Monday, March 28, 2011

What Do You See?

I've enjoyed pretty good health for most of my life, with few serious mishaps. On Friday afternoon, however, I managed to sprain my ankle pretty well during a dance class. Since then, I've had to be more reliant on others and more patient with my limitations. There's some definite downsides, but I'm grateful for this experience.
My roommates have been willing to slow down for me, tolerant of the day I was couch-ridden, and extra attentive to make sure I didn't hurt myself worse. My teachers and work supervisors have been very flexible and understanding while I'm recovering. My mom's called me almost every day to see how I'm doing (both to check on my ankle and my homework). Fellow students and friends have shared their experiences with me to give me both advice, warning and encouragement. And even without the accident-specific blessings, I've got a lot to be thankful for. God is definitely watching out for me and taking care of my needs, and helping me progress.
Don't get me wrong - I do get frustrated sometimes and a little wishful (having a sprained ankle isn't the greatest party I've had) - but I am glad for the experience I'm having. It's a good exercise to be positive when situations aren't the most conducive; kind of a confidence booster, actually. So I'll keep smiling, being grateful to my Heavenly Father, and trusting my life in His hands. :)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In the Name of Jesus Christ

Today was lovely. I believe it started last night, when I was finally humble enough to open my heart to answers I need, and humble enough to act. One thought led to another, and I committed myself to reading all the way through a book I borrowed months ago so that I could finally return it. That book is called The Infinite Atonement, and it was just what I needed to get myself going in the right direction (I only got through two chapters last night). Before going to bed, I decided that I would go to the temple tomorrow (today).

When I woke up this morning, I had a text asking if I could come in and work the lunch shift. Going to the temple was my highest priority, but I realized I could have time for both, and this could be an answer to my prayers (I've been needing to get extra hours in at work). Work ended up going really well, and the temple afterwards was even better.

One of the things that struck me in the temple was how often the words "in the name of Jesus Christ" are used in Mormon worship, and how meaningful it is. All of our prayers close in the phrase. The proxy baptismal and confirming ordinances start with "in the name of Jesus Christ" or "having been commissioned of Jesus Christ." Same thing in the sacrament prayers: "O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ..." Priesthood blessings are also given in the same manner. And some people insist that Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) aren't Christians... :P

What I recognized again today and in my reading last night, is that everything comes back to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, that "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." (quote from Joseph Smith, the first latter-day prophet). Without Jesus Christ and His Atonement, life would be meaningless, and death would be a final, bitter end. 2 Nephi 9 explains it more completely and beautifully than I can, why we need an Atonement and what it does for us. It's kind of a longer chapter, but I promise you that if you read it with an open heart, it will change your life. 

The rest of today has gone pretty well too. I had time to run home after the temple and get something to eat before going to my evening class, and the class itself was very fun and educational. My roommate and I then made dinner for a sick friend, and I've had some time since to relax and figure out travel plans. The temple, though, was definitely the highlight of my day. I was able to gain some much-needed peace and perspective, and I feel more renewed for the week ahead. I really need to make temple attendance a higher priority in my schedule, because I always feel better afterwards, but I have a hard time remembering and putting forth the effort to plan for it, walk out the door, and go. It's definitely worth it. It's so comforting and motivating to know that God is on my side.
The Lord is my light; the Lord is my strength. 
I know in his might I'll conquer at length. 
My weakness in mercy he covers with pow'r, 
And, walking by faith, I am blessed ev'ry hour.
(LDS hymn, "The Lord Is My Light")

My challenge after this would be to examine your life and see what values you reflect. When people become acquainted with you, what do they remember? What do you want them to remember? As a Mormon, and as KH, I want my life to point others to Jesus Christ. He is the one who offers salvation, peace, freedom and happiness to every soul, living and dead. He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water; He is Jehovah, the promised Messiah to set His people free. He is my personal Savior, Redeemer, Guide and Friend. With the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, I add my testimony:
And [the angel] said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
Like the young Nephi, I don't know the meaning of all things. I know that God loves me and that Christ will always be there for me as I come to Him, even if I don't know all the how's or why's. I know that Christ is "the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men" (Moses 6:52), and so I do the things that I've learned, because those simple things are the things that work. Things like having faith and trusting God, reading from the scriptures every day, praying always, attending the temple and church meetings, turning the other cheek, being humble and teachable - these and others are the things that bring us to Christ and lead us to salvation and happiness. I add this simple testimony to the thousands that have been shared over the millennia that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that He lives today for us, pleading our cause. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Follow-Up Definition

I figured after my last post, there might be some things it would be appropriate to elaborate on. Mainly, what I consider "a good man." I'll probably stray into my personal preferences in a guy, which will be more specific than your average "good guy." I'll try to make the distinction clear.

Ultimately, I think a "good man" is determined by his heart and his choices. The heart factor is that he wants to be good and do good things; the choices would be that he acts on those desires and does do good things. Together, these form your character. It's going to be almost impossible to always have perfect intentions and perfect deeds 100% of the time, but you can get pretty close as you make it a part of your character (what it all flows from - the third verb - who you are).

There are some more specific things that I think will be hallmarks of a developing "good man." In opposition to the counterexamples I mentioned in my last post, a good man is respectful of himself and others. He knows who he is - a son of God with an inherently divine birthright and duty - and knows that others are also sons and daughters of God with worth. He treats others as he would like to be treated, or better.

A good man seeks after good things. While not all of the "good men" out there are Christians in name, their good thoughts and actions lead them to become more like Jesus Christ. With this, they will strive to improve themselves, and not settle for mediocrity. Other Christlike attributes will develop if they continue this course: patient, loving, persevering, selfless, temperate, service-oriented, humble, confidently optimistic, faithful, eager to learn and progress, and wise and understanding (yes, for those Returned Missionaries, I did think to check Preach My Gospel halfway through the list).

A good man is a work in progress. That means that not all of these attributes will be fully developed, but it also means that he is working on it, and not just letting them slide. Most guys that I've thanked for being such good influences for me are quick to say that they aren't perfect and that they have flaws. This is my acknowledgment again that I know they aren't perfect; we are all human here. But you care, and you're trying, and that's what matters.

Yes, this is a tall order for the kind of "good men" that I want to surround myself with and in time, the man I want to marry. But I know that it is possible to be like that; I've seen it. And I am trying to be that kind of person myself. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing well, and other times I feel my weakness more clearly and wonder if I'll ever be good enough for that kind of guy. Those are the times that I need to be especially patient with myself and remember that my husband will have weaknesses too. If I want to marry an awesome, righteous man, I need to be an equally awesome, righteous woman. And being/becoming is a process (not an event) that I need to be continually working on. I have high standards for myself, and the person I marry will be the same, because that's what I'm looking for.

Hopefully this wraps up any unresolved ends from my last post :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

The first time I heard this phrase and really had it stick was when I read Flannery O'Connor's short story by the name. I think I was initially attracted by the fairy-tale quality of the phrase, and as I'm getting older, I'm becoming increasingly convinced of its veracity in the dating world.

I'm having trouble deciding where to begin, so I'll start with today. In the afternoon I joined some friends for a couple games of ultimate frisbee in the park, and I only knew about half the players. I ended up on a team with my roommate and 3 guys that I didn't really know. Over the course of the game and during the water break, I became increasingly disgusted: their humor was crude, and one of them in particular was quite egocentric. That bothered me a lot.

A few weeks ago, I got quite fed up with guys who exhibited a similar lack of respect while directly interacting with me. One night (in a group context) I was cuddling with one of my guy friends while we were having a deep conversation; this is a guy I've known for years now, and it's a occasional token of friendship between us rather than being romantically motivated. The problem came when one of our mutual friends saw it, a guy who I don't know as well, and he assumed it would be ok to do with me the next night. I was ok with it for a while until I realized that he just wanted a girl to cuddle with, and I felt like that was very disrespectful of him. Don't "use me" and take advantage of me just because I'm nice and friendly! Similarly, I was salsa dancing in the same week, and one of my partners didn't seem to care too much about getting the steps right, and was more interested in dancing closely with a girl. Body connection is really important in partnered dancing, but if you don't care about dancing, you're just being a sick creeper and taking advantage of your dance partner! It is so disrespectful and selfish to use another person to gratify your desires like that! I got away from that partner as quickly as I could. Ew! (you're gross), ugh! (that's discouraging), argh! (having my good intentions abused like that makes me angry). At least I'm learning to be more careful, selective, and better at giving a firm "NO" sooner.

These and other experiences have gotten me quite frustrated and discouraged at times. "Where have all the good men gone?" Especially when I try so hard to live right, is there a guy out there who cares like I do? Or are they all out (with varying degrees) to "get some?"

Fortunately, I have been blessed to meet some very choice young men in my life. Simply knowing that there are good guys out there is a relief; getting to know them and being further inspired by them is a treasured opportunity. They strengthen my faith, urge me to be better, and increase my hope, because they really are trying to be like Jesus Christ, and it's reflected in everything they do. Some noticed qualities of these guys are that they really love people, they have a strong moral compass, and that they are humble, hard workers. They don't use or take advantage of me: they love me for who I am and have faith in who I can become. They are the very best kinds of friends (and those qualities can obviously extend to girls as well).

So, I want to say thanks for the good men I have in my life. I have my dad and my younger brothers who set the pattern for love, respect and fun. I have friends from my freshman year who were as clueless as I was and who were willing to grow with me. I have friends who are older than me and have been willing to teach me while I'm still learning and increasing my understanding. Above all, I have my Heavenly Father and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ came before and showed us the way to live so that we can be happy and magnify our potential to become like our Father. They are the ultimate example of what "a good man" is, and those are also the traits that make a good woman. I will be forever grateful to these examples in my life who show me how to be a better person and who give me hope.

Thank you. You save my life every day :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stress Less! (another way to happiness)

I was talking to someone a couple weeks ago about some of the things that tend to stress me out. Ballroom dance came up, because it's really been where I've experienced some fantastic highs and devastating lows in the last two years. After taking a couple classes, I fell in love with dancing: I really enjoyed it, believed I could do it with enough work, and wanted to learn more and become a good dancer. The stressful parts are these: consistent trouble getting partners (particularly for competitions) and not successfully completing any auditions yet. Now that I'm a ballroom dance minor, both of these are crucial to completing the program. Getting good grades in the classes isn't hard - getting into the class at all is the hard part!

The person I was talking to suggested that maybe a ballroom minor isn't what I'm supposed to be doing, and that's why my auditions haven't been successful yet (or, the possibility that I'm just being tested to see if I'll be persistent). Sometimes we think we know what we want to do with our life, and God has different plans in mind that will make us even happier. My decision coming out of that meeting was to stop stressing over whether or not I could complete the minor. I can still perfectly enjoy dance by taking non-audition classes and going to clubs, without worrying about making teams or being successful in competitions. I'm not going to give up on finishing my ballroom minor, but I am giving up the stress I've attached to it. 

Sometimes stress has its uses. For example, I'm more motivated to study for a test when I have less time and more pressure to do it. But the kind of stress that frets, wrings its hands, feels powerless, and is fearful is the stress that we need to minimize and get rid of. What good does it do us? The only way it affects the results is to make us too distracted or afraid to give something our best effort. It certainly won't improve the outcome to surrender to that kind of stress.

How do we rid ourselves of negative stress? We need to confront it and let it go. One thing that we talked about in that meeting was that oftentimes, these stressors come down to insecurities and basic needs. If we can face the real problem, the symptoms (such as stress in particular situations) will be resolved more effectively. Another way to reduce stress is to simplify our lives a bit. In a fantastic talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, he explains that when life gets complicated and hard to bear, the best response is to focus on the essentials - on what really matters - and to let some other things go. One of the great things I've discovered in life (and that many, wiser people discovered sooner than I did) is that when you do the most important things first, life feels more steady. Specifically, when I put obedience to Christ first, everything else falls into its proper place, and I feel much more relaxed and confident in what I'm doing; it enables me to push off from a sturdy foundation and do the other things that I like to do as well, and I can go much further than if I'm trying to tread water in the middle of an ocean of "things to do." It really works :)

If I'm too busy stressing out over things, I don't have time to be happy. So one of the keys to happiness is realizing what you do and don't have control over, choosing what's important, and, trusting that Christ will take care of you, act on that trust and let your excess worries go. Jesus Christ understands and wants the best for you; He won't do anything that won't help you. As we come to understand that truth and cultivate our relationship with Him, our happiness will increase.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Self-Control: Why does it matter?

My biggest problem with school isn't that the work is too hard, or that I don't have enough time to do it: the problem is that I'm still working on self-discipline to do boring things like homework.

How does that relate to this blog or the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let me explain some thoughts I had.

...and see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; 
                                                                 Alma 38:12
This scripture from the Book of Mormon is usually quoted with reference to lustful passions because of the context (Alma was preaching to his son, who had committed sexual transgressions). When I was younger, I thought that "bridle all your passions" meant to cut them off, and to not be carried away by passions. But then someone corrected me with the illustration of a riding a horse. A horse's bridle doesn't stop it from walking - it's used to control the horse's movement. Thus, we are commanded to be in control of our passions, not to kill them.

We are creatures of many passions: love, anger, physical attraction, desires for good things, etc. As we gain and maintain self-mastery over our passions, we will refine ourselves and be filled with the best ones.

The Biblical story of Amnon and Tamar is an example of how lacking self-control is destructive. In the first half of 2 Samuel 13, we learn how Amnon loved Tamar, and when he didn't control his feelings, he ended up hating her. Instead of exercising restraint (Tamar tells Amnon to talk to their father, and urges him to wait for the right circumstances - marriage), Amnon forces her into premarital sex. This is the result:
Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. (verse 15)
There was a study done (released in Dec 2010) which revealed that couples who delayed sex until marriage had benefits such as increased relationship stability, relationship satisfaction, communication, and, surprisingly, increased quality of their sexual relationship. It takes self-control to wait that long for something you both want, and I think you can say that by bridling their passions, these couples were "filled with love," like the scripture in Alma says.

Consider a more common example. Say you're a parent, and your young son or daughter just wrecked something important that you had repeatedly told them to stay away from. My initial reaction would be dismay and anger. Why didn't they listen? Now it's ruined. What do you do now? You might get angry and lash out, saying something hurtful, or spanking your child. Or you can hold your tongue until you regain composure and a little perspective; yes, your project was important, but is it more important than your son or daughter? Getting angry would vent your negative feelings in the moment, but it could cost a loving, secure relationship with your child. On the other hand, calmly explaining what happened and the consequences would teach them to be accountable, and reassuring them that you still love them teaches them that their self-worth isn't dependent on how much they mess up. The best response may be obvious now, but what makes the difference between the two paths? It's the split-second decision you make - to allow your angry feelings to govern your actions, or to retain self-control and manage your emotions in a healthful way. 

I can't tell you exactly how it works that restraint of our passions allows us to be filled with more. But I know that like other paradoxes in the gospel, it does work.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
                                                                  1 John 4:7-8 
This is a great chapter in the New Testament about love. God loves us, His children, and that's His motivation for all that He does. If we want to become like Jesus Christ, then unconditional love is an attribute we need to strive to develop. Charity is the pure love of Christ, the "greatest of all" gifts or attributes, and we receive it as we work on our self control and do the things that cultivate love.

I know that as I've worked on self-mastery, it's helped me to become more Christ-like: patient, full of love, temperate, enduring, and less self-centered. We can draw closer to God and become happier people by living these principles of self-control in everything we do :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

"You don't know everything, but you know enough!" is a website with wonderful resources. It is the parent site of is geared towards people who are being introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and is the website that church members use to access teaching manuals, archived talks, and other resources for personal, family, and church use.

Since was most recently given a facelift, there has been a slideshow on the homepage with different featured articles, links and videos. Usually it's things I've seen or heard before, but once in a while I decide to follow the link. Today was one of those days.

I followed the link to a talk by Elder Neil L. Andersen titled, "You Know Enough", and read through it while listening to the audio recording (the audio and text differ slightly; it took just under 10 minutes once the audio loaded). It was just what I need right now. I might not have enough faith to move mountains or part the Red Sea, but I have enough knowledge and faith to move forward and trust Jesus Christ when I can't see.

Life is hard, and that's the way it was meant to be, because hard things help us to grow and refine ourselves. Carbon is a common atom on earth. Under different conditions and various degrees of pressure, it can either become coal (a fossil fuel), graphite (pencil lead) or diamond (the really hard, shiny, expensive stuff). The way we make sure to become diamonds under pressure instead of just squished carbon atoms is to make Jesus Christ our strength. He is our perfect, never-ceasing source of strength and will support us to the very degree that we need help, making us "enough" for our trials and challenges. I know that I can't do it on my own; I'm weak, I get scared, I get angry, I get sad, I make mistakes. And that's why our merciful and loving Heavenly Father provided a way for us to overcome our weaknesses and move on, ever becoming more like Him as we progress and grow. That way is using the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Here's some scriptural evidences that show how Christ takes us as we are and helps us become stronger: Ether 12:27 (in the Book of Mormon), 2 Corinthians 12:9 (Bible), Moroni 10:32 (another from the Book of Mormon). Here's a link to a scripture search engine on if you want to look for more scriptures about grace (for this post I used the key words "grace is sufficient").

Friday, March 4, 2011

On My Honor

There's been a lot of stir in the news lately about BYU dismissing Brandon Davies, one of their best players, at the height of their basketball season. Why was he dismissed? Because he violated the school's honor code by having premarital sex.

The opinions I've read have been mixed. Some seem incredulous that college students are asked to follow such a stringent, "unrealistic" code (ESPN article and video). Many are very respectful that BYU places preeminence for its honor code over a chance at a national championship (LA Times article here). Either way, a lot of people are just saying, "Wow."

Here's my opinion :) I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with Mike Smith - one of the quoted sources in the LA Times article - on some of his statements. But I do agree that I am proud of BYU for acting on its priorities.

As far as living a chaste life goes, that's not something I struggle with. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, but all students and staff at BYU read and understand the Honor Code and agree to live by it if they want to pursue education and/or employment there. And really, it's not that unusual or hard. Some of these articles make it sound like the code is a set of strict rules unfairly imposed on students who are trying to be human and have their college experience. But for most of the students at BYU, that very code has been a lifestyle long before they came to BYU. It's part of who they are, and signing the contract serves as a reminder of accountability, not a newsflash after reading the fine print.

Why bother with an Honor Code? I can testify that the environment at BYU is almost inexplicably unique. Never have I seen such general friendliness: people will meet your eyes and sometimes smile when you walk down the street; people from class or your student ward will often say hello and make small talk when they run into you; people are genuinely interested in who you are and in your well-being. People are there because they want to excel in life and to learn. Compared to other students I've met, BYU students generally hold themselves to a higher standard personally, morally, and in their work ethic - they don't give up when times get hard. The type of people who voluntarily come to BYU are those who embrace the Honor Code.

You can list a lot of reasons for following this Honor Code: I can get in trouble for breaking it; it encourages me to be a better person; it leads to a safe and healthful environment; I do it because I'm told to. For me, it's not a choice I have a hard time making. All of the above reasons are true. More than these (or summing all of them), I do it because I want to. It's who I am, and leads me to who I want to be.

Relating back to the purpose of this blog, living the principles found in the BYU Honor Code opens my life to greater happiness. When I am honest, chaste, obedient to the law, use clean and uplifting language, respect others, take care of my body, go to church, dress modestly, and support others in doing the same, life is much simpler and I avoid a lot of worry-inducing things. It doesn't weaken me, it strengthens me. When I spend less time worrying, I can spend more time learning, improving myself, and serving others; all these things improve my relationship with Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father. These things lead me to be happy, and that's what we're here for: to learn to be happy, and to share that gift with others :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thoughts on Becoming a Grown-Up

I'm getting there eventually :P Some days it seems that I'm growing faster than others. As demonstrated in the last post, I like indulging in childish whims once in a while, because honestly, a blanket fort is awesome :)

What are signs of "growing up"? I think part of it is figuring yourself out - deciding what your truest desires are, what you're willing to work for, and what your personal standards are. Another important part is accepting greater responsibility and accountability (when you look at it, irresponsible adults aren't considered very grown-up). I think responsibility really comes down to thoughtful, considerate use of resources and accepting the consequences of your decisions. Responsibility acts as a steadying counterweight to childish whims and immature decision-making.

I've been thinking a lot lately, and it makes me feel old :) I've always tried to be responsible, with varying degrees of success. On my mind tonight is working out finances and planning for the future. Should I add a second minor? How long until I graduate? What do I do after graduation? I've got some rough answers for the moment, and it's not essential that I have it all figured out soon. I'll probably go to bed early tonight and focus on what I can do with today. Jesus Christ is always there to help me, so I can have faith, give it to Him, and relax.

College Craziness

My roommates and I made this in our living room (and part of the kitchen) a month or so ago, with a couple friends helping. It was pretty ridiculous and definitely epic :)

Yes. We are college students, and we turned out living room into a massive blanket fort :D Our kitchen table is hiding in there somewhere too, underneath a couple kitchen chairs... We had to take it down a few days later when some of the roommates wanted a place to eat again. Fun times.