Monday, September 27, 2010

Why is it that Mom is (almost) always right?

I don't know - probably something having to do with having more life experience and the benefit of hindsight, a mother's intuition, and having the right to receive revelation on my behalf (since I'm under her stewardship. I also can and do receive revelation for myself). It's funny how the older I get, the more things I "realize" are a lot of the same things my mom's been trying to tell me for years.

My biggest news item from this weekend is that I started dating a really special guy. He is everything I could ask for. I told him that I was really hesitant about dating anyone exclusively right now, but the more we talked about it, the more right and good it felt. I think the biggest thing that will promote the best results is that we're focusing on building our friendship first, and keeping our priorities in order. That was something I struggled with in my last "relationship". He is really sweet, entirely respectful, and I feel comfortable being myself around him. Whereas before I had seen some guys as people I wanted to impress, my boyfriend now is someone that I don't need to try to impress - he already accepts and appreciates me the way I am. While I haven't had sufficient time to build a deep friendship with him, I'm certain that if we stay on our current track, we will have a great, fulfilling, enriching relationship with each other.

Some other things I realized. Once again, I remembered that sometimes my body just demands 8 hours of sleep, and I need to plan for that. I really need to be more responsible in acting (like my mom says, I need to do more than "know it", I need to "do it") and doing the things that will get me to bed on time earlier. I decided today that it would just be better if I dropped my religion class this semester (the Doctrine and Covenants one) for the sake of academia and physical health, but I'd still like to follow the reading schedule and post responses on here. That means I should probably try to go to the weekly Institute (short for "Institute of Religion") classes, since I'm not taking any other religion class this semester. In the last couple weeks, I was released from being a Sunday School teacher and was asked instead to be the Sacrament meeting coordinator. I'll miss teaching - I really loved it - but I'm looking forward to this new calling (LDS lingo for "job" or "assignment") and making the best out of it that I can. My bishop (same thing as a pastor or reverend) thinks I'll do a good job, and I've been assured that Heavenly Father knows I can do it well too.

Saturday evening was the Relief Society General Broadcast, part of the General Conference for the whole Church. President Thomas S. Monson's talk really stood out to me (I took notes on all the speakers), and he issued the gentle, reminding rebuke, "Judge Not". He quoted from Mother Theresa, that if you judge people, you don't have time to love them. That's something that, honestly, I've struggled with over the years. I've been doing tons better though, and as I thought about it earlier today and reflected a bit on recent events, I think I'm doing pretty good. Not perfect, but I like it. President Monson has another quote that I've come to appreciate more: "Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." As I've tried to apply that more in my life (in reaching out to others, being less self-centered, and responding when people ask for help) I've definitely been blessed and developed more charity. It's been a cool thing, and I feel a lot more Christlike in the doing. Yay! :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

D&C 78, 82, and 83

This is my response for the third reading assignment in my religion class (yes... after catching up I got behind again). This grouping is under the topic "Consecration: An Inheritance in Zion".

Doctrine and Covenants, section 78
Historical background: This revelation was given in March of 1832, when Joseph Smith was in Ohio. The Saints (shortening for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) were moving around a lot trying to find sanctuary, and it was really important for them to support each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This instituted the foundations and principles behind tithing and the law of consecration - a system where all of the church members sacrifice according to what they have and in return get the things they lack. The modern-day application is for members to donate "10% of their increase" to the Church (tithing), and in turn, the Church uses the money to build chapels and temples, fund schools and church activities, and run "bishop's storehouses" for families to get food and other staples in times of economic need. 
The first couple verses of this chapter reiterate the message, "When I (God) speak to you through my prophet, you need to listen to him, because he is my authorized mouthpiece, and I'm trying to tell you something for your own good!" Verses 3 and 4 makes me think of D&C 132:8 "Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion." I think that is an important God-like characteristic that identifies His Church and that should identify His people (I'm still working on that one...). Those verses also note that helping the poor is part of "the cause... to the salvation of man, and to the glory of your Father who is in heaven." I don't understand very well the connection is verses 5 and 6 between equality is earthly things and equality in heavenly things. 
I do understand though, verse 7: "For if you will that I give unto a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you." In fact, I think it's so important that I'm giving it its own separate paragraph (I am aware that this is technically the formatting for quotes). A lot of people complain about all the rules in the Mormon (LDS) church. But see, this scripture is the key to understanding why it's important to follow these rules (besides the very good reason that "God said so"): these commandments and requirements prepare us for the celestial world, which is where we want to be. God's giving us the recipe for becoming like He is! (see Matthew 5:48) If we learn to not only love our friends, but to love even our enemies, that helps us to be more like God because God loves all of us, His children, even when we make mistakes and do stupid things. I was going to give another example, but all of the commandments come back to loving God and loving each other (Matthew 22:37-40). So, commandments aren't given in order to be restrictive or exercise authority over others - they are given because they will show us the way to live that will bring us closer to God (we will be able to live with God after death, we will feel His presence through the Holy Ghost in this life, and we will become more like He is). Celestial glory is the best there is, and like a father, that's what God wants for us, so He shows us how to get there. 
Verses 8 through 12 discuss how Joseph Smith and others entered into a covenant, or a contract with each other and with God to impart everything they had to the church and to receive again according to their needs (the law of consecration). Living by this covenant helps us to prepare for heaven by fostering obedience to God (humility is another characteristic of Jesus Christ, who is obedient to the Father in all things), charity among people (being willing to share what you have and give to those who don't have what they need) and temperance (being happy with what you have, instead of always wanting extra - even if you can afford it, do you really need to own four cars if you live in a two-person family?). I think that in verse 13, the "preparation" is the covenant, which is "whereby you may accomplish the commandments which are given you". When you make a covenant or promise with God, it's a bidirectional deal: when you do your part, God promises blessings in return. Added strength and ability to keep the commandments seems to be a common blessing from such covenants. So when we make a covenant with God, we are under greater condemnation when we don't follow the commandments, because it would be breaking our promise, but God also helps us to keep the commandments for our sake. Verse 14 also tells us something of the mind of the Lord - an "ulterior motive" in getting the Saints to take care of each other's welfare is so that they can relieve themselves from debt and "stand independent". Anyone who has been in bondage - whether debt, addictions, stubborn habits, etc - knows that you lose some of your freedom in the doing; for me, I frequently incur sleep debt from staying up too late, which makes it hard for me to get other things done that I need to because my body insists on getting paid back in hours of sleep. Is it any wonder that God would have us be a free people and not be enslaved to gambling debts, more-expensive-than-necessary car debt, facebook addictions, physical/bodily addictions like smoking, and other such vices? I like verses 17 through 22. As it says in verse 17, we really are like little children, because we don't understand everything that God understands. In 1833, some people thought tobacco was kind of gross and messy, but no one thought it could kill you; God, on the other hand, made our bodies, and that's when Joseph Smith received the revelation called "the Word of Wisdom" (D&C 89) with a health code for the church. It wasn't until many years later, in the 20th century that physicians realized that smoking leads to cancer. Haha, this reminds me of something my mother says all the time: "I'm smarter than you think I am!" We don't always understand the reasons why God gives us commandments, but that's why we need to get to know Him, realize we can trust Him, and be obedient even when we can't see the end result. In fact, in verse 18 God reassures us that "Ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along." When we do what God asks us to do, good things happen :) He will take care of us, and He will bless us.

Doctrine and Covenants, section 82
Historical background: In April of 1832, Joseph Smith was in Missouri. The section heading says that the occasion was a general assembly where Joseph Smith was sustained (aka: ratified by the congregation) as President of the Church. That chain of succession (with each President of the Church being sustained) has continued since, and Thomas S. Monson is currently the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The first seven verses of this chapter are concerning the effects of sin and forgiveness. Verse one reminds us that we must forgive each other if we expect to receive forgiveness from God. Because we are all mortal, we all sin (verse 2), and thus we are all required to repent if we want to be clean. Verse 3 is very important to realize, and supports the statement that God's judgments are just - "For unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation." (Hence why sons of perdition, as I discussed in my response to D&C 76, are in such big trouble. To paraphrase someone else, it's as though they look into the noonday sun and say that it's nighttime; they have a sure witness and reject it). If you know more or are more aware of the consequences of your actions, you're in bigger trouble when you break the rules. Ouch, verse 4 just struck me in a new way that calls me to repentance: "Ye call upon my name for revelations, and I give them unto you; and inasmuch as ye keep not my sayings, which I give unto you, ye become transgressors." I've had many years to study the gospel and come unto Christ, and many times that I have received inspiration through leaders, priesthood blessings, reading the scriptures, prayer, etc; I believe this is a rebuke that is very closely related to the preceding verse (v. 3), wherein I have asked for revelations and received inspiration, but have I acted on it as I should? Today's lesson in Sunday School was also related to this, in that we have a modern prophet who speaks for the Lord today - do I know what he has said most recently? Have I made it a part of my life? Sadly, the answer is 'no', I haven't been as diligent as I should. I am accountable for the "light and truth" that I've received, to act on it and make it a part of my life. There's a lot I can improve on there. The great promise in verse 7 though is the promise of forgiveness after sincere repentance: "And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God." When we truly repent, God forgives us of our sins and our slate is washed clean. If we don't truly repent, and we return again to our sins, we aren't promised that cleansing (because we just muddied ourselves again). Verse 10 is also a very important scripture to understanding how God works. It reads, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." God makes agreements with us: if you follow this commandment, you'll get this blessing, and the promise stands. God is perfectly just and fair, and perfectly loving; He is never responsible for a broken covenant. He does everything He can to help us, and we're the ones who often fail Him when He wants to give us a blessing. When we put our faith, trust and obedience in Him, we will receive the promised blessing. Verse 11 through the end of the chapter is specific instruction to Joseph Smith and other church leaders at the time to enter into a covenant with each other "to manage the affairs of the poor" (v. 12) and to give to "every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just" (v. 17). When God gives us commandments, He helps us obey them. The Lord says, "here is wisdom also in me for your good... And all this for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents... to be cast into the Lord's storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church--Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God" (verses 16, 18-19). Under this system of the Lord's, everyone surrenders their everything to the Lord, and in turn receives both what they need and what they want. It helps us to become less attached to earthly possessions and keep Christ as our first priority, as well as develop the love that comes from and perpetuates sharing with our neighbors (and, as Christ said in the parable of the Good Samaritan, everyone is our neighbor). The chapter is finished with promises of peace, blessings, and "the kingdom", conditional on our steadfastness (verses 23-24).

Doctrine and Covenants, section 83
Historical background: This revelation was also received by Joseph Smith in Missouri, shortly after the previous one in section 82. It deals with responsibility and accountability for the welfare of families.
In the six verses of the chapter, it basically comes to this: "Women have claims on their husbands for their  maintenance" (verse 2) and "all children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age" (verse 4). Parents together are responsible to care for and provide for their children, and if they don't have the assets, they can lean on the church for aid. That's the idea behind the "bishop's storehouse", to provide for families and individuals when they are unable to care for themselves. Nowadays, the storehouses are also centers where families can get help and training to find a job in addition to groceries and other needs in times of duress. If my thoughts are correct, I think that when they are financially stable again, it's expected that they'll give back in some way (monetarily or in volunteer hours) so that the system can go on to help others.

I'm slowly trying to catch up, in this and other homework!

"I don't have to do it alone"

Today was interesting. My day started out a bit negatively when I realized that I woke up when my first class was starting (goes to show what happens when I try staying up late in order to get the homework done...). It ended up being a busy but lovely day, including a 30-ish minute walk to the grocery store in the late afternoon, when it was warm and the sun appeared to sparkle through the leaves of the trees I strolled past. There's a lot I want to get done this week, and plans to coordinate, etc, but it was nice to take some time to go for a walk, be (mostly) alone with my thoughts, and enjoy the day. I love the blue, blue sky of the American West.

This evening, I had fun with some of my girl friends swapping stories around bowls of ice cream and m&m's. I then got a text from another friend; as he and I continued to text each other, I grew increasingly worried. I care a lot about my friends, so it wasn't hard for me to choose to leave the party and check on him in person. I felt urgent, and prayed with all my heart on the way over that God could help me to help him. After I arrived, I probably spent about a half hour walking around the block with him, just conversing about what was going on, and why he was having a hard time. Based on the particular problems he was going through, I couldn't give him any solutions or magic answers; I hadn't really expected to be able to do that. All I can do is be there for him as much as I can. I reminded him of his divine worth as a son of God, and that God loves him, and will help him, and won't forget about him. Saying it once won't be enough, and I see it as a test of my friendship to be diligent in acting on the love I have for him, in doing the best I can to support him, and in making it more than just nice words. That can be hard to do, when it feels like all your care for someone and desires to help don't make a difference, but that's why I'm relying on the Holy Spirit to guide me and faith to see me through when I can't see the end from where I stand.

When I got home, I decided it was time for me to head back to my bedroom and end most of my socializing for the night. I'm trying to maintain a healthy balance of helping my friend by giving him both the support and the space he needs, and taking care of my own emotional needs. As my roommate climbed into bed and I was on the computer, she started to confess something that was weighing heavily on her heart and mind. I felt like a broken record for the night when I said, "Heavenly Father is looking out for you, and will take care of you. He'll help you through every trial". I didn't know what else I could offer her to help, besides advising her to sleep now and worry about it tomorrow when she has more perspective. The sensed inability to help either of my friends in their pain weighed on my own heart, and I wondered, "How can I help them? I'm not strong enough to lift their burdens for them. I can't even make my problems go away" I turned on some soft Relient K music ("Getting Into You", "Up and Up (acoustic)", and "You'll Always Be My Best Friend") in an attempt to subtly comfort my roommate and calm myself. The answer to my prayer came shortly as a simple, inspired thought to my mind - "I don't have to do it alone." I don't have responsibility for my friends equivalent to that of a parent or ecclesiastical leader, but it is my responsibility as a Christian to "comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:8-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:11) and do what I can to help. I am still just a human though; it is impossible for me to even carry my own weight at times, much less be of use to others. God most often works through other people though, because the person in need is served, and the giver is equally blessed and strengthened. When I'm not strong enough, God will help me. When I am strong, I need to do what I can to help others. And since it is something that God has commanded, He will help us. "I don't have to do it alone. I have God on my side, and all things are possible through Him that He requires." I'm so glad that my Heavenly Father loves me and helps me, and that my Savior Jesus Christ made the sacrifice that He did in order to help and rescue me. The same is true for all of us, and true for you. God loves you, is ever mindful of you, and will do everything He can (and He can do everything) to guide you to happiness.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Looking Ahead in Dance

So, one of the more recent late nights I had was spent doing research on costumes for the upcoming dance competition in November. These are some of the costumes I found whose styles I liked (as far as colors go, I like the blue of the first one; style-wise, the third is probably my favorite):

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I'm probably going to rent my first couple costumes, so I can try out colors and styles without committing to one dress (because of the price, buying one is going to be a rather permanent investment). I'm hoping to go to a local dance shop this week to check out costume rentals (a place suggested by my teacher). When I buy a dress, it'll probably be from this online store (Star Dance), since they have such great discounts.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Things that make me happy

Some things that made me really happy in the past week:

-Honey Nut Chex may have just became my favorite cereal/snack food. Lightly sweet, and delicious

-New dance shoes (standard pumps) that fit!

-Buying a standard dance skirt: black, ankle-length that SPINS out so beautifully!

-Chilean-style hot dogs: bun, hot dog, tomato, avocado/guacamole, mayo. Sooo good!!

-Going salsa dancing with my roommate and seeing my work friends

-Celebrating the Bicentenial de Mexico! (and practically the rest of Latin America)

-Taking pictures of the temple at twilight

-Seeing one of my best friends at work

-Spending time with extended family at a wedding reception

-Playing with babies!

-Arriving late to class and discovering that there's a fire drill

-People (guys especially) that I don't know very well who say hi and try to get to know me better

-Rocking out to techno with the car windows rolled down

-Birthday parties

-Realizing that my roommates are really more like family. Honestly, truly, no exaggerating.

-Feeling confident in dance class (granted, it's a class I'm retaking to work on technique, so I already learned the routine... but it still feels awesome!)

-Girl talk :)

-Key-lime-pie flavored yogurt

-Singing loud and strong with a group in the tunnel, or out with my friends

-Getting through hard things. It stinks at the time, when it hurts and you just want it to stop, but when it's over and past, it's really nice to not have the stress, and add it to your personal list of things you've overcome

There's a lot of things that make me happy. I have a list of summer-specific things on facebook, but I may just post lists like this sometimes, that aren't comprehensive, but just a look at my week or something. Life is pretty great when you notice and acknowledge the small moments and little details. You don't need a picture-perfect day every day of your life in order to be happy - you just have to see what's already there.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Rough Afternoon

I really dislike those days when discouragement, self-doubt and hopelessness hit you like a train wreck.

After my freshman year of college, I decided I wasn't going to take another foreign language class until I got better study skills, because my GPA couldn't take any more C's or C-'s in 4-credit classes (I took German 101 and Spanish 206). That's had to change, however, as I'm investigating the Communication Disorders major; I'm taking two of the beginning classes - ASL 101 and an introductory class to the major - to check it out and see if it's something I want to do. The intro class is going pretty good: no homework that I know of, one of my roommates is also in the class, and the material seems really intriguing. ASL though... that's a different story. The first couple weeks went by well, and I was feeling confident that I could learn the language. Over the past week though, I've been becoming more and more discouraged. I recognize fewer of my teacher's signs (talk about a learning curve, compared to just a week or so before) and it feels like the rest of the class is keeping up just fine. In class today I just gave up trying to follow along: it's tricky to see my teacher from my seat, and since I share a workbook with my roommate (who is taking the same class at the same time with a different teacher), I couldn't follow along with the review in the book either (and that's almost exclusively what we did today). Unfortunately (or fortunately, as you'll soon see), our teacher had apparently given us time to speak in English and arrange study-buddies with each other before the bell rang, meaning that I could no longer easily hide from participating. One of the only two men in our class was sitting next to me. He disturbed me from my doodling and downcast head, and very quickly and accurately (I was really shocked) perceived my problem. Without hesitating, he said, "Don't give up. We're all here to help each other. You can make it through the semester." My voice got a little thick when I responded with "I just don't know." Regaining composure, I wrote down his number and left the room shortly thereafter.

When I got home, I let myself cry. I hate crying in front of people, so I checked to see if anyone else was home, closed my bedroom door, and sat on my bed hugging a giant teddy bear. Yes, I'm probably a bit old to get comfort from a teddy bear (this is one that I've had since I was born), but it's the perfect size and squishability for those comfort hugs about 3 times a year. Meta-cognitively, I felt a little ridiculous for crying over a silly thing - it's only one class, not even a full month into school. But it was strange enough: this one class was all I cried over! Normally, if I become that stressed and sad over one thing, I remember all the other things I could be crying about, and I cry for those as well. I still don't know how I'm going to push or drag myself through the rest of the semester, as far as this class goes, but it was more of a stress-relieving cry than a I-just-want-to-give-up cry. Besides the physical relief, realizing that after I was done helped me to feel better emotionally. 

Now, I know what I need to do to make the pain go away; I've actually known it all along, but I was feeling too distraught to give it any credence as something that would help. If I want the anxiety and distress to go away, I need to change what I'm currently doing: I need to take the time to do the group practice outside of class (no matter how awkward or scary it might possibly be), I need to lean around my classmates to get a good view, I need to be willing to go the extra step to make sure I understand what's going on, and I probably need to review a bit on my own as well. I don't know how I'd be able to give each of my classes the 100% time and effort to be top-notch successful in each one, so I'm not expecting to. My goals are to prioritize and get the most important things done first, to use my time more efficiently, and to give my best effort that I can to improving. I'm not going to become the perfect college student overnight, but I can slowly become a better student than I was yesterday, and keep building on that, and trying my best to be diligent. When I do the best that I can, God will make up the difference, and He will take care of me.

Want to know how my day ended? After initially publishing this post, I went to my step-cousin's wedding reception, with my cousins, cousin-in-law, grandparents, aunts and uncles, great-grandma and great-aunt, and had a good time being with family (hand me a baby anytime and that'll keep me happily occupied until their parents come back, haha). I'm used to feeling awkward and self-conscious at functions with extended family (I've seldom ever lived close to them, or seen them more than a couple times a year), but tonight just felt really good. When I got back to my apartment, I found out that my new dance shoes and dance skirt had arrived in the mail, which made me SUPER excited! The skirt is gorgeous, and the shoes fit great! (They're tight, like dance shoes should be, but they don't threaten to strangle my toes to death and shred every layer of skin there is on the back of my ankle, like my last pair of too-small standard pumps). I listened to music with my roommates while they made their own version of Amish friendship bread (it got messed up a couple times in the process, so they stopped following the recipe). We also made a smoothie with overripe strawberries, a frozen plantain, key lime yogurt, orange juice concentrate, milk and vanilla, and some of us put some marshmallows in. Interesting combination, but hey - we're in college :) After retiring to my room, my roommate and I stayed up talking about different things. We finally decided to go to sleep after a painful bout of laughing that threatened to split our sides and I almost rolled off my bed. Now, I'm going to actually go to bed myself, but wanted to share that rough days don't have to end that way :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Sunday

This Sunday was a very unusual Sunday. Starting with Saturday night, I stayed up ridiculously late and got up early Sunday morning to get good seats at a regional conference for church (happens no more than once a year, I'm positive). My roommates woke me up and helped coax me out of bed, fortunately, because I was exhausted. The messages from President Boyd K. Packer, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and Sister Julie B. Beck were amazing and inspiring. I felt a tangible difference at this meeting from others I've attended with General Authorities present, and I don't know if I've just gotten more mature, or if I was just more spiritually in-tune today, or what it was. I understood more and I felt a deeper love and tenderness towards these leaders who put aside their professional lives and successful careers because God asked them to. Now I get to hear from them and get help in how to live my life happily. I took notes on the meeting in my journal. Elder Steven A. Snow talked about the importance of remembering; Sister Julie Beck explained how we're doing better than we think we are, but not as well as we could be, and how we can be better; Elder Jeffrey Holland shared stories of pioneer challenges and how the leading principle in their lives and our lives should be faith, and how we need to act on our faith to nurture and "build up the waste places of Zion", wherever they are; President Boyd Packer talked about choosing between God and Satan, and how the Holy Ghost can help us identify what is of Christ and to cling to it. After the conference, I and my roommates had several friends over for a Sunday lunch party; it was a lot of fun sitting around the living room with our sandwiches, swapping recent stories (and creating some new ones) and enjoying each other's company. (I love college). Later in the afternoon I had to go to work, and thus I ended up missing the young adult fireside that evening; I plan on watching it online tonight. Around 10pm, I went to tunnel singing (a tradition from my freshman year) with some friends, mainly because our friend was visiting from California and he came with us. I really enjoy tunnel singing - I love the chance to sing loud and strong (and consequently, more in tune than when I sing timidly), appreciate the hymns, and remember friends I used to attend with who are no longer available to come - and it was a good night to go. While I was there, I started to overthink my life a little bit (ask my mother - I used to do it a lot and stress myself out), but one of my guy friends stayed with me to talk for a while afterwards as we walked home. All in all, a bit different from my average Sunday, and I need time to digest and apply some of the things I learned, but it was good.

For some reason, as I was in this pondersome mood, I came up with this status for Facebook: 
Blessings aren't invisible brownie points that you accumulate and redeem after a lifetime when you get to heaven; rather, they are small, significant, real ways that your life is more functional and enjoyable, that affect you yesterday, today and tomorrow. Like snowflakes, they are individually beautiful wonders that combine into a beautiful, whole life. I'm grateful for all the little things that make life so great.
Since yesterday, four people have "liked" it and two have posted comments. It made me happy that I said something that mattered to people (who doesn't like that feeling, of "doing something right"? I think we should recognize it more often when we the good that others do, in their words, talents, love, etc). I really felt and believe what I said though - it hadn't corresponded exactly with my thought process at the time I wrote it, so maybe it was inspiration that someone needed to hear. 

A bit of news from Sunday was a determination that I came to. From henceforth, my laptop is named "Mark". Mark is going to be subject to similar rules about curfew/visiting hours that our male friends are subject to in our apartment (the same as the girls are subject to in men's apartments, for the record): Mark will not be allowed in the kitchen/living room area after midnight except for Friday nights when he may stay out until 1:30. After that, he needs to come back in my bedroom for the night (a difference from the standards for real men, who aren't allowed in the bedrooms, night or day). This is because I have a greatly increased tendency to stay on my computer for longer when my laptop is sitting in the kitchen than when it's sitting on my bedroom desk (probably due to the fact that my desk is that much closer to my bed, and my roommate goes to sleep before me, which reminds me to go to bed earlier myself). I'm really hoping that enforcing this rule will help me to stop wasting time on the computer late at night (that said, I do get some productive things done during this time), because it's been making it horrendously difficult to get up for class in the mornings, and it really isn't healthy - I ought to be sleeping at 4am, not blogging, window shopping online, listening to music, or halfheartedly attempting to do homework. It's a matter of health and prioritizing. I actually got my first possible migraine today, which I'm hoping was induced primarily by not getting enough sleep. 

Another bit of news, from Friday night actually. I got a competition partner for ballroom dance! One of my friends asked if I would be his partner for the Novice Standard open competition, so we'll be doing that in November (Standard = waltz, quickstep, tango, foxtrot). I'm nervous and excited at the same time - I've never competed in open before (just class events), which are more expensive (bad) and more competitive (also bad... but good for improving), but it means that I get to wear a pretty costume (good), which also means I have to pay for said costume somehow (not so good)... From my late-night internet browsing, it looks like renting a costume or buying a cheap one costs about $250. I'll have to figure that out later; sometime when I'm not supposed to be asleep.

I think that about covers my Sunday... Haha, this was kind of the extended version of many things I wanted to include in a Facebook status. You saw what what I ended up posting though. Now onto the rest of this week for some more adventures!... I know I'll have them. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Music Memories

My iTunes was playing on shuffle, and Ryan Cabrera's "True" came on. I don't remember how old I was when the song came out, but it strikes me every time I hear it, even years later. There wasn't any particular story with it - I think one of my best girl friends introduced me to it, probably in middle school, and I could have possibly heard it at church dances - but it's always been a really sweet song to me, and music-wise, like THE perfect slow song. My biggest reservation is over some of the lyrics - I'm not in favor of crossing any lines, and there's certainly things that are more "true" than Ryan Cabrera's affection for a particular girl (like the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's what I equate with truth) - but I figure they're innocent enough to sing about when singing someone else's song. I think the music, with the instruments, dynamics, and melody, is what really sells the song to me. I've probably done a few slow dances to this song (though none that stick out particularly in my head), but imagining dancing to this song with someone I really care about, someone I love, makes for a really nice, romantic picture :) A really, really nice picture. (And you can ask my mom, my best friends, my ex-boyfriend --> I'm a very, very logical person; not anti-romance, but definitely not sitting around waiting for Prince Charming; and yet... Everyone has some dreams). 

There's some songs that inevitably make me think of certain people or events: "White Horse" seems the most appropriate now for my ex (he's a sucker for chick flicks and fairy tales... but those aren't real life. Although "Out of My League" and "Falling For You" also remind me of him), "My Heart Will Go On" is the song I danced to with the crush from my first co-ed church camp, "You'll Always Be My Best Friend" is a short Relient K song that I mentally dedicated to my friends from freshman year of college (to one special guy in particular), the soundtrack to "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" reminds me of eating Skittles and reading in my bedroom during the summer in middle school, and many songs from back in the day that seemed to identify exactly how I was feeling with frustrated teenage crushes, haha (gotta love the music industry and teen egocentrism :) ). Usually the associations I remember with songs are positive ones. And even songs like the ones with my first boyfriend, though they hurt at first to hear, after we broke up, the pain of it faded with time. 

I go through phases in music too, of course. Middle school was a time of trying to learn the popular songs by Kelly Clarkson, angsty teen songs, and some pop classics of the era; early high school was a bursting of church music as I started going to more church camps in the summer and trying to learn all the songs being played at dances; later high school was a conglomerate of a bit of many many genres as I started to widen my circle a bit. Once I got to college, of course, my horizons started rapidly disappearing. Now, my music library consists of: Film Soundtrack, R&B/Soul, Latin/Latino, Alternative, Classical, Rock, Christmas/Holiday, Regional Mexicano, Religious, Pop, World, Brazilian, Bachata, Salsa y Tropical, Hip Hop/Rap, Caribbean, Dance,  Gospel, Jazz, Oldies, Pop Latino, Children's Music, Merengue, Country, Salsa, Vocal, New Age, Techno, Inspirational, Metal, Singer/Songwriter, General Spoken, Disco, Teen Pop, Christian, Cumbia/Cumbiaton, Raices, Easy Listening, Blues, Electronic, French Pop, Club, Punk Rock, Miscellaneous, Other, and <unknown>, so... I get around, musically (and that's discounting the distinctions between 'General Pop' and 'Pop', and 'General New Age' and 'New Age', etc). It's mostly thanks to roommates, friends, classes, and other experiences that introduced me to more classical, broadway, ballroom and salsa dance, and bollywood, which hadn't been in my collection before. What I listen to the most just depends on what I'm in the mood for. Yesterday I was feeling Taio Cruz and Michael Franti, and tonight I've been listening to Daniel Bedingfield and Boys Like Girls. I love having a wide variety of the explosive and fun music as well as the solemn and profound to listen to. It's like trying Indian food or home-canned peaches for the first time, smelling hot grease and remembering fresh donuts at the cider mill, sensing the impending autumn on the wind as it nips your face and tugs at your hair, or feeling the last long rays of sun that inexorably turn your face towards the warmth before it slides behind the distant mountain range. Whether I'm singing, dancing or listening, music is an interactive experience that moves, motivates, and inspires.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fruit! :D

This week I made a delicious discovery... Fruit makes (almost) everything wonderful! (I wasn't about to try raspberries on the hot dog I had for lunch...)

I wasn't big on fruit before coming to college - I liked apples, grapes and celery (is celery even a fruit?) and an occasional banana, but not much else. Then, I met the girls who are my current roommates, who set out to "culinarily educate" me with the foods they were accustomed to that I had never gotten around to trying. The fact that I was in college helped, because I became bolder (and in some cases, braver) about trying new things.

For example: pre-college, my cheese experience was mostly limited to cheddar, parmesan and mozzarella. Those were good, but there's so much more! I tried muenster and brie and pepper jack and gouda once or twice. It makes life more diverse, wide and flavorful. Especially when you and your roommates come up with all sorts of inside jokes and symbologies involving various cheese products.

Back to fruit though. This week, I made a fruit salad for the first time; all by myself! It was amazing. I bought kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, and red grapes, then washed, peeled, cut and mixed it together until the colors looked good. It was sweet, tangy and delicious. It was simply good. I bought some more raspberries last night, and had them on leftover french toast for breakfast this morning, sprinkled with granulated sugar. That was also pure deliciousness. The success this week encourages me to go out, be bolder, and experiment with more fruit cocktails, broadening my horizons and opportunity for enjoyment. Plus, it's probably a little healthier for me than late-night candy binges ;) Now I need to figure out what to do with my vegetables...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


So, my younger sister told me through facebook that our youngest sister thinks my blog is boring. Sigh. Maybe I'll have a chance when she's older...

But, HAPPY THOUGHT instead! - At least I think that my sister (the one with facebook) has a really interesting blog, and I can get a kick out of that. It is very fun to read. Even if we're not good at something, it doesn't mean that we can't get pleasure out of watching others do it well.

Honestly, ballroom dance is something new I was exposed to in college. And it was when I saw the more advanced dancers (when I was taking a beginning class) that I thought, "Wow, that looks amazing. I'd love it if I could learn how to do that," and now I'm doing just that. I've taken dance classes every semester since, and am on par with some of those dancers I looked up to. I've still got so much to learn - there's a lot more classes I need to take for the minor, I need to make it to the backup team in the dance company, and an old teacher recommended I look for a coach and a partner and start competing in open events - but I'm growing a talent through desire, persistence, hard work and faith. And it's really fun! (Painful at times, but fun, and worth it!).

I'm a firm believer in anti-moping and pro-"let's get something done". If I don't like a situation, I need to change it! Sitting around complaining won't make it any better... So griping and saying "I'm not talented just because I can't do what someone else can " is only going to make me miserable; why not say instead "Ok, what am I good at and how can I get better? What's something I like to do that makes me happy?", and then go and do that? Personally, I've discovered that it's a lot more satisfying and productive to live happily and actively than passively and frankly, miserably. Don't let life be a series of "things that happen to me", but rather "things that I've done and become". It's your choice, and after experiencing both, I prefer to be happy! :)

A Brisk Jog Through D&C 77, 86, 91 and 113

After surveying the length of these sections, I have high hopes that this posted reading response will be much shorter than the first. The cumulative topic issued by my teacher for these chapters is "Truths Restored".

Doctrine and Covenants 77
The chapter heading tells me this is a series of questions referring to the symbolism in the Book of Revelations, written by John the Beloved. It's been a while since I read it straight through (probably my freshman year of high school), if I ever did read the whole thing, so I may do some cross-referencing to refresh my memory.
Verse 1, Q and A: Well, there's a question as to the symbolism and there's an answer. Reading the preceding verses in the Book of Revelations makes me think that John is not only seeing the earth itself in its physical "sanctified, immortal, and eternal state", but also seeing the Savior reigning as King in glory, with 24 priesthood leaders also seated with Him.
Verses 2 and 3, Q and A: So, I still don't quite understand what exactly the four beasts are supposed to represent (as far as understanding the punctuation goes, it's not really helping me). Perhaps one is heaven, second is the paradise of God, third is the happiness of man, and fourth is lumping together all beasts (beasts, creeping things, fowls of the air)? My problem is that more than four things are listed, and some of seem to be synonymous to me, like heaven and the paradise of God. I can probably shelve those questions for another time.
Verse 4, Q and A: I just assumed that the eyes meant something along the lines of being able to see everything, but I guess there's more to it (naturally). Eyes = light and knowledge makes sense to me, as does wings = power to move and act. Applying that to the four beasts though... Does that mean that heaven can move and act? I'm gonna need a bit more time and revelation to understand these beasts. Should be a fun learning experience.
Verse 5, Q and A: Ah, so the interpretation of this one includes a bit of past and future. Yes, the 24 elders were faithful leaders, but they were also more specifically leaders contemporary with the early Church (even though the scene is taking place in our future, when the earth is glorified), after Christ's death ("seven churches" reference, and apparently those leaders had all died when John beheld this vision).
Verse 6 and 7, Q and A: This makes a lot more sense to me, about the book with the seven seals. I can visualize and understand it a lot better. Book = mind and will of God concerning the earth; a seal = 1000 years covered in the book.
Verse 8, Q and A: Ok, so each angel has authority over a part of the earth. Pretty straightforward. If you're talking about the number four and the earth, it seems to refer to "the four corners of the earth", so that every part of the earth is covered.
Verse 9, Q and A: An angel ascending from the east... So this is a fifth angel, coming from the east (same direction the sun rises and that Christ will appear from in the Second Coming). Hmm... with guardianship over the 12 (scattered) tribes of Israel, he's telling the four angels not to wreak destruction until he has gathered Israel and sealed them up unto the Lord (Elias).
Verse 10, Q and A: I think we're in the sixth seal now, when this gathering is happening, and that (if I remember correctly) the seventh seal is the Second Coming.
Verse 11, Q and A: Ooh... This 144,000 makes me excited. Again, this is priesthood leaders (high priests - not that only 144,000 people in the whole earth will be saved or anything like that) who are called to minister and to bring the gospel to people of every nation, tribe and kindred (and they will be representative of all those nations).
Verse 12, Q and A: My guess is that each of the trumpets represents a different plague or disaster to hit the earth before the Second Coming, and my understanding is that these plagues are both the punish the wicked and (mostly) to call men everywhere to repentance before worse plagues come and/or they die. This verse clarifies that yes, I am kinda right, but it's also to purify and sanctify the earth before the coming of the Son of God. One way that it can be sanctified is to make sure that anyone left on it is righteous I guess, but there's more to it than that.
Verse 13, Q and A: Another clarification - the seventh seal will be opened before Christ's Second Coming.
Verse 14, Q and A: John eating the book was a way to symbolically show him internalizing and accepting his mission? I guess John is one of the many Elias'es (because Elias is more than just a person, it's a title for "messenger", I think).
Verse 15, Q and A: Truth will be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses, is the Lord's way of doing things. And although there is only one authorized President of the Church at a time, all of the Apostles have the same prophetic keys, their keys just aren't activated until they become the President of the Church (and most aren't called to become the President, just as apostles). What I've been taught is that the two prophets are probably apostles (rather than Presidents of the Church) who will be called to protect Jerusalem.

That's one section down! On to section 86!

Doctrine and Covenants, section 86 (only 11 verses)
An explanation of the parable of wheat and tares. Field = world; apostles = sowers of seed; Satan = sower of tares/weeds; church = wheat; tender blades of wheat = fragile faith of growing church; burning field = end of the world (or the wicked). God will let the wicked and the righteous grow together until they are fully ripe (otherwise you might kill the wheat with the tares), then He will harvest them, cause them to be sifted, and the wicked will be consumed at His coming. A bit about the priesthood: the priesthood will never be taken again from the earth, so Joseph was preserved until after all the priesthood keys had been restored and given to others, so that it would go on after his martyrdom. Verse 11 highlights that the priesthood is to serve and help others (as opposed to any suppositions of superiority on account of possessing the priesthood). Serving = humble and good; superiority = prideful and bad.

Doctrine and Covenants, section 91 (even shorter!)
Joseph was wondering about the Apocrypha, whether he should translate that the same way he had gone over the Bible to find errors or gaps in translation. The answer was that there's some good stuff in there, but there's some not-so-good stuff in there; the Spirit of God is needed to discern it, so Joseph was told to leave it up to the reader to rely on the Spirit, and that he didn't need to worry about translating it himself.

Doctrine and Covenants, section 113 (last one!! and relatively short)
Ooh, fun - this section is answering some questions about Isaiah's writings. I really like them personally, but it can be difficult sometimes to understand what exactly he's talking about. It seems that the imagery being referred to (I'm not looking at the actual text in Isaiah at the moment) is Vine imagery. We know that Christ is the true vine, and that unless a branch is connected to the vine, it will wither and die (we are dependent on Christ for everything - we can't sustain ourselves). Stem of Jesse = Christ (Christ was a literal descendant of Jesse through King David, but spiritually, he's also the root from which Jesse sprang). Rod that comes from the stem of Jesse = servant of Christ ("who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim" = Joseph Smith?). Root of Jesse = descendant of Jesse and Joseph unto whom belongs priesthood keys of kingdom and of gathering in the last days (...Joseph Smith? Not sure if I got one or both wrong there). Ooh, wow - reading verses 7 and 8 with this understanding makes it a lot cooler. Not only are modern prophets saying "raise the bar" and "stand a little taller", but ancient prophets like Isaiah saw our day and said the same thing! Zion, you bearers of the priesthood of God!- Put on your strength, arise and be men (2 Nephi 1:21), take your calling, gird up your strength, and go forth serving the Lord! Do not be afraid to do His will - He will strengthen and support you in doing His work; we will not fail. Take the gospel to every land, to every person, and show them how to come to their God. Of course, women are included in that as well, operating underneath the direction of the priesthood, using their gifts as only women can serve. Verses 9 and 10 make total sense too, if captive Zion is "the scattered remnants" of Israel, repenting and removing the curses of God that have been upon her; coming to God truly makes you free. I know that; I've experienced it.

Hurray! That's one class I'm finally caught up in!  And this assignment only took an hour and a half :P

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Commentary on D&C 76 (Be prepared - it's a long one)

For one of my religion classes, I'm supposed to keep a record of my reading responses throughout the semester. My teacher has been really supportive of posting our responses on blogs, so I'm gonna try it out and see how it goes. Normally I write these in my regular journal or a separate scripture journal; with this, I'll make each reading assignment its own post, even though it may cover several sections (I usually take notes on one section or chapter at a time).

So, here's Doctrine and Covenants, section 76 (all 119 verses of it...)

The chapter heading says the revelation(s) was received after Joseph Smith had read John 5:29 from the Bible. I can understand his confusion on reading that: ("And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."). People are a lot more complicated than just "good or evil"; we all do stupid things and sometimes malicious things, and we are also frequently moved by compassion to help others even if its occasionally to our own detriment. How do you box people up as either "just good" or "just evil", and condemn someone to damnation? (I prefer to err on the side of giving people too much credit). God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, so it doesn't make sense to have a black-and-white, either-or situation, because people just can't be categorized like that. Questions like this probably went through Joseph's head and prompted him to pray and receive this vision.

In the first verse several verses, it clearly establishes that God is pretty awesome, and He is cause for rejoicing. Starting in verse 5, He enumerates the blessings given to those who love God and serve Him: they receive his mercy, grace and honor (v. 5); great reward and eternal glory (v. 6); knowledge of mysteries (v. 7-8, 10); and great wisdom and understanding (v. 9). And really, verse 10 describes my feelings about the "mysteries" and "secrets of my will": "For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will--yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man" (emphasis added). The mysteries of God aren't really any great secret - they're free for all, and all are invited to learn them. The key is that these mysteries can only be unlocked by the power of the Spirit. And how do we gain that Spirit? By fearing the Lord and serving Him in righteousness and in truth unto the end (verse 5), and by doing the things that He has asked (following His commandments; living our lives in harmony with His standards; becoming a faithful, charitable, Christlike people). As we grow in obedience, we grow in understanding of these mysteries. The mysteries that I've come to understand so far are just a deeper understanding of the Plan of Salvation (Visit for the outline, or leave me a question if you want to know more) and a better understanding of who exactly Christ is and how I can be more like Him.

Another vision, or a second part of the same vision opens in verse 11 (this chapter is broken into sections of multiple, connected visions). Verse 12 explains that the Holy Ghost was present and enabled them to see and understand things on a spiritual plane, more than just seeing things with physical eyes (imagine the difference between seeing a literal object versus seeing the object and understanding symbolically - there's more to it than meets the physical eye because you have greater understanding). Versus 13 and 14 really make me wonder why some people refuse to believe that Mormons are Christians; clearly they haven't actually read any of our scriptures ;) The first thing that Joseph Smith and his friend Sidney Rigdon saw in vision was an affirmation that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the Son of our Eternal Heavenly Father, and they bore witness of Him. Verse 19 shows us by example what we should do when we come across a scripture or a doctrine that we don't understand: when Joseph read the scripture in John about the resurrection, he meditated about it and pondered as to what it could mean. Taking time to do more than just read the scriptures, and actually think about what you read will open the door to personal revelation, wherein you can receive answers and have "the eyes of your understanding opened" (still verse 19) to see what the scripture is trying to teach.

Verses 20 through 24 are a beautiful, beautiful testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. What follows next is very interesting, but totally makes sense when you think about how the gospel works (opposition in all things - read 2 Nephi chapter 2). Verses 25 to 29 describe Satan's (Lucifer's) fall and how he became the devil. All of God's children have agency (the ability to choose); while we were in heaven, before coming to earth and receiving a physical body, we still had agency. Satan was also a son of God, like us, but he decided to turn away and rebel against God. Because Satan sought to take away our right and ability to choose and make decisions for ourselves (the ability that God had given us), he was cast out of heaven and became the devil, in opposition to God and His righteousness. Being in opposition to God is a pretty miserable existence, since you're condemned to fail, so Satan likes to make other people miserable (verse 29).

Now, for the different camps of followers under these leaders we can choose to follow. Verses 30 through 38 talk about a rare group of people: the sons of perdition. These are "those with whom [Satan] had made war with and overcame," and who "know [God's] power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves [an important distinction] through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy [God's] power." Sons of perdition are rare because they have received an indisputable witness of Jesus Christ and then denied it or turned against it, and very, very few people have a witness that strong in order to deny or reject it. I called attention to the "suffering themselves... to be overcome", because I believe very strongly in our power to choose. Satan cannot take anyone by force (and neither can God, for that matter) - if we are to become subject to anyone, it is by surrendering our obedience to them. Surrendering to God is good (He loves us and we can trust Him to take care of us and lead us to happiness); surrendering to Satan is bad and will only make you more thoroughly miserable than you've ever been in your life. Between the two, I prefer and recommend the former over the latter.

Verses 39 to 49 discuss the resurrection in general, testify of the mission of Jesus Christ, and describe a little bit more the outcome for the sons of perdition. The mission of Christ is really simple and powerful: "That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him" (verses 41-42). Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves; His love is so pure and so powerful that it enabled Him to suffer the weight of justice for all that we've ever done wrong (which is a lot), and all He asks us to do is to meet his conditions of repentance to receive the blessings of His Atonement (forsaking our sins, making retribution where possible, and seeking forgiveness). These are also the conditions that, if we live by them, will lead us to become more like God is, and show us the way to live that will bring the most happiness. The last bit that covers the sons of perdition basically says "You don't want to find out how bad it's gonna be for them." It's pretty sad, because the only reason they can't enjoy the blessings of the Atonement is because they refuse to accept them.

The next vision, or part of the vision, is concerning the resurrection of the just. Verses 50 to 70 cover the celestial kingdom, or, the highest of the kingdoms of heaven (verse 70). The solution to the Joseph's confusion was this: to have several degrees in heaven, respective to the obedience and faithfulness exhibited by those who inherit each degree or kingdom. Qualities of those who inherit the celestial kingdom: received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name, and were baptized by immersion for the remission of sins (v. 51); received the gift of the Holy Ghost through proper priesthood authority (v. 52); overcome (sins or weaknesses) by faith and are "sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise" (v. 53). Blessings they get are: that they are given all things by the Father (v. 55, 59); they are priests/kings/gods/sons of God after the order of the priesthood after receiving of God's fullness and glory (v. 56-58); they shall overcome all things (v. 60); they shall dwell in the presence of God forever and ever, in Mount Zion (v. 62, 66); they shall have part in the first resurrection/the resurrection of the just (v. 64, 65); their names are written in heaven (v. 68). In short, individuals (or rather, families, when you learn more about the celestial kingdom) who inherit the celestial kingdom are "they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood" (verse 69, emphasis added). These are people who tried their hardest, who repented when they messed up, and who kept trying all the way to the end. After they did all that, Christ made up the difference and raised them to perfection. The most detail is given about the celestial kingdom because, to paraphrase Joseph Smith, that's the one we're aiming for! Why would you aim for only second-best? You want to give it your best shot, and so we have a more detailed recipe for how to get to the celestial kingdom than we do for the other two kingdoms (which are soon to follow).

The terrestrial kingdom is discussed in verses 71 to 80. Where the celestial kingdom is compared to the glory of the sun, the terrestrial kingdom is compared to the glory of the moon (v. 71). I think the best descriptions are in verses 74-76 and 79. Inhabitants of the terrestrial kingdom "received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it [v. 74]. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men [v. 75]," who "receive of his glory, but not of his fullness [v. 76]," and "who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus [v. 79]." An important doctrine to understand is that God is a just and fair god; it's not fair for someone to be condemned to hell just because they were born in the "wrong" time or place and never heard the name Jesus Christ in their life. There are perfectly good and wonderful people in all times and places who would have accepted the message of Jesus Christ if only they had heard it. This is why Mormons believe in performing proxy ordinances in temples for the dead: we believe that if someone didn't have a chance to hear the gospel during their mortal life, they will get the opportunity to in heaven, and have the chance to either accept it or reject it. Thus, they have an equal opportunity to inherit the same blessings as someone who was raised with a correct knowledge of God their whole life and lived virtuously in accordance with what they had been taught. Therefore, what I currently believe regarding verse 74 is this (and I am willing to be persuaded by someone wiser than I am): that someone who inherits the terrestrial kingdom perhaps held reservations when they heard the truth in mortality, and so because of where they were in life, they weren't able to fully hear, understand, and accept the gospel, whereas maybe they would have in more favorable circumstances (such as post-death, in heaven, where they can hear the whole thing and have plenty of time to understand and digest it). God wants all of His children to succeed, to be happy, and to come unto Him, so He will do everything He can to give them the best chance He can for them to accept Him. God is both perfectly fair and perfectly merciful. Amazing how it all works and makes sense, isn't it?

The telestial kingdom is the lowest of the three kingdoms of heaven, comparable to the glory of the stars, and is described in verses 81-86 and 88-90. "These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus. These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit [in contrast to the sons of perdition]. These are they who are thrust down to hell" (verses 82-84). This one is a bit harder for me to understand (but thankfully, I'm aiming for the celestial, so hopefully I don't need to worry about it). When it says that they "received not the gospel of Christ," I'm assuming that refers to them rejecting it and saying "No thanks" rather than saying that they never heard the gospel of Christ (you can be introduced to the gospel, but not receive the gospel because you choose not to accept and internalize it). So, these seem to be just the mean people in the world who enjoy being mean and miserable (that said, there are a lot of "Mr Scrooge"s who've had a rough life and can and will change in more favorable circumstances. That's why I'm so glad God is our Judge, because He is fair. We, often, are not fair to each other). More about the telestial kingdom is given later, in verses 98 to 106. It's similar to the preceding verses, with details about why they suffer (because they love to break the commandments, v. 103). Verses 110-112 also add that even though they reject Christ, they will confess that He is Christ, the Son of God, who atoned for their sins even though they rejected His sacrifice. Verse 111 could almost apply to everyone - "For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared" - except for one important detail; grace (available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ) is missing. Like I noted earlier in talking about the celestial glory, we are saved by grace after all that we can do (2 Nephi 25:23). This grace is available through the Atonement; if we choose to reject the Atonement and reject Christ, that grace is no longer extended to us, and we are judged by works alone (which doesn't bode well for any one of us). The telestial glory includes separation from God, which I'm not a fan of (v. 112) - another good reason to aim for the celestial kingdom.

Verses 86 to 88 is pretty much administrative details. Celestial beings dwell with God and are in the presence of Jesus. Christ also visited members of the terrestrial kingdom (v. 73) and taught them the gospel. However, people who reject Christ (telestial kingdom) probably wouldn't feel very comfortable in the goodness of His presence. So, members of the terrestrial kingdom can visit those below them in the telestial kingdom to teach them, and members of the telestial kingdom can also be visited by the Holy Ghost and by angels (v. 86, 88). Members of the celestial kingdom can likewise visit the terrestrial kingdom and minister to them.

Yet, in the midst of this comparative scale, there is a reminder of what exactly we're talking about. We're still talking about heaven, for the most part! In verse 89, we read "And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial [remember, this is the lowest of the kingdoms], which surpasses all understanding." Even in the very lowest degree, the kingdom is that is referred to as "hell" and "suffering the wrath of Almighty God", is still glorious beyond understanding (verse 106 states that they will suffer "until the fullness of times, when Christ shall...have perfected his work", so I'm guessing the glory comes post-suffering). Think about who we just established makes up the telestial kingdom... How many of us, when you examine our deepest desires, would really fit in to that place? (Or want to fit in?). Even with the glory bit said, how many of us want to suffer like that? The great news is that it's possible to get the glory (even more than the telestial) without nearly as much suffering! Because the problem with the telestial is that they rejected Christ and rejected His Atonement. If they had accepted it, they would almost have a "get out of jail free" card - the only conditions of which would be coming unto Christ and being obedient to His commandments. Christ suffered so that we don't have to! He already suffered for our sins - for the lies, for the whoredoms, for the time we stole something from our brother, for the time we said something really hurtful to someone else - so that we could accept His merciful terms and avoid the suffering ourselves. No, it's not fair to Him, but He did it willingly for us because He loves us and wants to spare us. He is the only One who had to power to help us. We become indebted to justice because inevitably as humans, we mess up. We can't repay the debt alone. But, Christ is perfect. Entering the world as half-mortal and half-God, He had the ability to sin and also the power to avoid it. Because He didn't sin, He was not indebted to justice. When He offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf, He fulfilled the demands of justice, and made mercy available by becoming our Mediator, on much softer terms. Christ offers us the way out, but it is only available by coming unto Him and accepting His terms. Hence why those who rejected Him (those in the telestial kingdom) are required to suffer and satisfy the demands of justice. Going back to the glory scale, verse 91 tells us that the terrestrial (a step above the telestial, for honorable men and women) glory far exceeds the telestial, and in turn, the celestial exceeds the terrestrial, even to make them equal with God (v. 92, 95).

Doctrine and Covenants, section 76 started with talking about mysteries, and now it also ends with them. Verse 114: "But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom, which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion." So, the mysteries of God are just the gospel plan and how it works. It is confusing and a mystery how exactly we go from point A to point B, from where we were before we were born on earth to where we are now, and from where we are now to someday becoming gods and goddesses (heck, understanding how I became who I am today is hard enough). But these things can be learned, step by step, through the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit. "Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows upon those who love him, and purify themselves before him" (verse 116).

Once again, the first very first verse of section 76 was a testimony of Christ, and so it also ends: "And to God and the Lamb be glory, and honor, and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (verse 119). Like I've said, and also countless others before me (and countless to follow), Christ really is at the center of it all. We can't do it without Him. He is the only answer there is to a happy life.

Congratulations! If you read through this whole thing to the very end, I am considerably impressed. I hope it was worth your time to read it. Approximately 6 hours after starting... I think it was worth mine to write it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Thoughts from a Sunday Afternoon

Cardigans and scarves are some of my favorite articles of clothing, especially in the fall. I just get excited about them.

I wanted to post some thoughts on here that I had while at church yesterday. They are about "becoming" and "hope."

I noted that, especially in the light of my experience at the temple, the small things we are asked to do as members of the LDS church to bring us closer to Christ are mutually supportive: when I studied the scriptures before going in the temple, I had a deeper feeling of reverence and worship when I went in. When I went to the temple with that Spirit, it made it easier for me to want to read my scriptures later. When I do all of these things, it makes my prayers more meaningful and more like a two-way conversation with heaven. Having this Spirit (from doing the little things) makes me feel more whole and complete. I love that feeling, because it just feels so good and so right. This relates to my little tourist analogy, with three self-evaluating questions: Am I a tourist in the kingdom of God? (Going to all the popular sites, taking pictures, sampling the food during a short visit before returning home). Am I a student on a study abroad in the kingdom of God? (Living there for a while, experiencing the culture, and learning about it, but intending to return home after a semester or two). Or am I actively seeking to become a naturalized citizen in the kingdom of God? (becoming a member of the community, invested in its success, enjoying the rights and privileges available after a lot of hard work to get there). It's one thing to go through the actions like a checklist to say: baptism? check; full tithe-payer? check; full-time mission? check; temple marriage? check. Those are all good things that should be done, but that's not all that's required if we want all of the blessings available to those who follow Christ. If we want to become as He is, we need to do all the little things, forming habits and forming character, that lead us to become as He is. Faith, hope, charity, patience, long-suffering, loyalty, forgiveness, and other such traits are qualities that we need to develop in ourselves (with Christ's help) in order to qualify ourselves (with grace, after all that we can do - 2 Nephi 25:23; James 2:14-26). It's not enough to be a tourist - our goal should be to become citizens in Christ's kingdom.

With regards to hope, I found it particularly relevant in dating. As a friend of mine once said, "It takes faith to put your head back on the chopping block of dating." It gets really discouraging sometimes! To like someone, to get excited when you think you see a positive sign, to hope that they could at least be interested in you as a friend, and then to get shot down when they tell you that they just don't feel the same way. When that happens over and over, it feels like it's never going to work out. I tried a couple times to get myself to stop having crushes on guys at all... That didn't last very long (thank you, biology). What do you do when you feel like hope just leads to hurt? I learned that hope is inseparably connected to faith - you can't really have one without the other. God has promised that the faithful will receive every blessing entitled to them through their righteousness, if not in this life, then in eternity. I have received that promise for myself that I will find and marry a righteous spouse and have a family. But right now, I'm single. It takes faith to believe that God's promises will all be fulfilled (look at Abraham, who was promised to be a "father of many nations", and who didn't have offspring until after he was 100 years old. Talk about faithfully waiting for promised blessings). When you have that faith though, that God will follow through on His word, in His own time, it makes it easier to have forward-looking hope; you can move on and keep going instead of sitting down in despair and wallowing and complaining about how much life sucks right now. Having faith and hope gives you an eternal perspective that allows you to see past the momentary disappointments of today and look towards the promised blessings that are sure to come. I know that someday, if I keep doing all that I can and if I keep Christ as my first priority, I'll meet someone and he'll become my best friend (who I am insanely attracted to), and we'll be able to get married and sealed together as a family in God's holy temple.

Haha, one thing that I've discovered to be a huge help in dating and relationships with other people - being happy makes a huge difference! People are drawn to optimism, and happy people help others to feel good about themselves. When I started to make a conscious effort in choosing to be happy, I was better able to serve other people (giving someone a smile and expressing interest in them go a long way in making someone's day. Everyone wants to feel cared about) and I felt better about my own life. It is truly amazing the difference it has made; even my mother admitted this week that I've come a long way since I was in high school (which I am very thankful for). Life is just better when you're happy :)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Afternoon, A Good Book, The Temple

Today wasn't a terribly unusual day. It was my first time cashiering at work (a job that had me nervous at first, but that I felt increasingly comfortable with) and I got to chat with Elder Josh Merrell, one of my best friends, for a while (I need to make plans to send him a package sometime). Cashiering is the only job in the cafeteria that you don't need to wear a hat or a hairnet for, so that was a very liberating change from the usual. I had wanted to go to the temple sometime this weekend, and since the cafeteria is only a 5-10 minute walk from there, I went right after working the lunch shift.

Taken on a late spring morning
Wow. I can't put into words how peaceful and just lovely it felt. I wanted to spend some time beforehand to get in the right mindset, so when I arrived, I sat on a shaded bench on the temple grounds. The weather was perfect. Starting around 3 in the afternoon, I ended up reading from the scriptures and writing in my journal for over an hour. I felt so relaxed and just... wonderful. Content; warm; meditative. I read in the Book of Mormon from 2 Nephi chapter 2, and in section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The passage in 2 Nephi basically explains life: why we have opposition in life (good and evil) and how we can be happy (hmm...). Doctrine and Covenants 122 was written when Joseph Smith was imprisoned (again) on false charges, separated from his family, and kept hearing about the suffering church members; in it, he is comforted that whatever happens to him will make him stronger and help him to grow. Joseph was also reminded that Christ is always there for him. I didn't really learn anything new in terms of facts or statements, but I deepened my understanding of the Atonement and how Christ makes everything possible (and I do mean everything). I took notes in my journal on insights and new perspectives I found while reading. Finally, I put my books back in my bag, swapped my yellow flip-flops for brown flats, fished out my temple recommend, and started up the sidewalk through the flower beds to the temple itself.

It was almost empty inside the baptistry (very unusual, since it's usually packed. Thank you, opening football game), and the happy, calm feeling stayed with me. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, besides making almost record time for both the proxy baptisms and confirmations (I was probably in there for no more than a half hour). I was very thoughtful on the way home. I came out of this afternoon's trip with more commitment to do the things I already know I'm supposed to do. That's one of the things I like about life - there's always room for improvement; you never need to be stagnant or bored. Perhaps sometime I'll post on here my new life objectives for the next semester. And I promise I'll try to be more lively in future posts, although it's likely I'll have a mix of the entertaining and the serious :)

Why I'm Here

I've learned a lot of lessons in my life. One of the most empowering of these lessons is the idea that I determine how happy I am, every day. We have very limited control over our circumstances, but thankfully, circumstances aren't what determine happiness. I determine my own happiness. I choose how to look at a situation; I choose what I like and don't like; I can choose to change who I am. So, this is a blog about my life, and what I'm making of it: I'm making it a happy one.