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 news...it 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 demise...er...I 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 time...lol 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.  Ugh...it'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.