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.