Tuesday, December 20, 2011

~Christmas Goals~

I'm home for Christmas!

I actually had a mildly fun plane ride over here because I was seated in a row with an LDS Sister missionary and a very friendly college student, and we enjoyed some conversation at the beginning and end of our flight.

Being home has been fun. There's a lot to do and to help out with, so I want to do my part while I'm here. There's general cleaning, laundry to cycle through, home repair projects to assist with, and holiday cooking that hasn't been started yet! Besides chores, I want to continue developing my relationships with my siblings. I realized this summer (I think) that the people skills I employ at school and in public aren't always the skill set I use at home. I need to bring my behavior into alignment with my ideals; if I really love my siblings, then I need to treat them accordingly. This isn't to say that I have bad sibling relations... but it is to say that they can be improved. I'm working on it by being positive, valuing their contributions, and avoiding deprecating humor. My family teases a lot, and with such close contact, it can be easy to slip into devaluing someone. Again - not a chronic, painful occurrence - but one that can be bettered. 

Maybe those will be my goals for Christmas break: service and improving family relations. I'm sure to have fun along the way too; I'll spend some time with my high school friends and friends from church, and my boyfriend is coming to visit my family for a couple days :) Today was a good day, and I want to maintain and improve upon those feelings for the next 2-ish weeks. Huzzah!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

We're in Love, Love, Love

The magic moment doesn't come when you meet Prince Charming, and happily-ever-after bliss automagically ensues. At least not for me.

The magic moments come over and over when you work together, grow together, support each other, and decide to love each other. And the blissful feeling gets better every time. That feels like magic.

God is a God of miracles. And I'm sure as anything ascribing these magical moments to His credit.

"It's funny how love takes you by surprise / And I just didn't know what I was missing 'til you opened my eyes."
-"Favorite Girl", The Icarus Account

We're gonna go somewhere good, and I'm so looking forward to it.

"The future is as bright as your faith." -Thomas S. Monson (prophet for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

TheoLOGIC Sense

This simple formula is all over the scriptures, especially in the Book of Mormon. And it works; I've tested it in my life and seen it in the lives of others.

Faith + Hope + Charity --(leads to Good Works)--> Happiness

Distrust + Fear + Selfishness --(leads to Iniquity)--> Despair/Misery

See Moroni 10:20-22Alma 7:24Isaiah 57:21Alma 41:102 Nephi 2:27Alma 40:12-14, and Alma 41:5.

Think about it: when you're scared, it's harder to reach out and trust and love. When you're selfish, it's also hard to do these. I tried to line these up with their opposites. It makes sense, so look at what you're feeling right now, and where you want to be. If they line up, awesome! If they don't, then you can see how to fix your course to achieve your goals. I love how the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, logical, true, and applicable to my life.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick Update... 'cause it's been a while

Wooo, it feels like it's been forever since I posted here. Thanksgiving came and went: I spent it with some of my extended family, and had a good time getting to know them better. I like building those relationships. I've been trying to keep up in school, and that's gone better than it has in previous semesters, but I'm still not up to where I want to be yet. I started dating someone and our relationship together is going really well. It's been hard to think about much in my life that doesn't involve him; we do service together, eat together, study together (some study sessions are more productive than others), and learn about each other's lives. My sleep schedule is like my homework status - it's been worse, but I'd like it to be better.

Mm... Sleepy.

Finals are coming up next week, and Christmas is after that! I'm going home for Christmas this year!! I'm excited, because it'll be fun to see my family again and to enjoy the beautiful spirit of the season. I've been learning a lot, and someday when I have time I'll write some of it on here. I like getting to know my Heavenly Father better - as I get better at relying on Him, my own independence is somehow increased. Funny how that works :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Share the Love!

I have a fun situation in my singles ward where the girl that I visit teach is my visiting teacher... So what we've been doing for the last few months is have a foursome get-together with me, my teaching companion, my teachee/teacher, and her teaching companion, and we all discuss the lesson together and learn about each other's lives. I love it! 

Tonight, my teaching companion told a story about when one of her roommates was a missionary. This missionary's companion would say before going to bed, "Sister Smith, I love you" and explain one nice thing about her that she noticed in particular that day. That set up a great system of support and appreciation that has evidently continued past the mission and into college life. My partner suggested that we end each of our meetings with something similar, where we give meaningful, personal compliments to each other and remind each other that we are loved. I really like the idea, and agree that it's a great habit to establish. 

I really appreciated the compliment I got tonight. My teaching partner noticed that when I'm in a conversation with someone, I'm a great active listener, and validate the speaker really well. She said, "It's like your little heart is right there with them!" She also said that if I were to be a missionary, I'll "just knock it out of the park" and that even if I don't end up serving a mission, "my kids will be all-stars" anyway (she especially had missionaries on the mind tonight). It made me laugh, but you know, it's always nice to hear when you're doing something that people appreciate. So share the love! :) Let people know you care, express gratitude, and act like you love people. Charity - the pure love of God - never faileth.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Two Witnesses, One Voice

I was reflecting this past Monday on how much I've learned in my Isaiah class this semester. For years I've appreciated the imagery in Isaiah's writings, but only had a shallow, basic understanding of the holistic themes and meaning of individual verses. This semester I've taken a class where we go chapter by chapter and verse by verse becoming acquainted with Isaiah's context, messages, style, audience, etc. It's been fantastic.

Monday we covered Isaiah 49-52. When I got home from class I read from 2 Nephi 28-29. While I read, I felt the Holy Spirit confirm to me that both sources - the Bible and the Book of Mormon - are true witnesses of Jesus Christ. Here's a selection from 2 Nephi 29:
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. 
And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word, ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever. 
I'm so glad to have multiple sources that share the same messages of Christ, that bring me closer to Him, and that confirm the other's truth. I can't express how much I appreciate the words of past and modern prophets. They offered their lives--not only through martyrdom, but their day-to-day lives as well--as a sacrifice to God; I am blessed every day by the results of their obedience and desires for greater knowledge and understanding. I can't wait until I can thank them in person.

On that note, I got the General Conference edition of the Ensign in the mail this week (yay for modern-day prophets!). After I finish my term paper (due Wed), I need to reread all the talks that were given last month!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Another Week in Review - Miracles

Just a few notes from this week:

In his email this week, my missionary brother strongly recommended the power of specific prayers, and I ended up testing it rather successfully. My workplace has been stepping up the security significantly over the past months, and I lost my IDs early in the week. So after searching in multiple places, I prayed one night before I went to sleep, "Heavenly Father, could you help me find my tags by noon tomorrow? I need them to take a test and to get into work. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." The next morning, I found them within 20 minutes of waking up. I think it takes a bit more faith to ask for specific prayers, but God is more than up to our test; it's often been tempting for me to think "I'm sure Heavenly Father can do it, I'm just not sure if He will do it...", but for me, I feel like I developed better faith when I asked for slightly different things with the faithful expectation that the promise will be fulfilled. I want to try the power of more-specific prayers again and again, and see what happens to and within me.

Saturday night at work, I discovered that one of my coworkers was the missionary companion to one of my best friends from freshman year (in college), which resulted in much happiness and joy in hearing the dated information about how he's doing, to the point where I was skipping and singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" on the way home from work, gushing to our mutual friends, and (after my coworker friended me on facebook) finding all sorts of pictures of my missionary friend that incited laughter and nearly a few tears. He and I were super close, and I've only gotten 1-2 letters from him in the past year, so finding someone else who knows the joy of his more recent acquaintance made me really happy.

I got to hold the newborn again :) My friend and I didn't stay as long as we did for our first visit earlier in the week, but it was still great to hold the baby, to rock him when he got fussy, and to enjoy conversing with his parents and their friends. It's kind of amazing how attached we get to comparatively unresponsive infants. They are little miracles.

Speaking of miracles, I felt a strong sense of divine guidance as I was studying for and taking a test this week. It was really last-minute preparation, but I was able to study the right topics and recall things when I was in the testing center. Probably nothing really big, but it meant a lot to me.

Also, I went to the temple on Saturday afternoon (SO crowded on the weekend!), and enjoyed the peace and recognized some things I need to work on. One of them is more consistent temple attendance - I loved the feelings I had and the learning I experienced this summer when I made it 4 weeks in a row, with thoughtful preparation in the scriptures beforehand, and I want to get that feeling back. It's going to take persistence and sacrifice that I need to be willing to give, so I need to get myself up to the challenge and make it happen. The results will be great :)

I've got a lot of blessings, and that's a very humbling thing to realize. Sometimes it's actually prompted me to shrink with fears of inadequacy, that with such great blessings, a lot is expected out of me. And it's true, but those expectations are in the Lord's timetable (something I can actually be grateful for). And hey, the amazing, miraculous thing is that I can do it - it's possible! I can do amazing things today and years into the future as I exercise faith (faith and trust are the opposite of fear and distrust, if you think about it) and trust in my God to support me! My capabilities are maximized when I give my abilities to the Lord, and He will not let me fall. All of my personal life experience proves to me that I can trust Him with my life, and that I can never be as happy on my own as I am when I'm in harmony with God. On the micro- and macro-scales, God is a God of miracles.

From Mormon 9, in the Book of Mormon:
And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues...
Do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.
But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are... 
And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Things That Matter Most

Today became increasingly worse until about early afternoon. I started on the wrong foot by waking up late and then getting to church late (luckily, I arrived in time to get the sacrament, and enjoyed the music and time for reflection). As the day wore on, some painful emotions from last night returned [I've been blessed with some amazing guy friends, but there's some other guys I'd like to be friends with who seemed interested and then dropped me... That kind of painful emotions], making me feel lousy and extra-sensitive; I managed to offend one of my roommates while I was preoccupied, which I felt bad about. While I was trying to repair things with my roommate, I got a call from my mom. One of my relatives, who seemed healthy a couple weeks ago, only has about a week left to live. Not great timing for my emotions.

The good side! While I was on the phone, my visiting teachers came over! (this link explains the history of what visiting teaching has been and has become today). It was an unscheduled visit that came at the perfect time. Right when we finished talking, my home teachers came over! (here's a link to an overview of what home teaching is). It was good to visit with them and to know that if I need anything, they are more than happy to serve. It made me so, so happy to know that the Lord's church has the organization in place to help watch, support and care for each other. I'm never alone; I have so many layers of people to rely on, and God at the head of it all. Shortly after my home teachers left, another friend came over and took me to his married friends' house, who have a week-old baby boy. During the 4 hours we were there, I chatted with the mother until she fell asleep, then joined the men in conversing about linguistics, sci-fi literature and Rubik's cubes while the baby slept in my arms.

I was surprised at how quickly my emotions were able to recover and stabilize today, and I attribute that to the knowledge I have of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the relationship that I'm developing with my Savior. What saved me was logic and faith: I realize that, logically, faith is the only way to get through life without falling apart. When you learn that someone is dying, especially suddenly, it might make you reflect on the fragility and value of life. Sometimes that thought process can have some scary implications and wonderings. Before I let my mind get that far though, I reminded myself of something I've been considering this week, that goes back to 1 Corinthians 10:13: "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." More than just temptation, I read this scripture to mean that God will support his people (as evidenced in a host of other scriptures) - He will comfort them, and bear them up.

Here's one of my favorite scriptures, from D&C 6:36-37:
Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
When I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are on my side, working for my greatest good and happiness, I can trust that in spite of however grim the current moment is, it'll be ok. I also know that they will be with me, by my side, helping me in that very moment (and that they are also there with me sharing in my greatest joys). Based on those, I can combat fear with faith in any crisis. Additionally, the full gospel of Christ further instructs me in ways that give me peace. Read the mormon.org page which explains the Plan of Happiness (also known as the Plan of Salvation) for more detailed information, but here are a few parts that apply:

- Each of us has an eternal soul.
- Heaven wouldn't be heaven unless I were with my family.
- All wrongs will be made right in due time.
- Life doesn't end at death, and I will be reunited with those I love.

As I remember the things that are most important - these gospel principles - and trust their fulfillment because of their source (God), I can prioritize and see life with a more holistic, far-seeing perspective. And I know that everything will be alright.

Isaiah 40:31John 16:33Helaman 5:12Isaiah 43:1-5 for a just a few scriptures affirming that God will provide, and we need not fear so long as we rely on Him.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dance Performance!

Here's a video of my class's dance performance tonight. It was so fun! I hope I can do more things like this in the semesters to come!

And yes - we are college students doing a ballroom dance routine (cha cha, with some west coast) to "The Eensy Weensy Spider" :D Enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Being Healthy

Yeah, this is kind of another food post...

I've been reflecting on how what I eat makes me feel. This largely came to pass because of last night, when it became apparent that my dinner of leftovers had over-aged, and my stomach started tossing and turning for the rest of the evening. Not a huge fan of when that happens, but it makes me grateful for the good health that I experience most of the time.

While I was roaming the grocery aisles and checking my list today, I pondered the diet I've had this semester and how it's made me feel. Thanks to the advice of more health-conscious friends (due to their hypoglycemia and allergies/intolerances), I've been trying to consume more protein, and I was impressed with how much more... balanced? steady? energized?... I feel. I think I was relying too heavily on grains before. I'm slowly doing better about eating fruits and veggies this semester; part of my problem is that I need to plan ahead when buying fresh produce, and I'm not very good at planning my meals beforehand. I've been learning how to satisfy my sweet cravings with fruit (or occasionally dark chocolate), and relying less on straight sugars (though I still love them). Also, the longer I've been in college, the more I've tried to cook from scratch. Principle tells me that that should be cheaper and healthier, but in practice... It requires practice :) I do feel accomplished when I can make something delicious, especially if it's from scratch, and it's a habit that I'm developing with every semester.

Moral of the story is that I feel better when I have a more balanced diet. I'll probably learn more when I take my anatomy class next summer, but it's been cool realizing how much connection there is between our physical bodies and mental/emotional states. I'm not too concerned with numbers as far as "health" (really, that's more like a "body image" line of thinking) goes: thanks to my dad's example, I think of being healthy as taking care of your body by having a balanced diet and exercising. I don't need to weigh a certain amount, or have a certain size of waist, or have huge muscles to consider myself healthy. Can I do the things I want to - like hike and dance - without excessive difficulty and do I feel energized and emotionally stable? I think those are important marks of good health.

Not to mention the importance of getting enough sleep (and, as my mom likes to remind me, at the right hours of the day) :) That's enough of a health spiel for now though. I'm just thinking about the progress I've made and thinking about what I can do better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've been breaking out what's left of my European chocolate after distributing the majority of it to my friends and family. This is probably my favorite kind:
It would always melt in my backpack, so I'd have to open it carefully and scrape it off the wrapper. It is absolutely divine.

Also, I find myself frequently making dinner around midnight on the nights that I work, and tonight I fixed dinner before 11! A little sad that it's still so late. But, tonight's dinner was really good, despite a rocky beginning. I put the liquids on the stove to boil, and got distracted talking to my roommate... By the time I returned to the kitchen, the pot was frothing over onto a good portion of the stovetop. Oops. I think I added a little too much milk-water-margarine after that to compensate for what I lost, so I tried recompensating by adding a large tablespoon of flour... The sauce turned out ok, thickness-wise. To mix up tonight's Pastaroni flavor (4-cheese corkscrews) I added lots of deli ham pieces and just enough onion powder to give a more 3-dimensional (but not overpowering) flavor. I rather liked it, and since it was more filling, I've got plenty of leftovers!

I registered for next semester's classes tonight, and my entire schedule is composed of major and dance classes. I'm sure it'll undergo some tweaking before January (and perhaps even in the first week of classes), but I'm pretty excited.

And, I realized that Halloween is in less than a week, and I don't have a costume yet! When I'm not studying for midterms this week, I really need to figure that out! I also have a dance performance this week, which I'm super excited for as well :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

To Become A Renaissance Man

Noun: 1) a cultured man of the Renaissance who was knowledgeable, educated, or proficient in a number of fields. 2) a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.

I had a hard time picking a major because so many things held interest for me. That is still true, so I'm trying to fit a diversity of classes in to the remaining time I have left. It felt like I have two options with my time in life: specialize and become proficient in just one thing, or diversify my skills and settle for across-the-board mediocrity. Neither option sounds especially appealing, because I would like to be good at a lot of things. But there just doesn't seem to be enough time in college to take such a breadth and depth of classes.

But then I had a new thought. Who says I have to be done engaging myself and learning new things when I get my collegiate degree? That should be obvious, but I think there's an underlying tendency to give ourselves unnecessary deadlines and restrictions, especially on our personal growth. I've still got plenty opportunity to become a "renaissance woman," because I've got the rest of my life to work on learning and "becoming." I think that often when we're young, we forget about the "big picture," that someday we'll be old(er), and that we'll grow and change in ways that we can't imagine right now. So I can still hold to this desire of mine and turn it into a goal. One of the great things about growing up and fulfilling dreams is that we then get to come up with new ones :)

Family: Hakuna Matata

The importance of family has been pressing on my mind for the past year. First it was an awareness (of its importance), then a desire (for stronger family relationships). This summer gave me the tools to accomplish the task, and this fall I've been putting them to use.

Applying these desires and newfound abilities to my immediate family while living long-distance has been one challenge. This past weekend I was faced with another challenge: to apply them to my relationships with my extended family, to whom I now live significantly closer.

You see, I've grown a lot in college... Before college, I felt like an awkward, low-self-esteem nobody that needed catering-to because I couldn't make a significant, valuable contribution and feel included in groups based on my own merits. My best friends and my immediate family were the only two groups that I usually felt secure in. I often felt majorly disappointed with myself for my lack of fitting-in with extended family; I attribute this problem to 1) expectant self-fulfilling prophecy and 2) lack of depth in the relationships, because I only saw my cousins once a year. I felt like I ought to have actual friendships with my family members, and I was jealous of both sides of my family, because my cousins saw each other and my grandparents so frequently; I yearned to have that close, loving bond that they all seemed to have with each other - to feel like I actually belonged in more than just name.

Moving to the state where I have the highest concentration of relatives provided a lot of opportunities that I never had before. That was SCARY. But, I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that you miss all the chances that you never take. So I went to family dinners and attended some family celebrations for the first time in my life. Sometimes I called my mom in tears because I felt so lonely and out of place there. But I felt like I was where I should be; nothing would change if I left things as they were. Slowly, I started feeling more and more like I had a place in these gatherings.

I looked toward this past weekend with a little trepidation. I'd made some progress over time, but I had a new test in seeing some cousins my age whom I hadn't seen in 2-3 years. I also hadn't seen my grandma and many other cousins in over a year. Even though I was excited to go, the old worries of being an unwanted, awkward burden again swam slowly in circles beneath the surface of my consciousness.

I ended up having a wonderful weekend! Friday I slept in, spent a lot of time reading, and went to the high school's musical to see my cousin play in the orchestra pit. Saturday morning I got up early to go to the temple with my cousins, and then we spent most of the day boating on a lake! Saturday night was spent chatting and playing card games with the aunts, uncles and other adult cousins. Sunday we went to two different wards to hear a couple cousins speak in sacrament meeting, and had a family lunch afterwards. Following lunch, we went to see my grandpa's headstone in the cemetery. I had a few hard moments, like when looking through old photo albums or thinking about my grandpa, but the principle of getting busy and distracted helped move me through. I treasured the moments where I felt like we were establishing mutual, connective bonds, and it's always a ball after the little kids decide that you've become friends. I had a really enjoyable time and I feel like I made really constructive gains in my relationships with extended family. I felt significantly more like I do, in fact, belong to them.

The principle that I want to draw from this experience prompted the title "Hakuna Matata". A prominent theme in the classic Disney movie The Lion King, the idea is introduced as "a meerkat and a warthog, named Timon and Pumbaa respectively, teach the main character, a lion cub named Simba, that he should forget his troubled past and live in the present," which is represented in the Swahili phrase "hakuna matata" (literally meaning, "no worries"). It's a message I had to embrace this summer with my grandpa's death, that I can't change what's happened (or not happened) in the past, no matter how much I may wish and regret it. Becoming absorbed in the past like that only hinders my present and compromises my future. By focusing on the pain of yesteryear, I may lose the chance now to develop the kind of relationships I always wished for with my family. Don't worry about what you can't change, and do the best you can with today. These family relationships are one of the most important things I've got, and I don't want to fail them again; that is probably my biggest fear, so I'm going to respond with faith in action.

"Hakuna matata - what a wonderful phrase! ...It means no worries for the rest of your days." I'm leaving my past to Christ, relying on the healing power of the Atonement, and moving forward with faith in His promises. Everything's gonna be alright; in fact, it'll be great, even now :) I'm sure happy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Alternative to Pastaroni...

I feel like I keep having the same thing for dinner... So I decided to mix it up tonight (more than just mixing spices and pieces of canned or deli meat into my pastaroni).

This feels awfully reminiscent of another post where I described an amazing fruit salad I made, last year-ish?

For "dinner", I mixed blackberries + kiwi + gala apples + red plums + honey + plain yogurt. It's not bad... I wasn't sure how the kiwis would work, but I rediscovered that I really, really like kiwi :) The blackberries are kinda tart, but the rest of it works together well. I like it when food experiments go well, and I like it even better when they end up being healthy :)

It might not look like much... But it was good!

Also, my roommate told me about downloading (legit) free music on purevolume.com, so I checked it out this week. I found a super cute song called "Favorite Girl" by a group called The Icarus Account. Here's a link to the song on Youtube:

Friday, October 14, 2011


I just went through a TON of old papers today, and found some sweet memories. Most of these are from freshman year.

"It's rainin' men, Hallelujah! (Get your umbrella, I'm comin' down!) -from your future spouse"

"Gosh my handwriting is bad. I can't even spell k without messing up. Its been fun getting to know you, even if eating an entire pizza on an exhaust vent! I still owe you a hug. You can redeem it anytime you like. (sounds like a coupon) Just guilt or something...um. On second thought don't. Happy Valentine's Day!!" -Z

For Employee of the Month: "is always looking for something to do during slow times & helps in whatever way she can. K has also been such a great host! Thank you so much!" -A

"I just wanted to thank you for sitting up with me and talking with me about my 'personal crisis,' even though you were going hiking with your man [or mom? ambiguous handwriting] in the morning. It really meant a lot to me, and even though I'm still unsure of my next course of action, my mind is a lot clearer, and I am no longer pulling my hair out in large clumps." -M

"You're one of those people I know will always be there to listen to me, or help me if I ever need it. Thanks" -A (who became one of my best friends)

"Thank you for your lesson today. Just be happy and don't worry. You're doing a great job and I appreciate all the time you put in." -E

"You are wonderful! You're so sincere and selfless and such a great friend. Thanks for your wonderful example and all your help you've been to me. It's a pleasure having you on my floor! Have a great Christmas and I'm so excited for next semester!" -J

"You don't even realize what you mean to those around you. Everyone you know looks at you as an example of how to live the gospel. Even people you never thought would look up to you. And you are so much more beautiful than you know. And your inner light enhances that even more. God loves you because you are one of his precious, beautiful, virtuous daughters. Love always," -from my brother

"You are an inspiration to me. You have such a desire to become who God wants you to be, and you strive to make that happen. I am so blessed to have you for a friend and roommate. Your loving hugs and reminders that naps make everything better help me on hard days. Some days are hard for you, and I wish so much that I knew better how to help you. Always remember how much I love you. You are beautiful and strong. I look up to you and feel blessed by your influence. Good luck on finals. Merry Christmas. I love you." -C

I also just went through and read every single card I've gotten in college (I keep all of them). I am very blessed, and very loved, even if I didn't always see it. Life is pretty awesome.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Am My Mother's Daughter

I finally cooked the ground sausage I've had in my freezer for months to include in some soup I made tonight. 

I definitely snacked on pieces of the sausage several times while waiting for the rest of the soup to finish cooking. Whenever my mom cooks sausage, that's what she does. In fact, ground sausage is so yummy, she's probably just cooked it alone before simply for the sake of enjoying the delicious flavor. Sometimes she's gracious enough to let the kids have a piece or two. (My mom's "entitlement complex" is funny and well-deserved).

I'm not really a soup person, but it was pretty good tonight. And talking to my mom for a little bit was infinitely better. I can't think of anything right now that we fight about anymore - she's usually right about pretty much everything, and she knows to be careful talking to me about school - so it's become more of a friendly dialogue. We're growing together, mother and daughter, as we navigate new and ever-adapting experiences in our lives. She'll always be my mom, but it's fun to have her as a friend too :)

Another Tuesday

Yeah, technically it's Wednesday now...

I mentioned my blog to my roommate earlier this evening, about how I'd gotten a lot of views, but no comments on the previous blog post or comments on my facebook link to it; it's hard to know what people think when you don't get any feedback! She said she hadn't read my big post about Jeffress, but commented that her favorite posts I've written have been the simple 3-paragraph ones about the little things in life which only take 5 minutes to read. That was really interesting to hear, especially because I'd wondered about finding a good balance between the light and the serious.

So, I'll try to do more of those. Downsides of today: I kinda missed some class time today because I was working on that last blog post (I felt like it was pretty important), and I've spent the last 45+ minutes picking Teflon flakes out of my fettucine alfredo with a toothpick because I used a crappy pot to cook it in. Upsides of today: work was SO fantastic (I love being in a leadership position where I can help people, and I love my crew!!), I had a good phone conversation with a friend I haven't seen in a while, and I had a great time dancing tonight (I think I'll be spending more time in the country swing club...). It was also a lovely night outside for walking: brisk, with a jacket just being optional. And there's even more fun things tomorrow! Class (Isaiah, Phonetics and Dance being my favorites), visiting teaching, more dancing, reading the weekly emails from my missionary brother, etc.

And, as my eyes are getting droopier, and as thinking about it elicits a short yawn... Something else nice about tonight will be going to sleep :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Current Political Events

As I've asserted before, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And yes, I've been very aware of the recent hubbub surrounding Pastor Jeffress's public statements about Mormons (the popular nickname for members of my church). His theological assertions are inaccurate, but my biggest grief is with his narrow-minded, prejudiced approach to people of other faiths, and his intent to defame. People make uninformed mistakes all the time, but to deliberately malign others is to be anti-Christlike. I'm directing my words both to Jeffress and to those who have gotten offended at his words and resorted to anger and name-calling in return.

I have a couple major reasons why I don't engage in political debates. One is that I know I'm not totally informed on all the issues at stake; thus, my positions aren't very defensible, and a heated, polarized debate isn't the best place to inform myself and make clear-headed judgments. I like to be acquainted with "the whole truth" to make sound judgments and to understand the perspective of others. My second reason is because of the nature of the debate itself. I can get quite passionate about issues I feel strongly for, and I want to stay in control of my emotions, rather than let my emotions control me. Additionally, my experience has been that these debates are most commonly between polarized political elites, and with that being the case, neither side is likely to sway the other (no matter how informed either side is), and it turns rather into a mudslinging, degrading fray. Therefore, I prefer to gain political understanding from engaging with multiple sources and making decisions on my own, and thereby avoid the emotionalism and contention associated with debates.

I want to address the mudslinging element in particular. We read in 3 Nephi 11:29-30 (in the Book of Mormon) one of the first things that the Savior Jesus Christ taught the people in the Americas when He visited them shortly after his Resurrection:
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
It is one thing to discuss our disagreements with others. Doing so provides the opportunity to learn about others, to examine our beliefs for flaws, and to test the strength of our convictions. You might call it a "refiner's fire" of sorts (see Malachi 3:2-3, in the Old Testament). However, engaging in disagreements where our hearts are stirred up with anger against each other is of the devil. Disagreements like this largely arise when we attack people by deriding or belittling them, intentionally causing them harm. It is fine to think differently from someone else, but if you attempt to malign or defame them, you are attempting to abuse and belittle another son or daughter of God, and He's not cool with that.

I know that it's hard to curb that little nasty voice that wants to interject sneering one-liners or out-and-out railing assaults into conversations with others, especially when you feel like your conversational partner has wronged you in some way. But I testify to you that to give in to those urges is to become Satan's mouthpiece and to allow him to influence you. I also testify that giving in to that bitterness will never make you feel better, and that peace and healing come only through accepting the Atonement and grace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As we accept the Atonement and strive to become more Christlike, He will bless us with His love and patience for ourselves and for our fellowmen.

As I said earlier, I like to learn as much as I can before offering an opinion regarding an issue, whether it's "do I like pickles" or "which candidate is most fit to be the next President of the United States". To ignore or not fairly investigate both sides is to remain ignorant, and to refuse to learn more is to be narrow-minded. Dr. Jeffress apparently knows that Mormons (or, Latter-Day Saints) exist, and he knows a little about our theology. However, his research was clearly biased and shallowly done. One evidence of that which made me laugh is found in an article by Russ Wise that Jeffress endorsed on his facebook page, which article is titled, "Mormon Beliefs About the Bible and Salvation". It starts out innocently enough by presenting facts, but then those facts are twisted and glammed up with sensational, pointed remarks to ridicule and vilify the LDS faith. The part that made me laugh was when the author claims that Joseph Smith contradicted himself in describing the nature of God: he quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 130:22 and Alma 31:15 for support, and yet he completely ignored their context! It's funny because the D&C reference is completely accurate, but the Alma reference was quoting the recorded prayer of an apostate group, which, as you can read in the rest of the chapter, "astonished [Alma, the missionary] beyond all measure" (verse 19). That, my friends, is narrow-minded and incomplete investigation. Anyone reading the article can see that it is written not just to inform, but to deceive and bias its readers.

If, in the course of your discussions with others, you find that you want to persuade them to your point of view, I'd like to emphasize that from my own experience and as stated in the gospel, the way to do that is by love, not brute force. We may read in Alma 31:5 (in the Book of Mormon),
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just--yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them--therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
Also, from the Bible, in Proverbs 15:1,
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
Think of your own experience. Are you more likely to be open to change or correction if someone says, "Hey, you're wrong!" or "I hadn't thought of your perspective before; this is how I see the same issue"? My guess is that if someone were to declare the former to you, you might get defensive (as if you were personally attacked) and cling more tightly to what you were saying in the first place. Loving people - not bashing them - is what will make people more inclined to listen to you. If you really, genuinely care for someone, they have greater reason to trust your motives when you have something to tell them. Love people, seek to understand them, and value them; don't demean them and expect them to listen to you. Christ loves us, and that's one reason why we can trust His corrections of us, and humbly apply them to our lives.

My personal history - overcoming my own tendencies to judge quickly, my mother's counsel to never assume things that I don't know, my father's advice in befriending people, and navigating my relationships with my siblings - has taught me many of these lessons on love, understanding and persuasion. I've also learned by study, as I read the scriptures (both the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and others endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as sources of doctrine), apply the teachings I discover to my life, and see their results, that these practices do lead me to become more Christlike. I know, from the many evidences in my life, that as Paul beautifully wrote in 1 John 4, love leads us to God, and that contention pulls us away from God.

Let us conduct our political dialogues with greater civility, respect and understanding, and let us learn together and work together to reach solutions for our common problems.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Night

One of the useful things I brought back from Vienna was an appreciation for herbal tea. I've had a sore throat for the last couple days, and sipping three mugfuls of peppermint tea with honey tonight is soothing it quite nicely :)

Being caught up on homework feels so fantastic! I've got math homework due in 15 minutes... And I got it done last week! When I shared that sentiment with my mom, her response was, "Why didn't you listen to me years ago when I tried to tell you the same thing??" It meant that tonight I got to relax and watch the Anastasia movie with my roommates. (That said, doing nothing grows old pretty fast)

Also, I think that single women need to be particularly careful about how many sappy movies they watch and sweet songs they listen to :P (Thank you Anastasia, "Across the Stars" from Star Wars Ep. II and "Think of Me" from Phantom of the Opera for the courtesy tonight). I don't think it's a terrible offense to commit, or one that I'm especially guilty of... But it sure does remind you of how sweet it is to be in love with someone, and reminds you of dreams for the future :) 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wait, where did Fall go??

I woke up to snow this morning. It's the first week of October.

Luckily, the snow hadn't reached the valley yet: it clung to the mountains like a creamy, thick white fog while it rained on us below. It only snowed briefly in the afternoon, and the ground was so wet that it didn't stick. When the clouds finally lifted from the mountains, the unmistakable trace they left behind looked like sifted powdered sugar across the whole mountain range.

Walking to work in the afternoon wasn't horribly cold, but I re-discovered that if my head is exposed (even if the rest of me is well-covered), I get a painful, painful ache at the base of my skull where it meets my neck, which doesn't go away until my ears are rewarmed. Walking home from work in the evening wasn't pure, frozen misery either; I anticipated that it'd be colder than earlier, so I layered an extra jacket on, wore a hat, and kept my gloveless hands in my pockets. With my head, core and feet snugly warm, I felt free to almost enjoy the brisker air on my face :)

Wearing a winter hat and feeling bundled up against the chill brought back memories of winters past. I remembered walking around Temple Square in Salt Lake City for the first time with my family last Christmas. I remembered when I was dating someone last year and was glad for the excuse to cuddle closer to him as we walked around in the cold. I remembered crazy nighttime adventures from freshman year. I remember being excited to finally arrive home from work and drink the rich hot chocolate I was so looking forward to. For some reason, the cold and snow make me think of Christmas. It's probably a good thing, because when I was just looking out at the weather this morning, I couldn't think of anything positive. But walking home tonight mostly turned my mind to the clear, simple, effervescent, sparkling joy that comes with the Christmas season. I smiled and reveled in the moment for a little while. Then I remembered that it's still October, and I don't even have a Halloween costume yet.

Hey, at least there was something good about the fact that it snowed this early in October... And, the colder weather means I get to be creative with scarves and cardigans, which I really enjoy :)

Monday, October 3, 2011

LDS General Conference: Condensed Notes, part 1

I can't wait to read the transcripts of the talks when they come out. Hopefully by Thursday this week!

(Here's a link to the October 2011 Conference archive page - the Relief Society meeting [for the women's organization] already has transcripts available, but the other sessions just have video and audio up today).

I've often heard the suggestion to pray before Conference about some questions you would like answered, and that as you listen to the talks, you will find your answers. I tried that a little this year, just taking baby steps to prepare myself before Conference. I didn't feel like I had any urgent questions, so my preparation over the preceding week consisted of extra-attentive scripture reading and praying to hear the messages I needed to hear. Before the first session started, I jotted down a few topics that I would like guidance on: marriage or missionary service, time management, family, charity, and praying for others. The result was that I got answers to some extent on each of those topics; in April, I'm excited to see what happens as I put more earnest (and specific) effort and desire into my spiritual preparation for General Conference.

The notes I take for each speaker aren't meant to be all-inclusive. I usually try to write ideas that stick out to me, and sometimes those inspire my own thoughts that I include.

These are my condensed notes from each session:

General Relief Society Session (from last weekend)
All of the speakers stressed the importance of quality visiting teaching as our way of supporting and uplifting each other as sisters, and they all talked about the new book "Daughters in My Kingdom" which covers the global history, growth and personal stories of women in Christ's church.
- Julie B. Beck taught "what I hope my granddaughters will understand about Relief Society", regarding its purposes, organization and capacity to do good and bless individuals and families.
- Silvia H. Allred talked about the gift of charity (the pure love of Christ), how we may obtain it by desiring and praying to God for it, and the many ways that charity is expressed. (She used a quote from Henry B. Eyring that I really liked).
- Barbara Thompson talked all about cleaving (or sticking closely) to our covenants, and how those covenants can sustain us and give us power, joy and protection in everyday life.
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf uses great analogies and stories to convey his important messages, and this time he used a small, five-petaled forget-me-not blossom to illustrate 5 things we should always remember: to be patient with ourselves, to discern the difference between good and foolish sacrifices, to be happy with right now, the reason "why" of the gospel (instead of all the "what"s), and that the Lord loves and remembers each of us individually.

Saturday Morning
- Richard G. Scott's most repeated message was that scriptures are like friends who we can turn to whenever we want, and who can help us with any problem we face.
- Barbara Thompson talked about basic requirements for receiving personal revelation and a testimony of truth.
- L. Whitney Clayton spoke about missionary work and how Nebuchadnezzar's dream is being fulfilled: the gospel (the stone cut without hands) is filling the whole earth.
- President Thomas S. Monson announced 6 new temples and a new "temple patron assistance fund" to which people can donate so that church members who live far from a temple can go to the temple once in their lifetime.
- José L. Alonso's message was the importance of "doing the right thing, at the right time, without delay."
- Boyd K. Packer spoke directly to the youth of the church, urging them to keep the commandments (reminding them that they have the power to do so), to listen to the Holy Spirit and the prophet, and to be optimistic and look forward to a full life, even though we live in perilous times. 
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminded us to keep a healthy perspective, that while in some ways "man is nothing", it's even more true that "man is everything" to God. We are God's children, and as such, our happiness is "His work and glory".

Saturday Afternoon
- David A. Bednar made an interesting observation that young people's tech savvy is more than just useful for texting and communication, it's also perfect preparation to do greater family history work with the new tools we have today. He emphasized the importance of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6, that the hearts of the fathers and the children will be turned to each other, else the earth would be wasted at the Savior's coming.
- Neil L. Anderson talked about the importance of parenting, and reminded us that the commandment given to Adam and Eve to "multiply and replenish the earth" is still in force, and that we shouldn't judge another for decisions which are between a husband, a wife and the Lord.
- Ian S. Ardern talked all about time management and getting rid of things that distract us from our most important priorities (if we don't prioritize, we become subject to procrastination).
- Carl B. Cook shared a simple story from when he was discouraged and President Monson told him to literally and symbolically look up, and then summed up the message in the words "look up, step up, cheer up."
- LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr spoke about what it means to redeem something, and what this says about Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. 
Unfortunately, I had to leave for work at this point. I'll have to watch the archived recordings later this week for the talks I missed.

Sunday Morning
- Henry B. Eyring elaborated on 3 parts of the baptismal covenant: charity, being a witness of Christ, and enduring to the end.
- Robert D. Hales gave an excellent talk that I gained a lot from on what it means to "wait upon the Lord." It includes hope, trust, faith, patience, diligence and pressing forward, especially during times when it's hard. 
- Tad R. Callister showed how the Book of Mormon's additional witness of gospel truth eliminates the ambiguity resulting form many and varied interpretations people have gleaned from the Bible, and how there is no middle ground (a theme covered 2-3 times in other talks as well) between God and Satan. 
- Elaine S. Dalton encouraged fathers to teach values to their daughters by their own virtuous conduct and by the way fathers treat their daughters' mothers. She said, "You are not ordinary men," and reminded them of the potential and responsibility inherent in their paternal roles. 
- M. Russell Ballard taught that names are significant, and that using the full name of the church - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - is meaningful in describing just who we are.
- President Monson taught that God is "the same yesterday, and to day, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), and that His commandments are non-negotiable, and that we need to listen and act on what the Spirit tells us. He also asserted that the relationship we develop with our Heavenly Father by praying to Him is crucial to our survival. 

Sunday Afternoon
- Russell M. Nelson talked about what it means to be children of the covenant, and about the Abrahamic Covenant, which is applicable to all his descendants and members of the Church.
- Dallin H. Oaks centered his talk on, "What think ye of Christ?", about who Christ is and what that means for us. He's one speaker who asserted that there is no middle ground in choosing between God and Satan.
- Matthew O. Richardson gave an interesting talk on how we can change our teaching methods to better "teach by and with the Holy Spirit," by teaching people (not lessons) and teaching in a way to prompt people to act.
- Kazuhiko Yamashita shared his tender feelings for the missionaries who taught him the gospel and shared how we can become better missionaries ourselves.
- Randall K. Bennett taught that there are consequences for every choice we make, and that we can't pick-and-choose them; he also emphasized that you cannot serve both God and Satan - that you have to choose.
- J. Devn Cornish gave a sweet, simple talk about why prayer is important and what is important to include in your prayers. 
- Quentin L. Cook issued some principles to help us deal with tragedy and mourning: we have a Father in Heaven who perfectly understands, the Atonement of Christ covers pain of sin and loss, we have the Plan of Happiness and the promise of eternal life, and that we should be grateful for all the tender mercies of the Lord. It'll be ok :)
- President Monson, in conclusion, reminded us that Heavenly Father is aware of our challenges and our efforts to serve Him and be happy. He also asked us to remember the General Authorities in our prayers.

Even for a condensed version, that's a lot of notes. I'm missing notes on the men's Priesthood session and part of the Saturday afternoon session; I'll probably post those separately later this week after I have time to watch them. 

I love the chance that General Conference gives me to relax and to feast on the Spirit. I learn so much from the many men and women who address us from their life experience and feelings as guided by the Holy Ghost. I know that Thomas S. Monson is the living prophet of our living Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of his vantage point as a prophet, I know that we will be blessed by heeding his words as surely as other people have been blessed for following prophetic warnings in their time. 

This gospel is wonderful, and it is true. Living it leads us back to living with our Heavenly Father and our Savior and Brother, Jesus Christ. Why would I sell my long-term happiness for short-lived pleasures? This is a gospel of happiness :) In the name of Jesus Christ, my Redeemer and Friend, amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

LDS General Conference: An Introduction

You know, life seems full of decisions and subsequent adjusting and refining. This blog has been public and anonymous since I created it, and picking what things might benefit others and what things are better left private has gone through many adjustments. For example, I realized after my last "serious dating relationship" that I don't need to keep the world at large informed of my dating life; family and roommates are sufficient audience :) Other topics represent more of a challenge, like what spiritual events should I share or reserve for my journal. Based on the "call to arms" on the blog "(Gay) Mormon Guy", which the author based on an excellent talk in General Conference today, I'm starting to think that maybe I need to reconsider some of my boundaries on topics, or simply adjusting my approach to what I share through my blog so that I can share more and share better.

The Semi-Annual LDS General Conference, for those who might not have been aware, is a twice-a-year event (held the first Saturday and Sunday of April and October) broadcasted live from the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the upper-level church authorities (President of the Church and his counselors, the Quorum of 12 Apostles, members of the Quorums of 70, and leaders in auxiliary programs) address the Church as a whole on various topics for 8-10 hours over the weekend.

Here is the lds.org link to find current and past General Conference addresses.

Conference is pretty amazing. On one level, it's a lot of fun to get together with my friends at someone's house, bring food, and listen to the speakers' messages. The best part though, is that no matter where you are in the world or what circumstance you find yourself in, all the members of the Church get to hear the same messages. I'm definitely guilty of taking the blessings of General Conference for granted. We believe that the line of priesthood authority was restored by God through Joseph Smith, and that line of authority with prophets, pastors, evangelists, etc has continued since to the present day. Those who lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints aren't theological politicians - they are ordinary men and women who obey God's call when He asks them to step up and assume extra responsibilities in caring for His children worldwide. As members of Christ's Church, we sustain these men as prophets, seers and revelators for the whole world. Thus, the opportunity we have every 6 months to hear from so many prophets of the Lord is a priceless one indeed.

Soon, I'll share some of the preparation I did for Conference and some of my favorite insights I got from listening to the speakers. But I need sleep now if I want to be awake for the rest of Conference tomorrow.

Guten Abend und bis Morgen! :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Good Evening Gone Better

Thursday before 4pm wasn't a terrible day... but it could have gone better. My circumstances improved slowly during my time at work - by the end of the shift, I was able to relax and take care of work emails, I got permission to reward some workers who stayed late to finish a job, and I got an unexpected, satisfying free dinner!

After work, I hiked up the hill to the temple. It was too late for me to do my usual scripture study on the temple grounds, so I sang some church songs in my head to get in the right attitude for temple worship. After I got inside the gate and looked up at the temple, all lit up and white against the dark mountains and star-studded sky, I was impressed with feelings of comfort and peace, knowing I was about to enter the house of the Lord. Comfort and peace. It's my third week in making a habit of weekly temple attendance, and it's great how already it's starting to work in me a greater love for the temple and more humility and patience in trials. 

The baptistry was pretty busy when I arrived, but I ran into someone I knew from freshman year! We were in different social groups at the time, and I doubt we ever took time to get to know each other... But it was cool to see him, chat a bit in low tones, and get to know each other better... And laugh about the time his friend tried to kiss me as a joke (yeah, I wasn't gonna let that happen - I almost threw a cup of water on the kid). I did take some time while we were waiting to read from the scriptures and jot a couple notes in my journal. Afterwards, I got to talk to yet another friend in the locker room, which was fun; I love making and keeping friends, even if I don't get to see them as often as I used to. On my way home, I stopped by to visit an old roommate and her husband, and had a great time with them learning about physics and playing with laundry carts. I walked away from these pleasant encounters with an internal prayer of thanks for my life and the blessings I've been given.

Also on the way home I witnessed a 3-car crash, which was slightly traumatic, but very fortunately no one was hurt. The second part of the crash happened right in front of me, and the crash-ing car only had two wheels on the road for a very long second while her two right tires were on top of the crash-ee car. After the fear passed I was very glad for two things: 1) it could have been a lot worse, because I was afraid her car was going to roll, or that his car would be crushed and that 2) the curb was high enough to stop his car from crashing into me on the sidewalk. Something from this event that really struck me (I already said it wasn't a car, luckily) was the older gentleman's response to getting hit. He calmly got out his phone and called the police, and sat in his car for a few minutes while the girl who had swerved jumped out of her car, hands clasped over her mouth in shock, and asked him through the window if he was ok. I couldn't hear more of their dialogue, but he got out of his car, still on the phone, and just gave her a hug for a couple minutes to let her know it was ok and, presumably, to calm her. I talked to him a little bit while we were waiting for the police, and he wasn't angry or pointing fingers (which he could have easily done) - he was just glad that people were safe, his car could still run, and he said that sometimes things like this just happen. I appreciated his example of sensitivity and perspective.

After seeing the crash, I thought about requesting a quick comfort hug from one of my roommates when I got home, just as a reminder that our corner of the world is or will be ok. I didn't even make it up to my floor though; I recognized someone en route, and the Holy Spirit helped me recognize an opportunity to fill a need. So she and I sat together and talked for a while. She'd had a really rough week with health, school, friends (to an extent), emotions and work all working against her. I really didn't do a lot, mostly listened and let her know I was there for her, but we ended with a hug. My commitment to help her didn't end there, but the irony of the hugs reminded me that serving others is often the best way to fill our own needs. 

The moral of this story, I feel, is that what made a relatively average evening into a great evening was the little things. I was grateful for the free meal at work; I took a little time to think about the significance and importance of going to the temple; I cherished the time I spent with individuals; I took a little extra time to ingest, observe, and process the events with the car accident; I shifted my thoughts from myself to someone else's needs. Encouragement to do all of these things - virtues of gratitude, temperance, selflessness, love - are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Becoming a better disciple of Christ makes me a better person, and turns a good, ordinary life into a great life. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Book of Mormon

I bought a subscription to the Ensign magazine published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints about a year ago, but I haven't been very good about actually reading it each month. This month, however, I heard about the issue before it even arrived in my mailbox. Once in a while they dedicate an entire issue to a single topic, and this one was all about the Book of Mormon. So yesterday I opened my copy and started reading. (Here's the link to the online version)

I'm only just past halfway through, but as I read, I'm filled with the Holy Spirit affirming to me that what I'm reading is true. Every single page has the witness of prophets and the personal experiences of Latter-Day Saints all over the world bearing their own witness that the Book of Mormon is inspired of God and that it leads them to greater faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The messages are conveyed so simply and so powerfully that it's impossible to NOT feel the Holy Spirit as you read with an open heart and desire to learn. 

The articles I've read so far relate the story of Joseph Smith (who translated the Book of Mormon into English by the power of God), how the Book of Mormon was written and compiled by ancient prophet-historians, and teach us how to study the Book of Mormon more effectively and apply it in our own lives. Article titles include: "What the Book of Mormon Teaches about the Love of God" (beautiful examples of the Savior's love, and how we can develop that love ourselves), "The Book of Mormon: A Witness with the Bible" (I loved reading that one), "How to Study the Book of Mormon" (3 reasons and 3 ways), "Lehi's Dream: Holding Fast to the Rod" (how we need to be consistently engaged in scripture study instead of taking casual, periodic dips into scripture) and "The Book of Mormon: Strengthening Our Faith in Jesus Christ" (shows how the entire Book of Mormon is all about Christ, and how we can apply it to our lives). These are just some of the articles I've read so far, so there's a lot more that I'm excited to discover! 

I do love the scriptures. I enjoy reading the Gospels and epistles in the New Testament, and the poetry and inspiring history in the Old Testament are cool too, but the Book of Mormon holds a special place for me. It feels like chatting with an old friend - a familiar voice - that surprises me anew with what I can continue to learn as I engage in deep conversation. Sometimes I am guilty of skimming the surface when I'm tired, distracted or lazy, but I know that as I become ever more intimately acquainted with the Book of Mormon, my faith in Jesus Christ glows brighter and brighter. As I read with the intent to learn, I see how other people have been put to the test, and the results that come from humility and disobedience, whether they turn to God and open their hearts or whether they become hardened and entrenched in selfishness and sin. I can't see the whole "big picture" in my life yet (and it's so hard sometimes to remember all the lessons I've learned, all the time), so the Book of Mormon shows me the pattern of the "big picture" for me to model my own life after. Time and time again, the history of the Book of Mormon proves that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all the world, and that it is only through Him that we may find peace, happiness, and strength to continue on. It is much more than history though - its pages are replete with warnings against sin, encouragement to always increase in righteousness, and more than anything else, it prophesies of Jesus Christ's ministry and mission, His life, death, and resurrection. The Book of Mormon testifies to me of the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, its efficacy in changing lives, the centrality of families in the Plan of Salvation, and of the love of God for all His children.

That is the experience that I've had with reading the Book of Mormon. Every year I get better at reading it consistently and meaningfully, and I know that as I do so, I will come to know God better, and as I apply the principles I learn of and rely on His grace, I will become more like Him. The world needs the Book of Mormon; it has been prepared for the time that we live in. I urge you to read it and promise you that as you do, you will feel God's love for you. If you allow Him to, He will change your heart for the better. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Anniversaries and America

I was doing a LOT of thinking and reflecting this weekend. So many changes come with time, you know?

My blog's been running for just over a year now. It's a little crazy to think about what I've done in life since then, and how much I've grown. I've met some fantastic people, gone to Europe, spent some time with my family, worked a lot, and just learned more about myself and about God along the way. He always gives affirmation of what I'm doing right and always shows me ways I can continue to improve myself. Every day I can see ways that He blesses my life.

Sunday marked the ten-year anniversary from 9.11.2001. I feel like I'm not really that old now (people keep guessing that I'm 2-4 years older than I actually am), but I was YOUNG back then. I got to thinking about where I was in life at the time, and then about all the ways I've grown and changed since then, and I also thought about the future. 2001 was a really transitive, emotional time in my life, and I didn't quite know how to handle it. I certainly could have only dreamed of becoming the person I am today, because at the time, I didn't have the self-confidence to believe that I could actually become anybody special. I'm so grateful for my parents sticking it out, being patient with and teaching me at that time and through the years. In ten years... I've become largely a different person. It's taken time, effort, and the patience of a god to get me here. I'm pretty happy with where I am in life right now. Thinking about the future scared me because it seems like the world situation is only going to get more uncertain and in ways, frightening; what helped me in getting rid of that anxious tension today was remembering that it is Satan who sows doubt and God who is always encouraging. Since Satan is the father of lies, I could push away the negative thoughts and instead make the choice to smile and be happy.

Along with the reflection of time, the anniversary of September 11th gave me cause to think about being American, and what that means. Now that I've been a couple other places, I'm struggling a little to identify what sets us apart and makes us unique, because most of what I saw among people in other countries were similarities. Many virtues like "independence" and "equality" are also shared by people of other nations, but they are just expressed a little differently.

So far, my best answer for "What makes Americans unique?" is our shared national heritage. The history of our young country is, to my knowledge, unmatched by any other: estranged from their mother country by a large distance, our early progenitors learned the importance of both individual self-sufficiency and group unity, and successfully asserted their own independence, which independence has lasted in the form of a democracy through the past two and a half centuries. During this time, Americans and their values have been put to the test in a number of situations, and that one-of-a-kind forging experience - that history - has produced a one-of-a-kind people: a people who hope, who believe in tomorrow, who believe that hard work will effect results, and who believe in helping each other.

That said, I'd really like to stress that we have far more similarities to other nationalities than we have differences; within the USA, we have an infinite spectrum of unique "growing up" experiences, with as much diversity as there are individuals, and that principle of diversity is going to hold true no matter what country you look at. Even siblings within the same family have different growing-up experiences from each other. Language barriers and genetic descendancy present such superficial differences between people that to cognitively and emotionally blind yourself to another person on either basis is quite silly. If people were more aware of the common humanity that we all share - everyone hurts, everyone laughs, everyone cries, everyone loves and wants to be loved - then I think that we would be more willing to cooperate and treat each other with more kindness and respect. I am an American, but even more than that, I am a woman, I am a daughter, I am a sister, I am a friend, I am an employee, I am a student, I am a role model, and there are many more things that I do and be, many of which are universally applicable and can be used to establish bonds with any other human being on earth. I'm me, and I'm trying to use myself to better benefit my God and my fellowmen. That's what I want to be and do with my life.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Feelin' Awesome!

This week has been fantastic:

You know how I was feeling a bit of shell-shock at seeing my guy friends from freshman year, now that they're back from their missions? That reaction has normalized now, and I'm back to enjoying seeing them again!

My roommate came back from visiting her family! That combined with reconnecting with other friends on campus, I feel much less lost and lonely in the crowd. It's fun having someone who can finish my sentences, read my mind, and just be silly or serious with me. She and I have been pretty tight since freshman year.

It is expected that students will repeat most of the dance classes I've taken (and retaken) over the past year in order to keep working on their technique. I'm a first-timer in my dance class this semester, but today, I felt pretty competent in learning the figures we covered! That's a pretty unusual feeling for me the first time I take a class :)

Since my 4-hour catch-up effort on Monday, I've stayed caught up in my math homework! I'm finally developing the discipline to just sit down, read the book, and get started on homework, even the unpleasant stuff. It seems like an elementary exercise, but when I was in elementary school, I managed to get good grades in spite of procrastinating every assignment and putting in minimal effort. College has been a different story, but that story is changing because I'm changing.

Work has been great! I'm in a student leadership position, and I love being able to teach and work with the new employees. I love feeling productive, and I really enjoy the friendships I'm forming and continuing to develop in my job. It's fulfilling to serve the customers and to be able to pass on my experience to a new semester of workers.

I'm in a clinical phonetics class this semester, and I love it! My teacher is really fun and engaging, and he makes the material understandable. Being a class on the study of speech sounds, we get to play with our articulatory structures (lips, teeth, tongue, palate, larynx, alveolar ridge, etc) and experiment with making sounds different ways. It's fascinating how we produce and shape speech, and I'm learning so much that I can apply to real life. It's great to be geeked out about my major :)

After a LONG (but fun!) evening at work yesterday, I decided to swing by the various dance clubs that meet on campus on Tuesday nights, and I had even more fun there! I danced with some newbies, some old friends, and made more new friends. I spent most of my time in the ballroom club, but ended the night in swing because they were still playing music. Dancing really makes me so happy: moving together with another person, transforming that dynamic energy into something moving, beautiful, and fun to participate in. It takes work, it takes cooperation, it takes forgiveness and flexibility, it requires humility and confidence, and in return, dancing shows me the inspiring possibilities for athleticism, aesthetics, and the increased joy that comes from working with another human being. Dancing is a spiritual (and often, a patience-building) experience for me. My last dance of the night included all those things, and was a great, enjoyable experience. I hope I get to dance with that partner again :)

And, I'm ever-realizing the importance of relying on Heavenly Father in all things. When life is going well, I'm tempted to say, Wow, I must be awesomer than I thought, and I'm tempted to forget God and get lazy. But He is the one who's gotten me this far and always been willing to give me guidance when I ask for it. Everything I am, I owe to Him. My own experiences in life have shown me that when I do the things that God has said will bring me happiness, I am happy! So I believe Him, and continue to follow Him. There are times I'm sad or frustrated, but I trust that as I push through and hold tight to God's words, His promises are fulfilled :) That is what makes life bearable and fantastic. If this is what life is like now, I can't fully imagine the pains nor the heights of joy that lie ahead. Hallelujah for the infinite wisdom, mercy and love of God!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Miracles :)

One of my hobbies in college has been partnered dancing: namely, salsa, ballroom and country swing. I'm working most actively on ballroom, and auditions for the entry-level team were this week. I'd tried out 5 times before without success, and one of my friends convinced me I shouldn't give up yet. So, I got work off, made plans to practice before tryouts, and spent part of the afternoon deciding what to wear and gelling my hair back into a smooth bun.

I was nervous, because the two tryout dances are cha-cha and waltz. I haven't taken a class with cha-cha in two years... And I hadn't done any ballroom during the time I was in Europe. While I was getting ready, I realized that the music I was listening to wasn't easing my tension, and I switched to some audio tracks of selections from the Book of Mormon. I couldn't catch all of the words as I ran around my apartment, but what I heard was enough to remind me of the principles found therein, and to give me a little peace.

The best part was praying in my heart on the way to the auditions (listening to the scriptures had humbled me into the right mindset). I asked Heavenly Father to be with me, however the auditions resulted, and I repeated that sentiment/plea over and over. I was a little nervous still just because of the uncertainty, but I trusted that what I asked for would happen as I surrendered my worry and believed that I wasn't (and would not be) alone. Before it was my turn on the floor, I asked a couple guys I knew to help me practice and I chatted with the other girls, encouraging and reassuring them, as we waited in line. The weight of anxiety, which had previously been furrowing my brows with fear, had left me, and I felt more relaxed and able to enjoy the experience.

Well, I didn't even make the first callback. My cha-cha was rough (my partner had a flimsy lead, which ended up showcasing my weakness spectacularly), and I guess I missed a couple steps in the waltz. Oh well. I was a little disappointed, but I wasn't tempted to cry and despair over it. My sixth audition came and went, and I know what I need to work on now. It was so great, because I know that hope and love are fruits of the Holy Spirit, which is of God, and that's what I felt. I stayed through the rest of the audition to support my friends who had made that first callback, and most of them ended up getting placed on the team!! I was as happy for them as I would have been for myself if I had made the team this semester. It was such a blessing to share in the rest of their experience that night as they made callbacks each round. I'm really happy for and proud of them :)

I got home that night feeling much better than I had earlier in the day, when I was stressing over auditions, school, and a messy apartment. And, my roommate had made cookies while I was gone! The night just got better and better. But the miracle which got me there was this precious experience: asking for peace (no matter the outcome), trusting in that peace (that no matter what happens, it'll be ok), and moving forward with that belief in action (releasing my anxiety and smiling, enjoying myself, and encouraging others). I learned that prayer works, that God loves me, and that He fulfills His promises.

Tonight, I've been feeling a little lonely and missing my friends (some are in town and busy, and some are out of the state or out of the country). But it's ok to have little downs once in a while; just because I feel a little sad tonight doesn't mean that the gospel is any less true, or that the future is any less bright. So I can still smile and trust that my God loves me (and loves everyone else just as much) and is taking care of me. The reasons to hope, love and continue forward are far greater than the reasons to doubt, fear and stop in my tracks :)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Back to Basics

I was thinking a little about my blog this summer, and I realized that I haven't stayed completely true to my mission of this blog. I think it's fine to post things that weigh on my mind once in a while, but I created this blog to share with other people ways to be happy in day-to-day life, and I feel like in my posting, I've lost sight of that.

So, here's some awesome things about today:
- I had a religion class with my favorite professor on campus. His class sounds intriguing and challenging, and I'm looking forward to it!
- I found a fun dance class that I really want to sign up for now! (Now I just need to find a man to add the class with me...)
- My next dance class has a lot of familiar faces in it, including some great dance friends of mine. I'm looking forward to learning and growing with them this semester! And having fun :)
- The teacher for my harder class seems super nice and eager to help us succeed! He said "I don't want this class to feel like it's the students against the teacher; it's us against the material, because it's already hard enough without me trying to make it more confusing." Looking forward to working hard here as well. (...did I really just say that?)
- I ran into SO MANY friends on campus today! It was great to see some friends from dance, my study abroad, and even from freshman year! I love being around people, and campus is packed now that fall semester is getting underway.
- It was a hot day, but it's beautiful!
- I went grocery shopping, and picked up some raw ingredients to be creative with, annnnnd to attempt my own variants of Austrian cooking with. We'll see how that works out - it likely won't be very authentic Austrian, but it will likely be delicious anyway.

So, I'm back to working hard and focusing on the positive! :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Here I Go Again...

It's the eve of yet another semester. I haven't been getting enough sleep, so I do need to go to bed early... But part of me would also like to sit on the stairs outside for a few minutes to breathe in the last lungfuls of summer. I can't believe how much has happened in just a few months! I went to the other side of the world, and I've grown and learned so much about the world and about myself: my perspectives on people and the world in general have changed, and I feel more motivated and passionate about what I'm doing with my life; I want to cut out the extra baggage and focus on the things that matter most; I spent time at home and had a chance to re-center myself in my family as well as (over the course of the summer) in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What am I going to do now? I'm not sure what challenges this coming semester will hold for me. I might guess that I'll continually be working on daily motivation to do unpleasant or tedious homework or that I'll be conquering my lingering shyness, but hey - those are things that I make progress in over time, and I'm getting better! It doesn't need to be a point of concern that I don't know what the semester will bring, because Jesus Christ does know, and He's said that I can do it. I know that as I am obedient to the commandments He's given me, He will help me, and I can do ANYTHING that I need to do. I want to love people, I want to work hard, and I want to come to know my Savior (dangerous words, because I've gotten to know Him best as I turn to Him in trials).

Time keeps moving forward, with or without me, and the hour's getting later. So I'll step out into the rain-washed summer night, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, then return inside and get ready for the next semester.

Saw this as I moved back into my apartment. Remember the promise :)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Formal Education...

I'm not going to pretend to be super-informed on this topic, but I'm becoming increasingly aware of it and increasingly passionate about it, and I would like to become more informed. The pitiful state of the American educational system is an issue that crosses partisan lines and is having a serious, continuing impact on education at all levels. I want to do something to help, but I'm not sure where to start.

I'll begin by sharing my experience in this situation. As far back as third grade, I remember people telling me that I was smart, but that I needed to focus and work harder, and that I had "so much potential." But I wasn't motivated to work harder (resulting in leaving my advanced "cluster" reading group in third grade, because I didn't like the research project). Starting in my sophomore year of high school, I began taking honors and AP (advanced placement) classes and finally felt challenged again in school; maybe I was motivated then by boredom or by the reward of college credit. Fortunately, these classes did make me work harder to learn the material, particularly in my AP U.S. History class, where I had a very thorough teacher who covered "the big picture" as well as the important figures, dates and events. But for the most part (especially considered in retrospect), I feel kind of like I coasted through high school, somehow managing to get a 3.8 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) without exerting much effort. When I got to my first semester of college, I realized very quickly that I didn't actually know how to study and work hard; I was good at taking tests, but failed miserably at motivating myself to do homework or essays. A large part of that is my personal inadequacies, but I wondered what kind of system we have that lets that kind of thing happen. How could I have "successfully" gotten through 13 years of public K-12 education without learning better how to discipline myself and invest effort into my learning?

One thing that I've since learned about, which I feel is very significant, is the heavy emphasis on results. For one of my college classes I job-shadowed an elementary school teacher for just one day, and that conversation changed how I view teaching in public schools. That teacher (my roommate's mother, and a veteran teacher) shared with me some of her frustrations about teaching in her classroom. She said that with all the testing they do to measure results in the classroom, she doesn't have much time for real teaching anymore. I feel like that's how my "education" largely went - I learned the material well enough (and just long enough) to gain an understanding and pass the tests with high scores. That kind of education didn't really have any bearing on what kind of person I was - "an education" was a box that I checked off my life to-do list, and not a crucial formative process of my person. It was a matter of doing something, not becoming something.

I don't know that I would make a very good teacher under the system that we have right now. For starters, I would have to relearn everything that I had already learned in years past; I've been in college a while now, and I can't multiply two 2-digit numbers together in my head within a reasonable amount of time. But I think our schools (teachers and students) are suffering in more than just academics.

There are many wonderful teachers that I've had who have cared about me and been inspiring. However, there are also many teachers - especially in my non-honors classes - who seemed to go through the motions of their duty and did little besides that. The ideal that I envision is smaller classes for everybody where teachers form individual relationships with each student, and where teachers challenge themselves and their students to high standards and put in the work towards achieving those standards. I think that to accomplish that, teachers would need to work with their students for longer than a single semester; I believe that our current system, where students might switch teachers within the same subject every semester, leads to a more factory-like approach which is based on achieving specific, standardized results, and where struggling students are passed on to another teacher, to "become someone else's problem" for yet another semester of their life. That's how I felt in my junior year of high school, when I felt like I was falling behind in math; even though I had the same teacher for both semesters, I felt lost and alone in that class, and like my teacher didn't care, which really hurt me academically and emotionally. In this aspect, I feel like I could be a really good teacher, in caring about my students, believing in them, and challenging them to stretch themselves to do better. We need teachers to mentor and be positive role models who inspire students by their example, by being what they encourage their students to become.

One thing I would like to do over the next couple years is invest time in researching possible reforms and alternatives to our current educational model. I learned a little about the Austrian (general European?) educational system while I was there. One thing I admire is how a group of students has the same teacher all the way through elementary school. That would require the teachers to expand their breadth and depth of knowledge to cover all that material (and it would be really unfortunate to be stuck with a not-so-good teacher for that long), which would require a massive shakeup in how we train teachers in the U.S. today. But I really admire the investment that the teachers have to make in forming a relationship with each student, and I think that the investment and duration would inspire/necessitate greater attention to ensuring that the students actually learn the material. I've also been told and have seen some differences in teaching styles between American and Austrian teachers; Americans are a lot more hands-on and application-based while Austrians rely on rote memorization in the classroom and doing the actual learning independently outside the classroom. I can't say which is better because they produce different results, and I don't have much experience with the Austrian style. I plan to take classes, read, talk to people, and otherwise inform myself more about what other people think could be the root issues in our American educational system (and in our social era) and what options there may be to resolve these issues.

I've still got some time before I graduate. I'm strongly considering adding a Sociology minor and working for Teach For America after graduation. I'm not sure what are other ways to be involved and be a force for change in education, but it's something I want to do. I want to help change people's lives by getting young people off to a good start - by giving them knowledge, and the tools to use it well, and by giving them the love and confidence they need to believe in themselves and enable their own success. Everyone deserves those, and I strongly feel that our current system is increasingly failing in this aim.