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 :)