Monday, June 27, 2011

Next Lesson To Learn

Next virtue on my list to tackle is probably temperance. Sometimes I can really be an all-or-nothing kind of person; I don't like leaving something halfway done. Mostly, I'm defining temperance as moderation. The google definition also included an element of self-restraint. I think that being wise and mastering self-control will really help me to be a better person, and more Christlike. I'm already a very conscientious person, but I would like to be more self-aware because I want to pay better attention to how I influence other people. That's mostly it.

I'm really enjoying myself on my study abroad in Vienna. There's so much to do here, and I spent all of Sunday at the local Institute and had a blast making new friends and attending a baptism. Good times! I'll try to write more later.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Getting What I Paid For

I've had a couple experiences lately that confirm this principle for me. One has been my experience in temple attendance. This summer, I went to the temple every week for 4 weeks in a row (I'm no longer close enough for that to happen). Before entering, I sat outside and read my scriptures for a half hour or full hour, and after the ordinances inside, I continued reading and praying for maybe another half hour. When I put the effort into consistent temple attendance, and prepared myself to learn while I was there, I got so much out of it: I came away with a greater appreciation of temple blessings, a greater awareness of Heavenly Father's love for me, and increased strength and peace for my everyday life. Going to the temple was nice before, but when I put the effort in to going frequently and preparing beforehand, it became that much more meaningful.

On the first day of my German class during my study abroad, this principle was emphasized again. I felt like some of the work in class was slightly tedious and repetitive(mostly because I had learned it already). But I realized that for my whole life, I've skipped the work that I thought was useless because it was so easy. I realized that by going through the small steps, you put the time in to really learn the material. Otherwise, the learning is just superficial, and flees soon after the test is taken.

If I really want to learn something, or to make something happen, I have to be willing to do all of the steps and be willing to sacrifice. If I want it, I need to pay for it with my time and dedication. Otherwise, I'll get what I pay for just the same - thus, if I pay only a little, I'll only get a very little return on my investment. Having this knowledge now helps motivate and humble me to reconsider how I treat my priorities.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Being Tempted Doesn't Make Me (or You) A Bad Person

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means--the only complete realist.       
C.S. Lewis
I used this quote in a post from last month, but it also applies to this topic. Here's what I mean:

Agency - the ability to be one's own agent, make choices, and be accountable for them - is an important part of our earthly experience. In order to be able to make a choice though, it's necessary to have options to choose between. Here are some supporting scriptures found in the Book of Mormon:
(11) For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
(14) And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
(16) Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
from 2 Nephi, Chapter 2 
Therefore, in order for every person to have the opportunity to choose, to "act for himself", every person needs to be "enticed by the one or the other." Or in other words, we all need to face temptation. But isn't it sinful to be tempted? Doesn't it mean that I'm weak if something tempts me?

Christ was also tempted. And yet, He was without sin. The accounts in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 chronicle the Savior's experience of being tempted after 40 days of fasting. As in everything else, He set the precedent for how we should respond - when faced with temptation, Christ said no, and made it clear that when choosing between following God and Satan, He would serve God.

I felt like this is an important question to clarify, because it's one that crossed my mind when I was younger. Being tempted by something doesn't make you guilty of that sin. Being tempted is a necessary experience that is vital to our spiritual development because it gives us an opportunity to choose; we exercise our "spiritual muscles" by using them in making choices, and choosing to follow Christ makes those spiritual muscles stronger. That said, one hardly needs to go around looking for temptation in order to accelerate his or her spiritual growth :P

One way that I work on my relationship with Christ is evaluating my actions and if they're in line with what He teaches/commands. Do I love my neighbor? Odds are that I don't hate him, but if I don't love him yet, then I have room to improve. Not only can we be tempted to do bad things, but we can also be tempted to not do the good things.

So keep on keeping on! Life is meant to be a struggle, because those are the times we learn the most. And the great news is that we can always have Someone to help us through the struggle and be victorious! That person is Jesus Christ. I know that Christ has my best interests at heart and in action, and that as I draw close to Him and learn from Him, I am able to do so much more than I could ever do on my own. I am grateful for my Savior and the million ways that He helps me every day.

A Reason for Being

To tell someone that you love them and to really mean it. That's kinda what this life is about - loving people.

Wednesday was my last day at work for a couple months, and I'll miss both the people I've known for a long time and those I've only known briefly. As I affirmed "I love you!" in parting, I really felt it. I care about these people; they are an important part of my life. Sometimes it's easy to let those words become goofy or cutesy catchphrases among friends, but when you realize their true sincerity... It just multiplies the love.

Loving people is a significant process. It signifies change in a self, it exposes vulnerabilities, it requires taking a risk to make an uncertain investment, it involves mercy and sacrifice... All of these build character, and as we do them, we become more like our Father in Heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is why we're here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Late-Night Randoms

I made my grandma's recipe for taco soup yesterday and finished it tonight. It's so good!! A pound of ground beef, taco seasoning, onion, and an assortment of canned vegetables, legumes and tomato products, with shredded cheddar cheese mixed (and melted) into it. Mmm... So tasty, and especially considering that it's mostly from cans. I've only made it twice; next time, I'd like to try adding fresh cilantro and maybe a touch of lime juice.

I've been shuffling through my iTunes music for the last couple days, and I've got to say that I've got some great music. On a more humble note, I've gotten a lot of music recommendations from friends over the years, and I've got music for pretty much any mood I find myself in. One that I listened to today was "One True Summer Night" by Rex Goudie, which I didn't fully understand/appreciate until my first summer in college:
It's not a perfect parallel. But it's a song I'd heard before that summer and then identified with it.

Also, I've got to sleep on the couch again. I'm moving in 4 days, so I tried to start packing early (figuring that was the smart way to go). Unfortunately... that meant that a lot of my bed was taken up by clothes and suitcases for a couple nights while I was sorting them. I finally got it cleared off for the last night or two, then got home around midnight on Saturday and remembered that my bed had been taken over by laundry that afternoon. Oops.

Time to be responsible. Hello, couch...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I've had a couple opportunities to go rock climbing in the last month. Nothing hardcore, but once on an indoor climbing wall and once on an outdoor one. Both times I was attached to an auto-belay, which was a new experience for me.

With a regular belay system, the climber is wearing a harness, and has a climbing rope attached that runs above to the top of the climbing wall to a pulley, and the rope passes over the pulley and back down to the belayer - someone who may be another harnessed climber. The belayer makes sure that as the climber ascends, their belay rope is held taut, so that if they fall, they can be caught and supported by the rope.

With an auto-belay, the climber's rope runs up to a machine that winds the rope as it feels slack. So, it has a little delay in responding, and it responds to a set tension in the rope.

It had been a while since I'd done any rock climbing, so I rediscovered some things this time around. Balancing. Carrying your weight or reaching with your arms vs. your legs. The decision to look down or not. And, when you reach the top, being willing to let go. I don't remember having unusual problems with letting go of the handholds as a child. Though I don't remember, I can reasonably assume that the people who ran those rock walls reassured me that I would be safe letting go. This time, with the auto-belay, I had reassurances that the machine would keep me safe.

Over the past months I've become aware that I have a hard time letting some people go emotionally. It was interesting to see the same problem when referring to rock climbing. The same phenomenon has occurred over the years as I learn how to have faith and trust in Heavenly Father. So, I wanted to think about some of the comparisons.

I'm not sure how letting people go works with it... Still figuring that one out. But what is the fear behind letting go at the top of a climbing wall? Losing control is the most pressing matter for me, I think. I'm still in the youthful mindset of invincibility sometimes, so I don't really worry about death or serious injury resulting from a faulty belay. But not being able to catch myself is worrying. And that's the problem I had with faith as a teenager; surrendering my iron-tight grip on security and back-up plans and hypotheses took real wrenching effort. I was a chronic worrier about the future. If I trust Heavenly Father with my life, that means that I don't need to worry when things go awry from my plans, because I know that He is in control and is taking care of me. Shifting from trusting MY control to trusting HIS control.

Now, here's an extension from that, bringing in the human vs. auto belay aspect. I felt significantly more comfortable with the human belay. Humans are flexible and responsive. The auto-belay has automatic responses based on particular settings. The former feels more real and more capable of keeping me safe and maintaining control of my descent. It's easier for me to have faith in God as I come to understand who He is. He isn't some nebulous power in the universe that might or might not rescue me depending on His mood or my standing on some esoteric righteous-meter. He is my Heavenly Father; as such, He is perfectly compassionate and loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing. He's better than a human belay, and capable and willing to catch me at the perfect moment. Sometimes He lets me fall a little, because I learn from the experience. The point is that I am perfectly safe in His care, and I can trust Him in everything; I can let go with no worries, because He is in control.

An Unexpected Letter

Just got the most humbling, soul-comforting letter from my missionary brother, a month and a half after he wrote it. I love and miss my family so much. What a divine gift they are. I thank the Lord Jesus Christ from the bottom of my heart that they are mine forever, even if I only get to see them once or twice a year.
I spent the past weekend in California for a roommate's wedding reception, and my friends and I spent most of our time there with her family (we hardly saw the bride at all). Her family has many children, ranging in age from the 20's to the youngest who just turned 3 years old. Our time with them was wonderful. They reminded me quite a bit of my own family: loud, rambunctious, occasionally fighting and frequently teasing, but with a deep feeling of love and concern permeating their relationships with each other. It was a very special time for me when the parents graciously included us college kids in their family's nightly scripture reading and family prayer. It's difficult to articulate my feelings meaningfully without being repetitive, but it was so special. 

My family has been on my mind a lot in the past few months; in the last 2-3 weeks, that attention has increased exponentially. I saw my family briefly over Christmas, but the last time I was at home with them was for three weeks about 10 months ago. I try to text my siblings once in a while - usually about something random that made me think of them - and I talk to my parents more frequently. I'm trying to figure out why they've been on my mind so much and what I need to do or to change. I have been praying about it, so I trust that Heavenly Father will show me when I need to know.

This post was prompted by the quote I began with, which comes from my facebook status tonight. It's another witness to me that Heavenly Father is smart and loving, and pays attention to the details of our lives. Around midnight, I decided to check the mail for a textbook I was expecting. The book wasn't there, but there was a surprise letter from my missionary brother! I've been emailing him every week, and he hadn't mentioned it, so I had no reason to expect that I would be getting an actual letter from him at all. The contents of the letter are too precious and dear to publish in a public forum like this, but I will say that it touched me deeply and brought me to tears (which doesn't happen too frequently). His words were very well-timed, even though he wrote them a month and a half ago, to support me in a time when I'm tempted to doubt, lose hope, and get down on myself. Today had an unusual combination of factors that made me more vulnerable (lack of sleep is a consistent culprit), and Heavenly Father provided a tangible means of lifting me up. 

Morals of the story: God is great; families are awesome and have the potential to persist eternally; and 4.5 hours of sleep after a long roadtrip makes one prone to weepiness. And now, Gute Nacht und süße Träume um die Welt. Time for bed.