Thursday, April 26, 2012

Words from Ashley Mae on believing

I just ran across the most lovely post from a wonderful lady named Ashley, who I've only met once. I've mostly come to admire her through stories like this one.

I'm sure you'll admire her too. I'll invite you to read it by clicking on this link here. Then you can finish reading my thoughts here, which are less profound than hers.

Did you read it? Good. Now, I'll say a few mediocre things.

I too have never really liked stories about people praying and finding things they lost. I hated them because prayer never worked that way for me. Then one day, Heavenly Father taught me a powerful experience about why it wasn't working. It was because every time I lost something, I said a prayer like this: "I know I was stupid for losing it. I know you have many other things to do, and I should have just kept track of it." I put all this guilt on myself and didn't really believe God loved me enough to help me find things that are important to me.

When I did realize that, He answered. He answered immediately, with just the kind of dramatic finding that I heard about in other people's stories. He was just waiting for me to ask in faith.

My favorite quote from Ashley's post is this: "I can't quite pinpoint what it is, but lately I've been more of a skeptic than a believer.  I've carried around the weight of unanswered questions.  I've felt the burrowing burden of question in my own beliefs.  I do feel the process is important, and even healthy, but I also am learning that there is a time to stop and simply believe, because sometimes that is the thing that saves us, that brings us back to who we are supposed to be."

I've been searching for a lot of answers lately. I've been finding them, and this process has been beautiful. But I'm discovering that there are still some key things I do not know. In thinking of one in particular, I thought I had to know that to believe it. But that's backward. It's okay to believe in things that I do not yet have a knowledge of. God will help me find it. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The day graduation happened to me

According to all ceremonial purposes, I have graduated. I've done the whole walking thing, and after one more class, I've have a real diploma to cover up the "example" one they put in my cover.

I've had some really rough and dark days in the five years I've been at BYU. I've had some really incredible days too. Looking back, it seems that every moment has been a little bit of both. Of all the let downs and breakdowns, I'll be honest in saying that there have been some times over the past two days of graduation that could actually rank pretty high in the list of most harrowing and emotionally trying moments at BYU.

That being said, here are some of the brightest spots and tender mercies:
  • Discovering that the Graham Canyon ice cream at the creamery now has amazingly tasty streaks of graham crackers in it.
  • Aneka and I talking about how degrees are still not going to cut it for what we want in life.
  • The little red haired girl at the creamery who thinks her dad is weird for not liking dipping sauces and who confirmed to Aneka and me and that yes, we'd rather be moms. She gave me the most excited and sincere congratulations I heard all day—except for Brit's surprised, "You graduated!" and the excited but deep and reverent congratulations of my family.
  • The little girl's mother who doesn't think her husband is weird and has a cool purse hook and who keeps track of the little girl who probably has more energy and love than anyone ever. I'd like to be like her.
  • The graduate whose cap said, "Daughter #12" on the top. I have no idea what her parents have done and sacrificed to bring twelve daughters (and who knows how many sons) through college. I want to know though so I can do the same.
  • The flowers my mom gave me, which were in my favorite color scheme ever—dusty blues, pale yellows, and toned down primrose—with the perfectly hued spider mum and the biggest rose I've ever held.
  • My brother saying "I love you" before I said it to him.
  • Finally making it to Bombay House and having my family actually like it.
  • Seeing my mom's smile after the ceremony.
  • My dad being really excited to receive my stole/sash thingy for his garage.
  • My family attentively listening to and genuinely laughing at the story I shared.
  • Drinking my first Calypso lemonade with my brother in the 7-11 lot.
  • Having my grandpa with us at our two family outings.
  • The moment when commencement didn't last for two hours.
  • Three lovely convocation talks.
  • Seeing Sarah Smith, Sara D., Alysa, Megan J., Talia, Christine G., Lori, John Bennion, Kent, Tom, and the man who looks like Ron Weasley in completely unexpected places. These were the kinds of divine meetings only the highest of powers could have orchestrated for me.
  • Shaking hands with the man who looks just like Ron Weasley. He wasn't super thrilled to be meeting me, but he should have been. 
  • Jenny and I both getting a balloon in the hole above the pendulum in the ESC. This long standing tradition for physics graduates is a tough challenge. We both rocked it—together.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

For the friend whose chemistry final didn't go so well

On Wednesday, I took the last testing center-esque (I actually took it in the JSB) multiple choice test I will ever take in my life.

Honestly, I love multiple choice tests because I love reasoning through them and being able to figure out the logic even when I don't always know the material as well as I might. It hadn't really occurred to me until now that there would be a time in my life when multiple choice tests would stop. I may never take one again. And excepting maybe the odd driving test, no one will ever evaluate me or my knowledge with a flurry of bubbles and graphite. Ever.

This was made all the more keenly true by the subject matter: marriage prep. I couldn't study more than the bare minimum because it was too overwhelming to evaluate myself on all the characteristics I need to develop to be a better disciple of Christ.

(In case you didn't know, discipleship=marriage prep. Not convinced? Well, Elder Holland says, "Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. You separate dating from discipleship at your peril. Or, to phrase that more positively, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the only lamp by which you can successfully see the path of love and happiness for you and for your sweetheart. How should I love thee? As He does, for that way 'never faileth.'")

I filled in my answers on the scantron with the same great diligence that I have taken all of my BYU tests with. Yet every question asked me what I knew, but no one questioned me on what I believed or what I did or what I have become. I kept thinking of the humanities tests I've taken, which all seemed concerned about whether I knew it was Nietzsche who said God is dead, but never worried about whether I believed him or not.   

This test was no more a measure of me than our junior high years are of our potential as people. In some ways, it did capture my attitudes, but mostly, it tested me on what attitudes match up with vocab words.

I am learning to believe the things I learned in that class, but I am slow at becoming that disciple I would be. Semesters end and grades come out, but we change, learn, and grow on a less standardized schedule.

Though I haven't perfected the discipleship material, I am happy to say that I have learned in this class and that I've put in a significant effort into it, well beyond that I've done for other classes. Still, I want to be more.

It's comforting to know that when I've hit my ceiling, God makes up for the rest of it. It is He who truly makes me a disciple. I know this because of my other class.

In my ELANG 410 grades, there are 6 red scores. These mark the days when I hit my absolute limit and could do no more. Yet these don't even include the number of times when I turned things in weeks after they were due. Before this semester, I was telling someone I'd basically "failed" my class. Sternly, they asked me if I'd ever just not done an assignment actually in my life. It was humbling to answer, "no." I didn't really know what it was like to be able to do no more and have to just quit.

I do now. It's a hard thing, since it goes against so much of what I work for. But it's a beautiful thing sometimes too. I say beautiful because it teaches us that God really doesn't love us based on anything to do with our schooling. Our worth is not based on what the world looks at. I've heard that and said that before, but now I believe it.

There are no more multiple choice tests in my future. But the testing of my discipleship is never over.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Apostolic thoughts on discernment I'd like to share

For the longest time, I've sought the Spirit to know if I was doing the wrong thing, and I've focused on the gift of discernment as a way to see hidden evil in things and people.

I just found this awesome talk by Elder Bednar. He confirms that yes, discerning evil so it can be avoided is an important part of this gift. But he also shares this quote from President Stephen L Richards: 
“First, I mention the gift of discernment, embodying the power to discriminate between right and wrong. I believe that this gift when highly developed arises largely out of an acute sensitivity to impressions—spiritual impressions, if you will—to read under the surface as it were, to detect hidden evil, and more importantly to find the good that may be concealed. The highest type of discernment is that which perceives in others and uncovers for them their better natures, the good inherent within them."
Elder Bednar then goes on to say:
"First, as we “read under the surface,” discernment helps us detect hidden error and evil in others.
Second, and more important, it helps us detect hidden errors and evil in ourselves. Thus the spiritual gift of discernment is not exclusively about discerning other people and situations, but, as President Cannon taught, it is also about discerning things as they really are within us.
Third, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in others.
And fourth, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in us. Oh, what a blessing and a source of protection and direction is the spiritual gift of discernment!"
I find that so lovely and enlightening. I had not previously known what he lastly says: "Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong. It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant, and the necessary from that which is merely nice."

Isn't that just marvelous? We don't seek the gift of discernment so that we can avoid people; we seek the gift of discernment so we can bless others and ourselves. God will warn us when necessary, but He will also expand our view to better match His own.  

Read the talk for yourself here. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"I was not ever thus"

Lead, Kindly Light by Voice Male on Grooveshark

About a year ago, I spent an afternoon and an evening eating potatoes, chili, and strawberries; talking about heroes and causes; and arguing about capitalization. I knew that everything had changed. And it did. I spent the next week thinking about pink lemonade as an intervention tactic, which is still a thought that crosses my mind. I was not ever thus before.

I’ve been through some periods in my life of deep depression and discouragement, but nothing compared to what I’ve been through more recently. I was not ever thus before.

People often say that things heal with time. I’ve always thought that was true. It’s only a half truth though. Satan is the father of all lies, especially the ones that have some truth in them.

Yes, time dulls pain and makes us forget some things, but time alone has no power to heal. We can let time pass and try to forget our sins and pains, but they never go away unless we confront them with the power the Savior extends. True healing comes only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Time may be a component, but the changes and the lasting peace that accompanies real healing—those belong to Him. When we rely on His Atonement, then we can truly say, “I was not ever thus nor prayed that thou shouldst lead me on. I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

For my dear friend with the chemistry final

HOSA Conference 2007: my closest brush with chemistry
Confession: I have never let myself take a chemistry class. In high school, I was too afraid I couldn't do well in it, so I never took one. In the past two years though, I'm been writing news stories about chemistry, and it never fails to intrigue me. I'd like to understand it better, and I hope that someday I will.

Thinking about chemistry, often reminds me of this essay by my good friend, Bess. She literally wrote the entire thing in a blue book in the testing center instead of taking her chemistry test. I don't recommend this to everyone, all of the time (meaning skipping out on the test), but I do love the beautiful nature of her experience. Though these moments of life changes are scary, they are mysteriously grand.

Please enjoy:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

This song is my life: Fiery Crash by Andrew Bird

Fiery Crash by Andrew Bird on Grooveshark

The variations on lyrics to Andrew Bird’s “Fiery Crash” are remarkable. Though it seems clear that he’s saying “Dramamine,” everyone else on the Internet finds that to be something about “jet waves driving me.” I can’t say exactly who’s right and who’s wrong, but it’s clear that my airplane experience is intrinsically linked with that motion sickness pill. One night flight, it knocked me out when I least expected it. I remember every inch of my body going limp. “You were hurtling through space, g-forces twisting your face,” says Mr. Bird. Which is exactly what it was like in a relaxed way. My often tense and anxious body gave into the comfort next to me and knew everything was just fine. Unable to move anything, I succumb to goodness and peace in ways I can only do when I truly feel powerless.

I don’t often feel like this. Usually my mind is filled with the worst things that can happen. I only get through airplane flights because for some reason I’m good at shutting down my fears quickly in that setting. That’s usually the healthiest route for me.

But I like the way Mr. Bird sings about these fears that sometimes take us over. Actually thinking it through can allow us to arrive at the fact that what we envisioned will not happen. But it’s crucial not to be stuck in the middle of the scenario.

“Where every human face has you reaching for your mace. So it’s kind of an imposition, a fatal premonition. . . . But to save our lives you have to envision the fiery crash. It’s just a formality. Why must I explain? Just a nod to mortality, before you get on this plane.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

War Horse—Savor it

I’m not really a fan of animal movies. When the wellbeing of an animal becomes greater than the wellbeing of a person, it rubs me the wrong way. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that War Horse is really about people. People who drink. People who mock. People who hate. People who love. People who care. People who overcome. And people who die. The film intersects stories of men and women who do whatever it is they do with grace and kindness, and when they tried with the worst, they continue with simple goodness.

In the same sense that this is much more than an animal movie, it’s also its own breed of war movie. Death here is appropriately horrific and appropriately reverenced. The nightmare of the trenches flashes into you in a way no history book catches, yet with a gentle enough hand for you to grab hold of the respect you need and nothing more.

No one character is particularly glorified or outstanding. They each exhibit greatness as they cross paths momentarily. I was distracted throughout the movie because each new character seemed to look just like someone I know: my dad’s boss, my piano teacher, my neighbor. As I watched soldiers descending into the depths of WWII, it occurred to me that these are people I know.

These average looking and ordinary people represent the men who come before me—at least one of my direct descendants—but more so they stand in for the souls that were just down the street from my relatives, who gave and shared bread with them before they died. Where many family lines ended, mine did not, and it survived with the traces of good neighbors who gave their lives in full in the end and who had likely given bits of their time and spirit to their friends before.

War Horse sweeps across these stories lightly against a color palette of hope in bleakness. See it, and savor it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Good people striving

I've been learning a lot about just how mortal everyone is, especially myself. We all have struggles in life and different weaknesses that we deal with. I'm only just beginning to see mine more clearly. I can be a very negative, discouraged, and fearful person. It's really true that this is a part of who I am, but it's not who I'd like to be. Heavenly Father knows this is part of who I am, and He is working with me everyday to make me into something better. I'm accountable for how I deal with my challenges, but it's not as if He has made me imperfect so I will fail or as if He's cursed me in any way. I am just imperfect, and God uses those weaknesses to teach me.

I'm learning that everyone around me has challenges. These challenges all look very different—some more visible, some more hidden. This is something I'm learning on a lot of levels, and I fear I might miscommunicate my intent or opinions by linking this idea with this video, but I'm going to try to express these things clearly anyways.

I believe that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God." Family life can be very hard because we are all mortal and imperfect. There are abusive husbands; there are materialistic wives; there are parents who neglect their children; there are addictions; there are fears; there are emotionally abusive people; there are prideful people. In short, there are a lot of hard things to be dealt with. Yet no matter what we struggle with or what the people in our lives struggle with, God cares about those problems and He understands them far better than we do. Marriage and family still have the greatest potential to bring us happiness. That doesn't instantly happen because we have to work at it, but it is still true.

I don't quite endorse every single word of this video, but as a whole, I love it because I think it says, in effect, "I am struggling with this, but it is still a part of who I am now." My challenges in life are not the same as the good people in this video, but they are challenges. I think we can all understand what it's like to have something that we hurt over, we stress over, we cry over, and that we don't always know how to deal with. These things are a part of who we are, but they aren't everything about us. I believe that they are challenges to overcome and deal with, and I recognize that how to do that isn't always clear or easy. For all of us, we have to keep pressing forward, trusting true principles, and trusting that God does know us and wants us to be happy. He will teach us how to do that, as we seek Him.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What I will be

The little yellow kitchen in my little yellow house, 2010.
In a few weeks, I will walk; meaning, I will cross a stage and receive a fake diploma. I won't really graduate from Brigham Young University until August, and I'll finish my last class in June, but for all intensive purposes, I am finishing my last real semester of classes.

I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the thoughts and feelings attached to that. Some of them, I've pushed down pretty far, which is alright for the time being, because I cannot handle them right now.

I say that because the past few months have been marked by the deepest depression I've yet endured. I will not say that my entire time at BYU has been rough, but I will confess that much of my time at college has been really hard. There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the biggest ones is that I often didn't know what exactly I wanted to become. Choosing a major and actually applying myself to learning often felt like a battle I could never win.

Finally, I found the editing minor, which combines many things I love. Even with that though, I still often find myself disliking the field. I do not succumb to these feelings though because I know God has given me gifts in this area and that I enjoy it most of the time. This is good enough for me, and I trust that He will open up opportunities to make good use of me as an editor and as a writer. A few weeks ago, someone challenged me, asking "Is editing really a good thing for you?" In essence, I replied firmly, "We are not opening up that can of doubt and fear again. I have made a choice, and I will make it good."

I often think of this talk from Elder Nelson about choosing an educational path and a career. He said:
A doctor’s ultimate destination is not in the hospital. For a lawyer, it is not in the courtroom. For a jet pilot, it is not in the cockpit of a Boeing 747. Each person’s chosen occupation is only a means to an end; it is not an end in itself. The end for which each of you should strive is to be the person that you can become—the person who God wants you to be. The day will come when your professional career will end. The career that you will have labored so hard to achieve—the work that will have supported you and your family—will one day be behind you. Then you will have learned this great lesson: much more important than what you do for a living is what kind of person you become. When you leave this frail existence, what you have become will matter most. Attributes such as “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, [and] diligence” (D&C 4:6) will all be weighed in the Lord’s balance.

I wish I could say that during my time at BYU I have developed those attributes splendidly. I haven't, but I have made some good progress.

Even now, when faced with decisions about jobs and internships, I think I still don't know exactly what I want to be. The question I've been wrestling with all this time is still there, still bothering me.

But out of the depression I've been in lately, I've found a better question to ask: what kind of person do I want to be for my children? In many ways, I ask this in the same spirit that I ask God who He wants me to become. That's probably the more important question to ask, but I've found that phrasing it in terms of my children helps make it a bit more tangible.

My answer to this question is primarily that I want to be a woman of faith. I want to be a mother who knows. Those are my primary goals.

I also enjoy reflecting on the fun parts too. My mom likes to remind me that I will be a good mother someday because I am creative. I believe this is something I can use to make the world my children live in good and bright.

Dorothy Lee, a wonderful anthropologist who writes many good things about motherhood, says, "Motherhood is not a thing in itself, it is I who am a mother and I have to be myself first." She doesn't mean this comment in the sense that we have to go out and find ourselves in some grand external sphere to be mothers. Rather, her point is that what our children want is us. They want to know us as whole people with quirks and flaws and preferences.

I find that lovely. It also makes me want to be my best self—the one who writes good things, does not fear, and is fun. I can imagine that the day-to-day stresses of motherhood might threaten to dampen that spirit within us, but it certainly does not need to. In fact, those daily activities of eating, cleaning, sleeping, working, worshiping, and playing are exactly where our true selves lie. Knowing this makes me worry a lot less about what my degree says I am.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As my period ends

If you're doubting that I mean "that period" as in my menstrual cycle, don't doubt. I am actually saying in this space that as of today, my monthly cycle is winding down.

I feel comfortable saying such things partially because most of my readers are female, but more so I'm saying it to express gratitude. Usually when women speak of their periods it's in terms of misery and lamenting. Unlike many women though, I feel the symptoms only slightly. A bit of discomfort off and on, but not the intense cramping and headaches that many experience.

My gratitude isn't actually so much so for the lack of pain though. I'm grateful for the lack of pain because for me, it means something more. When my mom reached age 24, her periods became more intense and painful than they ever were before. That marked the beginning of a long struggle to have children, as the pain was a manifestation of other problems, including endometriosis. This is why it's just me and my brother.

So with each passing cycle in my body, I feel excited at the thought that my body will—most likely—still be capable of conceiving. Whatever physical problems lurk in my future, they have not yet set in. When all the other aspects of my life seem to be falling apart, I'm grateful that one thing in me will work when the time is right. This is not of course to imply that women who suffer problems with infertility are "broken" or "failing." But in my own personal realm, it means I have a potential in me that is greater than I can imagine. This is something to be grateful for.

With that thought, I'll suggest you download this free album with a special tip of my hat to the song, "On the Hudson," which invites us to "sing of avocado trees and ships and unborn children in your hips."
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