Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winter Magic

I'm awake far later than I ever should be, and I have a rather pathetic reason for it: I was bored, I didn't feel like sleeping, and so... I started making paper snowflakes.

I'm not the biggest snow person out there: it's cold and wet and turns into slush that soaks my jeans and shoes. But it's also undeniable how beautiful snow can be. Especially when it's falling and when it's laying on the ground, untouched. I was running errands on campus early in the evening yesterday and walked outside into a thick flurry of snow blowing through the air and already carpeting the sidewalks and grass. My breath caught at the simple, clean beauty of it. It was enough snow to make everything white without creating terrible inconvenience yet. I wanted to capture the moment, but I didn't have my camera on me; and honestly, I don't think the camera could capture it.

Hours later, in the warmth of my apartment, I started cutting out paper snowflakes. As I experimented with different shapes, I was often pleasantly surprised with the intricate designs that resulted as I unfolded each one. It was like magic to open each snowflake and see how the snips in the paper turned it into an individual creation in its own right. What do you then do with 30-something paper snowflakes? (Half were left from an activity earlier this month). I took some thread, scissors and scotch tape, and hung each of them from my living room ceiling. The variety is quite intriguing, and together they make for a lovely indoor snowstorm.


Now, I'm not sure if paper snowflakes are worth staying up until 6am for... They probably aren't, but it was certainly a fun undertaking :) And, I don't need to worry about decorating for a New Year's party!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Perspectives

The inability to "see the end from the beginning" is a frequently-used proverb about perspectives. It is true - back when I was 12, there's no way I could have pictured myself at the age I am now being the person that I am, and that's not even looking from the very beginning to the very end! Being able to move forward in faith when we don't know and can't see what lies ahead of us is a very important skill to learn, and one that needs constant learning.

Another truth that we often overlook is that we also can't "see the beginning from the end" quite yet, because we're not at the end! Looking at small examples of this can help illustrate the importance of this perspective though. There's only two men that I've ever been in a serious relationship with, but before them, there were several guys over the years that I had crushes on. The circumstances, however, were never conducive to anything more than mutual crushing (pre-serious relationships); naturally, that was incredibly frustrating at the time. I still enjoyed great (though even that was debatable at times) friendships with these guys, and I learned many, many things that helped me become a better person and that prepared me for future relationships. With "J", I learned about having pure motives, and I had to develop self-discipline and say 'no' to something I really wanted because it wasn't the right time. I also had to learn a bit of patience that that young man :) From "S" I learned a lot about loving people and he helped me to become more comfortable with myself. And countless others before and since have taught me different things that have helped shape me into who I am today.

Basically, moral of this post is that we cannot yet see our current trials/successes in 20/20 hindsight (or even less than perfect hindsight). So even if things don't seem to make sense as they're happening, just wait a while, and sooner or later you'll be able to see why something happened the way it did. Some things may have to be revealed after our mortal life, but we'll know, in time...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Biding (and Enjoying) My Time

The last post was about how I was feeling impatient for something that is still likely a week and a half away. But I've redirected my focus. Nothing major, but I'm having a lot more fun now :)

Instead of anxiously waiting and anticipating the future, I'm enjoying the moment I'm in for what it's worth (and each is a treasured moment). In the last couple days, I've been able to appreciate things like being outside in the evening during the quiet snowfall, getting fed at work, learning how to do new things and becoming more capable, savoring a pink peppermint milkshake, laughing with friends over goofy stories (both real and hypothetical stories), tickling my youngest brother and sister while they're hiding in sleeping bags, and really, feeling the Holy Spirit as I read the Book of Mormon. I don't know if I'll be able to meet my goal of finishing by the year's end (I started kind of late and got sidetracked), but I'm having a really good experience as I try to catch up. It really makes me want to ingrain daily Book of Mormon reading into my life, permanently (I've succeeded in making it a habit a few times over the years, but I get complacent and it wanes). It's made such a difference and my life is being slowly, gently, thoroughly flooded with the light, peace, love and righteous desire that come from and through Jesus Christ. For that, I am so grateful. My life has been blessed in countless ways, in every facet of my existence, and I owe it all to Him.

I bear this testimony that Jesus Christ lives! He loves each of us, and died for each of us as well as dying for us all (the Atonement covers all of mankind, but He willingly did it to save me. And you. And my neighbor and your neighbor and our "enemies". Everyone.) He is my everything; without Him, I'm like a hollow, dried straw that blows about lifeless wherever the wind takes it. It sounds a bit cliche, but I don't know how else to describe the feeling. My life, my happiness, my abilities and successes are all possible because of Him. If I were wise, I would never forsake Him. The good news is that He is there to help me learn from my mistakes and become wiser in the future; as long as I keep trying, He will never turn His help away. God is pretty much amazing :) Always and forever, He is my God - for that and so many more things, I am eternally grateful.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lessons in the Learning?

Waiting can be so hard sometimes. On one hand I realize that having time is important, and that rushing things can often make them worse. On the other hand, I'd really like to get things figured out so I can move ahead. Waiting and uncertainty... My mind is wandering tirelessly (or tiredly?) in the same circles over and over, looping back to the same things as before. Time will give me the answers I lack, and now I just need to sit tight and figure out my end. I guess those (patience and dealing with uncertainty) are lessons I need to learn. Can't I learn any faster? :)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Last Week of the Semester

Finals week scares me. Yes, everyone has to take the big, mean, ugly tests that are usually a comprehensive summary of the semester, but they strike a different kind of fear in me. I can't shove studying aside any longer to work on cleaning my room, grocery shopping, cook, plan Christmas presents, or do any of the other productive excuses I've used for my time so far this semester. I'm being called to account for the effort I put into school - what my parents pay for, teachers prepare for, and other students sweat over - and it's not pleasant. This fear brings a paralysis, a wrought-over feeling in my gut, unconsciously clenching my jaw, and lines of worry that knit themselves in furrows across my forehead.

It's not that I don't like learning. I do. And I could come up with a million excuses for not doing the work during the semester: initially it's things like that I didn't pay enough attention to the syllabus to realize something was due. Then it becomes fear and shame of going to class when I'm not prepared and the teacher expects better of me. Laziness and boredom in class also play roles; I just don't feel like doing the work or it's uninteresting and I lose motivation to do it. These excuses are all true, but they are also fairly pathetic. When the semester draws to a close, I remember my responsibility to get good grades (not that I ever really forgot it - I just ran out of room to hide from it), and because that's in serious jeopardy, I get scared.

And so this is where I find myself, on the second-to-last day of finals week. One scheduled final tomorrow morning, and a second to frantically study for before the testing center closes tomorrow night. The foot of my bed is covered in clothes I wore over the last few days, and my desk has been littered with letters, books, notes, and various things (mostly papers) that ought to be cleaned up. I'm not worried about dinner, fortunately - I've got plenty of options, and most shouldn't take long to make. Hopefully I know what to study now, I just need to do it.

As I resolved earlier this week after a disappointing test score (not bad, but not as good as I wanted or expected), whether I succeed or fail, my God is and will remain to be the God of Israel. I will not make my faith contingent upon test results.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No More Mystery

So, that desire I talked about in my last post... I feel like it's safe to be more open about it now. Long story short: after a month of separation, my boyfriend and I are back together. We both learned some things individually during that time that it would have been hard or impossible to learn any other way. And we're both very happy where things are now :)

Case closed, mystery revealed. Now, time for sleep.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Faith, Thoughts, and a Change of Heart

There's been a lot on my mind this week. Actually... a lot of it is just one person, and I'll get to that. But it's changed - what and how I've been thinking - in the last few hours.

I've been thinking a lot about someone this week, due to seeing him again (it had been a while) and hearing a really interesting perspective from a friend. Seeing him reminded me how much I've missed being with him, so spending time together this week has been absolutely lovely.

Tonight I re-read a couple months' worth of entries from my journal to look for a particular thing, but I ended up finding something else that is much more valuable. I mentioned in previous posts how the last month has been a hard one for me emotionally and on a spiritual level. Now that I'm looking back, I can see some correlations between things I hadn't necessarily connected before. It really does testify of what I described in my last post - that Christ is the only sure, stable foundation for happiness. I hadn't "lost my testimony" or anything in the second half of October, but my journal does reveal that during the time when I was struggling spiritually, a lot of other things became "more wobbly". Academics, self-esteem, relationships, general stress levels... At the very root of my problems, I felt like I was grasping at straws for any sign or feeling of God's love for me. I couldn't understand why He would (as my journal relates) "love such a sinner as me? He gives and gives and loves, and I just try and fail." I knew that He did (and does) love me, but didn't see why.

Like I said, I've been turning myself around as I allow Christ to take me by the hand and guide me. I'm really trying to be better, and my heart is being changed. This week I've been fixated on a specific desire that I think is possible (and perhaps probably); it's a good desire, and I think it's perhaps the right one. So, I've been wanting to make it happen as soon as possible... But tonight, I felt a change in my heart: I still have the same desire, but I'm feeling much more capable of being patient for it to come to pass. I would love it if I could find out right now what this other person thinks and if he wants the same things I want, but now may not be a good time. So, I'm relying on the Lord and trusting him rather than trying to do it myself or give into my own worries. I'm taking a leap of faith... As to my desires, "If after you release a butterfly [that you've hypothetically raised], it comes back, then you know it's yours. If it doesn't come back, then it was never yours to begin with." God will make sure it works out.

I'm glad for the change that Christ is working in my heart. Someday, all my weaknesses will be made up. Someday, as I continue to be faithful and try hard, I will be as Christ is. And in the meantime, He loves me and is helping me to do the things that I need to do. I just need to trust Him.

In the name of my beloved Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Being Happy... Really

Life is a funny conundrum... Sometimes it seems really complicated, and then when you look at it a different way, it appears as simple as black and white. Sometimes you can say the same thing at two different times, and both are true, but both are different... 

Truth be told, over the last month or two, I've been more easily discouraged by different things. I still have things that make me happy, but it's a different quality of life, and not very fun. Some days I feel awesome, happy and grateful, and other days I feel like a failure at life and wonder why I even try. The happiness I feel during seasons like this is still a positive feeling, but it's not quite what I'm looking for. It's not what I had in mind as I started this blog. So, I apologize for the lapse over the past month or so.

I'm turning myself around though. The transition probably started 2 weeks ago - I think it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving - and it's still going. It was the night I got a priesthood blessing. It's strange and kind of difficult to relate the difference... I still went through many of the same motions before as I am now, but there's a different intent and quality to them. It's changing my mindset. Slowly, as I redirect my focus to trusting in Jesus Christ, I'm regaining the happy quality of life that I experienced before. 

When I make Christ my ultimate source of safety, peace, happiness and comfort, I have a solid foundation for happiness. Then on top of that, I'm able to better and more consistently find enjoyment in other things. I just can't make those "other things" the base because they're simply not enough for a strong foundation. They are bricks to be added on.

So, what is that meaning for me in my life right now? It means that I don't just read the scriptures because I'm supposed to - I'm reading the scriptures to feel the Holy Spirit and to learn. I don't just pray because it's part of the routine and I ought to - I pray for strength, and to bend my will to Heavenly Father's. I need to be interested in other people for more than just politeness' sake - I need to do it because it's Christlike (having charity), and I'm trying to be like Him. It means that I need to endure the end and enjoy the journey, not just suffer through it.

For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
Moses 1:39
...having no joy, for they knew no misery... But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that man might be; and men are, that they might have joy.
2 Nephi 2:23-25
 And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
2 Nephi 25:26

This is what the Christmas season (and all life, really) comes down to: the "glad tidings of great joy" (Luke 2:10), for "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given" (Isaiah 9:6) and "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Is not this enough reason to rejoice? "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6), and because of the gift of our Father's Son, his great atoning sacrifice, we have hope for a new life. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is joyous. It is the only thing that will bring true, deep, neverending happiness; in this life and after. I testify of this in His name, Jesus Christ, amen.

Giving Thanks

This started out as a much longer post detailing the highlights from my Thanksgiving break. Then I decided I should be more concise, and just list some things I'm grateful for.

- I'm really grateful for my roommates. We're all really good friends, and we tolerate, support, love, and teach each other in turn. Mostly we love each other :) I'm glad that on days when I'm stressed, or times when I'm either excited or disappointed about guys, my roommates will be patient and let me gush for a bit. We all do so much for each other; our apartment is really a haven of love and security.

- Naturally, I'm exceedingly grateful for my family. It's a little harder to stay as close to them when we live so far away, but I love them just as much and appreciate them more than ever. My parents have set a beautiful example for me in how to live my life, make a positive contribution, and reach out to others. My siblings have been wonderful friends and teachers in their own way; I appreciate each one of them for the uniqueness they offer and the privilege I have to call them my family. The same goes to my extended family.

- I'm grateful to be at my current university - I'm grateful for the friendly atmosphere, for the people I've been fortunate to meet, for all the variety in educational opportunities, and the chance it's giving me to grow up and become more of who I want to be. I learn so much more here outside the classroom than in it, and that's no small feat. Being here has been a huge blessing.

- I'm grateful for talents and interests. It's something that's always changing and developing. It's fun to be able to take enjoyment, fulfillment and pride out of being able to do or value something. I think it's cool that Heavenly Father has given each of us different strengths, because then we can uplift each other in different ways, and everyone is benefited by it. If we didn't have things we were better at and things we're not as good at, it would all be a lifeless, boring monotony. For my part, some things I love are dancing, nature, good food, fantastic company, and beauty wherever it is found.

- I'm grateful for Jesus Christ, and our Father in Heaven. Of all the blessings I've been given, this one trumps all, because it makes all the others possible. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, I can see my Heavenly Father again, and I have a hope and a way to live with Him again. Without Christ - His mission and Atonement - all would be fallen and lost. I will forever be indebted to Him for His selfless sacrifice made in love. He gives me blessings every day, and strengthens me when I am weak. When I get down on myself, He whispers to my heart and memory, "I love you. Look up - it's okay. Move forward! I am with you; you aren't alone. We can do it." He never gives up on me, even when I get distracted and falter. I trust Him; His promises are sure.

Paying attention to what you have and giving thanks for it is really important. There's many more things I could list, but they basically come down to these.

My home teachers (a couple guys who are assigned to visit with me at least once a month and assist me when I need help) had this to add about gratitude. Being thankful is good. It's even better to take the talents you've been given (Matthew 25) and multiply them by giving back. How exactly I'm going to do that through my life will be an involved process, but it's one that I'm going to do in order to bring my gratitude full circle (Doctrine and Covenants 42:38; Matthew 25:34-40). Being grateful = being happy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Commitment

I got to thinking earlier this week about "commitment": what are the levels or degrees, what level am I at, and what does it even mean, particularly in regards to relationships? So I thought I'd do an analysis on here.

When you're "committed" to someone, what are the expectations that go with it? What does it mean to be "committed"? My thoughts are:


A commitment to CONTINUANCE. When you can safely trust someone to be there for you in the future just as much as they are there for you now, you can feel safe investing in them and moving forward. When you are committed to someone, you are promising that for them, and you expect it in return.
A commitment to EXCLUSIVITY/FIDELITY. Increasing the degree of commitment in a relationship acts as a funnel: the more involved you become with someone, the more exclusive your commitment becomes. Think about it - it's true in dating (as your interest and commitment to one person increases, you lose your interest in other possibilities), and it's even a religious truth (when you become more involved in God, there's less room for Satan to cut in). There's an increased expectation for faithfulness to each other as the commitment grows.
A commitment to EACH OTHER. As you truly become committed to someone else, your desires shift from yourself to their self. When you really do love someone, you want them to be happy, even if that means making some personal sacrifices. But those sacrifices don't really matter, because the other person is more important to you. You're invested in who they are - you want the best for them - and they become likewise invested in you. Two become one (Mark 10:8; Doctrine and Covenants 35:2).

That's all I came up with right now... But it's good to think about, both before entering a relationship and evaluating while you're in one. "What promises am I making to this person?" and "Am I reciprocating these promises to them?"

As for where I am, I'm working on building relationships with people. That needs to be my focus right now: making new friends, broadening my horizons, developing charity, and making people feel important. I've found that as I try the latter more, I get a lot of fulfillment out of it. We're all children of God; we're all unique, and we all deserve and need love. If I make my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ my highest priority, everything else will be added in (the right) time (Matthew 6:33; 3 Nephi 13:33).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When All the Apartment is Still...

What do you do in the wintertime, when most of your roommates have left to visit family, the other remaining roommate is asleep, and all the apartment is still on a snowy evening?

If you're me, you bring the laptop to the kitchen table and turn on your music on shuffle while you empty and reload the dishwasher, then wash the rest of the pots and pans by hand until the sink is clear and the counter mostly bare. Then you might sit yourself down and flicker between facebook, email, doing research for Black Friday, and making plans for the rest of the week. You end up doing a lot of thinking too - the iTunes shuffle feature stirs up quite a few memories to chew on (you can read my older post about that). If you're me and also have the great roommates I do, you would probably combine some of the leftovers they want you to use and make a vaguely-reminiscent-of-lasagne dinner with chicken tortellini, tomato-based sauce and cottage cheese. (If you try that, it turns out pretty decently for mixing leftovers).

And after all that, you're still left to yourself and your thoughts. So, I'm going to silence Taylor Swift and Boys Like Girls for a while (though I do rather like that song, "Two is Better Than One") and read. Then write about my reading.

(The thought briefly crossed my mind to read the book from G. K. Chesterton I borrowed from the library, but I'll save that one for another time.)

In my Book of Mormon reading, I'm at Jacob chapter 7. It's fascinating how these prophets (Lehi, Nephi and Jacob, at this point) had such a firm belief in Jesus Christ - in His mission, in His love, and in His Atonement - so long before Christ was even born. They understood that He was the long-prophesied Messiah, and that the simple (or complex, perhaps) keeping of the law of Moses alone could not save them. Jacob 4:4 and 5 read,
For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.  
Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son. (emphasis added)
This was written between 544 and 421 BC. After some years passed (fast-forward to chapter 7), there was a man named Sherem who started preaching and "labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people", having a "perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore he could use much flattery" and did this "declaring unto the people that there should be no Christ". Way back then there was already opposition to Jesus Christ! Again, long before He was even born. Well, it's written that this guy wanted to talk to Jacob, since Jacob was a pretty big church leader. Sherem's first charge was that Jacob was the one leading people astray from the law of Moses, and argued that you can't tell of things to come. Jacob responded by asking Sherem if he believed the scriptures, to which he responded yes. Jacob then said, "Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ." He added his own testimony to that of the prophets, saying that "it also has been made manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost." Sherem does something really unintelligent right after that. He demands, "Show me a sign by this power of the Holy Ghost, in the which ye know so much." Bad idea. As soon as he says that, Jacob tells him "What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign" and "nevertheless, not my will be done; but if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come." And, guess what happens? God shows Sherem who's in charge, and Sherem is smitten. Before he dies (smitten doesn't always mean instant death), Sherem gathers all the people he had taught before and confesses to them that he was a liar in denying Christ, and that the scriptures really do testify of him. After that, the people turn again to searching the scriptures for themselves, and they gain stronger testimonies of Jesus Christ, which brings peace and the love of God back to the people. And that basically concludes the book of Jacob.

That also concludes this blog post for tonight. I may continue reading on my own, but my eyes are heavy and it's getting late. Time for bed. We'll see what the morning brings: more solitude, more study time, maybe some motivation to do something else entirely (hopefully something productive). 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Confidence and Happiness

It's funny, some of the things you learn as you get older. A lot of them are things you've heard for years but that you don't really get, or learn (by that I mean, integrate) until you experience it for yourself. One of those for me has been making the connection between happiness, confidence, and relating to other people.

I'm sure you're familiar with the angst where you feel like no one likes you (or at least, the person that you want to like you), and you wish you could be like someone else. That someone else seems to have all the confidence, talent, and social graces that you lack. I had those feelings a LOT when I was a teenager, and those have mostly gone away since I've matured a little bit in college. College has been a really eye-opening experience for me, where I've been able to be myself, realize that I am worthwhile, and really blossomed - opening myself up more and seeing the potential that I have. I'm far from perfect (everyone has trials, and none of us are invincible), but that's been a vast improvement in my self perception over time.

One of the things that really came along with that was developing more confidence in myself. The ideas that I can be someone worthwhile and I am different - I am myself - and I have something to offer are so empowering! I didn't believe very good things about myself growing up; I never felt adequate or like I could make a valuable contribution; that there's always someone else better suited for the job, so why should I even try. When I started realizing that (that I can be valuable by being me), and respecting myself more, it went hand-in-hand with changes in how people viewed me. Now, whether those were actual changes or just changes in my perception, I might never know, and it doesn't matter all that much (which came first, the chicken or the egg?). I learned more about myself, and I came to appreciate more about myself.

Confidence is a magnetic thing. And feeling like you, personally, make a valuable contribution is priceless. I can see a stark difference between times when I'm confident and times when I'm discouraged, and the effect it has on my social interactions. Self-doubt and self-confidence both show in your demeanor. When I go into a dance class timidly, not expecting much, withdrawn and with downcast eyes, and confident only of the fact that no one there thinks I'm worth anything, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where people are less likely to ask me to dance, and while specific people may privately be concerned about if you feel ok, there's not much motivation to spend time with you. On the other hand, if I go into class with an easy smile on my face, a sparkle in my eyes (sorry for the cliche) and meeting people's gaze, and a certain optimistic energy, people are drawn to you. People enjoy happy company; happy people are more fun, and help you to feel better about yourself.

There's a host of benefits to this method of self-image and social interaction. When I go into a room with that energy, I usually have a good time, regardless of any measurable change in outcome, such as "number of partners danced with". And that is one of the keys to happiness - basing it on attitudes rather than results. I'm of the opinion that this attitude can often have a direct impact on these results - I think that expressing confidence and exuding compassion and happiness do increase the number of people attracted to me - but even without those, I still enjoy myself quite well. It's a skill that seems to come and go depending on how I maintain my focus on it, but it's proven true every time.

So, how do you gain confidence? That seems like the crucial question every time. There isn't any magical pill to pop and gain immediate success, but this is what has worked for me... Very importantly, your worth is not based on your successes or accomplishments. Period. Your worth is based in being you: your unique combination of talents, abilities, weaknesses, habits, thoughts and intentions, etc. You have inherent worth as a son or daughter of God; we are so amazing! Our minds, our bodies, our ability to decide for ourselves, our potential to become better! It's all truly a gift, and these are universal. Even if our minds have a couple frustrating weaknesses or habits, even if our bodies are imperfect (and all of them are), we still have them and life is that much richer for it.

Even with this, it can be hard to have confidence in yourself. So, the "magical cure" that will work as often as it is honestly and truly applied is having faith (confidence) in Christ. We are imperfect; we can't do all the good things on our own that we want so desperately to. But He is perfect: perfectly loving, perfectly capable and perfectly willing to do everything to help us. He won't do life for us, but He will be there every step of the way to catch us when we fall and to help us keep moving forward. On my own, I can't do much, but with Him, I can do all that I need to. I have a testimony that God's vision for us and blessings He wants to give us are so much better than what we could dream of for ourselves. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and so sometimes we don't see how our present circumstances will lead to our greatest happiness; that is what faith is for. If trials didn't stretch us, we wouldn't grow from them. When we develop the faith to trust our Savior enough to take the first couple steps, He will strengthen us and enable us to do what we need to. We can have confidence that when our own is not enough, Christ will make up the difference, and having that knowledge can give us the peace and confidence to do anything. Even enough confidence to do something like walk into your dance class with a smile :) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Journals

I find journal-writing very therapeutic, so the times I write most frequently are often the times when I'm most emotional - be it good or bad feelings, I write to capture the moment, puzzle things out, rejoice, expound, and express thanks. My current catch-all journal has lasted since January, so I'm hoping the whole year can fit tidily into one volume.

I have another journal though, one that's lasted several years (mostly because I don't write in it very frequently...), and that's my "strictly spiritual" journal. Not all of my spiritually-minded musings have made it there, and I usually write in there only if I remember to while I'm studying... But I was writing in there tonight. As I was flipping to a fresh page, a couple of old entries caught my attention. The line that concluded an entry from last May read, "I think that sometimes even after we know something, the Lord tries our faith anyway, and makes us wait for the promised blessing." As I perused that and the surrounding words, I sadly realized that it's so true - and I had lost sight of that in the midst of my current trials.

What I realized on top of that is that there's more to journal-keeping than journal-writing; we should also read through our old journals once in a while. There's a lot of things I've learned that would make life easier to get through if I remembered them all the time. Journals aren't written exclusively for the benefit of future generations, and they can benefit the writer by more than just being a means of catharsis. Journals are to help us remember. "Remembering" is an important action in being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and is often emphasized in the Book of Mormon when exhorting people to repentance and in describing their consequent state of righteousness and happiness. When we remember the experiences of others and our own past experiences, we can be inspired and take faith and courage with us into whatever current circumstances we might be in.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Creative Cooking


Sometimes I surprise my roommates by my creativity in the kitchen. Like I've mentioned before, they were also initially startled at the lack of variety in my tastes from growing up... like never having muenster, brie, or gouda until I got to college, having subsisted only on (basically) cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese previously. But what provokes even more head-shaking isn't what I've tried before... it's how I try it, often in unusual combinations :P

"Fail Cake"
When I was little, I remember loving cheddar cheese and grape jam sandwiches. I liked layering it on thick so I could better taste the variety in texture and flavor. Last month I had an idea for a pretty normal-sounding cake, but I had problems physically composing the layers of cake, chocolate frosting and vanilla pudding. This is a picture of the delicious mess I dubbed "fail cake". Earlier this week I wanted to add some pizazz to my simple mac and cheese meal... So I mixed in some jalepeƱo jelly, some extra cheddar cheese, and chili powder. I was proud of myself - it actually turned out pretty good! And somewhat normal...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Going Global? Maybe...

Traveling abroad has been on my "bucket list" for years, and while there's been many opportunities presented (especially through school), I've never yet been able to, mainly because of timing and expense. Last week, my mom sent me a link for a "service abroad"-type experience that's really started to appeal to me:

-It's cheaper than college, and has lots of fundraising help
-It's for a full semester (available fall, winter, and summer)
-It's working (more like playing) with children, teaching them English
-The locations are in China, Russia, Ukraine and Mexico

For wanting to travel abroad, it could be a really good experience. There's different travel options from each location for vacations during the semester, and I'd be doing something meaningful while I'm there. I've been really interested in study abroad programs... But I didn't have a major to know which classes to take, and I want to use my semesters efficiently (sort of...).


One of the biggest questions though, is where do I want to go?

-China: I have no hint or shade of experience with the language or culture. It would definitely have the biggest culture shock... But I also wouldn't ever be allowed to say anything about religion, which could be really hard for me (I love helping people, and the best way is through teaching and modeling the principles found in the gospel of Jesus Christ). I'm sure China is interesting, but I don't know if it's a good match for me.

-Russia: Could definitely be interesting. The website says that despite stereotypes about Russian winters, if you can stay warm in the US you'll be fine in Russia. Once again, I'm totally unfamiliar with the language. And still, I just don't know if I'm a good match for Russia (that said, I could perhaps get a little more training or exposure in dance technique if I go there).

-Ukraine: Holds some appeal, but I'm still out of the loop with language and culture. I picture it as being more of the older Eastern Europe culturally, and I would be able to travel to Hungary and Austria! The vacation destinations for this school are really attractive. I think I would prefer it over China and Russia, but it could still be scary without knowing the language.

-Mexico: I feel like I might be the most secure about this one. I've made a lot of friends in college from Mexico, and they love their home country. I've learned salsa dancing from them and other aspects of the culture, so I wouldn't be a total stranger. I've also studied Spanish for years, and while I've basically lost the ability to speak it (I was almost fluent right after high school), this would be a really good opportunity for me to gain it back. I'd be able to have basic communication with the host family and build on that faster than I could in any of the other countries. At the same time, I wonder if that familiarity, weak though it is, would be a weakness itself; would a stronger culture shock be better?


There's an info meeting for the programs tomorrow night, so that should be helpful. I'm not entirely sold on the program, but right now it looks as though it could be the best opportunity for me to make a difference somewhere, and not just be a tourist. It would probably set me back a semester in school (I could go over the summer, but that's when I earn the most money, and I normally take classes then too), but the experience would probably be worth it. There's lots of "I don't know"s right now, but hopefully tomorrow will bring some answers.

Lots O' Thoughts

Wow, it's been over a week since I posted on here... A lot has happened in the past week.

I broke up with my boyfriend last Wednesday (Day 55, though we broke the streak after 57 days). I don't like the connotations of "breaking up" though... because we still plan on being friends and going on dates with each other (in fact, we went on a date 6 hours after breaking up). It would be a lot sadder if I thought this were the end of my relationship-friendship with him. The problem was just that I felt like it wasn't the best timing: I've got some growing up I need to do before I'm ready for the kind of commitment that an exclusive dating relationship deserves (and requires). So, my gameplan is to just work on developing friendship-relationships with lots of people, take time and be patient, and be wise about when I decide to make those kinds of commitments. We'll see what the future holds; I'm sure it'll be challenging but totally worth it.

Most of my weekend was spent at DanceSport. DanceSport is a dance competition with class events pertinent to the different classes and levels offered by my school as well as open events ranging through elementary school, preteen, youth, and amateur. I competed in 3 events, 2 of which were competing up against the gold level dancers. Haha, I was cut after dancing just one round in those, but in my silver level event I held in for a couple rounds. This is the competition in which I was going to compete in Open Standard Novice, but then my partner found someone else he wanted to dance with. It was an amazing weekend though! I was so impressed by the tight control and skill the advanced Latin dancers had, especially in rumba and samba (they danced rumba, samba, pasodoble, and jive). The standard ballroom dancers wowed me with their beauty and grace (dancing slow waltz, viennese waltz, quickstep, and tango); I studied their costumes particularly, and noted different styles, embellishments, and colors to see what seemed to look and function the best. It's somewhat embarrassing to admit, but I almost felt like crying at how beautiful the event was. It wasn't only the dance performances that touched me though - the dance floor was opened up a couple times for a general dance during breaks, and when the whole floor started moving together in time to a waltz, it was amazing to watch. Even cuter was observing older married couples moving through the steps together, enjoying each other's company and sharing in the pleasure of dancing. I spent several hours there over the 2 days of the competition observing, cheering on friends, and taking lots of photographs. My competition results aren't impressive by any means, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend being absorbed in the magic of ballroom dance.

Another special experience this weekend was on Sunday. I hadn't been feeling too stressed over the weekend... But more recently, on occasion, I've been more susceptible to discouragement. I messed something up in the first part of our church meetings this past Sunday, and the negative feelings came back, and I had more trouble than usual in trying to hide or ignore them. I got some counsel and a priesthood blessing between church getting out and going to bed that night. The help I got is things I've heard all my life, but it's exactly what I needed at this time. God's priesthood is amazing, and I'm so glad that it's here on earth and so readily available to bless our lives. I was reminded to choose faith instead of fear, and that I can safely trust Christ to take care of me. That's something we all can always improve on. I'm trying to incorporate that more into my life, because it really is the only way to find peace - to let go of our pains, sorrows, weaknesses and sins, and give them to Christ. We don't need to fear or worry unduly about the future because He is taking care of us, and we can find security, confidence, and happiness by making Him our strength. Through Christ, we really can overcome all things.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Observation, and a Witness for Christ

Thursday was a pretty rough day for me. I went to bed feeling like Heavenly Father had been ignoring me in terms of helping me with my weaknesses, and I prayed that tomorrow would be a better day. Well, it was! My boyfriend gave me a wake-up call, and my mom texted me to see if I was up, which got me off to a good start. I had fun dancing and socializing in each of my classes, I registered to compete in a third event at dance competition, and I even went to see a TA and did some homework on campus. Working on and developing something I love - dance - felt fantastic again. The day concluded with dinner and a date with my boyfriend. I was fairly giddy most of Friday, and felt utterly sparkly with happiness (which did progress to just a calm, happy feeling). I felt a lot better than I have in a while; it felt like Heavenly Father was giving me a second chance.

I've been taught that we learn and feel by having opposition and contrasts: it can be hard to understand and define "dark" and "shadow" if you don't understand "light" and "bright". If you've been living with a half-burnt light bulb, the contrast can be astonishing when you put in a new bulb and see how much brighter the room is and think "wow, it was pretty dim before". So it is with pain and happiness. In order to fully appreciate, understand and value our truest happiness, we experience real pain and privation and learn from the opposites. Through the process of maturing and growing up, the extremes and depth of these emotions grow fuller and deeper; we experience more exquisite agonies and more glorious times of peace and joy. It is a two-edged sword, and sometimes I don't want to pay the price of such happiness, but like I've said before... Somehow, the passage of time (and simply becoming busy with other things) has softened and dulled the pains of past months and years until I hardly think about them. I can remember them if I try, but I don't relive them - it doesn't really bother me anymore (why would I want to go through the same thing twice?). On the other hand, there are a few moments that I can remember very, very well - moments of seeming perfection, moments of profundity, intimate moments with dear friends - that I really cherish. "Good" is a more powerful force in memories and in changing people than "sorrow" or "fear". So, I know that even if both suffering and happiness come hand-in-hand, the happiness will triumph. And that happiness is worth the cost.


There's an event on facebook for November 6th that I decided to participate in, and basically, all it asks is for people to bear their testimonies of Jesus Christ and the other things that are appendages to that.

I'm still learning. Even though I was born and raised in the Mormon faith, there's still a lot for me to learn from others and through personal study (and all from the Holy Spirit) as I try to gain a deeper understanding of life, how God works, and who He is. Even though I don't have all the answers right now, I have enough to keep going. When everything else seems to be going wrong, I know that Heavenly Father loves me. I know that He loved me enough to sacrifice His perfect Son in order that I may return to live with Him again. I know that He manifests this love by helping and providing for me day to day. I know that because He loves me, God has created an individualized plan for my life to give me the greatest happiness; He has arranged the perfect circumstances that will help me most to grow and gain the most joy. I need to do my part - to do the simple things He's asked of me - in order to obtain the promised blessings contingent on my obedience. I know that listening to and following modern prophets will help me to stay on track, because God has authorized them to be his spokespeople on earth; I trust Him, so I know I can trust them. Everything that is good comes of Christ, leads me to Him, and inspires me to become more like Him; anything that doesn't do those things is stuff I need to stay away from and constantly purge from my life. It's an ongoing process and will be the master project of a lifetime, but it'll be worth it, because it will help me *make happiness* now and lead me to even more later. I say these things truthfully and faithfully in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chocolate donuts and Hard times

Chocolate-frosted donettes don't make problems go away.

In spite of the sugary sweetness, the anxieties just continue to sulk in the back of my mind and try to creep through the shadows to the forefront where they can consume me. I'm not going to let them get that far, but they are still worrisome. Mostly it's silly things that hide beneath the surface until someone throws in a line and starts fishing. Sometimes it's hard to avoid feeling like I haven't changed much since middle school or early high school: that I'm still insecure, inadequate, lonely and loved only by a few. Then I remember that for all my weaknesses and failings, there are definitely parts of me that have changed. And that gives me hope for the others still remaining. I'm not as shy as I used to be. I'm more willing to go out of my way to be interested in and help others instead of wallowing in my own needs. I've learned some skills, gained some experiences, and am constantly adjusting (hopefully for the permanent betterment) the lens through which I view the world and my own life. I'm being shaped and changed by my experiences, and I'm having a reciprocal effect on people around me.

Yeah, life's frustrating sometimes. Sometimes it's embarrassing, or awkward, or lonely, or seemingly full of failures. But after I've gone down the road a little further, I'm surprised when I look back through my journal or listen to a friend reminisce and I recall just how stressed out I was over the summer, or how much my best guy friend broke my heart. The extreme pain of those experiences has simply faded into nearly-forgotten memory. There's some old wounds that get split open and lemon juice spilled in them once in a while, but that's okay. They'll eventually heal. If not anytime soon, I know they'll be healed someday, when all ends are made right, every injustice paid for, and every scar and tumor healed. I just need to keep looking forward to that day; and not just looking forward, but moving forward: accumulating more experiences, learning more, and refining that lens on life. That said, it's time for me to put away the chocolate donuts, take some more cold medicine, and go to sleep. Life goes on, whether I feel ready to face it or not, so I might as well make the best of it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

In for the Ride

So, I did the math... And realized that today marks the 46th day in a row that I've seen Ron, my boyfriend (his "code name", at least), every day. I think we first realized we had 9 consecutive days where we'd seen each other somehow every day, and then we kept it up on purpose because it was fun. After a while we decided we didn't actually have to see each other every day... But somehow things have come up each day, and have gotten us to 46. Haha, it's a little ridiculous to think we've pulled it off, but it's pretty fun.

My sister took this during a football game
Ron and I have dated each other for a little over 5 weeks now. It's been great. Originally, this was a much longer, much more personal post about mostly the last few days we've had together. But, on further consideration, I determined that it would be wiser to not reveal such personal things in such a public forum (a cautionary email from my mom was also persuasive). So, it comes to this: I had some anxieties that I talked over with Ron this weekend. I was really worried that the fact I had these worries would hurt Ron, and I didn't like the conflicting emotions. He was a steadfast saint as we talked it over, and he was very supportive the whole time. After thinking about it this weekend and talking about it, I decided that what Ron and I have is a really good thing (and all good things come from God), and it's worth pursuing. So, I'm feeling rededicated, and I am so looking forward to where this goes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Need to Speak

I had a thought today as I was walking home from my ASL class. I had just spent about an hour talking and asking questions using my hands and face, and I was in the process of texting my younger brother. There are SO MANY ways that it's possible for us to communicate! Some stuff, like texting, videochats, email, movies, and facebook have only been available in the past 100 years of human history. Some things seem like more eternal ways of communicating: speaking, writing, singing, creating pictures, dancing, etc. It's astounding to think about the human need for expression. Granted, I haven't met everyone, but it seems like every person has some way that they use to express themselves. That common urge to share, to express, to ask, and to react is amazing. There's a lot more to learn about communication (purposes, means, etc), and in my major I'll be learning as much as I can. Today, I was deeply impressed by thinking about communication as a basic human need and deed, and that seems like a good starting point.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Confessions of a Prude

I was reminded this weekend of something I've been trying to reject and repress. When describing our differences to a friend of her's, my sister referred to the two of us as "a prude and a rebel". Guess which one I was? It's not the first time I've heard that.

My schema of a "prude" is someone who is intolerant, uptight, judgmental and self-righteous. I have matched that description somewhat before... But whatever happened to growth, progress, and the Atonement? Even if I have trace characteristics of that remaining, that is hardly how I define myself. I seldom even think about prudishness anymore, except when other people bring it up... And then I feel lame and defensive: not pleasant feelings.

It's true that I hold high standards for myself. However, I don't judge people based on whether they meet my personal standards or not... That's not fair to them, and it's just wrong. What I've tried to focus on (because I've had problems historically with being judgmental) is loving people. You can love someone even if you don't agree with them - family relationships can be a good example of that, where a sibling drives you up a wall most of the time, but the instant they're threatened, you're on the move defending your brother or sister. Getting better at loving people has been a great blessing in my life. You make a lot more friends that way, and social interactions are significantly more pleasant. There's so much more to a person than what you perceive (sometimes erroneously) on the surface. And even if people have messed up, that's not your place to decide - your job is to love them and be supportive of (and believe in) their best self. We all make mistakes all the time; none of us have an accurate-enough perspective, even of ourselves, to judge fairly and mercifully. That's why I'm so glad that Christ is our Judge.

It's good to have high standards that you live up to, but another facet of prudishness is that those standards are often hyperbolic. One example could be the opinion that "body contact in dancing is sinful." Now, I agree that some types of body contact while dancing are bad and to be avoided; it's not hard to see dancing like that in music videos or at high school dances. But other kinds of body connection could involve just as much per-square-inch of physical contact and yet be perfectly fine, in my book. I've found, in salsa and standard ballroom dance, that having a solid body connection with your partner makes you move better - individually and as a partnership - and I don't think that's sinful. The difference for me comes from motivation: whereas the inappropriately-close dancing I saw in high school was based on gratifying selfish desires, the close dancing I participate in now is a functional proximity to facilitate an art. I do check my thoughts while I am dancing to make sure I'm not straying in my motivation, because that's my choice. I don't think that anyone is going to hell for what I perceive as "dirty dancing", and that's not my call to make, so I make standards for my own behavior and worry about holding myself to them. That said, I do believe in universal morals, and I think that those have been pretty well defined by the proper authorities. It basically comes down to the fact that I am not responsible for judging anyone besides myself. It can be a tricky line to walk and balance sometimes (because some degree of judgment is required to stay away from bad situations), but for now, I just need to worry about keeping myself in line with what I know.

So, my reaction when people label me as a prude is to think "I'm not that bad! Stop assuming things about me! Do you really know who I am? Do you know how hard I've tried to combat that and how much progress I've made?" Hanging onto and reminding people of their weaknesses isn't very nice or charitable. If you believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you believe in the power to change. People have called me a prude for years... In fact, written in (I believe) my high school sophomore yearbook is the inscription "You're a prude... but in a good way." But over the years, I've been working on it! I really think I am a loving and accepting person now. I'm not perfect yet by any means, but love is my focus, and it's becoming a marked factor of who I am. It's how I want to define myself. "Becoming" is a process, and the improvements I've had haven't come overnight. So I'm going to keep working at it.

Making generalizations and issuing stereotypes isn't very healthy, and again - it isn't very accurate. Because you know what? Even if I come across as a prude... the truth is that when I think about some of the people I care the most about, I don't feel good enough for them. Prudes should never have cause to think that way of themselves, right? Because they're self-assured moral overachievers. Got it...

Just don't stereotype people. Please. We're all three-dimensional people trying to get along in life, cope, and be happy. Let's try to support each other.



(Note: This is not at all a rant against my sister - she just happened to be the most recent person to open a can of worms that has been stewing in my head for a long time. Yum.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Both "anxious-nervous" and "anxious-excited" for this week (and grateful for the past weekend)

It's only a little after 11pm as I'm writing this, and I'm pretty tired already. I think the fact that it's dark so much earlier in the day affects when I get tired, but for whatever reason, I'm tired now.

So, I have 4 tests to take this week... Three of which I'll take in a period of two days... And I'd like to take the fourth in those days too, so I don't have to worry about it while my mom and sister are visiting (they'll be here in TWO DAYS!!!!). I'm probably about as ready for the 2 ASL tests tomorrow as I'm going to be (which doesn't feel very ready), and I have a boatload of reading to do for the other 2 tests. All I can really do is pray as hard as I can and work as hard as I can to stay focused and study.

On Katie's suggestion (she commented on a previous post), I'm going to give my boyfriend a code name for this blog so I feel less repetitive and silly from writing "my boyfriend/my BF". I'll refer to him as Ron, though he bears little resemblance to the Harry Potter character.

Well, Friday night was a terrific date night with Ron (day 29 of seeing him every day). We went out to a Thai restaurant for dinner, and it was sooo good! It's the best Thai food I've had besides the stuff back home: we had fried rice with pineapple and pork, a curry, and sweet sticky rice with mango for dessert. I could have cried it was so yummy. After that, we went to a free music recital on campus, which was fun. I didn't know how much you could do with a bassoon until then, I suppose, haha; that said, one segment of a song sounded vaguely like a contest of flatulence between the bassoonist and the recording he played along with. Anyway, it was some great time to spend with Ron. We went for a walk after the concert and had a good, long talk. As Ron said, if we're going to be "dating" each other, we probably need to go on more dates and hang out less (Read the talk on "dating vs. hanging out" from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, from May 2005). We already have a really good friendship established, but we recommitted ourselves to focusing on building our relationship with each other - not just the romantic "relationship", but getting to know, appreciate, and support each other better. Ron is really good at that :) Part of taking it slower and making our time together more meaningful will probably involve not seeing each other every day like we have been, but I can already feel a difference because we're focusing on making quality time together.

We did get together on Saturday night (day 30), and had a great time reading from the scriptures together, and asking questions and teaching each other. Though it wasn't exactly your usual date, it was definitely good time to spend together that helped us individually and as a couple. Sunday I had kind of a rough morning (not enough sleep + worries about school + malfunctioning copy machines + a comment someone made about me indirectly that I tried not to take personally), so after Ron came over that night to go to tunnel singing (a bunch of college kids singing hymns together Sunday nights on campus), we went for a long drive and talked about what was bothering me and how we could fix it. I generally try to keep it to myself when I'm upset, but I'm also very honest... So when Ron inquired, I told him about it. The problems (basically it comes down to sleep and school) didn't go away after talking to him, but talking through it and identifying ways to change were helpful. I'm really grateful and appreciative that he took the time to do that for me, with me. Knowing that he is there for me, is willing to help me, and wants me to succeed make a difference. Sunday marked Day 31, and I believe, one month to the date from when we started seeing each other daily. This past weekend also marked 3 weeks of dating each other, so it's going pretty great, and I'm really happy to have a close (and close-ening) relationship with such a wonderful guy. We're growing together and supporting each other. Neither of us know exactly where our relationship is headed, but I'm certain my life will be made richer by virtue of his acquaintance - it's been made so already.

This is actually getting posted after midnight, so technically today is Tuesday... My mom and sister will be here tomorrow night!!!!! And they'll be here for 5 days (though they arrive late on the first day and leave early the last). Now for sleep, then class, work, and finally my ASL tests in about 15 hours... Wish me luck!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Growing Up

Orange Peach SunnyD is delicious.

I just got back from some quick grocery shopping, and I love feeling like a responsible, independent adult (even if it's only when I'm grocery shopping, haha) - I bought a lot of fresh fruit that was on sale, and that made me feel responsible, at least. Another responsibility that descended on my shoulders very heavily was when I realized that I need to officially change my major very quickly. I saw this from my university when I checked my email yesterday:
Students must select and declare a major by the time they have 75 earned credit hours (excluding language exam credits). Once a student has 90 earned credit hours (excluding language exam credits), they will not be allowed to change their major, unless special permission is granted.

In order to encourage timely progress toward graduation, advisement centers may require mandatory advisement before students with greater than 90 hours are allowed to register for classes. Deans, in consultation with advisement centers, may also place registration holds and mandate specific course completion in order to facilitate timely graduation.
So, I might possibly be in trouble. I have 91 credit hours (55 of which, I think, were not from AP credit) and I'm officially declared as a Family History major... That desire only lasted for 2 weeks, and I declared it a year ago, so... I'm really hoping that I can change it to Communication Disorders, the major that I would much prefer to Family History. Part of my problem is that I've been taking so many interesting or for-fun classes, and taken prereqs for a couple different majors, and they've all added up. Luckily, my Ballroom Dance minor should be made official after this semester (I'm taking the last prereq now), so if a dean tries to tell me I can't take more dance classes, I'll tell him I need it for the minor. That, or I can hope to slide under the radar if it's something like Modern Dance that I want to try out but it's not required for my major or minor... We'll see! I've still got a list of interesting classes I'd (*crossing fingers*) like to take, if I can, before I graduate.

Real Power

When I went to check my email the other day, a headline "Top 10 Most Powerful Women" popped out at me from the main news banner on the page. Hmm, sounds like news alright... The list includes First Ladies, politicians, CEO's, entertainers, self-made career women, and others who "break traditional gender lines". This is the blurb on the first page of the slideshow:
Forbes power lists are synonymous with moguls and movie stars, heads of state and captains of business. One look at the 2010 World's 100 Most Powerful Women list and it is clear that we've come up with a new ranking of the female power elite that reflects the New Order of now.

When Forbes set out to identify this year's list, they decided it was time to look up and out into the broader culture. Ther assessment is based less on traditional titles and roles and more on creative influence and entrepreneurship. These women have built distinctive companies and brands and championed weighty causes, sometimes through unconventional means; in other cases they have broken through gender barriers.   (http://www.comcast.net/slideshow/finance-mostpowerfulwomen2010/the-worlds-most-powerful-women/)
It's interesting how the world looks at things. How do they define power? (And, identify who controls it?). In the profile for each woman, they include information such as age, job title, country of citizenship, marital status, and education.  In many of the biographies, they include how much money the women make, why they are an icon, and what business ventures they've entrepreneured or invested in. Are these really the questions that determine who is considered powerful?

Yes, I know this isn't the first time, nor will it be the last time someone comes out with an opinion on this topic that is contrary to public (or at least, media) opinion, which appears to put more value on women with money and titles. Here's some things I would encourage you to consider.

Let's define "powerful." If someone has power over you, they can fairly easily persuade you and possibly alter your current line of thought or action. A powerful person carries a lot of influence. Thus, a powerful person in my life will have a much greater influence on me than a less powerful person. Do Michelle Obama (listed as #1 most powerful in the world), Oprah Winfrey or Lady Gaga influence my life and change what I do? Not at all. I don't listen to Lady Gaga's music if I can help it (some of what I've heard has just struck me as weird); I don't think I've ever taken the time to watch Oprah's tv show; and I've rarely ever clicked on news headlines to see what the First Lady is up to; it just doesn't matter to me what celebrities choose to do with their lives!

So, who have been some of the most influential women in your life, the "most powerful"? The top of my list is, unsurprisingly, my mother. She and my dad raised me in a good family; they taught me how to live by modeling the values they taught; and the genetic similarities between us are rather striking, and definitely affect my life. My attitudes have been undeniably shaped by my mom's attitudes and teachings. If I want a sympathetic listener, I go to my dad; if I want a practical answer, I call my mom, just because their personalities are different. I try to be a good and sympathetic listener like my dad, but I am also very logical in how I approach things. Could anyone deny that my parents have been the most influential people in shaping my life?

Isn't it kind of strange how the roles of parents, both mothers and fathers, have become diminished and minimized in our time? Look at our American society: many parents (some out of real necessity, others out of perceived necessity to "get ahead") work long hours away from home and leave the rearing of their children to schoolteachers, after-school programs, babysitters, and a host of extracurricular activities; in popular media, parents are made to look utterly ridiculous (just watch the Disney Channel!). Like many people can probably recall in their own lives, a lot of the lessons my parents taught that have stuck with me have been inadvertent ones... Little things I picked up on while doing things together, and by observation of how they do things. Quietly wandering into my parents' room, unnoticed, before they went to sleep and seeing my dad kneeling by the bed praying has made an indelible impression on me, especially because it was something I saw consistently over the years. Because of that and many other examples, I know that following Jesus Christ is important to both my parents, and that in order to obtain the same blessings for myself, I need to do the same thing.

Like President Dieter F. Uchtdorf counseled in the most recent General Conference (and as many others have said previously), it's important for us to have a balanced life and simplify our increasingly tight schedules. Spending quality time together is immeasurably important to raising children and fostering their development. Give kids a chance to come up with their own ways to pass the time; let them use their imagination with toilet-paper tubes, blankets, and string to make their own toys; include the kids in what you're doing, and be involved in things they want to do. Granted, I am not a mother. I am merely a 20-something year-old, qualified only by extensive babysitting experience and several younger siblings I've observed and interacted with on a daily basis over the years. Kids don't need the latest and greatest technology toys, the fanciest or most diverse dress-up closet, music or sports lessons every day after school, or a lot of the things parents are overdosing on; it's natural to want the best for your kids, and to give it to them if you can find a way to make it work. But really, they need YOU more than they need new toys. You are going to teach them what kind of person to be; Barbie and Leapfrog can't do that, and Cub/Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts can only make a pathetic attempt. Everything has its place, and Scouting and other activities can be a great support in giving a child the social and learning experiences they need, but those have the best results when they support what you do at home.

Perhaps I'm speaking to an audience that's going to sigh and roll their eyes, and move on to the next thing in their lives. Or I could be preaching to the choir. Like I said - this probably isn't headline news to anyone. Maybe I got a little overexcited and zealous when I read the article. But maybe there's just a grain of truth to what I said that could apply to you in your life. What are some major influences in your life? How do they change you? How do you influence others? Are you happy with the way things are, or do you wish they were different? If you aren't happy with it, go ahead and change! It's pretty hard to change what other people do, but you can change what you do and you can change your attitude. Take one factor in a situation and work on that for a while. How can I be better tomorrow or next week than I was today or over the past month?

I guess from all this, I want to affirm that real power and influence in society doesn't come with a paycheck; it comes from reaching out to others and working so that their lives are better for having known you. The most powerful way to do this is as a parent, and until then, there's lots of other ways to influence people's lives. I just try to be a nice person and give everyone the love they deserve. Jesus Christ is definitely one of the "most influential people" to have ever lived. He set the perfect Example for us to follow, and He went around serving others and changing lives. His love not only extends to those He touched during His mortal mission, but it extends retroactively and proactively in the lives of each and every person who has or will ever live. Jesus Christ loves each of us, and we can come unto Him today and immediately receive of His Spirit. It is real, and we can feel it. May we ever strive to follow Him and emulate Him in all we do, especially in how we treat each other. May we always be a force for good.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Refocusing my life, and dedicating to change

There's some habits I've struggled with for years that are still giving me grief. I'm in my third year as a college student and I still have the worst time trying to make myself do the homework for my classes, for example. The 180th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (hereafter referred to as "Conference" or "General Conference") took place a week and a half ago, and the speeches given really inspired me. I've been inspired many times before by different things, but this past time has been a little different. I've increased in knowledge, I've been inspired with a greater desire to change, and I've also felt empowered by receiving the very tools I need to make that change. Two talks in particular have stuck with me, and have only become more powerful reading them a week later (compared to when I first heard them in person): they are Elder D. Todd Christofferson's and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talks. Because I heard and read them in that order, I felt like Elder Christofferson's talk told me that I need to change, and President Uchtdorf's talk told me how. They have become very personally applicable and very meaningful. Here's how:

Read Elder Christofferson's talk, "Reflections on a Consecrated Life"
Elder Christofferson explained that we are responsible for how we choose to spend our time and resources. How we choose to spend those says a great deal about what kind of people we are. In application, I know, on one level, what my priorities are; on another level, there's a quote (I can't remember it exactly) that says our true priorities are revealed by what we spend our time doing. Cognitively, I know that my relationship with Heavenly Father is really important to me and should be my first priority; practically, is it really my first priority if it's the very last thing I squeeze into my day before crawling under the sheets? I need to make my actions consistent with my known priorities. And the idea of being accountable before my Maker for the time I've spent on facebook or engaging in other less-worthy pursuits makes me cringe just a bit. He's given me this whole earth! this life! and so many other wonderful blessings; there's nothing better I can find to do with my time than to idle it away, hitting "refresh" on facebook? I'm not as bad with facebook as I used to be, but I can fill in "facebook" with a myriad of other fluffy things I do that aren't great uses of my time. Rather than idle my time away in vain pursuits, I can get the most lasting, enduring peace and happiness from consecrating (dedicating) my life to serving the Lord. Elder Christofferson shared and explained five characteristics of a consecrated life: "purity, work, respect for one's physical body, service, and integrity." He expounded on those topics and included sanctification through the Atonement, time for healthy leisure, and increasing awareness of our accountability during our stewardship here on earth. I can't encapsulate everything he said, so my best advice would be to read the talk yourself, and read it with purpose. I got a lot out of it; especially the idea that I do need to reform my life. I'm a good person, but I can be (and ought to be) better.

Read President Uchtdorf's talk, "Of Things That Matter Most"
To be completely honest, I did cry some when I read this in my room this afternoon. President Uchtdorf's main message is to simplify and, particularly when faced with adversity, to focus on the essentials. What really helped me in conjunction with Elder Christofferson's talk was his list of important relationships. First, President Uchtdorf said, is our relationship with Heavenly Father; second, is the relationship we have with our family (as President David O. McKay said, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home"); third and fourth (one wasn't mentioned as being more important than the other) are our relationships with our fellowmen and ourselves. After Elder Christofferson's talk, this one felt like "Now that you know what you need to do, this is the directions for how to do it." I learned that I need to reorganize my life, and now I got instruction on knowing what to put first. Instead of leaving my scripture study for the last thing in my day, today it was the first thing I did after waking up. It was a lot more meaningful when I wasn't trying to rush through it before my head hit the pillow to sleep. I also need to find ways to make my family a higher priority in my life by finding ways I can strengthen my relationships with them while I live so far away. My heart aches when I think of how precious they are to me, and how important it is that they know that. The family I was born into and the family I will mother someday are THE biggest investments of my life, next to my devotion to Jesus Christ (but the two really go together). That needs to be reflected in my time and thoughts. I highly recommend reading this talk as well and applying it to your own life.

So, with the motivating and enabling influence of these talks, impressions I've had through personal revelation, my desires and willpower, and the power of God, I'm going to take the things I've learned and use them to make my life better. As I do that, my life will be more enjoyable, I will do more to serve God's children, and God will be glorified in the doing. He's the only thing that makes it all possible. And, His Atonement is the only reason we have hope for changing ourselves and obtaining joy in this life and in eternity.

Changes I'm working on applying:
- getting to bed every night by 12 or 12:15 (Friday nights are my exception)
- making my relationship with Heavenly Father my first priority by doing the things first that will strengthen that relationship
- doing more to show my family that I love them
- actively looking for ways I can serve others right now, every day
- sitting down and actually doing my homework (it makes a difference as to whether I'm doing it for myself or if I'm consecrating my labor to the Lord)

I'm not expecting instantaneous improvement, but already I'm getting better. I went to sleep at 12:30 last night and woke up at 8:45 this morning, and read my scriptures and worked on homework before going to class. I even went to the library last night to work on homework! Slowly (and with heaven's help), I'm getting where I want to be.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beauty

I should be in bed now, but I wanted to write briefly about my weekend - a little about Friday, but mostly about Saturday. Plus, I haven't posted in almost a week :P

Friday was a feel-good day: I had a couple dance tests, so after I showered that morning I took a little extra time to get ready. I gelled my wavy hair into more-defined curls and actually put on mascara. I wore a nice shirt, and looked forward to my tests (tango is a lot of fun, and I already got a lot of practice with my testing partner). My roommate volunteered to make me breakfast/lunch, and it was delicious! (A breakfast burrito with egg, cheese, black beans, and spices). When the evening came around, I had a big group dinner with my roommates and friends (corn chowder and egg salad sandwiches) before we went to a comedy show together. It's great - they really put on a show, with glowstick cannons, raining candy, and dance music between skits. Afterwards, my BF and I sat outside on the old couch sitting on my balcony, and we cuddled under a warm blanket and looked up at the stars. I really need to catch up in my journal on what we've done every day for the last week (man, I got behind!); Friday was the 22nd consecutive day we've seen each other (and it marked 2 weeks of us dating). Friday night was good, but Saturday was even better.

I woke up around 9am Saturday morning when my roommate reminded me we had cleaning checks for our apartment (I meant to get up at 9:30, but 9 was better anyway). I sorted through the laundry that had accumulated on my chair and bed for the last week and tidied up my room, blasting the Owl City Ocean Eyes cd. Our apartment would be checked sometime after 10am, and that's also when the Homecoming Parade would start, which passed right by our apartment. My boyfriend (it's really tempting to type his name instead, but that would violate my policy of maintaining anonymity) came over for breakfast and took over making pancakes for me, my roommate, and himself. We watched for the marching band from our balcony (some of our roommates are in it) and checked out the other floats, cars, dance groups and student associations going by. I was just in a tshirt and jeans, with my still-gelled hair tied back in a hasty ponytail, but my BF didn't mind at all. We hung out at my apartment for a while before deciding to head over to a nearby park. It was great. We played on the swings for a while, played with a couple other toys, and then tried out the teeter-totter. A little boy, maybe 4 years old, came over and said he wanted a turn, so we helped him out. Shortly after, his mom and sister and a couple other friends came and the bunch of us started playing together. It was so much fun to play with those kids for about an hour (I think they were all between 18 months and 4 years old, and we chatted with their mothers for a little bit): it was a chance for me to enjoy helping and playing with the little ones, and a good chance to see how my BF played with kids. He definitely passed, haha ;) After the kids left, we played around ourselves for a bit longer and talked some. We started heading home when my BF had to get ready for the football game and I had to get ready for work. Next I saw him was Sunday night, after I got back from work, and we hung out for a few hours with friends. Now, a couple hours after he went home, I'm sitting here writing this about him and our weekend together.

Saturday felt wonderful. Friday was fun too, but spending the morning and early afternoon together was great. Having a clean apartment, enjoying a relaxed morning with pancakes and watching the parade, having some time with just the two of us in my apartment for a while, and then going to the park for a couple hours and playing with children (that's one thing I miss about college - not being able to play with kids much), and doing it all with my man. It was beautiful; my time with him is filled with effortlessly perfect moments that are made special because I spend it with him, and that's all it takes (no pre-planning of magical moments, just us being together). We have goofy poking contests; we laugh at puns and corny jokes (especially the cheesy romantic ones); our high-fives frequently turn into interdigitation; we talk openly and honestly about how our relationship is going; we talk about classes and weather and missionary stories and our families. He and I have fun together being ourselves and getting to know each other better, and he's someone special. He makes me feel like someone special for appreciating me the way I am, for encouraging me to keep trying to be better a day at a time, and for treating me like a daughter of God. I am impressed by his ability to care for me the way he does. He is amazing, and I love coming to know him better. It's a great journey, and I get the feeling that we're both in it for the long run; our relationship is being built to last. Like I said, it's a beautiful thing, being with him.

Songs I'm beginning to associate with my boyfriend: "Just The Way You Are" (he gave me a "significant look" when it came on the radio in the car) and "She Is Love" (a sweet song; what "she" is to the artist, "he" is to me) are two so far.

Other good news: my mom and my sister are coming in 10 days (since it's now Monday, technically 9 days) to visit!!! I am super excited to see them :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Taking Strength in Trial - (It comes from Christ)

This was my journal entry from yesterday, when I was feeling pretty stressed out in the afternoon:
I've been stressed out today and feeling the weight of sin, weakness and trial. But I decided to open my scriptures and I turned to 2 Nephi 10. At first I had trouble focusing because of the gentle tumult around me, and voices from the classroom behind me. Then in verse 20, I started applying the scriptures to myself. I need to "remember [God], and lay aside [my] sins, and not hang down [my] head, for [I am] not cast off." Just because I'm going through a trial doesn't mean by any means that God has forsaken or forgotten me. He is leading me to "a better land", but I must cross the sea and go through the wilderness to get there. "The Lord remembereth all them who have been broken off, wherefore he remembereth us also." Verses 23-24 remind me to cheer up, that I still have my agency to choose happiness or misery; happiness comes from following Christ and misery follows from choosing Satan. Verse 25 reminds me that my salvation is dependent on Christ, through the Atonement. It's hard, but I can do it when I rely on Christ to be my strength.
The scriptures I ended up reading were from the perspective of Jacob, a prophet who was born in the Middle East but never saw Jerusalem or knew that civilization, because he was born in the desert as his family was fleeing persecution. God led away his family because they were righteous, and his father, Lehi, was also a prophet in 600 AD who prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, and because of his prophecies the people tried to kill him. Their family made it through the wilderness and crossed the ocean by ship to the Americas, where they were on "an isle of the sea", and felt pretty dang separated from the rest of humanity.

I hadn't thought about those scriptures in that particular way before, but it made sense. When we're going through hard times, we can wonder "Why have you forsaken me, God?". It can feel like the party's going on somewhere else, and in spite of our best efforts and desires, we feel separated from the happiness everyone else has. Whether that's actual happiness or just passing pleasure that others seem to have doesn't really matter. We feel left out, and left alone! "Why have you forsaken me?" It's important then to remember that we are never, ever forsaken. Read from 3 Nephi 22 (also Isaiah 22) and 1 Nephi 21 (also Isaiah 49).
1 Nephi 21:14-16 But, behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me--but he will show that he hath not. For can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget thee, O house of Israel. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; they walls are continually before me.
The Lord loves us so much. We are His children, and He our Father. He will never, ever leave us alone. We can turn our faces from Him, but He will never turn away from us. This post is very related to the post just previous and may sound a little redundant, but I think that it addresses some of the biggest crises of faith in our lives, and the things we should remember when they arise. When all else goes wrong, and beloved friends or family betray you, or all hell seems to break loose and be bent on dragging you down, remember this: God's power is stronger than Satan. God is in control; He loves you and is watching out for you; He will take care of you, and you will be okay. We just need to have faith enough to trust Him, and faith enough to do what He asks. He'll help us. We will get through it when we rely on Him; there is no other way (we aren't strong enough on our own).

I'm so grateful that Christ performed the Atonement for us. I can't understand it all just yet, and probably won't until after I've moved past the mortal part of my life. But I understand enough. I know that Christ loves me enough to have suffered the punishment for all the things I've done wrong, and that all He wants for me is to confide in Him, to come unto Him and be His friend, and to take advantage of the marvelous gift He has given me, offering me a new life, free from pain. I can experience moments and times of that peace while I am in this life, and I can more fully enjoy it after I've died and gone on to heaven. I know the way to that peace and happiness because Christ has gone before me and showed me the way. I owe my everything to Him. And He did it all for me.

So, what's the point?

My train of thought this afternoon started with a rueful commitment to stop avoiding the warm-ups in my self-defense class. I'd figured, I'm perfectly capable of the light jogging, and the shrimping exercises are just awkward and time-consuming; I'd usually sweat more during the warm up than during class! But on Monday of this week, I figured there was a reason behind what my teacher asked us to do.

Today is Tuesday; and I am majorly sore. Not the sorest nor in the most pain I've ever been, but sore enough to get a reminder every time I move. Monday we did some on-the-ground exercises - the most intense so far in the class. Bear-hugging each other, our all-girl class wrestled for about 40 nearly-solid minutes. I hadn't gotten enough sleep before (my good intentions fell flat when a friend came over for a surprise visit, and my roommate got a boyfriend), and after that workout, I was exhausted. I didn't feel the full impact right away Monday afternoon, but I sure felt it today. I resolved to not miss the warm-ups that might have loosened and stretched my muscles, minimizing the pain that I would have felt the day after. My teacher had a point to our "silly" or "tedious" warm-up routine.

That realization reminded me of a passage of scripture in 2 Nephi chapter 2 (in the Book of Mormon):
Verse 11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
Verse 12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
Verse 13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.
This all said, the next 2 verses in the chapter state the affirmative conclusion of the argument:
Verse 14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
Verse 15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
This section (the whole chapter, really) is often used to teach why there is "opposition in all things". That is probably one of the primary lessons in this chapter, but there's something else I pulled from it. Verses 12 and 15 show us that God does all He does for a purpose (read Moses 1:39, in the Pearl of Great Price, for a description of what His purpose is). We are given commandments to guide the way we live for a purpose. We go through the trials and experiences we have for a purpose. If God were to do something without a purpose, it would "destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God." That's a lot to destroy... So I think it's safe to assume that since none of those have been destroyed (and God is "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever" [1 Nephi 10:18]), God isn't ever going to do something without a purpose. From personal experience, observing the examples of others, and reading the scriptures (such as Alma 5:40), I know that all good things come from Christ. I know that He loves me, and that His purposes are to maximize my opportunity for happiness to the fullest extent possible (and He's God, so all things are possible). God's purposes are for our individual happiness, in both the short- and long-term.

That raises a couple questions. When we're going through a trial, life just doesn't seem fair, and we can't understand, we can ask, "Why is God asking me to do this? What is the point? What am I to learn or gain from the experience?" It is contrary to the nature of God for Him to ask us to do something we can't do (1 Corinthians 10:13, in the New Testament), or something that will make us miserable. As we come to know and love Christ, we learn that we can trust Him, wholly and completely. It becomes easier for me to have patience and let stress melt away when I realize that I don't need to always be in control, and when I know that Christ is. Another series of questions that I considered was this: What are my purposes? If my goal in life is to become more like God, then what does that mean if I am idling away my time? Are my purposes in the things I do Godlike? How can I improve them?

This is what really struck me as I was pondering this morning, ruing the loss of my comfort because I didn't listen to someone who had a purpose that I tried to ignore (going back to the sore muscles and warm-ups). God has a purpose to everything He does; there is a purpose to everything in my life; if I want to become more Godlike, I need to have a good purpose for everything I do. Improvement really is a process, so I'm not expecting any big change overnight. But I want to start living my life that way, with less wasted time, and more of my time spent deliberately serving others, taking care of myself, or otherwise furthering the work of the Lord. I'm working on becoming like God, because that's His purpose in sending me here to earth, in this life He's blessed me with :)