Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is it worthy? Is it worth it?

Just this past Friday, on the way to work, I was feeling a moderate amount of anxiety over something that has been preoccupying my thoughts.  While mulling over the source of this anxiety and what to do about it, a surprisingly powerful thought crossed my mind "I'm not worthy of __________." 

The only reason I describe it as powerful is because all of a sudden, with that single thought, I felt an almost narcotic-like effect on my anxiety.  I felt the muscles in my neck loosen, the tightness/nausea in my stomach subside, and the furrow in my brow release.  At first, I welcomed the relief, but then I started looking more closely at the thought that brought it.  It didn't make any sense really.  The thing I was wanting had no correlation with any form of spiritual or even temporal worthiness.  It was something I wanted, and somehow, just by telling myself I wasn't worthy of it, I no longer felt the angst of want or desire. It was almost as if I was released from them just by telling myself it was impossible to attain.

Perhaps I'm a bit late in the game, but this was a new discovery for me.  I've never been in the habit of telling myself I'm not worth it.  Yeah, I've got issues, but feeling unworthy of something was never one of them.  Rather, I've always had a pretty solid testimony of divine worth and that my personal worth was infinite simply because I'm a daughter of God - independent of accomplishment, status, or circumstance.  I've never really believed anybody who told me otherwise.  Thus, the words "I'm not worthy," and it's strangely cathartic effect was new (and surprising).

However, the moment I digested this experience, the Spirit whispered to my heart, "this isn't right, and you know it."  Part of me wanted to argue.  Yell something to the effect of, "If it's not right, why does it feel better?  What's not right about it?" but before I even finished forming the questions, I already had answer.  It's not right, because designating yourself hopelessly unworthy of something, of anything, is just another way of isolating yourself from God.

I mean, if you think about it, any sense of hopelessness is really just a way of telling ourselves "I'm not worth God's attention/help," that "God can't help me," or perhaps that "God's not there to help me."  All of those are pretty negative statements, and all point pretty clearly to fear and failure.  What seems interesting to me, was how cathartic that thought of hopelessness was.  Most of us probably peg hopelessness as a negative emotion, something depressing and dark.  Well, I would agree, but why is it that so many people are lured into hopelessness?  What is the appeal of something negative, depressing and dark?

Part of me wonders if the root of the catharsis lies in the disconnect it creates between who we are and who we really want to be.  That by separating yourself from the possibility of God's help, you are relinquished from all of the hassle and hardship required to make your desires a reality.  This may be unpopular to actually say, and I don't want to be insensitive to those who struggle with chronic feelings of unworthiness, but that's an awful way to  That as much as you may want to indulge in the strange sense of safety or release inherent in "I can't," it's counterproductive to any pursuit of happiness.

To find joy, you must have hope, and to actually have/maintain hope in something requires conviction, work, and faith.  That requires a huge amount of discipline, dedication, and a degree of optimism that is not particularly fun, easy, or pleasant to exercise.  To give up is to become indolent and complacent.  After all, you know what to expect when you never aspire, and you'll never be disappointed when you never try.  But nobody ever wrote a book about a little engine that couldn't because those who think they can't contribute, don't contribute.  They weigh on society like a necrotic limb, just feeding off the energy of others while noxiously spreading their toxic beliefs.

Ok, that may be a touch dramatic, but it does illustrate my point.  That hope for ourselves and society really does start with hope in ourselves and the faith that, with God, we can become the person we want to be with the life we want to live.  That those basic principles of hope and faith are essential to success in the face of adversity.  Have you ever seen someone work assiduously for something better while things seem to digress, or perhaps progress at an almost imperceptibly slow pace?  Perhaps you thought they were crazy or stupid for putting so much effort into something that didn't seem to produce.  But then again, that is often the story of those who achieve great things.  Those people who ignore being told 'you can't' are the ones that leave their mark on the world.  Hope and faith are the elements of God woven into the DNA of all of His children (whether or not they even acknowledge the source).  They can't be taken, stripped, or robbed from us.  We always have the power to choose faith.  We always have the opportunity to be hopeful.  And ultimately, we each have the capacity to attain whatever it is we want most in this life, if only we practice the conviction.  Hopefully, that desire is happiness.  Hopefully, we are also learning and practicing the charity/love required to ever achieve that happiness, no matter how difficult it may seem.

So, long story short, next time you feel unworthy of something, ask yourself, "Is this what I really want?  Is it a good thing to want?  Do I believe God would want to help me with this?"  If it is, then be hopeful, and have faith that it will be done.  That's how I modified the thought pattern I indulged in that morning.  I've learned that getting over feelings of unworthiness is not really about self esteem or confidence in our own abilities.  It's about having faith.  Instead of consoling myself into thinking that what I desire is out of the bounds of my reach, I just need to have faith that with God, such boundaries simply do not exist, and proceed from there.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Plan of Salvation remix....

This past week, a friend of mine sent me a letter asking some questions and expressing some doubts about God.  She was hoping I could offer some answers that would address some of those questions.  I wrote this to her, but I think the questions she asked are the same ones everybody asks.  She gave me permission to share it with the public, so here ya go.  

Ok. First things first. I apologize for the length. lol

Secondly, I will not tell you what to do.  So no, I won't tell you to do things you're already doing or just 'stay in the church because it's true.'  I do believe in interpersonal advice and counsel, but I do not believe in interpersonal commandments.  I hope you'll understand what I mean when when I say this, but despite the imagery of some of our teaching, I don't think we are all on some straight path, clinging to one simple rod with one simple destination.  I think the principle behind the imagery is sound, but I don't think it's an 'en masse' kind of movement.  It can't be.  We all experience things differently, express things differently, and learn things differently.  So while each of us clinging to the word of God will bring about individual salvation, you will not be able to gauge your own proximity to truth by looking at other people.  Ever.  I don't see your path, I don't know your path, and until I have access to omniscience, I simply don't have the capacity to tell you what's right for you.  Me telling you what to do to in order to follow that path is a guess at best, and misleading at worst.

That being said, I have memories of my own path that seem similar to the situation you've described to me.  I'll tell you how I progressed through it, but you'll have to decide for yourself it that's the direction you should go.  So maybe think of any advice I offer here as an informed guess.  You pray about it.  You figure out what parts resonate of truth to you.  I can't teach you truth, but the Spirit can.  So listen to that voice if it tells you anything different from mine.

Haha so we've got some big topics to discuss here. With the gospel, I've learned that the things that really matter often seem ambiguous because they are so BIG, and while we Westerners would love for them to fit in neat, little boxes that we can fit perfectly into our experiences, I don't think that's how things of eternity work. They don't fit into anything. Not time. Not space. Not even mortality. They're more comprehensive than any temporal language could describe, bigger than any mortal framework could hold, and more expansive than any theoretical box could store. It's why scriptures are never read the same way over time even though the words never change. I think that's why were constantly being reminded that things are learned 'line upon line, precept on precept.' Because it's really the only way to even begin digesting something like that, slow as that kind of learning process may be.

It probably doesn't help either that the Lord is constantly reforming our perceptions and showing us that our previous understandings were just immature child-like drawings of a reality we still can't wrap our heads fully around. Some may look at that, get discouraged, and give up on trying. They say it's impossible to ever understand and therefore not worth a lifetime of work that will never get you there. They seek for something more quantifiable and rational. Something they can master and check off their list. Well, as one who craves quantifiable and rational, I understand those desires. We want to feel wise, competent, and capable in the lives we lead. I think it's the hunger of wanting to become like God, (all powerful and all knowing) and as with most hunger, there's a sense of urgency. Basically....we want exaltation and omniscience, and we want it now.

To explain this, I'm going to use an analogy to describe how I personally see this life.  Basically, it's the Plan of Salvation according to a nerd. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this analogy within the bounds of truth, but remember, I am imperfect and will probably come up short somewhere in my explanation. Anyway, I see each of us all as students in a gigantic classroom. Each of us has an intricate and powerful machine called 'eternity' in front of us, and we're all here to learn how it works so that one day, we can use this machine to create gigantic metaphorical classrooms of our own. 'Eternity' functions when all eternal laws (ie. physics, marriage, math, agency, etc) are understood and are being used properly. If the user of 'eternity' doesn't perfectly understand or obey the eternal law, then the machine will crash, and the type and violence of the crash depends on the severity and type of law overlooked/disobeyed.

God has provided the classroom with a textbook of instruction, a teachers assistant (prophet), set up a schooling schedule (church) and an open lab/study hall at His house (temple). He has informed us that He is available 24/7 via prayer to answer any questions we may have, but that we do have to trust His teaching methods via something called 'faith.' Because God knew destruction is often part of the learning process, and that mortal beings find it difficult to grasp eternal law, He selected his first born Son as assistant professor, and taught him a way to prevent any permanent damage that may arise from our shortcomings as students.

In the classroom, everybody is at a different point of exploring 'eternity.' There are some students who are really smart and totally seem to understand the lessons being given. They can recite theory with power and conviction, and totally just 'get it.' But their understanding isn't perfect, and often when they are using the machine, it kind of blows up on them. This is not surprising to God because he knows many, if not all others in the room, are probably going to blow up their machines at some point. Christ is in the room, waiting to help them out and get them going again, but some of those really smart kids-- in their pride--decide the problem is with the machines design or a faulty textbook, not themselves or their understanding. Some quit because they either don't think the machine is fixable, or are too embarrassed to admit they need repairs. But there are a few who, though embarrassed and confused, humble themselves enough to ask for help because they are determined to learn how 'eternity' works. The Lord lovingly attends to them, heals any wounds the explosion may have caused, and tries to teach them how to avoid making that same mistake. Then, with a little more instruction...He encourages them to try again.

Meanwhile, there's a student who gave up on 'eternity' before it was even handed out because he wanted the glory of teaching others how to use his own machine. But his machine could not create, and God knew it, so He rejected it. In his bitterness, Lucifer rejected his opportunity to receive his own 'eternity' and convinced several others to do the same. Instead, he decided to spend his time meandering through the classroom, trying to confuse the other students and finding great humor and enjoyment when someone else's 'eternity' blew up. He basks in the destruction the explosion causes and the doubt in 'eternity' it inspires. He goes around creating more doubt by telling people that he totally had eternity working, and it didn't do anything, so it's not worth their time. He exacerbates the insecurities and despair felt by those who struggle, and discourages them from believing they can still figure 'eternity' out.

Realizing that mortal students are easily distracted by their appetites, he also distracts many with indulgences like an 'all you can eat' lunchroom and 'all you can sleep' nap time. There's a spa, a game room, and countless other pleasures available to the students for when they need a study break (after all, God wants his students to have joy, and balance is required for effective learning) and Lucifer encourages the overuse and dependance on those comforts as a way of keeping students out of the classroom.  Distraction quickly becomes one of his most effective tools.

The humble and determined group is the one he has to work the hardest on. The tricks that work so easily on others don't seem to work on them. When they're stumped, they ask questions.  When things explode they just get things repaired. So, he learns a new trick. It's called 99% truth. He starts teaching the students the correct theory, (after all, he is an expert), but changes it just enough as to cause really effective, but slow, corrosive problems. These students start to feel adept, competent, and secure in their habits, but over time, the 'eternity' they thought they understood starts to fall apart. Many lose faith over this, and give up hope of ever figuring 'eternity' out.

The Lord is, of course, there to repair the machine if asked, and more than happy to correct the imperfect truth that was taught, but the work of rooting out that 1% from their habits can be grueling, and requires meticulous determination. That discourages some, and they decide they are incapable of ever succeeding at the task at hand.

Meanwhile, there is another dynamic to this classroom. Every time a machine blows up or breaks down, there's collateral damage. The really big explosions often severely injure those in close proximity. The innocent bystanders, some making great progress on their machines, are startled, injured, or even maimed in the process. For some it may just be a crack in their concentration. For others, it's traumatic, and they find themselves seeking the constant comfort and presence of the Lord in order to continue working at all. Those who react this way, not only enjoy the presence of the Savior, but also find it much easier to ask questions and get instruction with him in such close proximity. They quickly find themselves figuring out 'eternity' much faster than they ever had before, almost grateful that the initial injurious explosion occurred.

Unfortunately, there are also those who, in their suffering or from watching others suffer, blame the Lord for not stopping the explosion from occurring, and rather than be healed or have hope, wear or publicize the injuries as a method of promoting fear and convincing others that they're next. The Lord tries to comfort those students and teach them how they can be healed, but they are not interested. They've decided that this is an unsafe work environment and if anybody desires happiness, then they need to give up on this model of 'eternity' and make their own. They try to use every explosion and injury as an example of how the Lord is not who He says He is. They scream "If He was really all powerful, why wouldn't He protect us?" or "if He truly loved us, He would protect us." He tries to remind them that He would only protect them from eternal death, not temporal damage, but they drown out His voice with their indignation.

Others, discouraged and distraught by the chaos around them, hear the cries, and start to doubt His existence because of all the ill they see. Soon enough, large portions of the classroom stop calling upon Christ and start doing their own thing. There is no method to it, so the same problems of explosions and collateral damage occur. But this time they have no one to blame it on but themselves, so they look around, and decide to blame it on the society they're in. They spend the rest of their earthly time trying to organize and prevent all of the explosions from happening. But without an understanding of 'eternity' all of their well intentioned attempts are futile. They just create new and interesting kinds of explosions that have effects they never could have dreamed of. The Lord waits patiently for them to realize the futility of these efforts, ever ready to repair the increasingly destroyed and mutilated machines. Some of the other students see their efforts, and--feeling like they may be able to help--attempt to introduce others to the textbook. Some are grateful for the clarity and instruction, and others balk at the stringent demands of the laws described. The student tries to show them by deed that the textbook does work, but as with all students, they come up short in understanding, and when their machine explodes during the peer teaching, many take it as another confirmation that the textbook is wrong.

As if all of this doesn't sound complicated and chaotic enough, there's one more thing to keep in mind. The Lord is omniscient. When time and space do not bind perception, one can know who's machine is going to explode, when, and why. With that knowledge, the Lord organizes his classroom.

Bringing this back to my own life and experience with 'eternity.' I do not, and will not doubt that the people in my life have been strategically placed there. I have a solid and strong testimony that the Lord knew which of my peers would be able to teach me the most about 'eternity' at any given time. He also knew which of my peers I might be able to assist most effectively. This is probably where I've felt the most blessed in my life. I may not be the best student, but I feel like I've been blessed with really good peers (yourself included), and while individual members will get stuck on something from time to time, they are all pretty determined, humble, faithful, and in tune with God (both those in our church and out).

One other big thing about these associations: The Lord knew which explosions I would be able to handle, and which would injure me in just the right way as to promote a better, more thorough and memorable understanding. Yes, I do believe that every injury from every indirect explosion (meaning, the consequence of someone else's actions) or mistake is strategically meant to become an opportunity. It's an opportunity to learn something more about 'eternity.' To become more capable than you ever could have managed, having gone unscathed. Whether it's accidentally deleting an entire letter to a friend (yes...this is version #2 and nothing like the first), losing your ability to walk because someone was a careless driver, or enduring sexual abuse from an unstable family member (one of the most damaging explosions if you ask me). Every explosion, of all sizes and shapes, is an opportunity for growth and improvement that extends beyond our previous capabilities. Some will have longer, more involved healing times. But even that process can be a refining one. Long story short, I think we need to accept that the equation below, though popular, is some very bad math.

Injuries = suffering = misery = bad (avoid at all costs)

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to alleviate the suffering of others, or that we should seek out suffering, nor that suffering might somehow turn into a pleasant experience. I do believe suffering is inevitable and awful to endure, but is one of the most effective ways to teach love to selfish beings (and as we know love is a very big and very powerful eternal law). I don't think any human would ever be able to prevent all suffering. I also don't believe any God ever would. I think the reason He does not protect us from one another's explosions is because the open proximity, connection, and communication with your peers is necessary to ever really learn about love. Therefore, it's necessary to ever really learn anything about 'eternity.' I think there's a reason He creates circumstances that can result in suffering, and I believe those circumstances are intelligently designed to put us on the fast track to deeper, more truthful, understandings of 'eternity.' Whether that be a hurricane, an election, or unexpected death, the Lord is wise, and knows how to get the greatest investment out of our choices (good and bad), without interfering with our agency.

And to put our agency in the context of the classroom, the reason He cannot choose for us, is because we are the one's trying to figure out 'eternity,' not Him. While I'm sure He would get a lot of appreciation if He just did it for everyone, He also wouldn't produce very capable students. And I'm pretty sure the whole point of the classroom was to develop the latter.

And this brings me to your last question. The 'true' church. Continuing with the classroom analogy, There’s only one textbook written by the Lord himself, and it’s called the gospel. Just to prevent confusion, the gospel, is not the church, or any church. The gospel is the ultimate embodiment of all truth. It’s a perfectly accurate but infinitely dense textbook, written in the language of the Spirit, and can only be understood and communicated to students by the Spirit. Many students are still struggling to learn the language, and therefore constantly struggle to understand the textbook.

Because of this, the Lord organized a school to help us practice the language, discuss the textbook, learn it’s instructions, and make goals (covenants/promises) to apply those lessons. He’s instructed certain students to write scriptures in their own language that can be utilized as a reference guide, and to this day is providing more reference materials as needed. He’s enlisted a few of his students as teachers assistants to not only write the reference materials, but to also help teach various sections of the classroom. He calls them prophets, and though they are still figuring out how eternity works themselves, the Lord endows them with a power that allows them to help guide the group while teaching what they know thus far.

Other students are called on to lead, support, and serve smaller groups of peers, so that the curriculum can be effectively assimilated across the large classroom. Of course, because these peers are still learning, the Lord encourages all of his students to come to him so he can answer any questions or help clarify any difficult problems. Though filled with imperfect and fallible human beings, the organization continues to improve, and though it’s members still struggle with some rather debilitating aspects of humanity, the school as a whole is still moving forward and teaching/learning more and more truth.

Meanwhile, some people haven't found out about this group yet, and others have just found it easier to understand some of the other peer written books better. I think different churches have different strengths, and that God uses these to teach his immeasurably diverse classroom. Their doctrines emphasize things differently, and because we each have our own learning styles, I don’t doubt that some people will learn truth better in, say, a Baptist church, or perhaps just doing self-study. The great thing is, the Lord knows where each of those individuals are in their understanding and just how much they can learn/teach in each group. The important thing is for us, as individuals, to work and progress in what we find to be true, so that God can direct us toward whatever path teaches us (and others) the most truth.

For instance, I once heard a devout man proclaim that he knew God wanted him to be Jewish. I felt a confirmation that he was right. And likewise, I felt the confirmation that God wanted me to be Mormon. I personally have no doubt that having that kind of relationship with God is going to be more fruitful than joining any particular church for any other reason. This is why people who investigate the LDS faith are told to study it out, pray about it, and decide if they feel like it’s the right place for them to be. Those prayers may not always be in the affirmative, but for many they are. Just like in the case of that Jewish man, I do think certain people are better placed in certain faiths. I’m pretty sure Mother Theresa was put on a Catholic path on purpose, or that C. S. Lewis would be better utilized in an Anglican group (though his writings do unwittingly support/promote a lot of Mormon doctrine). I have no doubt that both of those individuals had (and have) a fantastic understanding of the gospel because they searched, studied, worked, and prayed earnestly for that truth.

When I say the LDS Church is true, I’m not saying other churches are false. I’m saying that the whole purpose of our church is to teach eternal truths. I see the LDS Church as a school organized by God, meant to teach and distribute whatever degree of truth we are ready to learn. Because of our doctrine on personal and continuing revelation, every student is charged to search, ponder, and pray for truth themselves, and then teach it to others. After all, if you learned something about how eternity worked, wouldn’t you want to share it with others? That’s why Mormon’s are so gung-ho about missionary work. Ultimately, more and more truth will come to light as more people work to understand and obey eternal laws. And since all truth is good, the more truth we understand, the better off we are (and the more truth we want to learn).

That progression towards truth is why I choose to attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It constantly encourages the use of these TA’s, reference materials, my own prayers/studies, and ultimately, the textbook. I know the gospel is true, just like I know that I exist, and nobody could ever convince me otherwise. When I say I believe my church to be true, I’m saying it harbors, seeks, and teaches truth, not that it has a monopoly on truth. Rather, there is a lot of truth that can be learned from other sources—including other churches. That’s why members of the LDS Church are taught to learn from “the best books,” (D&C 88:118). That could be the Bible, Locke’s Two Treatises, or the Baghavad Gita—basically, we should be studying books that teach truth and ultimately enhances our understanding of the gospel. God has been revealing the gospel to men since they first lived on Earth, and considering the infinite size of the gospel and therefore truth, I think it would be arrogant and silly to claim any one church has a perfect understanding or claim on it.

Also, because of the different communication styles, I think the more you learn about any religion (basically, the more peer groups you attend), the better you'll understand The Gospel. The more you understand The Gospel, the more you'll be able to teach that understanding in the Church. Just remember, all truth supports and promotes faith. It's a good way to gauge if what you're learning is actually truth, or just that irksome peer trying to cause an explosion. At least, it's a gauge I like to use and have had lots of positive experiences with.

Similarly, I have also found that the more truth you find, the more peace you have. If you haven’t noticed, our modern world is obsessed with fear, controversy, and contradiction. The more truth I learn, the less I find myself troubled by any of those things. As you learn by faith, you start to see how science is not at odds with God, how two seemingly contradictory things can actually be complimentary, or how most religions are essentially saying the same thing, just in a different way. If you ask me, it adds richness to my testimony that God really knows what he’s doing. That no matter how good we are at mucking things up, he’s even better at recycling the muck into purposes that can lead to learning and progression.

So while you’re trying to figure out who God is to you, what path to pursue, or perhaps how you feel about all of this, remember, as your peer, I'm more than happy to help in any way I can. We’re both in school to learn, so the more we learn together, the better off we’ll both be. Life is practice, not a performance. Certain lessons may be disasters and involve some painful experiences, but because I love you, and because I have faith in Jesus Christ, I'm more than happy to endure whatever injuries may be sustained.  I know that we can be healed, hard lessons can be learned, and everlasting joy can be found.

In short, I think 'eternity' is something to be excited and curious about, even if it's burdensome, and I'm psyched to see where my peers are going.  Hopefully, as you examine your current understanding of 'eternity,' this letter will help you figure out where you're getting stumped. I can already tell you, I needed to write this, and have no doubt that you felt impressed to come to me for a reason far beyond any respect you may have for me. I needed to get this written in order to focus my attention on some very vital personal mistakes I've been overlooking in the last week or so. Like I said, He's good...and WAY smarter than me. Thank you for coming to me. Thank you for being brave enough to admit you're struggling and thereby pulling me out of my self absorbed, narrow focus. You've probably just saved me from one BIG explosion that would have been very difficult to recover from. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have no doubt you'll figure this out, and in the meantime, I'll keep praying for you so that Christ stays close.

Much love from your peer, friend, and sister,

Monday, October 29, 2012

R-O-C-K in the USA

I've now been stateside for a few months and have been procrastinating this post for several weeks.  I kept convincing myself I was too busy, or just always found something I'd rather be doing.  But now there's a hurricane at my door and it's not letting me out.  So I guess I might as well get to this.

I suppose I should recap the last few months as best I can.  I arrived in Los Angeles on Aug 21st.  Technically, I landed 9 hours before I left, so now I can check 'time travel' off on my bucket list.  Score.  Right after I landed in LAX, my brother Dan took me out for Mexican food.  Bless him.  I missed it so much.  After stuffing myself with 8 months worth of missed guacamole and and assortment of Mexican entree's, we headed back to Tehachapi where I had the privilege of playing auntie to 4 of the cutest kids under the age of 5 for a little over two weeks.  It was a blast to pal around with them, and I could tell Dan and Kelli appreciated the extra set of hands.  We spent the first week in Tehachapi and I tried to help Kelli out as best I could.  There is no doubt in my mind that parenthood is the single most exhausting and important job one could ever have.  I feel a great reverence when I consider my own desires for children one day.

The second week in Cali, we decided to go for a road trip.  Dan and Kelli had a 1/2 marathon they were going to run up in San Jose, and I offered my babysitting services while they ran.  On the way up, we stopped in Monterrey, where we spent the girls birthday at the Monterrey Bay aquarium and finished the night off with cake and ice cream.  I think this picture conveys everything else I could add to that.

The next day, we headed up north to San Jose.  After dropping Dan and the kids off at the hotel, Kelli and I went grocery shopping.  We were welcomed home by a stealth pillow war.  Dan had recruited all the kids onto his side and proceeded to teach them how to throw pillows from the loft at the innocent spectators below.  It's a good thing Kelli and I know how to put up a good fight.  That evening, I went ballroom dancing at a dance studio nearby.  It was the first time in several months, but after dusting off my heals, I got the feel for it again.  I considered going salsa dancing, but in lieu of the arrival of my buddy Jacob the next day, decided to save that for then.

After Jacob showed up, we talked...for a very long time.  I made dinner for that evening so he kept me company while I cooked.  Then we planned to go dancing, but ended up just talking the entire evening away.  It's amazing to me that I've had the privilege of getting to know such wonderful guys.  Jacob is definitely a gem, and all in all, I think we ended up chatting for about 14 hours that day.  It may have been longer, but exhaustion was caught up to us somewhere around 3am.  He is such a stud, and I'm excited to see what he ends up doing with his life.

On our last full day in San Jose, we decided to hit up the Redwood Forest nearby.  It was a winding, slightly nauseating drive, but absolutely worth it.  We took the kids on a short hike and enjoyed the beautiful weather California always seem to offer.  I tried to get in some family pics for Dan and Kelli, and enjoyed what time I had left with them.  I'm so grateful to have a family that I enjoy spending time with.  Kelli is such an amazing woman, and I love seeing how her and Dan navigate parenthood and marriage together.  It's quite an impressive feat.

The following morning, Kelli and Dan ran their race, and after that we packed up the kids and headed to San Francisco to drop me off in the care of the one and only Ani Nachtajler.  It was a wonderful reunion, long overdue, and after enjoying the talents of a few street performers, I bid Danny and Kelli adieu.  Ani and I caught up over lunch and a quick visit to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory for some nostalgic-laden ice-cream sundaes. 

We headed back to Sacramento that evening and I spent the next two days being a bum at Ani's house.  Mostly, I just enjoyed her pool and running in pleasant California sunshine while she worked.  It was nice to be a bum for a few days.  It wasn't long before we caught a flight out to Salt Lake City though.  Ani was going to visit Paul (her boo), and I was Utah bound for more family fun.  After meeting Paul and catching up with Leandrew in Provo, I headed north to set up shop for the next few weeks with my sister Sarah and her oh so adorable daughter, Shelbi. 

Again, I love playing auntie, and it was a blast to really get to know Shelbi in such an adorable stage of her life.  She's and incredibly good baby, and loves to watch and observe everything around her, so we had a blast together.  It also helped that we were in the company of Drake the German Shepherd...aka best dog ever.  He was always up and ready to play and make Shelbi laugh. 

It was really nice to spend the next several weeks in Utah.  It gave me a chance to catch up with everybody I hadn't seen all year, but also allowed me to transition back into western culture with some degree of familiarity.  I got to kickbox with Tiffany, bake and hike with Olya, go to the circus with Tron and my sister (thanks to an old high-school buddy - you rock Tatton) and even threw a mocktail party while in town.  I felt like I stayed just long enough, because by the time conference weekend was over, I was ready to move out east and start getting settled into my next phase of life. 

But I had one more pit stop on the way.  Kansas.  I only had two days, but I did manage to have dinner with my Grandma G, visit the new Kansas City temple, have a sleepover with my sister Jenni and her six chilluns, and grab dinner with Christy Griffin and her new hubby.  We went to Texas roadhouse and I actually ran into my friend Taran while I was there.  It was a very efficient, though short, trip home.  

Before I knew it, my stuff was all packed up in the Ford Escape my parents rented, and I was driving back east with the craziest, most awesome old man I know - my dad.  :)

We drove from Kansas to Boston through the night, but had some wonderful pit stops along the way.  We stopped in Louiville to visit my old roommate Brigitte.  It's been years since we've been able to catch up, but it felt like no time passed at all.  She's still intelligent, funny, sweet, and drop-dead gorgeous.  She's just finished her masters in elementary education and is teaching at an inner-city school in Louisville.  No doubt, she will be the most amazing and compassionate teacher some of those kids will ever have the privilege of learning from.  No doubt. 

After dinner, my dad and I headed north and drove through the night to catch breakfast with another one of my old roommates Jenny Laub (now Smith), her hubby Jordan, and their new baby.  It was great to get the heads up on their life and plans.  I hadn't really seen either of them since they got married almost 4 years ago, so there was a lot to catch up on.  I don't know if I've said this enough in the past, but it's worth repeating.  I've had some of the most amazing roommates.  And it's safe to say, the trend continues.  After breakfast, Dad and I headed to Boston where I met roommate #74 and #75: Hannabeth Franchino and Anne Gordon. 

Anne is the one who greeted us at the door.  Within about 2 mins I knew I was physically, and figuratively, in the right place.  She had likewise, had the impression that she needed to move out to Boston, and after two people moved in and backed out on the lease with her, she was beginning to wonder if that was still the case.  It's another example to me of just how amazing the Lord is.  I had no idea who this girl was two weeks ago, but almost instantly, I knew we were meant to be great friends.  Within a few days, I can't imagine being room roommates with anyone else out here.  Turns out, she's an old roommate of my cousin Angela and lived with her in my favorite Provo complex - Campus Plaza.  She's such an awesome girl.  She's 29, super spunky and fun, incredibly kind, and very patient with me.  Again, I'm definitely blessed. 

Hannabeth is our other roommate and equally awesome.  She's working at Beth-Israel Hospital in some kind of cardiac research lab and currently applying to medical schools.  She's a beautiful and very funny girl with wicked pie-making skills.  It's a wonder to me she hasn't been snatched up yet. 

It was through Hannabeth that we met our now newly adopted roommate, Annie Johnston.  Annie grew up in Lexington, MA just north here, and is one of the wittiest women I've ever met.  She's been gracious enough to share her knowledge of New England and spent her weekend last week helping us celebrate Anne's 'birthday-reloaded.'  Anne is a big literary buff, so we went to visit Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House and Walden Pond.  Walden Pond was ablaze with colors, and the place does live up to it's reputation.  We spent some time contemplating and discussing Thoreau's work, enjoyed the crisp fall air, hiked around the pond, and laughed while Annie decided to go for a swim in it.  It was a fantastic day.

The next weekend, we all went to a Halloween party in Brookline.  I wore the saree I got in India, Anne went as a 1970's prom queen, Hannabeth went as an owl and Annie went as the baker's daughter (basket of home-baked cookies in tow).  For those Shakespearean nerds, hopefully you'll appreciate that.

The party was at a mansion, converted into an apartment complex that's now shared by a bunch of Mormon ysa's.  Each main room was decked out.  From the creepy circus themed living room, to the mad scientist laboratory kitchen.  The cellar was converted into a dance floor, complete with ICP adorned DJ and black lights.  I was actually really impressed by the DJ, and the floor stayed hoppin' pretty much all night.  After driving home a classy clown, Sherlock Holmes, and a black Abe Lincoln, we called it a night. 

The next day, after sleeping in past noon, the girls started plotting a visit to a nearby castle.  It was built in the early 20th century by an eccentric (aka crazy) millionaire named John Hays Hammond Jr.  Aside from being just and all-around weird dude, he had a fixation with living in the past.  He built the castle, complete with secret passageways, dungeon, and drawbridge, and turned it into his lab, company headquarters, and a museum.  That day was the last day for tours until spring, and since Halloween was Mr. Hammond's favorite holiday, it was decked out for the Haunted Castle tours they do every year.

The tour itself was manned by screaming volunteers in creepy make-up, but wasn't all that frightening.  I don't really like being scared, so I didn't mind.  Annie and Hannabeth were freaking out and screaming the whole way through, and Anne was more fascinated by the art collection than anything.  After the tour, the curator approached us dressed as Hannibal Lector and Anne struck up a conversation with him about her efforts to get into some kind of restoration apprenticeship.  He took quite a liking to Anne and talked to her for almost an hour.  He offered to take us through the castle when it opened up in the spring and show us through all the secret passageways and include all the info they don't provide the general public.  Before we left, he took us inside and let us try on a crown Hammond had bought his wife.  Haha silly as it may be, I did feel like a princess wearing it in the middle of this castle.  I would post pictures of it, but I promised not to put them up online.  Those who come by my apartment will be able to view them.  We just have to get them printed and framed first.

Anyway, it was a great weekend.  Sunday was stake conference and did not disappoint.  There were several very good talks and I'm more and more convinced that there is just a different breed of Mormon out here. I can't quite put my finger on it yet.  I can't say it's better/worse than any other LDS culture I've been exposed to, but it is different.  I'll try to figure out what I mean by that.  In the meantime, hurricane Sandy is well under way, and I'm going to go cook my dinner before we lose power.  

Before I go though, I've decided to list a few things that I appreciate about the United States.  Before I left, I wasn't really sure what 'American culture' consisted of because it seemed to vary so much from region to region.  But I think I've narrowed some things down that, though not exclusive to the US, we do have cause to be grateful for.   So here are the top 10 things I appreciate about America (in no specific order).

1.) Regard for traffic laws - it's nice to see that, even in traffic, people usually stay in a lane
2.) Emissions laws - not breathing in thick black smoke everywhere you go is a plus
3.) Clean streets - I hereby declare the anti-litter campaign in our schools a success
4.) Food safety - eating fresh fruits and veggies without having to worry about later violent digestive repercussions --> priceless
5.) Food, product, and cultural variety - if variety is the spice of life, then the US is the phrik khi nu suan (super hot thai chili) king
6.) Improvement - though it may shoot us in the foot at times, our perfectionistic work ethic has helped us accomplish some impressive feats and probably plays a large part of out overall success
7.) Customer is always right - this philosophy makes our customer service unsurpassed (especially where tips and the restaurant business is concerned).
8.) Cheap internet access - you might not realize just how lucky we are until you see how slow and costly it is elsewhere
9.) Gyms - because who wants to exercise in muggy weather and 100+ temperatures --> genius
10.) Honesty - though there are those who lie, cheat and steal, at least most people value and practice the concept  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

So Long, Farewell, Hasta la Vista, and I'll Be Back

AHHHH MY LAST ENTRY FROM FIJI!!!!  But before I start bawling and getting all gushy about my time here...I'll recap the last week from where I left off.

Meet Curtis.  He was the guy I mentioned who asked me out for Monday.  Good was fun to get to know him.  Wish I had a picture of him smiling (great smile) but he's kinda quiet/shy and it's almost impossible to get him to smile big without me in the picture with him.  I was really impressed by just how good of a man Curtis is.  He's incredibly respectful and kind, and it was nice to be somewhat adored by him.  We went out to lunch Monday and actually met up again later that evening to watch The Bourne Legacy after I taught some of the youth how to square-dance.  The movie wasn't as impressive as the company, but still enjoyable nonetheless.  I'm happy I've had the chance to spend some time with this guy.  He's a total stud.

On Tuesday night I packed up to head to Suva again.  I had one last meeting with the guys at World Health and was able to plant the seed of possibly coming back with them next summer.  That evening, we went to a massive multi-school talent show called Tadra Kahani.  Basically, each school comes up with a drama/dance routine with themes and costumes and compete with one another for various prizes.  Many of the schools had a crazy amount of talent and creativity.  I just love watching Fijians dance.  They're so good and have so much fun doing it.  It was a lot of fun.  Well, except for this violent chest cold that took hold during the event that made me feel like someone had thrown my body into a lawn mower.  By the time I got home all I could think of was sleep and mucus. (yum....).   The whole next day I spent in bed.  I guess it was good because it gave me the chance to apply for jobs and post pictures on facebook, but I can't say getting sick my last week in Fiji has been fun.

Saturday I was feeling a bit better, and even caught one last session at the temple before going to give my last nutrition lecture of the summer.  It was for a Relief Society activity for one of the Suva wards, and the meeting went really well.  The women were attentive, curious, and quite funny.  We had a good discussion about basic nutrition, chronic disease, and exercise, as well as how to read nutrition labels.  Afterward, the RS president made me some yummy Australian-style sandwiches and took me to the bus station to head back to Lautoka.

While heading back, Ross (one of my local friends) told me it was his birthday and my last Saturday, so we were going dancing that night.  After not sleeping well for 3 days, being sick, lecturing, and then being crammed in a van for 4 hours, I wasn't exactly feeling it, but I'm a sucker for birthdays so I went.  When I arrived at the club (went directly there from the bus station), they weren't there.  I thought about grabbing food, but when I called him he did what every Fijian does, "we'll be there in 10 minutes."  So I waited, but 40 minutes and a few aggressive Indo-fijians later, I was ready to call it quits.  I was hungry, tired, and annoyed.  Right as I'm walking out of the club, they arrive and drag me back in.  I had no energy for it, but it was so much fun dancing with Ross, Ben, and Kula, I'm glad they did.  I'll miss how much enthusiasm they have when they dance.  It's an awesome group.

Even though they kept me out until almost 2am, I somehow managed to get up early and prepare my last lesson for my last day in church.  I ended up teaching the youth about the 2000 stripling warriors and had a lot of fun with an object lesson I made up about how covenants are like our conscious commitment to achieve happiness.  It was a good time, and I really just love teaching - in all it's varieties.  It makes me excited to get to work on this PhD business.

After sacrament meeting, the congregation sang me a goodbye and my face felt like it was going to break from smiling so big.  I just love Fijians, and I've loved the chance to get to know so many wonderful people.  It took about two hours to say goodbye to everyone (fiji time...) and get pictures with all the kids who wouldn't let go of me.  It was tough to say goodbye, but I really am hoping for some opportunity to return next summer.  Something tells me I'm not completely done here. 

Agh...I just can't believe my time now is up.  I can't believe it's been 8 months since I left home.  Now, I leave Fiji tomorrow and all I can think about is how weird it will be to be stateside once more.  The emotions are bittersweet.  I've learned so much on this trip, (far more than I would have ever been capable of fitting in this blog), and I'm nervous about what the next few months will hold.  In a way I feel like I've been cruising along a coastal highway, with lots of ups, downs, twists, and turns, but now the road has ended, and I'm not exactly sure which exit to take.

But I guess that's just the nature of life.  I do have a rough idea about where I'll be and what I'll be doing for the next couple months, but now my choices now seem to hold more consequences.  I can sense the stress of functioning in America once more, and it looms ahead of me, almost taunting me.  As if to say, "Ok, so you think you're something huh?  Prove it."  Now it's time to utilize all the things I've learned and put my life in gear.  Now it's time to reassess my desires, my plans, and my goals.  I've been in "do" mode for so long, it will probably take some major effort to transition back into "think/feel."

I guess I'm not terribly worried though.  Last week while enjoying my solitude at Natadola, a phrase kept tickling the back of my mind.  "Come what may.  I know in Whom I trust."  Whenever I feel the apprehension and anxiety that rises up from the unknown path ahead, I keep thinking back to that.  If this trip has taught me anything, it's how to have faith that all things can/will work together for good.  I know God loves all of His children and that includes me.  I know that He has the ability and desire to make me and my life more fulfilling and happy than I could ever imagine.  That is why I trust Him.  That is why I can let go of the safety net of plans/control and submit myself to whatever life bring.  Sure I still have goals, and of course I'll do what I can to pursue them.  But there is nothing I feel more attached to than the desire to be happy, to love God, and to love others.  Whatever way I can best accomplish those things, is exactly what I hope to do.

So lead kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom.  Lead thou me on....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sun, surf, and school-girl crushes

I thought he was a tool.  Granted, an attractive tool, but a tool nonetheless.  Admittedly, my intentions towards him were less than admirable.  After all, tools are meant to be used right?  Then, in the process of accomplishing my objectives, I went and did something very stupid.  I kinda fell for him.

The moment he cracked my impenetrable shell is a little hard to pinpoint.  It was somewhere between realizing how incredibly goofy he was and this point where he probably saved the life of one of our more special volunteers (yeah, I'm definitely a sucker for the white-knight types).  I no longer wanted to use him, but rather, just observe him.  Cheesy as it is, I wanted to understand who and what he was because he did something that few people have.  He surprised me.  Unfortunately, the more I saw, the more I liked what I saw.  The more I talked to him, the more I wanted to keep talking to him.  Haha, this of course lead to him throwing me headlong into the friend-zone.  Ugh...such is the nature of my love life.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I suppose I should catch everybody up before bearing all.

The weekend after my last entry, there was a huge YSA dance party in Lautoka.  I was actually really tired and didn't feel much like dancing (shock, I know), but I went to get some material needed for another project where we are making a music video for Azonto (very popular song here in Fiji).  We've been getting different shots of people dancing to it with us across the island, and the plan is to put it all together the last week.  I made up a quick dance and went to the party that night with the intention to teach, shoot, and bail.  In the process, I was asked to dance a few times, and apparently caught the eye of one of the strangest creatures I've ever seen.

I don't mean to be disrespectful by calling him strange, or a creature for that matter.  But I've never seen anything or anyone like him (or her?).  He had the skin of a freckled Irish lad, the hair of a black beauty shop bleaching addict, the body and demeanor of a 16 year old girl, and the face of a Fijian brute.  When he approached me to ask me to dance, I gladly accepted, but had to stop myself from staring.  It was my very first dance with an albino transvestite.  It took me about 2 minutes of dancing with him to determine that it was, in fact, a guy and that the bra he was wearing was definitely not weight-bearing.  His skin was such an interesting combination of Caucasian coloring with Polynesian undertones and texture.  He was a fantastic dancer, and would just drop into a full split any time he pleased.  I couldn't stop watching him.  It was all too interesting.  I watched how he interacted with the others at the dance.  Some of the guys were a little sheepish and shy around him, but he definitely had a large group of buddies who had long ago accepted him as one of their own.  It was neat to see them interact and have fun together.  It was neat to see how most of the other members in the dance were so ready to get to know him and enjoy his company.  The whole of the experience was just...neat.

I talked to my Relief Society president the next day.  I asked her if transgendered individuals were pretty well accepted in Fijian society.  I'd seen several while traveling around, but never interacting with others, and given Fiji's very religious and conservative culture, I've often wondered about that.  She said that yes, of course, they were all very well accepted.  They called them 'shims', and she mentioned that many are even active in government and other high offices.  She said everybody just recognizes that it's their personal choice to live their life that way, and it's not our place to judge them, just love them.  I couldn't agree more.

The following weekend, we went back to Natadola beach.  It still stands as the prettiest beach I've been to, and my favorite thus far.  Much to my dismay, it rained all day.  That didn't stop me from wandering all over the beach and singing at the top of my lungs in the more remote parts.  That alone, would have made the trip worthwhile, but in the evening we were graced with a gorgeous sunset...and these awesome firedancers.   It was quite the treat.

After that weekend, my work in Fiji came almost to a standstill.  Not because I wanted it to, but because we were wrapping most things up with our partners.  I still had a few more to work on, but the main guy I was working with happened to be out of the country and therefore contact.  It was frustrating to say the least.  But I tried to work on the media advertising book Dr. Tukana asked me to create and schedule just a few more nutrition lectures.  Eventually, the work just got to be too slow, so I decided to finally use the vacation days I'd been saving up all summer, and head to the beach for a few days with the few remaining volunteers we had left.

It was a great trip.  We went to The Beach House backpackers resort.  It's a small but fun place, and the setting of my aforementioned predicament.  The first day, it rained (apparently Fiji is getting an abnormal amount of rain this year), and was so cold, I stayed indoors and just chatted with the other backpackers.  We got to know some really neat personalities, including this girl named Maddie from Australia.  She's probably one of the coolest girls I've ever met.  She came to Fiji for an internship doing some ecology work with the reefs, but is ending her trip just surfing all the wicked waves the coral coast has to offer.  She's also done several marathons and even a Tough Mudder event.  I had so much respect and admiration for this woman.

We also met a man named Luke who apparently has been ALL over the world.  He does some kind of work with hospital consultant work, and that has been the avenue that facilitated most of his travel.  He was a really interesting guy and a lot of fun to interrogate for several hours.  Somehow amidst those questions, we happened upon the subject of shark attacks and ended the evening looking up you-tube videos on them.  I didn't think much of it, until the next day when we all went out snorkeling in the open ocean.

It was kind of a crazy awesome trip.  We met up in the morning and a few of the surfers mentioned going to this sweet place over an hour off the coast where there's a huge coral reef in the middle of open ocean that creates some great surfing waves.  In total there were 9 of us that went.  4 surfers and 5 snorkelers.  The snorkelers consisted of me, Allen, Katherine, Bekah, and a traveling opera singer named Kent.  It was a rough but beautiful boat ride, and we got to see dolphins a few times that day.

This was the trip that lead to my school-girl mean crush.  His name is Tyler, and happened to be sitting next to me on the way out to the reef.  It's where I started actually talking to him and seeing what an adorable goof he was.  Besides protecting me from the water trying to find it's way on board, he also kept me entertained most of the way out.  It made for a fun trip and I repented of my former tool judgement.  When we reached the reef, the snorkelers decided to watch the surfers show their stuff.  Allen swam too close to the breaks while snorkeling and started getting caught up in them.  I was terrified.  He was too far away and in too dangerous of a situation for me to be able to do anything of use.  I could tell he was struggling but had no clue how to help.  That's about the time I saw Tyler swim out with his board and get him.  I've never felt so grateful to a stranger in my whole life.  The tiny fissure made in my shell was cracked wide open, and the crush took root.

The ride home was a rough one.  Not only did a storm come in and create incredibly cold and uncomfortable conditions for all on board, but I was starting to experience something I hadn't in a long inner turmoil.  Part of it was just from the fact that I was acknowledging the new crack in my shell, part of it was from wondering what to do about that crack, and part of it was from having to watch the subject of my crush put his arm around Katherine the whole way home.  It didn't help either that I thought it was incredibly sweet of him to do so, especially considering how cold she was.  I didn't think ill of either of them for it, I just didn't enjoy having to watch it.  Haha like I said...inner turmoil. 

That night, in an effort to snuff out the crazy I felt, I decided to utilize the one thing that usually dissuades my interest in guys - haha getting to know them.  I talked to him quite a bit that night.  Unfortunately, the more I talked to him, the more I wanted to keep talking to him.  I loved his crooked grin and playful sense of humor, and I experienced this rush every time I could get him to smile.  By the end of the night I knew I was in trouble.'s just so rare that I find that lethal combination of intelligence, masculinity, awareness, kindness, and general curiosity.  It made me think back to some conversations I had with my little brother about what kind of guy he saw me fitting with (or at least the kind he wanted me to fit with lol), and for the first time, I saw it too.

The next day, I was lucky enough to spend the day away from him.  I did learn to surf, and the experience was so dramatically fun and enjoyable, I kind of forgot about everything else.  I definitely want to do it more often and maybe attain some degree of skill.  I can't believe I've waited this long to try it out.  Perhaps I'm jumping the gun on this, but I'm thinking about planning a trip to Costa Rica next summer specifically to just do two things - learn Spanish, and surf.  I've actually been thinking about learning Spanish for the past few years (since every one I know seems to speak it already), but after all the traveling I've done this year, it just feels like the right time to buckle down and do it. 

Anyways, surf lessons only lasted till low tide, and then it was back to reality.  A few of us (Tyler included) went to the local village that night for dinner.  I, of course, love visiting Fijian villages.  This village was no exception.  They played music, served kava, and fed us dinner.  It was my first time trying kava, and it was as gross as people told me it would be.  It made my tongue a little numb, but mostly, it just made me sleepy for a bit.  I probably would have ended up taking a nap right there if it wasn't for the villagers playing "Azonto" every 30 mins or so, demanding that me and Bekah dance to it every time.  We obliged, but they definitely weren't the most enthusiastic of our performances.  I can see why drinking kava and eating every evening is causing some problems with obesity in these villages.  Whether it's with a television or a plant induced trance, the combination of food and inactivity seems to have the same effect.

After bidding "Moce!" to the village, we headed back to the resort and I tried to wash the kava out of me with a nice hot shower.  It worked well enough, and I even had the energy to dry my hair after (for the first time in probably a week...).  The rest of the evening, we just sat around and chatted about life.  Somehow Tyler convinced me to give him a massage that night (lets face it, I didn't need much convincing), and I found myself in another very difficult situation.

Don't get me wrong, there wasn't anything inappropriate about any of it.  We set up a mattress on the floor of our dormitory where I worked on him as Bekah and Katherine asked him questions.  Besides further endearing himself to me, the worst question of the night was by far "What do you look for in a guy/girl."  The last thing I wanted to do was openly admit that this guy that had no interest in me was the kind of guy I look for.  I just felt so awkward.  Before long, Bekah fell asleep, and Tyler continued making me laugh for the next hour or so.  I got to ask him a little more about himself, which again, didn't help, but here's the shocker...he actually asked me questions about me.  I actually felt resistant at first because it was such a new experience for me.  I've had guys propose marriage to me that haven't even bothered to do that.  Curse him..   

Though it was somewhat difficult to be working on someone I was now so attracted to and had no shot with, the worst thing part of all was how much I found myself craving just a hug from him.  I know I'm a snuggle-addict by nature, but the few hugs I got from him were so safe and warm, I couldn't help but feel at home there.  Luckily, he fell asleep while I was working on him, and so the opportunity never presented itself.  Had it, I probably would have made a total fool of myself. 

From that point on, it was hard to mask the awkwardness my crush caused me to feel.  I felt torn between wanting to be around him and never wanting to see him again.  Normally I'm not that dichotomous (or unstable - whatever you wanna call it).  He just made it pretty clear that he wasn't interested in anything other than getting to know me better - which of course just caused my crush to worsen.  The next day I felt kind of cranky and out of sorts because of it.  I found it difficult to relax unless I ignored his presence entirely.  So even though I ended up going to a local surf competition with him, I didn't talk to him much the whole time.  He really didn't approach me either, which only further confirmed that I had assessed his interest correctly.  At least until one of the Fijian contestants decided to strike up a friendly conversation with me.

I tried to keep up conversing with both of them for a while, but of course, Tyler won out.  I just liked talking to him too much.  That particular moment on the beach with him will probably always be one of my favorite.  Ugh...crushes suck.  But how could I not fall for this face?

On the brighter side, I do know it'll pass.  I don't know him well enough for it not to.  I guess I should be grateful that at least this crush is on someone I'll probably never see again, rather than my best friend.  That, at least, is an improvement.  But, my gut still aches, and for some crazy reason, I still kind of miss him.  Who knew my first crush in five years would be a 24 year old surfer from California.  Who knew I would feel just as silly and awkward at 26 as I did at 16.  *sigh* oh well.  I guess its just good that I only have a little over a week left in Fiji.  Haha and I suppose it's also incredibly convenient that the cousin of my friend Kula has asked me out for this week.

Yup, that's right...I got asked out on a REAL date. lol  His name is Curtis, and I'll be sure to report on how that date goes.  Though I may still be a little preoccupied, I am excited for it, and I think it will help with the preoccupation.  He's a really nice guy.  He currently works as a bouncer and is very protective of me when I go clubbing (haha something I like because it's sometimes necessary due to the nature of some Indo-Fijian men).  Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he is also one of the most stunningly handsome and perfectly cut men I've ever seen.  I'll try to post a picture next week just so you can appreciate his beauty with me.  It may not be enough to make me like him, but I can't say I'll mind spending a little time just looking at him.  Mostly, I'm just hoping I'll be able to understand him, and I really hope the conversation will be easy/enjoyable.  That should be enough to distract me until I make it home.  I can't believe I just have one more week left....Yikes!

Until then...Moce! I love you all and can't wait to see you in a few weeks!

Oh, and Happy Birthday this week to my ever-gorgeous sister Jenni.  You still don't look a day over 25 and you never will.  ;)   

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to Love

“Love, too, has to be learned.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

Maybe it seems like something we humans should understand innately, but from my observations, it’s not something we do very naturally.  Humans are selfish creatures, fixated on our own survival and success.  To expect an end that differs from this course without guidance is perhaps foolishly optimistic if not naive.  Like expecting a baby to change its own diaper, I'm sure it’s possible, but without loads of instruction and practice, it’s highly unlikely.

So how then? How do we teach a concept/principle that none of us have managed yet to master? Without strong examples and years of practice, how do we know if we are even executing that principle correctly? And even if we have mastered the theory, how do we plant and foster an understanding of its importance and potential within ourselves?  How do we continually practice the love we desire to attain and harbor in our relationships?

A few years ago, I found myself pondering those questions. I knew when I felt love for my fellowmen, but I didn’t always know how to create feelings of love if there wasn't already mutual affection.  Similarly, there were many times I wanted to reach out in charity to others, but didn't feel like I had energy or conviction to bring those desires into fruition.  Perhaps more often than not though,  I struggled feeling love towards those for whom I did not already foster a natural affection. I struggled greatly with the idea of ‘loving mine enemies,’ or even just people that often annoyed or inconvenienced me.  I could tell myself and others that I was trying to love them, but every time they did anything that frustrated or infuriated me, I knew I was failing at it completely.

So I did what I always do when stumped, I took these questions to the Lord.  I wanted to know how He expected me to live out a commandment that didn't appear to come with an instruction manual.  How do you love your enemies?  When I did good to those who hated me, I more often felt smug than I did peaceful or loving.  When I prayed for those who I felt had used or mistreated me, I felt self-righteous and even proud of myself for ‘doing the right thing,’ but rarely felt compassion or selflessness as a result.  I knew something wasn't right.  I knew that feeling sanctimonious is not feeling love.  I knew love was more stable and consistent than the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing with those persons.  I was going through the motions of christian love, but I wasn't feeling actual love, and I wanted to know what I was doing wrong.

So I asked the Lord how we are supposed to love those that we just do not feel love for.  How do we create charity in an environment of mutual contempt or annoyance?  How do we make our hearts vulnerable enough to feel love in situations where we do not feel emotionally capable of it?  How do we love our fellowmen during those times that we just don’t want to?  How do I build love with those not willing or able to build it with me?  What is the process of creating real, charitable, Christlike love?

I remember exactly where I was when the answer to these questions was addressed. It was a pretty typical Sunday afternoon and I was sitting in an YSA Sunday school class discussing the New Testament. The teacher was one of my favorites, probably because he never shied away from discussing really deep and difficult applications of different gospel topics, but I remember feeling annoyed and a little vengeful due to some recent events, and that had put a damper on my desires to truly love mine enemies.

Without getting into too much detail, most of my annoyance was directed toward a woman who held an unfounded grudge against me, and was using her position to punish me.  I was frustrated by her selfishness in the matter and annoyed by the piety she hid her selfishness behind.  But here we were in class, discussing the importance of loving others, doing good to those that hate you, and praying for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.  I thought about trying to love this woman, and just felt complete revulsion at the idea.  I didn’t want to love her, I wanted to crush her.  I wanted to expose her and humiliate her in front of those she cared most about.  I wanted to make her feel and recognize just how wrong she was for what she did, and then sucker-punch her with her own insecurities just for my own gratification.

But there I was, getting lectured on the importance of loving others. I remember thinking, “How? Where in the world do I even start?  Cuz my current plan sounds easier, if not more appealing.” Well, if the Lord has a knack for one thing, it’s timing. Right as I was asking this question, the teacher had us read, as a class, 2 Peter 1:4-7.

“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”

While these scriptures were being read, I felt the distinctly, the spirit bring to my mind the words from 2 Nephi “I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept.”  Like a chemical reaction that finally receives its activation energy, the light turned on and I finally saw my answer.  There, in that passage in 2 Peter, was the answer to all of my questions, it was just being given in the format of ‘line upon line.’  I probably read those verses 10 times that afternoon.  I read it and kept rereading it, like I would a textbook, trying to understand how this formula for love actually works.

I mapped out the verses, used a dictionary to better understand the terminology, and then tried to figure out how I would use these steps to build the love I sought to feel. Here’s what I found.
Step 1: Faith.

Before feeling love for any individual, a degree of faith is required. You may not need much, but without faith, the whole purpose and motivation to love others becomes elusive, if not unattainable.  What kind of faith?  Well, I think that depends on who and where you are.  For me, it starts with faith that human beings deserve respect and love.  Somehow, I have to remember the divine nature and potential of all God’s children in order to put in the work requisite to loving them.  If I can remember that the person spitting in my face is a beloved child of God, it becomes a lot easier to see past the spitting.  If I can remember that I am a child of God and that He desires me to be happy and love others, it becomes easier to look at the spitting with a better, more eternal, perspective.  The way I see it, faith is required for us to know that the work of trying to love someone is work worth doing.  It's why we choose to sow the seed of love.  Because if you don't believe that the seed will grow or eventually result in something good, why bother even planting the seed?  Why put in all the work required to help it grow?

Step 2: Virtue

Virtue, not a popular word these days, was a difficult one for me to wrap my head around.  Most people think of virtue as moral purity, usually in reference to chastity.  But virtue and even moral purity, goes far beyond a chaste lifestyle.  Virtue is goodness, integrity, honesty, and every other word that can be used to describe good character.  It’s not just about avoiding the fickle winds of wickedness, it’s about creating the type of character too rooted in truth for those winds to ever have power.  It's being completely in tune with and loyal to your own conscience and values.  It's avoiding things like rationalization, justifications, and other tricks we use to quiet the nagging voice that dictates to each of us what is right and wrong.  It’s doing something because you innately know it’s what you should do, not because it will offer you any immediate or even long term advantage.

It's acting according to our conscience, which to me, translates into acting according to Gods will.  When we act out of the desire to do Gods will before our own, we introduce a crucial element required to love others - namely, humility.  If anybody has ever sacrificed something they wanted for something they knew to be right, they can testify to the degree of humility that requires.  But I think that in that submission, we create a place and environment for the seed of love to take root.

Step 3: Knowledge

Ok, so this was my favorite step to study.  Not just because I’ve always been obsessed with the concept of knowledge, but because it’s the step that I find most effective when trying to learn how to love another human being.  For me, gaining knowledge of someone else’s perspective, insights, and even background always seems to make it easier to love them.  It stands as good foundation for greater tolerance and compassion.

Like an arborist learning about what different trees need to grow, it makes it easier to accept and navigate the idiosyncrasies, the frustrations, and even the offences that so often obstruct the process of loving one another.  But even beyond gaining knowledge of that other human being, I think a different type of knowledge is required.  Along with knowing what that tree specifically needs to flourish, you need to have a basic understanding truth (ie that the seed will become a tree, that the tree will require care, etc).  Likewise, faith in one another’s potential to become like God and a knowledge of things as they really are (ie: that all men are imperfect, that all men need love and have agency, that God loves His children, etc), is a great tool to building a foundation of love with another human being.

Step 4: Temperance

Temperance seems to be another unpopular word these days.  I think that this is because over the years, people have used temperance as a means of judging and chastising others, rather than a method of learning to love them better.  So often, I’ve heard people degrade and look down on others for their various unchecked appetites and vices.  They belittle and exclude them for not practicing temperance, and in the process manage to miss the whole point of practicing temperance in the first place.  Just to be clear on this, because I don’t think we address this often enough, the whole point of the Word of Wisdom and every law of sacrifice is meant to help us love one another better.  Remember that pesky addendum to Christ's first two commandments?  "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."  Temperance is the principle given to help us govern selfish appetites because being governed by appetite and selfishness obstructs our ability and capacity to love others.  Judging and excusing yourself from loving others because they lack temperance is just moronic and acts completely against temperance's intended purpose.  You'd be better off loving them and lacking temperance.

The way I see it, temperance is the principle taught to help us overcome selfishness.  It's the method by which we overcome appetite and it's tendency to obstruct clarity of thought/conscience.  As I mentioned before, that clarity of conscience is necessary for virtue to ever be achieved, so virtue and temperance are very closely linked. Basically, temperance is the practice of balancing the pH of the soil we are planting in.  While this definitely includes any mind-altering or addictive substances/habits, its definitely not limited to those things.  Temperance, in the form of balanced self control, is constantly required in all aspects of our lives in order to foster love with others.  It's the bridle that helps us control our appetites and passions, rather than be controlled by them.  It's what helps us remember what we want most, so that we don't sacrifice those desires for what we want in any given moment. 

Whether it's meth, gambling, or pornography, anybody dealing with someone under the influence of addiction can testify to their limited capacity to create and nurture loving bonds.  As willing as they may be to love and sacrifice for another, the moment their addiction wields its ugly head, that willingness often fades, the root is ripped up, and the bonds of love are damaged.  While that may be an extreme example of where temperance is needed, it still holds under less extreme circumstances.  Whether it’s substance abuse, a tempting distraction, or an unhealthy lifestyle, we need temperance if we ever hope to break free of our appetite driven life styles and learn to love others and respect ourselves.  It takes discipline to weed out the choking tendencies of negligence and excess, and foster the consistently nourishing environment necessary for our relationships to grow.

Step 5: Patience

I would like to dedicate this entire step to Olya Polazhynets (now Goodrick I guess - weird).  She has been the single greatest example to me of what patience is and how I can learn to have more of it.  It may be one of her natural talents, but watching her exercise and utilize that gift has inspired me multiple times over.  More than anything, I've always been so impressed by her patience with me.  I am and always have been a person who does things in my own time.  She knows this about me, and I've seen how patiently she has loved and waited for me to understand all those things she knows already.  There have been countless conversations where she knew I was wrong about something, but didn't push or force her greater understanding upon me.  She introduced the idea, accepted me and my ignorance, and waited for the Lord to teach me otherwise.  Some of these took longer than others, but without fail, she patiently dealt with me (and my ignorance) in the meantime.

Because of her patience with me, I could never feel resentful or upset by the fact that she knows so much more than myself.  Likewise, when we are trying to love others, we need to practice patience and accept that everybody takes their own path and grows at their own pace, including ourselves.  Expecting anything out of anyone is dangerous enough in the foundation of love, expecting things on and in your time frame is downright destructive.  Have faith that the Lord can teach, change, and correct His children more effectively than you ever will.  Be patient as He works on them, and in the meantime, continue to nurture that tree.  Continue in those practices with patience, until the root of that love takes hold and eventually starts to blossom.

Step 6: Godliness (Reverence)

This step took a little more scripture searching to understand.  Maybe I can chalk it up to poor translation, but I guess the term godliness, when translated from Greek, actually refers to reverence and/or respect.  While the degree of respect may vary according to the depth of the relationship, I do see the vital role it plays in learning to love one another.  If you couldn't tell from the last paragraph, I've been blessed with friendships with people that easily evoke that kind reverence/respect from me.  I have copious amounts of this kind of respect with many of my friends, and I'm pretty sure the feeling is often mutual.  None of us are perfect, but even amidst our imperfections, we see one another's strengths, and we both feel a kind of admiration that inspires devotion, even amidst difficult circumstances.

That respect motivates us to always do and give of our best to one another.  It promotes a sense of safety, allowing us to reveal our most tender and sensitive portions of our psyche and spirit, because we trust one another with those vulnerabilities.  To me, respect is the trunk that supports and gives us access to the delicate but beautiful blossoms of love.  It's a quality that facilitates trust, resilience, and sustainability.  It's a quality that carries nutrients and helps those blossoms of brotherly kindness (spoiler alert) perpetually bloom.

Step 7: Brotherly Kindness (benevolence, compassion, kindness)

Though I do not wish to understate the importance of brotherly kindness, I do want to point out that brotherly kindness without the other steps to support it is not enough to create love.  For instance, benevolence without knowledge is often crippling, and compassion without respect is just pity.  Like a bud picked off of a tree, it's impotent, and unable to perpetuate.  We should always practice compassion and kindness with our fellowmen, but it needs to be rooted in faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, and respect if we expect it to be rooted and have any lasting impact or withstand any kind of trial.  Benevolence is a beautiful, moving, and inspiring thing, and I think that's exactly what it's meant to be.  After all, it is the figurative blossom in the tree of love that often eventually bears the fruit/seeds of love.  Seeing others act in benevolence, compassion, and kindness often instills in us the desire to do the same.  Just like seeing or enjoying the flowers of another's garden, it creates in us a desire to create those blossoms ourselves.

That's a good thing, but we need to remember that wanting to create that garden is just a small part in the law of the harvest.  Brotherly kindness is the goal/consequence of planting that tree, not the method by which it gets planted.  If we desire to create those blossoms, we need to be sowing, working on, and developing those other principles.  That way, as those blossoms mature, brotherly kindness allows us to eventually reap the wholesome, fulfilling, and nourishing fruit of charity.

Step 8: Charity

Wrapping up the tree analogy, I see charity as the fruit of love, and therefore, the food of love.  It's the fruit from the figurative tree of life, and the food that fuels us to work and plant more trees.  It's the element required for any and all creation as well as salvation.  Charity is the ultimate goal and purpose of existing on this earth.  Charity is the power behind everything good in the world.  Charity is the pure love of Christ and God..  It is "...the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship." (Wirthlin)  Having charity is to love as God loves, to exist as God exists.  Without it, we profiteth nothing.  Without it, we are nothing.  Whatever we think, desire, and do in this life, it should be with an eye single to creating charity.  That's the key to happiness, peace, and fulfillment, both in this life and the next.  It's the fruit that makes planting possible, and the nourishment that sustains eternal happiness.  Without exception, 'charity never faileth'.  We just need to learn how to stop failing at charity.