Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sigh... What a Beautiful Day

Dear Family and Friends,

This week I am simply... happy. Yes, there are definitely things that could go better in my life, but so many things are going right... and I am amazed. My job working at the MTC, while unpaid, is remarkably fulfilling. We had a major deadline this week and I feel like I am making a difference. They have me working as a detail and style editor - everything must go through me before it can go to anyone else. ...I hope I'm worth at least what they pay me... I got a calling in my second ward today (I'm active in two wards - and, yes, I am happy to go to church and other functions for 10 hours each Sunday) - I'm the ward website specialist. We'll see how that goes. I have absolutely no clue how the members of the bishopric would know that I have done any website work. I don't tell anyone about that. I try to forget it myself. Oh well... I'm sure that the Lord knows what He is doing. Tomorrow I actually get to attend my ward Family Home Evening! I normally have practice for Pirates of Penzance on Monday nights, but they are working on three numbers where I don't sing! More blessings... But even when I have practice, I'm happy. I love the cast members of Pirates; we have a great time, especially when we are all together in the same room. This next week I'm also attending an Author's Conference at BYU; they are bringing in some editors from major publishers and a book agent... so I thought that I would go to learn a bit more about the publishing world. It's a conference specifically for youth writing - from picture book to YA novel - so I'm taking three of my newest children's picture books. I'm not sure exactly how the conference will go, but my hope is to have the opportunity to share the manuscripts and find someone interested in them. I'll have my fingers crossed.

I am just grateful for the hand of the Lord in my life. No matter what happens, He is there for me. He is with me, beside me; He leads and guides me in everything I do... and brings me peace. Saturday evening I went out walking; since I've finished Watching Cookies in the Oven, I've wondered what my next major goal in life would be. I work best when I have something that will spur me forward and help focus my efforts - and in the wake of one I needed to find another. I walked down the street to a small roadside park and sat there, read the scriptures, wrote in my journal, watched the sunset, and prayed. A lot of options went through my mind... many which I'd be happy doing... but, as I thought, I realized that I don't want to simply be happy. I don't want to just live a fulfilling life. I want to fulfill my own unique purpose in life, and live the best life I can. I want to make a difference in the world. In that light, most of my options didn't feel right. After a few hours, I received an answer. I learned that I need to prepare to take some graduate school exams. It's not much, but at least it is a goal... and from what I've seen from friends who studied for the GMAT, LSAT, GRE, and everything else, I could definitely dedicate my life to it!

It amazes me that God is willing to talk with me - to help me determine the direction I should follow in life. He is always willing to help me, and I find that as I speak with Him, my thoughts change. I go from wanting something simple - like something to do to fill my time - to wanting something sublime - like goals that will help me fulfill my purpose in life. Of course, it may take a while for my thoughts to rise to the occasion, but once they do He gives me the answer that I need.

Each of us has a unique purpose in life - not just a purpose to become a doctor or a teacher or a fireman. It is something that only we can do... and something that will cause us to stretch far beyond our normal capabilities. As we turn to God and ask Him for guidance, He will help us to raise our thoughts... and then inspire us to become the men and women He sees in us. It may take some time - perhaps even a lifetime - to understand, but He is here with us, beside us, to lead us and to guide us. He will never leave our sides, and if we look around us, we will always find so much for which to be grateful. If you do not already know, take some time to talk with God and understand your own purpose in life. It may not be time to reveal it all yet (since we may not be able to understand the ways of the Lord)... but He will always reveal enough to let us know that we are on the right path... and that He is there.

Staying Alive on the Roller Coaster of Life (June 1)

Dear Family and Friends,

I accomplished a lot this week. Monday I finished a mostly polished copy of Watching Cookies in the Oven and felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. 15 months of writing… and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel! If any of you are dying to give feedback on the manuscript, just send me an email.

Tuesday we had our first practice for Pirates of Penzance. We rehearse Mon-Thu from 6-9pm and Sat from 10am-2pm. Add in an hour of driving to get there, and my evenings from 5-10 and most of my Saturday is gone! Everyone doesn’t always need to be there, but since I am on stage for almost every number, I am part of almost every practice. I like the other performers – they are really serious about learning their parts and getting it right (a breath of fresh air from school plays and musicals)… and at the same time we laugh a lot and have a great time. They asked us to grow out our hair… but it’s only three more months (I’m hoping that I don’t look terrible). They also asked the pirates to grow facial hair, but I pulled my “I work at the Missionary Training Center” card and the director said, “That’s ok. You’re Frederic anyway – you should probably be different from the rest of the pirates. Keep your clean shave.” Thank heavens for that! Info on our performance schedule and tickets is at the bottom of this email.

Emotionally, this week has been a rollercoaster. Monday I was on top of the world (thanks to finishing my book), and I slowly floated down through the week. But then Friday was absolutely awful. An incredibly strong wave of apathy, gloom, and sorrow washed over me. It seemed like it was trying to choke me… and I didn’t know what to do.

For at least the last ten years, every so often I’ll have instances where I feel like the world should just fall on top of me… like I’m worthless and will never amount to anything. Listing off the good things I’ve done doesn’t help. I can’t concentrate enough to read the scriptures… and I can’t bring myself to even sing. It’s the most intense bad feeling I ever feel – so strong that you are willing to do anything to stop it. I’m really not sure what causes it… but it seems to happen more often in the moments when I’m not actively engaged in a good cause, when I’m not in social settings, and in the wake of major accomplishments. This time, I got out of the house and just started driving. I wanted to find a volleyball or soccer game so I could turn my mind elsewhere, but I couldn’t find one. Eventually, I found myself driving towards the Provo Temple. “Dear Lord,” I began, “I need help.” At that very moment, I felt a wave of love wash over me and I knew that God was with me, at my side, and that, whatever the source of my sorrow, He would help me overcome it. I cried in the Temple parking lot, then exercised (and cried some more), then finally went to another parking lot and wrote in my journal. By then, the clear skies had turned to clouds and the wind raced along the ground. I think that each of us has ways that we know God loves us. When I am struggling, He sends the wind and the rain. Thankfully, the hours of gloom passed and I was again able to smile.

I can see how this experience has changed my life over time. I don’t struggle with the day-to-day issues of chronic depression… but, often enough that I am constantly on guard, I fall into a pit of despair. I know that happiness is the purpose of our existence, which makes the experience all the more painful. In every case, I have had to turn to the Lord for help… often after trying every other thinkable way of diverting my thoughts. Finally, I realize what is happening and I give away my feelings for the love that He has for me.

I don’t think that I am a perfectionist or that I have personal expectations that I will never achieve. I feel like I have conquered my past problems and I am battling my present deficiencies. And I try to take care of my body… so hopefully I don’t have any major chemical imbalances in my brain. Whatever the cause, I have realized that my infrequent dips into intense emotional pain have caused me to reflect on my life and make goals to be a better person. Over the years, I have developed my own understanding of relying on the Lord and learned to better love others.

Each of us will have experiences so painful that we would do anything to escape. The death of a loved one, failure, broken dreams… all these can leave us reeling. Added to the pain of experiences, the rules of darkness would choke our faith and fill us with fear… destroying our ability to do what is right. Yet, it is in these hours of darkness, as happened to the prophet Joseph, that we turn to the Lord and feel His light filling our souls. At the moment of his deepest despair, when he was about to give himself over to pain, depression, and sorrow, he called out to God… and in that moment the darkness fled as a pillar of light descended – a vision of the love of God that would change his life, and ours, forever.

My prayer is that each of us, when faced with pain, will turn to God and place our lives faithfully and optimistically in His hands. He is always with us, every step of the way. He is the motivation behind our greatest accomplishments… and He is the teacher behind the wisdom we gain from our greatest defeats. He loves us – so much that He is willing to let us experience everything necessary to be happy in this life and exalted in the next. Smile. Pray. And help others – go out and be missionaries!

p.s. - The directors finally answered my questions on tickets for Pirates of Penzance; here’s all the information I have:

We are performing at the Off Broadway Theater (272 S. Main Street, Salt Lake). Don’t buy tickets online. You can buy tickets by calling the box office (801-355-4628 - it’s normally open Monday, Friday, and Saturday afternoon) or by going in person.

Always tell them you know David (I’m playing Frederic). If you know an actor all tickets are eight dollars.

We perform July 31st, Aug 1, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 17, 21, 22, 24, 28, and 29 at 7:30. There is also a matinee at 2:00 on August 15 and maybe a matinee at 2:00 on August 22. Tickets are already on sale.

The Realm of the Impossible (May 25)

Dear Family and Friends,

Life is great. In the next few days I will finish my polished draft of Watching Cookies in the Oven (my inspirational collection) and then I'll send it off to people to read... and to publishers. Starting Tuesday, when practice for Pirates of Penzance begins, my schedule will again be busy. Not crazy, but busy nonetheless.

I began working in the development department of the MTC on Monday. I'm not supposed to give the details of our work, but the team name is pretty self-explanatory. We develop stuff. I've been assigned as the primary editor for the team. Someone writes a document, gives it to me for feedback, implements my changes, sends it to managers for more feedback, gives it back to me for a final grammar/layout/clarity check, then we send it up the line. They give us feedback and it starts all over before we go up to the next person.

I've really enjoyed editing work. It's an incredible experience to take someone's work, decipher what it is they are really trying to say, then bring it out using clear, concise statements. (Now if I could only do the same thing with all of my own writing!) And I think the best part is that I'm looking at new things almost every time. Most of my experience editing has been with my own writing... and, while editing your own writing can cause it to become incredible, that same editing has usually proven to be a time-consuming process. At work, I'm always working on someone else's writing, so I don't have to worry about whether or not to actually implement the editing changes – only give them and provide explanations if necessary. I'm also in charge of creating our style guide and writing rules, which is an empowering role. Should this be italicized or in quotations? I get to choose (as long as I keep it consistent)!

I also found a small 24-hour gym that is close enough that I can run there, exercise, and run back. Well, almost. It's almost two miles away, and I live on a mountain, so there isn't much running back... and the first time I actually ran there and walked back my legs were sore for days. But the gym is nice (better facilities than the larger gyms), and during peak periods there are only about 5 people there.

Some days, I sit down to write and have this inspiring vision from which to draw. The only difficulty is getting it all on paper. Other days, my mind is woefully blank... and not only do I have to get my thoughts on paper, but I have to find some thoughts to write. Today is one of the latter. But that's really similar to some times in my life. Over the last few months, I've wondered exactly what I should be doing with my life. Should I prepare to teach high school? Go full-time into writing? Find another job in a completely unrelated field? Or do something else entirely. Most of the time, I haven't received a huge amount of direction, so I'm trying to follow the direction that “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause... and do many things of their own free will and choice.”

I guess my thoughts this week are on how to live a meaningful life. In the parts of my life where there is divine direction, I make covenants and commitments to be perfect. Not to try to be perfect, or to strive to be perfect, but to actually be perfect. I realize completely that, alone, I will never be able to live up to this commitment. That's why it's a covenant – a major part is living my life worthily so that I can ask God to make up for all my inadequacies.

On my mission, we were instructed to make goals of how many people we would meet and teach each day. Many of our goals, while they were directly affected by our own personal initiative, depended on the actions of others. We could only find new people to teach if they wanted to be taught... and we could only bring them to Church if they wanted to come. Hence, we had to ask God for help in completing our goals. We knew that He had helped us to set them, and we asked Him for help in fulfilling them. We promised Him we would work our best, and He blessed us with success.

After my mission, I entered school and the workplace. Many of my goals involved myself instead of others. I had the desire to take lots of classes, work, volunteer, and be involved in everything at BYU. So I signed up for 24 credits, got a job, accepted callings, and asked the Lord to help me do what I had thought was impossible... and He did.

Accomplishing something that I thought was impossible wasn't an easy task. At first, I was incredibly scared. I'm not a perfectionist, but “I am the slave of duty” (quote from Pirates – how ironic), which means that once I have made a commitment, I move Heaven and Earth to keep it or I feel like the scum of the earth. My fear was this: What if I fill my schedule so full that everything falls apart? What if I tax my body so hard that I get sick and can't keep my commitments to anyone?

I went forward and began by doing what I knew was possible. I signed up for as many credits as I had taken the semester prior and made commitments for other aspects of my time. But then, just as I had “finished” putting together my schedule, a few more opportunities would come my way. After praying for guidance, I felt in almost every case that I should say yes. I said yes, and I moved from the realm of the possible to the impossible.

Most of us live in the world of the possible. We do things that we know we can do, and are very quick to say, “I could never do that” when we see something outside of our realm. We work each day as writers, lawyers, teachers, and we think of ourselves that way. But, in reality, each of us has the potential to be divine. We can learn everything, and we can do everything. In all reality, nothing is impossible... as long as you are working with God. That's the turning point. Hence, perhaps I should redefine my last statement from the previous paragraph. When I took on more than I knew I could handle alone, I moved from the realm of self-reliance on my own skills to a life that, in order to be successful, required help from the Lord – a life requiring faith.

Alma and Moroni taught that faith is only exercised when there is uncertainty. After that, it becomes a perfect knowledge and you must continue on the path in order to exercise more faith. While I often think of this in terms of the Gospel and Gospel understanding, I have learned that God is anxious to be involved in the affairs of the rest of my life, too. The Lord expects us to exercise faith in everything we do – not just while reading our scriptures. And that's why I took so many classes at BYU... why I live a crazy schedule... why I commit to accomplishing more than I believe I can on my own – so that I can develop and exercise faith throughout the daily affairs of my life.

I think that this is actually one of the great truths of life that enables me to live a fulfilling life. Make binding commitments higher than your ability to keep, and then enlist the help of God through faith so you can get there. In doing so, you develop spiritually and physically... and you make a bigger impact on the world. When you have achieved your dreams, raise your vision higher than you thought possible, and begin anew.

The impossible commitments we make during life are different for each of us. Maybe you know that you don't have time to write a journal, but you want the blessings from it. So you make the commitment to do it and ask the Lord to help you. He will help you, and you will find that, while it is still incredibly hard, there will be time and inspiration to write your thoughts... and He will bless you for your efforts. He will make you more efficient in the other things you do so that there is time for the commitments you have made. For me, I just signed up to be the lead tenor in Pirates of Penzance. I've always thought I was a bass, and I have no clue what is going to happen. But I know that if I ask God in faith and do my part He will make me a better man and give me the faith to accomplish my dream... or help me to find one better suited for me.

Each of us ultimately must covenant with God to be perfect. Alone, we will never get there – especially not during this life. But with Him at our side, nothing is impossible. He will give us the tools to accomplish those things which we have committed to doing, after we have truly committed and shown our willingness to sacrifice in order to effect them in our lives. He gives us the tools to do anything... and, ultimately, to be perfect.

I know that God is our Father. He loves us and wants us to be like Him. But, in order to help us, we must first commit to doing something beyond our own personal ability, ask for His help and guidance, and finally live righteously so that we are worthy of His divine guidance. Following those steps, there is nothing that is impossible.

I Stand All Amazed (May 18)

Dear Family and Friends,

I am amazed. Do dreams always come true? So much has happened this week that I'm not sure where to start.

Monday I decided on a new title for my inspirational book that is nearing completion – Watching Cookies in the Oven. With the new title came the realization that I no longer needed 52 chapters (the previous title was 52 Weeks), so I took out about 20, and the result is a much more manageable (and more finished) manuscript.

Tuesday I edited my most recent children's book, and the result (the new version of Children of the Queen) was really good. So I'm going to shoot for the sky. BYU is hosting a “Writing for Young Readers” conference next month, and they'll have some pretty high-profile guests (editors... and an established literary agent). My plan is to try pitching my ideas to them with the hope that I could land a contract with one of the major publishing firms. Like I said, I'm just going to shoot as high as possible. I'll land somewhere on the way down.

I began writing two more books on Wednesday. One is a modern rendition of Hansel and Gretel that takes place in Africa, and the other is a book called “Go Read This Book When You're Under a Tree.” I also got a call from the MTC asking me to start work with my internship this week!

Thursday I had callbacks for Pirates of Penzance. On my way to callbacks, I thought about simply not going. I had realized that the hour long one-way commute was a bit long... and I didn't relish the thought of paying for gas and parking, especially when the Scera Shell Outdoor Theater in nearby Orem was doing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat around the same time. The Scera is a lot closer and would be easier to fit into a busy schedule. But, because I had told the director I would be at callbacks, I felt like I needed to fulfill my commitment. The cold reading went really well, and I decided to simply give it my all in the singing. Near the end, the director took four of us and had a girl stand next to each of us (to see how each guy fit with the girl, I assume...). When I realized that there was a chance of my actually getting a major role, I rethought a bit. I was trying out for musicals so that I could have experience and exposure. If I were cast as a major role in Pirates of Penzance, I would have the opportunity to learn tap (experience), get great stage time (experience and exposure), and learn a new musical (experience). So I thought, prayed, and made a decision. If they offered me the lead, I would accept it. If not, then I would go try out for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The end result? I've been cast as the male lead – Frederic – and our first music practice is a week from Tuesday. We'll have practices throughout the summer, and then perform during the month of August.

Frederic is a high tenor... and I've always thought of myself as a bass. That transitions into what happened Saturday at my vocal master class. A famous voice teacher came to Salt Lake through my voice studio and, during the 2-hour master class, worked with individual volunteers. After working with me for ten minutes, I mentioned that I was often assigned to sing tenor even though I was a bass. “But you're not a bass,” was his reply, “You're a tenor.” I stared at him. I'm still not sure if I believe him. I'm only just realizing that I can sing in the tenor range and people appreciate it.

Along with the great events here came sobering news from home. A good family friend passed away after fighting with cancer. And while I know that she is free of pain, with her loved ones, and has finally passed the test, it doesn't lessen the ache that is left behind on earth. It’s like in Children of the Queen – there is a time to mourn... to reflect on memories and events, loves and passions. As painful as the events of life may be, I know that the Lord knows what He is doing. He will do everything to enable us to be eternally happy... and happy in the here and now. Each of us has gifts, talents, and abilities that can bless the lives of others. One of the best ways to learn happiness is to dedicate yourself to the service of others. Sometimes we are content to do little things... but ultimately the Lord has great things in store for us. You may not be inspired to audition for Broadway or to write the next New York Times Bestseller. ...But you also may. Each of us needs to be willing to shoot for the stars when we see the opportunity come. Whether we arrive at our intended destination isn't as important as the journey that takes us there.

I know that Jesus is the Christ and that He will guide us as we search for excellence. With Him at our side, we have the ability to achieve anything... to rebound from the most difficult challenges, to overcome the hardest trials, to rise to the greatest success. Life is always hard. It will always be hard. But that's ok.

Great Things (May 11)

Dear Family and Friends,

Almost every day this week something amazing happened.

Monday I met with the director of the MTC for lunch; he got his PhD in Instructional Psychology and Technology (a field I'm thinking about) and I wanted to talk about possible career paths. Our conversation went really well and I felt impressed to ask him about opportunities to work in developing new ideas at the MTC. He put me in touch with the director of the Development department... which is the department that originally wrote the Missionary Guide, then Preach My Gospel, then created the Preach My Gospel DVD's...

Tuesday I realized, after my voice lesson, that my range was good enough to sing "Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods. In the last month, I've had a few epiphanies as far as singing goes that have extended my comfortable chest voice singing range from being a bass (F2 to E4 - the low F to the E above middle C) to entering the tenor range (all the way up to A4). I decided to practice the new song once or twice in order to make it part of my audition repertoire.

Wednesday I met with the director of the Development department at the MTC; he took me to lunch and brought his entire department to meet me. We talked about the different projects in works in the department and I felt really good there. The people are passionate about their work and they love each other, and I feel like it's something that I could do (or at least of which I could be a part). I asked for the opportunity to work with the curriculum development team. The director said he would talk with his managers about our options and asked me to drop by today (Monday) to see what they thought. He also mentioned that since the Church (and by extension, the MTC) has a blanket hiring freeze, they won't be able to hire me... which is probably just fine for right now. It should give me an opportunity to gain experience and work on a worthwhile project at the same time.

Thursday I went with my grandmother to visit one of her friends in the hospital. As we talk, she asks me about the book that I'm writing. I mention that it's an inspirational book and she smiles and says, "That's my editor! My editor does inspirational books! As soon as you are ready to submit it, just let me know and I'll give it a proper introduction." Just the day before, I had pondered how on earth I was going to get my book past the "slush pile" and to a senior editor. The "slush pile" is a term for all the unsolicited manuscripts that a publishing house receives. Normally, an intern or some other low-level staff sorts through the submitted works, scans the query letters, and, if they like it, stick it in one pile. If not, they send a form letter of rejection. Then it goes on to another person... and another... and another... until, after many, many steps, it arrives at someone who has power to accept the manuscript, not just power to reject it. My grandmother's friend would be the perfect contact to make my book stand out among the crowd. I may also ask for endorsements... but we'll see about that.

Saturday I auditioned for "Pirates of Penzance" - a comic musical that will be playing in downtown Salt Lake City (at the Off Broadway Theater). I took "Giants in the Sky" after buying the sheet music and memorizing the words. The accompanist wasn't able to play it, since it went too fast for him, so after a few lines they asked me to start over and sing a capella. I did, and after a few lines completely forgot the words to the song. I just stopped singing, and kept looking up at the sky, willing the words to come back. The director said, "It's obvious that you can sing... let's go on to scales." A wave of relief washed over me as I realized that she had thought my dramatic pause was simply waiting for the nonexistent music to do an interlude... and not that I had forgotten the words! They liked my voice, my range, and my dancing (and I was excited to learn that the musical involves a lot of tap - that's the one style of dance that I haven't yet studied), so they called me back for callbacks this coming Thursday. I'll keep you updated; the musical plays during the month of August.

And Sunday I got to talk with my missionary brother in Chile, I sang in church in my afternoon ward (I regularly attend two wards - one at 8:30am and one at 1:00 pm), and I simply loved the 11 hours I spent in meetings and everything else. During Sacrament meeting in my second ward, I was listening to the final speaker and suddenly had a vision of a children's book to write. It was the same feeling that had come over me when I wrote Ten Days Until Forever, so I began writing on the back of my program. It's a book about the sacrifices that Mothers make for their families. Happy Mother's Day!
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