Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Meaning of Christmas

It was once said that there would be no Christmas if not for Easter. Today, my thoughts dwell on the meaning of Christmas.

In all actuality, Christmas makes me feel rather like the Grinch or Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge. For a time that is celebrates gifts and love and giving, there sure seems to be a lot of greed, selfishness, envy, and hatred going around. In the mass commercialization that has become such a familiar part of Christmas, I wonder if we have lost sight of what the purpose of everything is.

While serving a mission in the great states of Kansas and Missouri, I had a powerful experience that taught me the true meaning of Christmas, gifts, and what it all means. I was in Wichita, Kansas for a meeting with other missionaries as part of a traveling Christmas music program. After the meeting, we (myself and the other missionaries in the music group) decided to go and carol to some of the nursing homes in the area. As we sung Christmas hymns and classic songs, my heart was filled with an understanding of Christmas. The purpose of Christmas is to remind us of charity -- the pure love of God. Think about it. Everyone involved in the first Christmas showed love and charity. Joseph displayed this powerful attribute when he didn't put Mary away, the wise men came bearing precious gifts, God gave us the gift of His Son so that we may be made whole.

Of course, that gift -- Jesus Christ -- was the paramount gift that Christmas. He was to be the one to redeem the world, to show us "a more excellent way," and to heal the broken hearted. That is why we give gifts on Christmas. We seek to emulate the gift given to the world by sacrificing our own wants, needs, or desires to fulfill those of another person. That is what Christmas is about -- not the toys, the Black Friday deals, or even the treats (GASP!).

Lastly, Christmas is a time of hope. That first Christmas brought new hope into a dark, dreary, and hopeless world. It is my hope that perhaps one day, we will have a Christmas without any fear, sorrow, or anguish -- a Christmas that is a good one.

Friday, December 2, 2011

And I'm Feeling Good

I have decided that too many of my recent blog posts seem mildly depressing. That is not the intent of the blog. And so, I am changing tones. Happiness is what God intends for us, anyway.

I love this song. Also, I am beginning to love Nina Simone. She's got some sick, soulful scat skills. True story. I think there is great power in this song. Every day is a new dawn, a new life. We get to see what we can make of it. Isn't that cool?

This semester I've been learning a lot about anxiety and its triggers. One thing that often results in anxiety is having too much on our plate that we feel we have to get done. "Have to," I've learned, is a dangerous mindset. We really don't have to do anything. We have the incredible ability to make choices, and so we get to choose every single day what we want to do. It makes things an adventure in every sense of the word.

Visualize a mental list of all the things that you need to accomplish in the next week. Do it. Close your eyes and visualize it. Sometimes, it's a pretty lengthy list. Now, imagine trying to complete everything on that list today. How does that feel? Do you feel some tension? Now, think to yourself, "Oh boy! I wonder what I can do today." How does that feel. Notice a difference?

I do that drill everyday. It has helped me immensely. It's a work in progress. We cannot ever accomplish everything we want to in a day. There's only 24 hours, after all. Eight of those are spent sleeping, three or so are spent eating, at least one of those hours is spent in the bathroom. A full-time job fills up another eight hours, and lo and behold, we have twenty of our twenty-four hours filled. That went by pretty fast, didn't it?

This is not a post in praise of laziness. It is a post about priorities and decisions. Every day, I decide what the most important things for that day are going to be and I do my best to get them done. The annoyance that comes from not finishing everything motivates and causes reevaluation. Did I try to do too many things? Were they really all that important? Are there things I can eliminate? Bit by bit, the unimportant -- or at least less important -- fall away.

That's really the take home lesson for today -- learn to choose and prioritize. We can't always do everything. As much as I would like, I cannot save every child in Romania and Africa simultaneously. I cannot clone myself or be in two places at once. But I can do things one step at a time, one day at a time. Gandalf tells Frodo, "All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us." Pretty profound statement of truth. We only have so much time. Choose wisely.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Concerning Tests of an Abrahamic Nature and Currant Bushes

It's a silly thing, this business we call life. Sometimes, it seems like the ultimate Ponzi scheme -- you put tons in and get little to nothing back. Returns are often minimal and take extended periods of time to show any significant gains and there is huge risk involved. We measure our life progress against the returns. We get frustrated when we see minimalistic progress and rejoice when we see great gains. Essentially, we have become pragmatic emotionalists.

Then -- seemingly out of the blue -- we encounter some great turbulence that tests our resolve in these unsettling times for the economy of our being -- a spiritual recession, a psyche bubble burst, or a crisis of faith.

Biblically, we have stories of such occurrences. The greatest of these was the test of Abraham. Think of it. God promises you posterity greater than the sands of the sea and here you are with one kid. At this point, I'd be thinking, "Right, God. That's a good one! You got me." Then, one day God tells you to take that one kid of your's -- only at this point he's a young adult -- and go sacrifice him. Again, I'm thinking, "Right...Are you sure about this whole omniscience thing?" This would have been the perfect time for a crisis of faith. And yet Abraham obeyed.

And so, we now refer to great tests and trials -- times when we are called upon to sacrifice something we hold dear -- Abrahamic tests. Unlike Abraham, we are not asked to sacrifice our only hope for posterity. Sometimes the things we are asked to sacrifice seem like things that cost rather than benefit -- two years for missionary service, one-tenth of our income, or not working Sundays. Rarely do sacrifices of the nature of Abraham's make sense. I think God does that on purpose. God asks us to do things because He knows the long term benefits. Think of Him as the ultimate investment broker.

More often than not, we are called upon to sacrifice part of ourselves -- our pride, our sins, or our heart -- and those are the most difficult sacrifices. It so much easier to give away some detached part of us, like money. The Lord doesn't want that, though. He wants us, and so we must lay ourselves upon our Abrahamic alter of sacrifice. That scares me.

God knows what He is doing when He places before us these great Abrahamic tests. We may not understand it right now, but one day we will.

 Hugh B. Brown gave a speech at BYU commencement in 1968 that has become one of my favorite talks. Entitled "God is the Gardener," it speaks of these great tests and God's reasons for them. This is only part of the talk, and it is just an audio recording. Brother Brown had just related how he owned a piece of property in Canada and on that property was a neglected currant bush. He decided that it needed to be pruned if any good was to come of it. This clip picks up after he has explained that he has a horrible habit of talking to inanimate objects.

"How could you do this to me? I was making such marvelous growth and now you've cut me down! I thought you were supposed to be the gardener." Sometimes we ask that. Sometimes I ask that. Sometimes we don't understand what the plan is. There are great risks -- in our eyes -- when we put our trust in God. We risk being cut down after what seems to us to be marvelous growth.

Perhaps I am alone in finding it difficult to trust God completely. I've never been one who excels at trust falls and other trust building activities. Sometimes, a lot of times, I am the currant bush. Sometimes, I don't want to sacrifice a part of me. I'd rather hold to everything and not risk anything. I'd rather be comfortable than experience growing pains. All the time, that isn't what God wants. He wants to help us grow and become more than we currently are.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


It is almost overwhelming to think that in three months I will be half way around the world in a place I've only seen pictures of, helping children I've never met, and learning to love on an entirely differently level. Not since serving as a missionary have I felt so strongly about a decision. Not since my mission have I felt like I was about to embark on one of the most psychologically and emotionally taxing things I have ever done in my life. 

Why am I doing it? That, my dear friends, is a question I have yet to find a complete answer to. I can tell you bits and pieces, and perhaps that's all even I will have for quite some time. At least it's something.

I believe that God expects us to love everyone, not just those like us. There is a children's song in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that like this: "I'm trying to be like Jesus. I'm following in His ways. I'm trying to love as He did in all that I do and say." Christ sought out the poor, the leprous, the maimed, the halt, the sinner. He taught us the importance of loving and becoming like a little child. In some small way, I am seeking to follow His example.

God loves all His children. No matter who they are, where they were born, what their lives are like, or what they have done. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently had this to say, "The Lord doesn’t care at all if we spend our days working in marble halls or stable stalls. He knows where we are, no matter how humble our circumstances." He is aware of the children I will work with. He knows their names. He loves them. We all need that love, especially at times when it seems that His love is the only thing we have going for us. 

Every person born to this earth is a child of God. Every single one. One of the ways we express our love for God is by loving His children, our brothers and sisters. In 1 John, the Apostle John writes, "For if a man loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" 

Finally, to those who may think this venture crazy, I submit this video. 

Sometimes, you have to be a little bit crazy. 
Sometimes, the world questions your craziness. 
Sometimes, most of the time, that craziness changes the world. 
Is this pursuit crazy? Perhaps. 

Mark my words, I will change the world. I will change the world for one of those children. I will also change myself. And that is what is most important.

And perhaps one day, the skeptics of mankind will finally understand that to truly live, one must live outside himself. Perhaps one day, they too will think differently

Friday, October 7, 2011

Are Mormons Christian?

This post is in response to an article on CNN (Check it out) in which a pastor of a mega church encouraged Republican voters not to vote for Romney "because he's a Mormon and described the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a 'cult.'"

Let me make a few of things clear. First, I'm not a Republican. Second, I don't really like Mitt Romney. Third, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You cross the line when you insult the faith that I hold so dear. 

I will not, however, delve into the definition of cult or advocate voting for Romney simply on the basis that he is a Mormon. I will defend my faith. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church. The name gives that away right off the bat -- The Church of Jesus Christ. If that doesn't clue you in, my dear pastor friend, then American's education is in worse condition than previously thought. Second, I believe in the Jesus Christ that born of Mary in Bethlehem, was baptized by John in the River Jordan, called Twelve Apostles, suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, was crucified and resurrected, and who will come again to the earth. Sound familiar? I sure hope so. I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He lives. Because of Him, we will live again after this life. 

I believe in the Bible. I read the King James Version. I also believe in the Book of Mormon. It is scripture, just like the Bible. It testifies of Jesus Christ. Don't believe me? I invite you to read it for yourself. Check out to learn for yourself and even get a FREE copy! As you read the Book of Mormon, you will come closer to Christ. You will feel His love as you thoughtfully and prayerfully study it. I promise. Additionally, I invite you to pray about it. Don't take my word that it's true. Don't take the pastor's word that it's false. Take it up with the ultimate authority. 

Pastor Jeffress, I am sorry that you think that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a cult. I'm sorry that you don't think that we are Christian. Jesus Christ taught, "Ye shall know them by their fruits." Look at the fruits of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Are they grapes of thorns or figs of thistle? Are they good fruits? I'll let you look into the fruits and find out for yourself. I have found the fruits to be good. Check out to check out the fruits and see the difference the Church has made in millions of lives all around the world. 

I am a Mormon. I am a Christian. I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Letting Go

 Of all the things I have learned in life, I have yet to learn this  lesson. I can't let go of things, specifically character flaws. I long to keep them just a little longer before I turn them over or give them up.

While serving as a missionary in Missouri, people would often tell me about their trials in life and then say, "But I've just got to let go and let God." I love that idea and admire those with such faith. I am not one of such strength of character.

Jesus taught his disciples that, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."

Mustard seed is tiny. Miniscule. It grows into a fairly good-sized bush, by the way. I think there is a double meaning to that scripture. First, if we have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed, we can experience great blessings and miracles. Second, if we have faith like a mustard seed, that is to say that we believe that we can become something greater than we are, we will grow beyond our capacity. We will grow into something we could not imagine to be possible.

I love having my life planned out. I know exactly what courses to take over the next year and a half, what I want to accomplish during that time, where I want to go for grad school, what I want to do after grad school, and so on. There have been times in my life when Heavenly Father said, "Nope. That's not the right path." Frustrated me to no end.

Example: My freshman year of college, I decided I was going to be a high school history teacher. I had everything figured out to do that. I walked into the advisement office to declare my major, and as I walked out, I was struck by the most unsettled feeling. It was like Heavenly Father saying, "I have something different in mind. You need to talk to me about this one." Ugg. And so, I was almost the world's shortest history teaching major.

Lately, I've been learning a lot about letting go and letting God. A lot of it has to do with being humble. We can't have one foot in our will and the other foot in our Heavenly Father's will. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis illustrates this idea beautifully. Writing as if it was Christ speaking, he says:

"Give me all of you! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and    so much of your work. I want YOU! ALL OF YOU! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart."   

Letting go of our will requires that we swallow our pride. When we are filled with pride, we cannot accept God's will over our own. Trust me. Thankfully, Heavenly Father doesn't force us to accept his will. He waits for us to come around. "Yea, he that truly humbleth himself and repenteh of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed -- yeah, much more blessed  than they who are compelled to be humble..."

It may take some time for me to get to the point of being able to swallow my pride and admit that I can't do it on my own, that I am indeed powerless, and that my life has become unmanageable. I don't know that I'll learn how to completely let go and leave things to God for a long time. Perhaps it's due to a lack of faith or an abundance of pride. 

Often, I feel like the person in the poem in the picture at the top of the post -- I get really frustrated when things aren't going according to my plan. When things take too long, or I don't like the outcome, I often ask why it was that way. Lovingly and gently, but with a kind rebuke, Heavenly Father replies, "What could I do? You wouldn't let go." And so, that's where I am. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

I Just Want to Be OK

We each have individual trials, struggles, and sufferings. It's a part of life. Just like birth, puberty, taxes, and death. It comes with the territory. Lately, however, I've been contemplating the purpose of these experiences. Perhaps it is done in preparation for what I will go through in Romania. Perhaps it is just my thinking and over-analysis of said thinking. Who knows? Here are some of the conclusions I have come to.

1) We cannot entirely separate ourselves from our life events. Everything we experience becomes a part of our essence, a part of our soul. In describing the character Platon Karataev, Leo Tolstoy wrote, "But his life, as he regarded it, had no meaning as a separate thing. It had meaning only as part of a whole of which he was always conscious...He could not understand the value or significance of any word or deed taken separately."

2) Again quoting Tolstoy, "Life is everything. Life is God. Everything changes and moves and that movement is God. And while there is life there is joy in consciousness of the divine. To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love one's life in sufferings, in innocent suffering."

3) It really is the time that we have wasted on our roses that makes them so worthwhile.

4) Everything will be made right in the end. If things aren't right, it's not the end.

5) The gift of love, compassion, and empathy are the greatest things man can aspire to gain in this life. A man is incomplete without these, and yet somehow, paradoxically incomplete with them. Man cannot be saved in isolation. We are not to be atomistic, individualistic, self-interested, Hobbesian beings. Indeed, the greatest thing one can ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. "The salvation of man is through love and in love." -- Viktor Frankl

6) Things will be OK. I will be OK. To love life is to love God. The inverse is also true. The object of our existence is to find happiness -- lasting happiness. That happiness comes as we lose ourselves in others. Viktor Frankl wrote, "The more one forgets himself -- by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love -- the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself."

The drive behind the decision to work in Romania stems, I think, from this last Frankl quote. Jesus said, "Whosoever shall lose his life shall find it." We become more and more human each time we give up a part of ourselves in the pursuit of something or someone else. I think that's what makes everything turn out OK in the end. I will be OK. We will be OK. The drive to make a difference is an inherently psychological and spiritual one. We seek psychological fulfillment and understanding of who we are and a spiritual understanding of our place in the world. We will be OK. I promise.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Marginal Life

The title of this post is not to suggest that some lives are "almost insufficient" as Webster's defines marginal. Rather, I mean it in a sociological context. Sociologically, a marginal life is one that is "marked by contact with disparate cultures, and acquiring some but not all the traits and values common to any one of them."

So, a marginal life consists of experiencing different cultures, groups, peoples, and ideas and incorporating some of those experiences into who you are as an person. In a way, it's like the pie chart above; hopefully, with a few more divisions.

Mark Twain once wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

The power in interaction is found in the fact that we become more of a person with each successive interaction. The experience I had working in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas have shaped my attitudes and beliefs on issues like poverty and education inequality. It taught me to value living life in the most basic, essential form. None of this extravagance or frivolous spending. Working with Nepalese, Indian, Burmese, and Thai refugees instilled within me the value of hospitality. These incredibly humble people open their homes willingly and offer ever amenity as their disposal. Experience in Utah has strengthened my political and social conception of the way the world should be. Idaho created the part of my soul that loves the outdoors, farms, and simplicity. My family has shaped part of my pie chart, as have my friends and teachers. Each interaction adds a piece to our puzzle that is us and the purpose or meaning we ascribe to our life and the ideals we cherish.

Living a marginal life leads us to question who we are as a person and where we belong in the scheme of things. Currently, I feel in a state of limbo because of this marginalization. I don't feel a sense of belonging in Idaho or Utah. Missouri calls back to me. Romania calls me forward. The values I have absorbed as one who lives a marginal life have attributed -- at least in part -- to my nomadic nature.

Who am I? This isn't a quaint existential exercise in self-examination or evaluation. This is a serious question, one that a marginal life begs to have answered. It's not an easy question to answer, I think. I've got some thinking to do about it myself. I invite you to do the same. Live a marginal life. See what good it does for you. Who are you?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I came across the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann because of a friend. It has, as of late, become my mantra. There is powerful counsel in the words of that poem. The title is Latin for "desired things."

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
You are a child of the universe...And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should...With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. And that's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

On Being a Commitment-Phobe

A phobia is defined as, "A persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it" (Webster's Dictionary). I therefore, suffer from commitmentphobia. Look it up. Wikipedia mentions it.

I have this very irrational fear of commitment and being tied to a specific thing or job or activity, and so I move around frequently. To avoid commitment to Utah, I leave every couple of weeks. I can't commit to finish school early because I have things I want to do -- extravagant vacations and the like, if you will. I can't commit to relationships or houses, marathons or rock concerts. I hate the idea of commitment for some strange, crazy reason.

The problem is that life requires commitment. Sort of a big problem, right? We commit to an education, to a career, to a faith, a political ideology, or a significant other. All these are essential to finding meaning and purpose in our life. Does a life of commitmentphobia mean a life void of meaning?

I am, however, working on overcoming this phobia. Despite being a nomadic gypsy person, I have successfully decided to commit to a job in Provo that will further my career opportunities. I have planned to finish school on time, which requires staying in Utah starting in April of next year. I have committed to a plan of action for my life after that. I have a five year plan. Finally, I am committed to something.

Commitmentphobia stems, I think, from an inability to make decisions. It's a great trial in life to not be able to make decisions. Making decisions is part of life and when we are indecisive, we try to cop out of living by delegating the decision making process to someone else. We are afraid to make the wrong decision. In our futile attempt to please everyone, we become useless to the very being we need -- ourselves. Our life becomes nothing more than what other people want from us. Nothing is ever what we want.

This is not to say that we should be self-interested, atomistic, individualistic beings. That's a terrible, awful idea. It is to say that to overcome the plague of commitmentphobia, we must do things for ourselves, things that we want to do and not things that others want us to do.

Perhaps, commitmentphobia does create a life devoid of meaning -- personal meaning. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote, "A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes -- within the limits of endowment and environment -- he has made out of himself...Man has both [positive and negative] potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions."

Let us then make the decision to be a man and not a thing. Let us shed our commitmentphobia.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Know What I Did This Summer

I have the great opportunity of working at Camp Kostopulos in Salt Lake City. It's a summer camp that serves individuals with disabilities. It is a rewarding experience (and the reason for sparse amounts of posts lately). While working there over the last few months, I have learned things about myself, life, and God's plan for His children. I'd like to share some of them with you.

First, I have learned that, generally speaking, there are more experiences to laugh about than there are negative experiences to lament. Laughter has a great power to it. Last week at work was really difficult for me, and yet as I look back on it, I find myself laughing more often than groaning. Cracking the corners of your mouth every once in a while does the body good. Laugh. I dare you.

Second, I have gained a greater understanding of the love of God. I get to work with some of the greatest people on earth. If you've never had the chance to work with people with disabilities really closely, I advise you to find the opportunity. They can teach you so much. Many live in group homes, which hurts my soul. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be loved completely, and often God is the only one who offers such love. I am grateful to know that the Atonement can fix those things that are unfair about life. The Atonement enables us to feel infinitely loved when there is no other source.

The third lesson I have learned deals with me as an individual. My job allows me to unleash my inner child and enjoy life. It's okay to have fun, to be sporadic, and to do things that are out of the ordinary. It feels as though I'm beginning to lose the societal idea that "when you do weird things, people look at you funny;" replacing it instead with commanding the attention of the world for the good I do in a different, but effective way. I do good things for work. I help people with disabilities improve their self esteem and hope in life. That's what we all want. Why should we think those who aren't "like us" want anything different?

The greatest part about my job is that I have the opportunity to make a difference. It's an incredibly powerful experience when lives are changed because of the things that you do. Most people look at my job and think, "Oh, I could never do that," and I wonder why they think they could not make a difference. I sound like an obnoxious optimist, but it is nonetheless true. There is power in human interaction. We, out of necessity, need to interact with others. It helps our cognitive development and it helps our spirit.

This summer, I made a difference. What did you do?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

...And I'm a Mormon.

The title of my blog is "Deep Thinkings," which leaves the content pretty open. It becomes whatever I am thinking deeply about as I type. Today, those thinkings are on what my faith means to me.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. People sometimes call us Mormons because of our belief in the Book of Mormon. I am Christian. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world -- and my personal Savior -- with my whole being. The Atonement -- made up of His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, His suffering and death on the cross, and His triumphant ressurrection -- allowed Christ to take upon himself every sin, pain, sickness, and trial that we experience in this life. By so doing, He is able to reach out and comfort us in our time of suffering.

The Book of Mormon is a record of God's dealings with the people in the Americas. I know that it and the Bible are the word of God. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ. One Book of Mormon prophet wrote, "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission on their sins" (2 Nephi 25:26). The Book of Mormon teaches us plainly about God's plan for us, His children. It teaches us what we must do to return to live with Him. The Book of Mormon draws us closer to Christ.

For me, that's what being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means. It means that I can come closer to my Savior and my Heavenly Father. My faith in God increases when I read His word from the scriptures and as I listen to modern prophets. God always calls prophets and apostles. He did in the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, and He continues to call prophets today. I believe in prophets. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. He recieved power and authority from God, that same authority Christ gave His Apostles when He was on the earth. Prophets speak the word of God for us in our day.

Many will say that the Church places too many restrictions on individual freedom. We don't drink alcohol or use tobacco. We don't believe that it's okay to have premarital sex. To most, even that short list will seem like heavy, even antiquated, restrictions. To me, however, they are evidence of God's love for me. God gives us commandments -- don't steal, don't bear false witness, honor thy father and mother, don't commit adultry -- because He wants us to be happy. He knows better than any of us that wickedness never is complete, lasting happiness. Commandments are for our benefit. When I don't understand a commandment that Heavenly Father has given, I do my best to keep it. I accept on faith that this is what Heavenly Father wants me to do, even if it seems out of touch with the times.

My faith means everything to me. It is because of my faith and beliefs that I am going into my chosen career field. It is because of my faith that I left my family for two years to teach others about the Church and how they could come closer to their Lord and Savior. I am a Mormon because it gives me direction and purpose in my life. I know that I am a child of God, that He has a plan for me, and that I can live with my Heavenly Father, my Savior, and my family forever if I continue faithful. That brings me peace. That's what it means to me to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My name is Bryce, and I'm a Mormon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Do You Ever Wonder if He Asks Too Much?

One of the questions I have struggled with for a long time is why God allows bad things to happen to good people. It's my question of the soul that I ponder on and ask God about often. I remember meeting a guy on my mission who had stopped believing in God because "if there was a God, why did he allow the Holocaust or Rwanda?" He continued by saying he had seen a lot of bad things happen in his lifetime and these things had caused him to disbelieve the existence of God.

I am still working on understanding the answer to this question. I know that God loves all His children. He gave us agency so that we could choose for ourselves. Sometimes, the consequences of those choices lead to bad things in our lives. Other times, the trials and suffering come seemingly unprovoked. Either way, God still loves us. Think of the Old Testament story of Job. God says, "There is none like him in all the land." The Lord loves and trusts Job, and yet allows him to be tried beyond anything I could bear. He loses his children and his wealth. His friends turn against him. His wife turns against him. Why? His friends tell him that it was because he had sinned and displeased God. We know that isn't the case. Job did good things, was a righteous person. Why, then, did these things happen to him? God sought to bless him. The scriptures teach us that "whom the Lord loveth, he chaseneth." Sometimes that's the reason these things happen.

The Lord seeks to help us grow and that involves stretching us. Remember what it felt like in junior high when you were shooting up like a sprout? You had growing pains. That's the closest analogy I can think of to explain why bad things happen. Sometimes, God is helping us grow and it hurts, but we pull through and are better for it. (For a good analogy of this, click HERE)

Sometimes I think to myself, "Heavenly Father, I'm not quite sure what you are doing. I don't think I can handle what I'm going through." Do you ever find yourself wondering if God ever asks too much of you in your trials? Sometimes I do. True story. At one point on my mission, there was about three weeks where terrible things were happening in the lives of people I love. Worst part of my mission. I don't think I had a sincere prayer with Heavenly Father during that time. Most of the time it was just anger that I spouted at Him.  I kept asking, "Why are you doing this to them? Why are you making me experience this? What's your problem?" To this day, I don't entirely understand those three weeks.

A BYU professor, John Tanner, wrote, "[The Book of Job] does not answer the question, 'Why does God permit suffering to come to his children.' But it does answer the question, 'How shall we respond.'" He continues by saying the one sure way we come to find answers and peace in our suffering is to seek revelation from God. We have to commune with him. "Apart from what the Lord says," John Tanner continues, "the fact that he speaks to Job at all fulfills Job's deepest need -- to be reassured that God has not forsaken him."

In times of trial and suffering, go to God and seek His voice. It will come. It will reassure. It will comfort. I love the words to the hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus: "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear; What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!" The third verse is my favorite: "Are we weak and heavy laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Still the Savior is our refuge; Take it to the Lord in prayer! Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In his arms he'll take and shield thee; Thou wilt find a solace there."

The man who wrote that hymn, Joseph Scriven, knew a lot about enduring suffering. Twice, he was engaged to be married, and twice right before the wedding, his fiancée died either from sickness or an accident. Driven to grief, he penned those words. He understood where to turn for peace.

I'm sorry that I couldn't provide more answers to the great question of the soul. I wish I knew the answer to every question, but I don't. The Lord does. Go to him. Thou wilt find a solace there.

PS -- I wrote most of this post before General Conference. This was one of the questions I had on my mind. Two of the talks that were given addressed this topic. They were given by Elder Kent F. Richards and Elder D. Todd Christofferson. They were literally answers to prayer.  

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Secret of Solitude

I went on a date recently and realized just how frequently I do things on my own. My date asked me about activities I do in school, my job, etc. and I realized that pretty much everything I do, I do by myself. I go to campus, class, the store, running, to the gym, pretty much everywhere on my own. Why? That is a good question.

Sometimes, I think that the ability to be content being alone is a gift. Solitude gives one time to think, ponder, and reflect. Sometimes, being an island is what man needs. I think of Henry David Thoreau and his time spent at Walden Pond so that he might be able to face life. He said, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

We cannot, of course, live our entire lives in solitude. Interaction, relationships, communication are all a part of what it is to be human. Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote, "Happiness! It is useless to seek it elsewhere than in this warmth of human relations." I think, however, that some quality alone time is necessary to keep one's sanity. It is for me. When there are things on your mind, a big group of people doesn't usually help alleviate those thoughts. During times like these, one must take leave of the world and go into a private solitude, whether physical or mental.

Even when one is surrounded by people, they can be in solitude. I find that some of my best thinking and pondering occurs as I walk from class to class in the great shuffling migration of students. This sacred solitude is a treasure and a blessing.

The desire to be alone doesn't stem entirely from being somewhat anti-social. Some of you were probably thinking, "This kid is crazy! Does he not have friends?" Your thinking is wrong. Trust me. Most of the time, the desire to be alone comes from being around people who are challenging, close minded, and/or frustrating. It gives one time to reflect on what they hold dear, even when those around them feel otherwise.

The secret of solitude has not yet been discovered by many. Too often, we prefer to be plugged in rather than face ourselves in a moment of introspection. Solitude is sometimes frightening. It is then that we evaluate our lives, our shortcomings, our upcoming tasks, our responsibilities, obligations, hopes, fears, and aspirations. One can get lost very easily. One can also get discouraged.

In John 6, after feeding the multitude, Jesus Christ leaves when he perceives that the multitude wish to make him a king and "he departed again into a mountain himself alone." The Son of God took time to be away from people, to meditate, ponder, and be with his Father. Why don't we do the same? Think of the power we can gain, the understanding, and revelation that can come when we seek the Lord in solitude.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why I Believe: The Scriptures

If you're new to the blog, you should know that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons. The first weekend in April and October are special times for Mormons. It's the opportunity to listen to a prophet of God speak to us. We call it General Conference. Leading up to Conference, I'll be posting some of my beliefs and why I belief the way I do. I hope it helps you understand Mormonism and Mormons a little bit more.

 Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in the Bible. I love the Bible. I've been studying the New Testament lately, and I feel even closer to my Savior each time I study it. The Bible is the word of God, given to prophets who taught the people how to return to live with God again.

Similarly, Mormons also believe in the Book of Mormon (hence, the nickname). The Book of Mormon is also the word of God given to prophets. The Bible takes place in the Middle East and the Holy Land. The Book of Mormon was written by ancient prophets in the Americas. They knew of the coming of Christ and prophesied about it just like the prophets in the Bible. The Book of Mormon's purpose is to "convince Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST." The Bible tells out that "out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." The Book of Mormon is a second witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

A Book of Mormon prophet wrote, "And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."

The Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith, a modern prophet. God has always used prophets to teach and declare his word. We still need prophets to teach us. As we read the words of prophets as found in the scriptures, we will come closer to our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We will feel the Holy Spirit in our lives.

I love the Book of Mormon and the Bible. They help me come closer to Christ. They bring me hope in times of need. They are the words of God and we will know the way to return to live with God if we abide by the principles that are taught therein.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts on Changing the World

You may call me an overly optimistic optimist. You may call me crazy. Nonetheless, these are some thoughts that have been accumulating in my mind over the last several days since BYU's Hunger Banquet.

Too many people want change but do nothing to bring it about. Too often, we just throw money at a problem and leave feeling justified that we have done our part. I can't do that. My conscience doesn't allow me to. I have every intention of making a difference in the world.

This is not a post about how I'm going to change the world. I'm still figuring that out. Rather, it's about how we can do our part individually to change things around us.

At the Hunger Banquet, Steven Dorsey, director of the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, spoke about the theme -- Peace by Piece. He said that each of us must be willing to put our piece into bringing an end to conflict, hunger, and oppression. How does one do that? Mr. Dorsey offered four suggestions.

1) You must be at peace with yourself.
2) The Love of God must pervade your heart.
3) The love of our neighbors must be evident in all our interactions.
4) Action -- You cannot just feel. You have to act.

Too often, we think that we cannot change anything because of our limitations. It's not enough to feel pity. It's not enough to be saddened by the situations in Africa, Japan, or Haiti. It's not enough to just throw money at the problems hoping that they disappear. You can't ignore the problem until it goes away.

I can't be content when I think about problems in the world and problems in my own backyard. Not only is Africa a mess, but education in America is falling behind, kids in foster care are falling through the cracks, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, child soldiers, despotic dictators, tsunamis, hunger, famine, AIDS, and a million other issues surround us.

That's why there has to be change. That's why I have to do something about it and will do something about it. No longer will I sit apathetically by while there are things that I can do to make a difference. There's too much to do to just wait for opportunities to help. It's not enough to want change. You have to change. You have to be the point at which the status quo is no longer acceptable. The status quo is unacceptable. It's time to change.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Forks in the Road

I love this picture. It makes me laugh hysterically. It also gives a new meaning to the title of today's post.

Choices are everywhere in our lives. Do I really want to wake up? Should I shave? What should I wear? How badly do I want to do my homework right now? The list goes on and on. Some choices we make are of little consequence. Others make a whole lot of difference in the long run. We can't avoid choice. It attacks us even at the grocery store.

Sometimes, our choices are like forks in the road. I can make the choice to wake up on time or not. Two different forks; either one will take me in opposite directions. When we come to these, we often don't know which one to take. Both seem appealing and/or right. We are like Alice in Wonderland. We don't know where we're going. Every once in a while we get some helpful advice like that given to Alice by the Cheshire Cat, "If you do not know where you want to go, it does not matter which path you take." 

What we choose has implications in our lives. Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a talk entitled, "The Three R's of Choice," in which he laid out three aspects of choice: Right, Responsibility, and Results. We will, President Monson says, always have the right of choice. We are never limited in that aspect. We are not, however free from the results of consequences of choice.

Sometimes, the choices we make are stupid, we know that going into them, and we make the choice anyway. We don't make a whole lot of sense sometimes. In times like these, decisions become like the picture -- literal blocks in the road. Our choices can obstruct our path and halt our progress. Giant roadblocks. 

It's in times like these when I find myself frustrated and rent with indecision. I find myself wondering why I make such decisions; I beat myself over the head for those decisions, and then I make the same one a few days later.

Sometimes the choices we make in life don't make sense to others. My career path baffles much of my extended family. Some choices sadden those who love us the most. It is especially painful to be the observer to such choices. We all have the ability to choose, but not the ability to choose the results.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confusion, Thy Name is Woman

  Girls -- I don't understand them. At all. If any of my female friends would like to enlighten me on how to understand the feminine mind, I would love it. Girls, please don't try to be so mysterious and confusing. I feel like I'm pretty straight forward in expressing things. I'm just asking for a little reciprocity. That's all. You'd think I would have a better understanding of relationships and girls and such since I grew up with four sisters. Not so. My sisters tend to make even less sense to me than other girls, but I love them anyway.   
  I still do not understand girls. They are so strange. I feel like sometimes they try to define relationships way too soon, which just makes things mildly awkward for the rest of the time...True story.
  Dating at BYU feels very mechanical -- you do it because that's what you're supposed to do or what culture mandates. Maybe that's just my struggle with the culture in Utah. Maybe it's sociology. One purpose of dating is to prepare you to find/marry your eternal companion. In the process, you find things that you want and don't want in a potential spouse. That's why it's fun to date lots of people.
  I also don't understand the rush to get married. I enjoy taking my time with things, and I think that when something as important as marriage is involved, it should take time. Girls, it's okay to be 20 (or older) and single. Guys (especially RMs) it's okay to not be married after only being home for three weeks. Cool the jets, please.
  This thinking stems mostly from this two year plan I developed. It goes something like this: I spent my mission (2 years) being with someone constantly. I am giving myself at least that much time without serious/committed relationships. So far, it's worked out fairly well. I still date... occasionally...and make friends with girls in my ward and classes.
  There's this theory in sociology called the Paradox of Love Relations. Because society is becoming more and more individualistic and we have fewer and fewer meaningful relationships, we look for substitutes and try really hard to have those relationships. In doing so, we strive to find someone who will accept all of who and what we are. We let them see every side of us, every skeleton we've kept hidden, and every dream and aspiration. In doing this, we scare the other off -- we are viewed as too intense or desperate. We can't let everything out. Somethings are best left hidden. In searching for the idea of love, we come to find that we cannot have a perfect love and we slowly begin to hide who we are and what it means to exist for us.
  That's all I have to say about that today. The Paradox of Love Relations. Confusing women. Two year plans. Girls. You make no sense.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Life is a Paradox

Sometimes I laugh at myself for having conflicting plans and paradoxical ideas. Here's a sample of them:
1) I really want a break from school this summer, but I know if I take one I'll be a semester behind and be at BYU longer than I really want.
2) Marriage is not in the plans for me right now and yet I'm doing research on marital stability for my undergrad.
3) I am a liberal in the most conservative state in the Union.
4) I'm a mildly anti-social sociologist.

Life just doesn't make sense sometimes, but that's the fun of it I think. Paradoxes are the best.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Good Things to Come

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk, "An High Priest of Good Things to Come" talks about the role of the Savior as the One who grants us blessings during trials in our lives. He says, "For emotional health and spiritual stamina, everyone needs to be able to look forward to some respite, to something pleasant and renewing and hopeful, whether that blessing be near at hand or still some distance ahead. It is enough just to know we can get there, that however measured or far away, there is the promise of 'good things to come.'"

Sometimes, the blessings we seek don't come instantly or in the time or manner in which we wish, but they do come. "Don't you quit. There is help and happiness ahead." 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Things I am Grateful For

This list may seem somewhat puzzling to some. However, as of today, these are some things I am grateful for.
1) Snowboarding -- It helps me escape from Provo every once in a while which helps my sanity.
2) Computers that work.
3) BYU -- Last semester this wouldn't have made the list. True story. I am grateful for BYU because I have learned that I don't have to hide who I am in a politically and socially suffocating environment. I have come to the point that I can proudly say, "I am a Democrat because of my religion, not in spite of it," and truly mean it. Thanks BYU.
4) Temples -- The Provo Temple has become a place of refuge and hope. The Kansas City Temple is coming along beautifully.
5) Senator Ben McAdams -- A freshman senator in the Utah Legislator who is both a Mormon and a Democrat AND lives both. See? They aren't mutually exclusive.
6) Music -- It's my escape.
7) Sociology 300 TAs -- They help me understand SPSS.
8) Sociology -- It never ceases to amaze and perplex me. People are interesting creatures.
9) Independence, Missouri -- The greatest place on earth.
10) The Serenity Prayer -- Because sometimes, a lot of times, I need courage to change the things I can.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What to Do?

So, I'm trying to decide about internships for next year. Quite possibly, this could be the hardest decision I've had to make in a while. There are two really great opportunities here at BYU that I am trying to decide between. One is in Washington DC and the other is in Romania. Both seem like incredible opportunities and I hate trying to make this decision.
I am torn between the two. I feel like Romania satisfies a desire to be beneficial in the world and DC satisfies my political obsession. I think it's like trying to decide between mint chip ice cream and double chocolate fudge. I think this would be more beneficial to my career goals, but also that DC could potentially turn into countless networking opportunities.
My greatest fear is that I'm under-qualified for either internship. I feel like these experiences are things Heavenly Father would want me to have. I don't know what to do. Romania or DC? That is the question. What do I gain from Romania? What can I gain in DC? What are the potential life consequences here? I hate trying to make decisions where both options are good. It makes my life hard. What should I do?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sliding on the Ice

One of my favorite TV quotes is, "What's living if you don't pull down your shorts and slide on the ice once in a while?" I like that idea. Every once in a while we've got to do something crazy or adventurous. I think that it helps us keep our sanity. I know it does. I call these things my "Get Out of Provo Cards." They are my excuse to do something I've never done and have an adventure.
This year, my "sliding on the ice" includes running the Utah Valley Marathon in June, skydiving in July, running the Red Rock Relay (187 miles), and learning Romanian in preparation for an internship there next winter.
These are new things to me. Some would say that they are crazy. They don't know what it's like to go sliding on the ice.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Being a Mormon and a Democrat

Yes. That is correct. I said it. I am a Democrat AND a Mormon. It's possible. I promise that I have a testimony. Don't worry about that. This is something I have struggled with for a while since coming back to BYU. To most people it seems mutually exclusive, especially here in Utah. Harry Reid came and spoke at BYU in 2007 and said, "I am a Democrat because of my religion, not in spite of it." That's how I feel. I'm not writing this to discuss policy or platform. This is a forum for explaining my feelings.
  The Gospel is all about change -- change in the individual, change in the world. We seek to bring others to Christ by helping them accept the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, exercising faith, repenting, being baptized, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduing to the end. That's change. BIG change. Being liberal means wanting big change, not just small incremental change. Christ told people, "Go and sin no more." That's big, instant change. Why can't we expect that from ourselves? From our government? It means that I am not willing to hold still, but that I want to move perpetually forward and do so quickly.
  In 1843, Joseph Smith taught the Three Fundamentals of Mormonism. They are 1) We embrace truth wherever we find it, 2)Brotherly love, and 3) Relief for the poor and needy. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin exhorts the people to give freely of their substance when they have sufficient for their needs. "I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants" (Mosiah 4:26).
  That is a fundamental idea of liberalism. That idea led to things like Social Security, the GI Bill, and Health Care among other things. You see, it's not mutually exclusive. It's inclusive. The Church has Welfare Programs, equalization of missionary funds, the Law of Consecration. These are not conservative ideas. These require us giving something up to benefit the rest of mankind. These require (to use a phrase conservatives hate) redistribution of wealth. Don't believe me? Go read about the Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants.
  I don't mean to sound dogmatic or to come across saying that conservatives are inherently wrong or evil. Not at all. I'm not going to tell you conservatism is wrong. I consider myself conservative on some issues. But, please don't try to tell me that I am going against counsel of prophets or that I can't be a good member of the Church. Not true. Just like the idea that Mormons have horns. We don't and I can be a liberal. That's all I have to say.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Look Not Behind Thee

At the start of a New Year, I feel like it's apt to talk about moving forward. It seems like everyone does, with their resolutions and hopes for a better year. The idea has almost become cliché. Resolutions seem to last about a week or so, especially when they deal with body image or intangible things. And so, I want to share what I have learned about the importance of looking forward.
One of the shortest lines in scripture is "Remember Lot's wife." That's it. Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt because she looked behind when she had been commanded not too. She was looking back towards the world of comforts, pleasures, and perhaps apathy. It was so much easier for her in Sodom. It was familiar. That's why the Lord advised us to remember Lot's wife. We have a lot in common with her.
While serving as a missionary in Kansas City, Missouri, I learned about not looking back. I had just been transferred from a great area in the northern metro area down to an city south of Independence. It was so hard for me there. I struggled with my companion and the local church leaders. It was a miserable experience. For probably four of the six weeks I was there I was thinking how great things were back in North Kansas City, how I missed it and would rather be there.
Those four weeks were the most stagnant for me. I wasn't progressing in any aspect of missionary work and I wasn't growing spiritually. I finally came to the realization that I needed to enjoy the area and seek for opportunities to learn. I wasn't going to learn what Heavenly Father expected of me by wallowing in self pity. Wishing to go back made it harder for me to have faith to move the work forward. That's not a good thing.
Now, after being home from my mission for almost a year, I realize again the importance of not looking back. We must remember the past. I will always remember my mission. ALWAYS. But I cannot allow myself to be caught thinking that I would be happier if I was still there and not here. It's an easy trap to fall into. I still do. I am still learning from my mission; building on the experiences that I had there. It's time to keep moving forward.
Remember Lot's wife. Look not behind thee. Keep moving forward.