. He is an example for everyone! Remember Lord Cosmo, who was baptized my first week here? He and his wife made lunch for us yesterday! It was too good :)

A cool story - the spirit really guides us. I and S. Garcia were trying to find a house of a girl who was the reference member. We found the street but the house number simply WAS NOT anywhere! I felt an urgency to find this girl, and then pray there on the street to be guidada to his house. We went for a place on the street a little further away and made a prayer. When we finished, I looked up and saw that her house was literally across the street where we stopped to pray. Miracles have not ceased! Her name is Emmanuele, it is GREAT and your family too. She has accepted baptism and reading the Book of Mormon!

I learned this week a lot about that quote from Pres. Kimball- Every excuse, though it may be valid, weakens the character of the man. It is true! I was reading in Jesus Christ on Good Samaritan, and said that he, of all three who passed the injured man on the street side,''não had no excuse not wanting any desculpa.'' only create excuses when we do not want do something. For example, this week was difficult because I was not with my partner most of the time, and spent a lot of time setting things up for change on Saturday. Still, always had time to visit with ALL of our researchers (investigators – funny how google translated this) and prepare them for baptism. Had to run VERY 9:40 and slept all day, but had time to do all that was important. I''tinha'' many good excuses, but we fail to help these people. Why? Why did not want to apologize, for I LOVE Manuel and Daniel and Cicero. I love them! I wanted to be with them! It is love that motivates when we are busy or tired or a thousand other excuses. Think about that the next time you do not want to do home teaching and visiting teaching, and then sometimes to have that love for those people who are YOUR responsibility to love and care. They will become your best friends.

Love you! Please pray Francisca, Emmanueles, and Mary Solidade this week!
With love,
Sister Carroll