Monday, October 26, 2009


Dear Family and Friends,

On the whole, life is good. Savior of the World tickets went on sale this last week (I'm in the Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday Evening performances if you are trying to get tickets – click here then click "obtain tickets online" in the upper right hand corner or look for it on under events – Savior of the World), my beard is growing in and it's a variety of different colors (copper/red, brown, blond, clear...), and work at the MTC and teaching physics are both going well.

My family flew into town on Tuesday for Grandma's funeral. They've been here half a dozen times in the past year; it's been nice to spend so much time with them. Grandma's obituary came out Tuesday in the Deseret News as well – I guess that's both my claim to fame and my main contribution to the funeral effort.

The viewing was on Wednesday and I was touched by the beautiful flower arrangements sent by family and friends... and by the many people who came. It felt like we were having a mini family reunion – there were so many people that I hadn't seen in years. It was great to talk with everyone and to hear about their lives... and I'm sure that Grandma was having a wonderful reunion on the other side of the veil at the same time.

Thursday we had the funeral itself. We laid out different things that were stereotypically “grandma,” like her wooden nutcrackers or some of the pictures from her walls. The program was beautiful and uplifting – focused on the message that life doesn't end at death and that families can be together forever. All the grandchildren sang; while we sang I felt an incredible feeling of peace. Who would have thought that a funeral could be so enjoyable? After the funeral lunch, we drove to the family burial plot in Logan. After the grave was dedicated, they lowered the casket into a stone vault and then down into the ground. And then we helped the city cover it with the dirt the had been pulled out. Everyone who wanted to grabbed a shovel and filled the hole with rocks and dirt (mostly rocks, with a little dirt!). The professionals from the city of Logan were well-equipped with gloves and a machine that tamped down the earth, but even the littlest children got to help shovel.

My family left Saturday morning, and, just as quickly as it happened, it's over.

On another note, recently I've been having dreams about being at Stanford. At least, I assume it's Stanford, since I think that each time I've been somewhere in California. Each dream has highlighted different opportunities and struggles that will come from being a part of the Stanford community. Thankfully, instead of moving me away (as happens too frequently), I feel like it is simply preparing me for what is to come.

Life brings with it changes. There is always change. When we turn to the Lord, He will ensure that those changes are good changes – that we learn and grow and come closer to Christ. I encourage each of you to look at the things that are happening in your life – the changes that are taking place – and to determine what the Lord would have you learn. The lessons we gain from Him are often much more meaningful and relevant than anything we could have learned on our own.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Another Stage of Eternity - October 18, 2009

This morning my grandmother died. My father felt prompted to fly out from Chicago last night, so all three of her sons were there in the hospital, joined in prayer for her. Around 2:00, she slipped to the other side of the veil.
The viewing will be at 495 S State Street, the Sundberg Olpin Funeral Home in Orem on Wednesday evening from 6:00 to 8:00. There will be another viewing Thursday morning from 9:45 to 10:45 and then the funeral from 11:00 – 12:00 at the Edgemont North Stake Center – at the intersection of Canyon Road and Foothill Drive in Provo. The burial will be that afternoon in Logan.

Ever since I moved to Utah, I've spent time with Grandma. Before my mission, she would come pick me up from campus and always feed me – taking me out to dinner at a local restaurant when she was too tired to make a salad. Sometimes I dreaded coming to visit her because she made me eat so much. In the last few years we've gone to lunch each week at my uncle's house, and I've tried to get her to come out of the house to attend social events. She was the first person to experience the interactive scripts I was writing for work last year and she helped me brainstorm titles for my books. She gave me feedback on everything, and, even when I completely disagreed, I knew that she cared enough to listen. We are completely different... and there were definitely times when we disagreed... but as time has come and gone we learned to love each other in person (as opposed to at-a-distance). I've been with her in the hospital in the past, and while it has never been a great experience, each time she rallied and got well. When she entered the hospital this time, I thought she would be fine – just a few days ago she actually seemed like she was getting better. But her heart, lungs, and pancreas took a turn for the worse... and now she has gone on to the next stage of life.
Watching Grandma die has shown me that the events that surround death, and much of the emotions of death... are not really very relevant for the person who dies after all. An understanding of the gospel wipes away any tears that could ever fall for their sakes. They've passed the test and are finally moving on to better things. But we, here on earth, may lack that perspective... and grief comes when we have trouble letting go... thinking of all the conversations we now won't have... the times we won't be able to make them soup or talk over a homemade salad or wrap... how we won't be able to kiss them goodnight or talk about what we'll plant next year in the garden. But the Lord knows all that – and He has a plan for each of us. If we are doing what is right, everything in life is a blessing.

Years ago, I had recurring nightmares where I was together with my family on the expressway. Every time, we would swerve and fall off the on-ramp into a deep pool of water. My parents and siblings would die and leave me alone, floundering in the water. I had already gotten over my fears of dying; at the time, the thought of losing my family was the most horrific thing that could ever happen. As the dream continued... I realized that I had to deal with my feelings. I went through all the normal questions – Why would God allow my family to die? Why would He leave me alone, without anyone to understand me? And then, in the middle of a dream, my teenage self felt peace. And I realized if I would simply choose to do what was right, nothing else would matter. God would take care of me, and everything could somehow be a blessing in life – even the death of my loved ones. The nightmare stopped being a nightmare... and instead became a question – what would you do? Press forward with faith.

All of us will lose loved ones... or at least think that we have lost them. In reality, they have only been transferred to a different field of labor. Death is one of the things that is truly universal in the world. When loved ones of others have died, I've often wondered what to say. The only thing I really felt to be true – that it was a blessing for everyone and that we should turn our grief into a passion for becoming better – worked for me, but I wasn't sure if it would be as powerful for everyone else... and I didn't want to be trite. As death has taken those close to me, I realize that the message of the gospel is never trite. I know that the message of the gospel is true – it is the only way that we will be happy in this life... and it will support and sustain us no matter what happens.
I know that God loves us. He sent His Son to live for us, then to die for us. I know that each of us will rise in the Resurrection, and that we have the opportunity to live with our loved ones for eternity. The message of the gospel is one of peace and happiness!

Promptings - October 11, 2009

Life is in flux again... but the Lord is with me; I know that He will help me through it all. Monday, while at work, I had a strong impression that I needed to volunteer to help the missionaries learning Italian. If there was ever a week when that was not a convenient prompting, this was it. I tried to reason with myself, explaining that I needed the extra hours to work on my Stanford application, but I knew that the prompting hadn't come from my mind, but from God... and that meant that reasoning with myself wasn't going to do much good. So I went. When I arrived, I learned that there were three times as many volunteers as they needed. My mind said, “Go home! They don't need you.” My heart: “You were prompted to be here. So you need to be here.” I stayed. Near the end of the second lesson, I wondered if the Lord would tell me why He had sent me there. Then a knock came at the door. I opened it to find the director of the Teaching Resource Center. He asked if he could speak to me, then invited me to volunteer for another half hour to help another set of missionaries who were preparing for a demonstration. I said yes, helped, and went home. As I left that day, the Lord revealed why He had sent me there and reminded me of other times when He had prompted me to do something – not because it was truly important, but because it was important to someone else, and He needed someone to answer their prayers. The director of the TRC had asked for help in finding volunteers who could help train the missionaries, and the Lord sent me there to answer his prayer. It was important to him, so it was important to God. And, for me, it means that the Lord is guiding me, and, more importantly, that I am listening.

The last few weeks I've been dedicating every spare moment to the completion of my application to the joint MBA/MA in Education at Stanford. While writing the essays, I've had amazing experiences. Each of the essays allowed me to reflect on my goals in life, the things that I've done, and the person I've become over the last 23 years. My answer to the first, “What matters most to you, and why?” has focused my view of the Plan of Salvation and missionary work more into something powerful – I realized that everyone is searching for happiness – not just some people in the world, but everyone. The realization came at the end of a long gospel discussion that I had with myself. Two more essays fell into place as soon as I took my dad's advice to talk about business-related topics, and the next essay, about career goals, flew by. But it felt like I was missing something. I didn't realize what it was until Tuesday night.

Tuesday night I needed to get the application done – it was due Wednesday. Tuesday was also my brother's birthday, which meant that every hour spent on essays was an hour missing his dinner and party. I finally decided that I had done enough to justify going mini-golfing with him and friends when I realized that I had written the statement of objectives essay (for the education aspect of the program) wrong. Instead of being 2-3 pages, single-spaced (as was indicated on the site), it needed to be 2 pages, double-spaced (as indicated in the application itself). It was six times too long. When I got home from mini-golfing, I spent the rest of the night writing and fixing essays. I finished at 4:30 in the morning.

But during the refining process somewhere between 9:00 and 4:30 the Lord helped me realize an incredible thing. I knew that I wanted to change the world of education. The essays required me to be specific, so in the first drafts I listed everything I wanted to see change in our educational system. After listing the changes, it was easy for me to identify which ones needed to be accomplished first, which were most important, and which were most defined. The only idea that fit all three criteria was focused on changing educational assessment methods, and so I detailed what I wanted to change. As I continued to explain the process I wanted to see instated, I realized why I needed a business degree to make it happen – why the Lord had inspired me to apply to business school when I practically promised myself I would never do so. My dream includes creating a global nonprofit organization dedicated to centralizing assessments – to pull formal education out of the classrooms and into the world. Creating and administering a global nonprofit will definitely require business expertise... and the Lord knew, even before I did, what I needed. I went back and rewrote my essays to ensure that the admissions committee would catch my vision, and then sent them off.

I'll know by December 13th... but before then there are alumni interviews. Hopefully I'll get an interview, and hopefully I'll be admitted. Asking for help has become a daily part of my personal prayers. A few people have told me that Stanford doesn't like BYU graduates – which could potentially make it even harder for me to get in. But I know that, no matter what happens, the Lord is at my side. I'll do everything I can and leave the rest to Him. Whatever happens will be for the best.

After my one-day respite on Thursday, Friday I had Savior of the World practice. I'm an apostle during part of the second act, and we practiced the Upper Room scene where Christ appears following His Resurrection. The feeling in the room was incredible. We are listening to Cleopas and Peter speak about the road to Emmaus and then He is there. Every time we practiced the scene, I felt like I was really there – in a small upper room in Jerusalem, surrounded by disciples and apostles, the risen Lord before us. My tears were real every time.

That night, as I drove home from Bountiful, I realized why God had asked me to try out for Savior of the World. It wasn't because the directors needed me – there are plenty of people who could have filled my spot – but because He wanted me to be there. He wanted me to experience it. Simply, He wanted to bless me. I think I cried more driving home than I did throughout the entire rehearsal as I reflected and realized how intricately involved the Lord has been in my life. In everything I do, He is there. I ask a question and He answers. And every single day He guides me to be happier myself and to help others to be happy.

Often in my life I am prompted to do something I might not normally do. Sometimes it's easy to see why the Lord would ask me to serve others. I can see a need and it makes sense immediately. Other times it takes a little while to understand the purpose of the prompting – to see how my actions have blessed the lives of others. And, sometimes, the Lord prompts me for my own sake – to build my own testimony and to bless me in my own life.

Each of us can be prompted in our daily lives to act in accordance with the will of God. Sometimes those promptings are for others – the inclination to help a neighbor or call a friend. Other times, they are for us – to help us gain essential knowledge in life or to better understand the will of the Lord and to see His hand in everything around us. No matter who we are or where we are in life, He is willing to speak to us. We only need to be willing to listen. I still have a long way to go before I live up to the blessings God has given me... but I'd like to invite you to make a commitment this next week. Each morning, ask the Lord to speak to you throughout the day. Then, as you go about your normal tasks, listen. When (not if, when) a prompting to do good comes, follow it. Whether He shows you how it blessed the life of someone else, you gain knowledge that changes your life, or you simply have the confidence that comes from following what you know to be right, following the promptings of the Spirit will always bless your life.

I know that the Lord is with us; He walks before us and prepares the way so that we can be happy and successful in life. As we follow His promptings, we will come to better know His voice – and He will guide us on paths higher than we ever thought possible. He loves you and wants you to be happy.

The Right Perspective - October 4, 2009

Just when I think that my life is getting organized, the stress hits. Life is crazy, but Conference has helped me see a better perspective... and I don't think I'm drowning anymore.

Last week at Savior of the World practice the director asked the men to grow beards and long hair. I pulled the “I work at the MTC” card and they asked me to ask my supervisors for permission. The only problem with that procedure is that people are really willing to make exceptions for me – so when I asked my boss, she suggested that we ask the director of the MTC. He gave me permission... which essentially meant that now I get to (have to, have the opportunity to... depending on your point of view!) be an employee of the MTC with a beard. Since having a beard is an obvious deviation from the missionary clean-cut standard, they've asked me to come to work without a white shirt or name tag. I feel incredibly awkward at work now... and I try to avoid being around missionaries and other employees as much as possible.

I took the GMAT on Friday. I had studied a total of 10 hours – 3 hours for three days two weeks ago and an hour on Thursday night. I took the day off work so that I didn't have any major stressors beforehand... The math section was intense, but I felt like I had found the answer to most of the questions. The verbal section was a bit trickier, but I finished the test feeling happy about my performance. I got a 770, which fulfilled my goal of getting at least a 760. A 770 is competitive at most schools. I'm grateful that I take tests well!

Grandma entered the hospital on Thursday. She has had atrial fibrillation, which means that her atria (heart chambers) were not operating in harmony. The problem had escalated to the point that her heart wasn't pumping enough oxygen to her brain – affecting her motor skills and ability to speak. After wrestling with doctors who each had different ideas, we finally had her heart restarted (Cardioversion) and put into rhythm, which will hopefully address most of the problems. She is still doing really badly – not really willing to open her eyes, talk, or eat unless she's forced to. Hopefully she'll decide to get some life and wake up sometime soon. I spent all of Saturday in the hospital with her and consequently missed Conference.
It was Saturday that I realized that recently I've been stressed out of my mind. My application for Stanford which takes every waking non-Sunday hour, dating, Church callings, teaching physics, work, Grandma sick and then in the hospital, trying to find an illustrator for my book, growing a beard for Savior of the World... on Saturday I just felt completely overwhelmed and almost fainted in the hospital. It probably didn't help that I was watching the ultrasound machine as the attendant was looking for the right spot to put in a PIC line in Grandma's arm... but I only barely made it outside, vision blurred, for a short run to raise my blood pressure. As I came back in, my dad called me with some advice for my business school application. He attended Harvard, and he realizes how different of a perspective I have compared to the business world. He made some cogent suggestions on how to word work experiences, choose essay topics, and the like to ensure that I was communicating on a level that the admissions committee would understand. But even though I was aware of the accuracy of his statements, I felt so completely overwhelmed (add to the list four hours of conference that I missed since I was in the hospital) that I wondered if it was worth the effort to even try.

I went home from the hospital around 5 to prepare for the Priesthood session of General Conference and prayed for help. Help for Grandma, help in knowing what to do, help in doing it once I knew. Among those I asked whether I should follow my dad's advice.

I arrived to Conference at the Marriott Center... and smiled for the first time in a week. The first talk, of all topics in the world, was on the importance of taking advice from your dad, especially if you are a returned missionary making life decisions like choosing your educational pathway. The Lord is usually very clear in His answers to me, but I laugh when I hear Him speaking to me at General Conference.
As time has progressed through the rest of the Conference, I haven't gotten any closer to finishing the projects that loom over my head... but my perspective has changed. I know what I need to do (at least right now) to do my part in accomplishing God's work. I know that He is at my side, and that He will help me to accomplish His will as long as I am striving to follow His promptings. And while life will still continue to be hard (which means that I will be spending every waking hour from 4 tomorrow morning until Wednesday at 5:00 at work, at the hospital, or working on my application), I feel positive – that I'll be able to do my best... and I know that, no matter what happens, the Lord will take my best and mold me into something better.

When life overwhelms you, sometimes all you need is a bit of perspective – the understanding that God is with you and beside you every step of the way. Turn to Him for guidance, for comfort, and for help in applying the principles most important in your own life. Then go share it with the world.

What Matters Most - September 27, 2009

Life is starting to get busy again. Wow. General Conference is next week. Make sure you take a few questions with you so that the Lord can answer them.
We had our first Savior of the World practice yesterday in North Salt Lake and I haven't yet figured out why I'm supposed to be there. One thought I had – maybe it would have a bearing on finding an eternal companion – was quickly postponed when the director announced the “no dating within the cast” rule. After hearing every leader in the Church encourage young single adults to date everyone we meet, I doubt that the no dating rule went through Correlation or any of the Administrative Councils. Whatever. I guess I'll have to resort to “hanging out” with anyone I find really interesting.

I've spent every spare moment writing essays for my application to Stanford. Stanford has a dual MBA/MA in Education program that I think would be great (complete with professors that have already played a major part in educational reform)... but the competition will be pretty rough. Each year the MBA program has a graduating class of less than 400, and, projecting more than 8500 applications this year, that's an acceptance rate of less than 5%! The dual MBA/MA program accepts about 20. I'm only planning to apply to Stanford - it's the only program that fits... but I'll think of some other schools as potentials by Friday.

Why Friday? I take the GMAT this Friday at noon. At the testing center, I need to supply the school codes of every institution that I want to receive my scores. Scary, considering that everyone I know who has taken it recently spent months preparing. I spent three days two weeks ago and I don't think I'll make time in my schedule until maybe Wednesday or Thursday.

But, even though my chances are slim, I feel like this is the right thing to do. As I've worked on application essays, I have often typed for hours and then finally had a bolt of inspiration that resulted in essays far beyond what I originally envisioned. I've laughed, cried, and even gotten mad from the memories that each story evokes. One essay, the most notorious of the application, comes from this prompt: “What matters most to you, and why?” After struggling for days on this one, I had a number of realizations that helped me truthfully answer the question. This is what I have right now:

My first answer to the question of what matters most was simply, “My relationship with God.” Then I asked why. The answer I gave was, “Because through my relationship with God I've gained knowledge that has given me a better perspective in life.” For a while I was OK with that answer. But, as time went on, I thought, “But, then, isn't what matters most the knowledge? And why do I value that knowledge? Because it gives me hope, peace, and happiness. Then, really, isn't what I value hope, peace, and happiness? If my relationship with God didn't bring me those things, it wouldn't matter. But, then, why would happiness be the most important thing in my life?”

At this point I started struggling to understand everything I've done in life. Why am I religious? Why do I want to go to Stanford? Why do I do anything? I'm not willing to believe that we, as humans, are directed solely by instinct – that life is simply an exercise in maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. But what other answer was there to explain my desire to be happy? And so I did what I do whenever I have questions I can't answer – I prayed for help and turned to the scriptures. And as I read, I realized why.

Within the framework of the knowledge I have from God, I know that good and evil are irrevocably tied to the eternal opposites of happiness and misery. Happiness comes from being good, and misery comes from being evil. Still, that doesn't explain why I value happiness more than misery. I know that we are all children of an infinitely good God, and that we were created in His image. But that doesn't answer the question, either. There is no reason to assume that we have the same values as God; while we were formed in His image, the intelligence that makes us who we are has existed since the beginning of the time. We didn't inherit His personality or His values – only His potential. While we have traces of Divinity within ourselves, that Divinity cannot predispose us to good or evil. What matters most to us cannot be influenced by our past or even by our natures. Ultimately, what matters most depends solely on our individual choice.

Hence, the reason that happiness matters most to me is because I have decided it for myself. I have chosen happiness... and, from there, flow the rest of my decisions in life.

I believe that, deep down, happiness matters most to all people. The only other option is misery, and I don't think I've ever met someone who truly wanted to be miserable.

The differences in our lives and actions, then, come from the differences in what we perceive to be the road to happiness. One man believes that wealth and fame will bring him happiness – and so he values it more than anything else. Another believes that developing family bonds will lead to happiness, and so the family tops his list.

I believe that God knows the road to eternal happiness, and that He has created a plan for us so that we, too, can be happy in this life and in the life to come. He has revealed the things that we should do so that we can learn in this life to be happy. The plan of happiness is simple – we need to search out the truth in all places, make changes in our lives to adhere to that truth, and come closer to God by making covenants with Him. True happiness comes from following the plan and helping others to do the same.

On a professional level, I would say that what matters most is being in an organization that understands the basics of this plan. It means having an organizational structure like that of IDEO, where the CEO searches for truth in all places by meeting often with the people on the lowest tier, and where the ideas that shape the company's future come from the people at the bottom as well as the top. It means being willing to completely restructure, like Stanford achieved recently with its MBA curriculum, to meet the needs of an ever-changing society. And it means being willing to understand and accept what matters most to employees and clients – even when it isn't the company's stock – and creating an environment where they can continue to matter most.

It still needs a lot of work. I'll work on it tomorrow. But what was amazing to me was how involved the Lord was in the experience. After struggling, I turned to the scriptures and suddenly understood the answer... and not only was I able to answer the question for me, individually, but I was also able to answer the question for everyone – and to show that everyone is involved in the same search for happiness. I read the essay to my younger brother and he mentioned that, given a thousand essays, he would definitely pick this one as being representative of me. My only concern as I finished writing was that maybe the committee would be prejudiced against someone who is so clearly religious. Do the members of the admissions committee really want a response that requires understanding the gospel? But then I realized that that is exactly what they are looking for. They wouldn't ask a question like, “What matters most to you, and why?” if they didn't logically expect to get profoundly individual answers, each written in a completely different paradigm that would require a lifetime to understand. And, as much as I may want to write to please the committee (and therefore get a spot), the essay truthfully explains who I am.

As I edit this (and every other) essay, I'll certainly add simple information to help my readers better understand my perspective. But I don't know if I will take out the unique vocabulary or the thoughts that raced through my mind – because it's who I am. And while one part of me says, “Just hide under a bushel until you're there – and then let your light so shine,” another pulls me to uphold my personal integrity, “Be yourself. Have faith. Don't worry. Everything will work out.”
Each of us has high-stakes scenarios where it would be easier to leave the gospel at the door. Places where we know we could have an impact on the lives of others; conversations where we know that our viewpoint would be the dissenting vote. But personal integrity requires much more than being a different person for each circumstance. It requires being the same person, holding the same values, no matter where we are. It means being faithful, true, and honest – willing to make any sacrifice that is necessary. In my case, it means being willing to reveal what really matters most in my life, and thereby sharing the plan of salvation in a high-stakes MBA application essay. Maybe for you it's being willing to talk with a friend about the gospel. Whatever the stakes, be true to yourself. No matter what happens, if you are doing what is right, the Lord will protect and provide for you. He will go before and prepare the way for you.

A Bittersweet Harvest - Sep 20, 2009

I got a part in the Savior of the World musical at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City! After not being called back to callbacks, the director called me Friday night and offered me an ensemble role. That means that I'll be part of the chorus – no speaking parts or solos. Very different from being in the spotlight in the Pirates of Penzance. But since the Lord told me to take any part (He specifically mentioned an ensemble role), I'm taking it. I don't know any details yet – our first practice is on Saturday in Bountiful. I still don't even know why the Lord wanted me to be in it in the first place. I guess we'll see.

This week I also took my first GMAT practice test. I need to take it so I can study Organizational Behavior (which is usually connected to business schools). I've read three different GMAT preparation books in the last few days; after reading them I wanted to see how well I would do on a practice test to isolate which areas to study. I got a 760 the first time, then I took it again two days later and got a 790. Both times I made a few stupid mistakes, which means that hopefully I can do as well or better on the real test day (October 2nd). I looked online and both of those are competitive scores at most schools. One admissions counselor online even suggested that it doesn't matter whether you get a perfect score – once you score that high, they stop caring. That's good news for me – it means that I'll put studying on the back burner and work on the next step – application essays and letters of reference. Then I realized what had just happened. Most people study for the GMAT for months and dream of getting a 760. I studied for a few days and feel ready. I am grateful that I take standardized tests so well.

I went out to our garden a few days ago and almost fell over in shock. The deer, which are the bane of our existence here in the mountains, had decided to do something a bit unusual. Instead of eating/trampling the tomato plants or chewing the mountain laurel down to nibs, they had decided to try eating pumpkin. Now, this needs a little bit of background. We planted pumpkins this year and by early August they were already huge – at least 40 lbs a piece. We've left them on the vines and a few of them are probably over 75 pounds. That's a massive pumpkin. Maybe even more. I'll have to get a scale tomorrow and weigh them. Either way, there was a massive hole in one of the largest pumpkins, complete with dozens of bite marks. A deer, or more than one, had eaten the pumpkin! For some reason, I didn't do anything about it. The next day, the hole had grown – the deer had eaten almost half of it! So I decided to take some action. I coated the pumpkin with the bite mark in cayenne pepper and sprinkled it on the rest of the pumpkins. The next morning the pumpkin with cayenne had only one more bite out of it... but almost every other pumpkin in the patch had been attacked! I then realized that nothing was going to keep our pumpkins safe from the deer, so I cut all the pumpkins off the vine and put them in the garage for storage. Looking back, I should have harvested the pumpkins the first time I saw evidence that the deer could break through and damage them.

From a gospel perspective, the pumpkins in my garden represent the talents, blessings, and abilities that we cultivate while we are in the world. We work to provide for our families, take classes to become better teachers, or sing so that we can improve our singing abilities. Sometimes we grow and flourish and see incredible results over time. But sometimes the environment in which we work may be hostile. It's much easier to just do nothing and hope that the deer (or any major negative influences) will go away, but it's not very likely. And, sometimes, even our best efforts in avoiding the deer don't seem to be effective. It's a painful fact that once an adversary has found a soft spot, whether on a pumpkin or anything else in our lives, he will always come back to it until he has broken through and achieved his goal.

I didn't want to harvest the pumpkins initially because I was afraid that they wouldn't grow anymore. It's a logical fear – when you cut the pumpkin off the vine, it stops growing. But I didn't realize that my inaction would lead to even more devastating results – losing two of the pumpkins entirely and marring the rest of them. In life, if we are slow to make changes in a toxic environment, it can have much worse results – affecting our spirits and the lives of those we love. My suggestion? Go through a spiritual detox. Identify the things in your life that interfere with your spiritual progression... and then change your environment. I know that the Lord is with us. He wants us to grow to our full potential – and, sometimes, that means changing who we are and moving forward in a new direction. Make the sacrifice to harvest the pumpkin a month early. It's worth it.

Moving Forward - September 14, 2009

Auditions for the Savior of the World performance at the Conference Center went well. I really liked the feeling that was there during the auditions – we opened with prayer and each of the directors sincerely thanked each of us for coming with the pieces we had prepared. We sang, did cold readings from the script (which meant we didn't have much time to prepare), and then it was over. I thought that I heard in passing that callbacks were this last weekend. I didn't get a call. But, whatever it means, I'm happy. The Lord asked me to go to the auditions and be willing to take any part. He didn't say I had to be in it. If they cast me as a lead, I'll be happy. If they cast me as an ensemble/chorus member, I'll be happy. And if they don't cast me at all, I'll be happy.

I started teaching part-time this week. I'm teaching a group of home-schooled students in Draper. My students range in age from 12 to 16... and in physics expertise from ignorance to having already memorized Newton's laws. It's definitely a different world than Riverton High – where I had a massive budget, equipment galore, and school resources beyond what I could ever use. My current class meets in a small, empty room next door to a real estate office. So Thursday, after I summarized every subject possible in physics that we could cover, we took a field trip and pushed my car in the parking lot – I taught them, using real-life examples, how force and acceleration are related. We even went so far as to address their driving habits (for the 16-year-olds) – showing that fast acceleration uses much more gas than does slow acceleration. Their assignment for this week: choose topics from the subjects I mentioned in class that they want to learn, tell me their learning styles (physical, verbal, musical, etc), and let me know what kinds of assignments they want (experimental, theoretical, etc). Even with 8 students, their answers are going to be across the board – one student really wants to learn Astronomy. Another wants to understand Quantum Physics. Another would just like to be actively doing kinematics. Another wants the theory behind it all, and another wants to build things without necessarily knowing the theories. Wow. This will be a great experience as I try to put my own beliefs about teaching into practice!

I had the realization that I need to take graduate school entrance exams in order to get into most graduate school programs. I think that I want to study Organizational Behavior... which would mean that I'll need to go to a business school, even though I'd like to apply it to the world of education. I've known that, and it's been tickling the back of my mind for a while, but I finally looked at the application deadlines online and was shocked to see that the first round of admissions ends at the beginning of October. That's in only a few weeks. Most people spend months getting ready for graduate school tests – I had a friend who essentially stopped dating his girlfriend, going to social activities, and became inactive at Church so that he could study for his graduate school exams – for months! And I have 18 days before I take the GMAT. I checked out a few books from the BYU library on GMAT preparation and have already read a few hundred pages. I guess I'll just have to pray that my memory retention skills will be as good as they were when I took the standardized tests that got me into BYU.

Looking back on this summer, there are lots of projects that I've started... but not a whole lot to show for them. I finally finished my book Watching Cookies in the Oven, but it's been sitting at Deseret Book for over 10 weeks. My friend who publishes with Deseret Book told me to wait six months before withdrawing it. We still haven't found an illustrator for Ten Days Until Forever. I also haven't found an illustrator / designer for my card game. I was in Pirates of Penzance... but it's over now. I worked at the MTC and created the Welcome Orientation – but that's only 15 minutes long. From one perspective, it looks like I did a lot and got very little accomplished... but from another perspective, I feel like this past summer was just fine. I had felt, very strongly, that I needed to talk with Richard Heaton – the director of the MTC. That led to my volunteering there – another strong impression. I woke up one day and felt impressed to try out for the Pirates of Penzance, and then the Lord told me I could decline a role as long as the director didn't offer me the lead. She did. Each decision I made because I felt a compelling reason to do so – and even though I may not completely understand what I needed to learn, I know that the Lord has been with me. And He will continue to be at my side. I would probably go back and make the same decisions and learn the same lessons in life. As it says in the scriptures, if I am striving to do everything right, only the best things will happen in my life. All things shall be consecrated for my good.

Each of us has a life made of our decisions in the past. It may seem like we are going nowhere fast, but sometimes the Lord simply wants us to be patient – or He may want us to help others along the way. If we will look at our life going forward (instead of backward), and actively strive to make the right decisions for tomorrow, He will be at our side. He will go before us and prepare the way, and bear us up in times of difficulty. Be happy! Press forward with faith!

Impressions - September 7, 2009

I got hired this week at the Provo Missionary Training Center. It was definitely long in coming, but, hey – I had volunteered to be a volunteer. It's what is called a three-quarter time position, which means I don't get insurance benefits or a monthly salary. I'm not getting paid tons, but in our values statement it outlines that pay for employees at the MTC should reflect a measure of sacrifice (i.e., be somewhat less than our counterparts in the outside world). I'm fine with that – I really feel like I am making a difference – and that's more important than being lucrative any day. We are working on a few big projects and my supervisors treat me almost like an equal... which is unnerving at times, but helps me realize how much they value my work. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to create things that will help missionaries in the long run. We just finished with the Missionary Orientation project – we created a welcome video from President and Sister Smith (Mission President at the MTC) and an orientation to the MTC gym program that every entering missionary sees on their first day. It has been a great success in every aspect.

I went to the temple Saturday evening. I went for a many different reasons – to improve my own spiritual habits, to focus my fast for the temple in Rome, and for some guidance. The stake president in the Rome Stake asked all the members of the stake and all returned missionaries who had served in Rome to fast this week for the building of the temple. September should be an important month in obtaining the permits to begin construction. As I was there at the temple, a few words jumped out at me and I realized that the Lord has given me my acting and singing talents so that I can better fulfill my calling as a missionary – so that I can share the Gospel through performing. I hadn't gone with that question... but it had definitely been one on my mind over the last few weeks. I'm not really sure how I feel about my ability to be a performer... but I feel like that is the reason why I would have a gift, and that I need to find ways to share it with the world. I had an overwhelming impression to try out for Savior of the World at the Conference Center. It felt like the best possible thing. Then I learned that the auditions ended Friday. I'm a few days late. And so I am incredibly confused, since the Lord very clearly told me to audition for a musical a day after auditions closed. I'll try calling early this next week, but I'm not sure what will happen. And so I'm back at the beginning – wondering exactly where and how to start. I was planning to audition for the Hale Center production of A Christmas Carol... but the feeling to audition for Savior of the World was indisputable.

Hold that thought. I just found another press release on the auditions, and this press release says that there are actually two more days (tomorrow and Wednesday) – but they aren't at the Conference Center. They are being held on BYU campus! Wow. The press release is dated Saturday. I think the Lord is heavily involved in my life. I'm glad I have a day to get ready!

I am realizing how incredibly crazy I am. I don't think of myself as overly zealous, but I guess I do live in Provo, work and volunteer at the Missionary Training Center, and I've been actively attending two different wards this summer. It's close to 10 hours of church meetings (6 ½ for blocks, 2 for ward prayer, 1 ½ for choir) – and I've kept attending even though I've thought I was a bit strange. I just felt prompted to keep attending both. I kept going even when one ward wouldn't give me a calling or a home teaching assignment since they didn't have my records, when the time for church changed and suddenly I had no time between meetings and couldn't attend choir, and when everyone – including myself and my bishops – thought I had gone mad. But then, just this week, I had an incredible experience. We had a convert baptism in my afternoon ward – the one I would probably not attend if I were only going to choose one. I was late to the meeting since I had come directly from my other ward, so I had missed her confirmation in Sacrament meeting. Either way, the woman who had been baptized came up to me later in the day and thanked me for bearing my testimony last month. “Your talk,” she said, “was the reason why I got so interested in investigating the Church.” She smiled with an incredibly happy smile, shook my hand, and walked away. I just stared. I had never met her before. I had only barely learned her name. And yet, somehow, something I had said weeks prior had affected her in such a way that she had changed her eternal destiny. Perhaps that was the reason why I needed to attend two wards this summer. It was definitely at least one of the reasons. Maybe there is a method to the madness after all.

Sunday night, I stayed after ward prayer to get to know the people better. I really want to be able to memorize all the names of the members of the ward so that I can be a part of their lives. But the game we were playing required us to pull a name out of a hat and keep it secret – which meant that the game really wouldn't be helping us to learn names at all. I was a bit frustrated, since that's why I had wanted to stay, but the game organizer wasn't interested in changing the rules of the game. Most people aren't – since they haven't formally studied game design and don't realize how much better their games could accomplish their goals. I vented my frustration to someone sitting next to me, and, looking back, I feel bad for him. I didn't need to be frustrated, and I definitely didn't need to tell anyone else about it and make them potentially feel uncomfortable. I was able to learn most people's names by simply asking throughout the night, and few people I know have actually studied game design in depth – so they don't really understand the nuances of intrinsic learning that takes place in a game. Either way, I should have been more patient – and realized that while my priorities were learning names so I could be more involved in the future, most people were simply there to have fun... or, perhaps more accurate, to play the game they were already used to playing without modifications.

People are watching all of us – constantly making judgments of our character based on our actions. They see us in the grocery store, as we are driving on the expressway, while we stand in line at the checkout counter. They see us while we are outside working in the garden and when we go to get the mail... and everything we do is registered in their minds. Sometimes we leave an impression so strong that it pushes them to change their lives... and sometimes we leave an impression that would probably be better erased. I encourage you to take account of your own actions – and the people that are watching you – and to reach out to be positively involved in the lives of others. Leave every person better than you found them. People are the most important thing in eternity – more important than projects and Pulitzer prizes and anything else – so spend time developing more meaningful relationships and inviting others (by your example and directly) to come unto Christ. There is someone else watching, as well – our Father in Heaven – and He is actively involved in our lives. Sometimes His communication with us may seem a bit odd – like trying out for a musical that has no more auditions – but I promise that, with every commandment, the Lord has already prepared the way. He goes before us; He is on our right and on our left; and His angels stand at our side to bear us up in the midst of difficulty. Once we understand His will for us, then we can better help others!

Out of the Spotlight - August 31, 2009

Yesterday was closing night at the Pirates of Penzance. Thanks to everyone who came (once, twice, multiple times) – having you in the audience made every performance that much more enjoyable. For those who didn't get to see it, the theater owners and some cast members videotaped a few of our performances. Hopefully I can get a copy. I left the cast party last night feeling bittersweet – the massive time commitment has been frustrating (since I couldn't attend Family Home Evening, missed Church activities, had no Friday and Saturday nights, etc), but I will miss my cast members and the influence we had on each other. I saw some of them grow and become better people, and I hope I've become better as well. I'll also miss everything that goes together with performing – I'll miss standing in the spotlight and sobbing my eyes out and having just the right reaction to make the audience roar with laughter, duct-taping my belt together so it doesn't fall apart, getting actually punched in the face by my fight partner, falling into a trance when I see Mabel, and greeting everyone as they leave the theater. I guess I'll miss a lot. But, just yesterday, as I was driving home, I had a feeling that the Lord would like me to find a way to use performing to build the kingdom.

Since I was little, I've known that people like hearing me sing (for the most part). Only recently have I learned to appreciate my own voice. I've always looked at my ability to sing as a talent to share with others, but that was all. I didn't let it take over my life because I wanted to do something more academic – more productive in my mind – and when I had to choose between voice lessons and anything else, voice always lost. I never had a desire to dedicate my life to it – I mean, my calling in life is to be a missionary, and while music can definitely touch lives, I believe that one-on-one interactions with others really motivate them to come unto Christ. And so I've had mixed feelings recently. I have loved being on the stage, and yet I wonder if I should be doing something else... or if this is the right place for me. How much of my life should I dedicate to performing, if any at all? Should I try out for community theater, or only look for paid opportunities? Or should I leave the acting scene altogether?

Last night I felt strongly that I need to find a way to share my talents with the world – to let my light so shine before men that they may glorify the Lord. Then today I felt the same way. I know that I need to find the right way to develop my talents. But I still don't know how much of my life will be taken up by performing. Even though it's not an academic field, I need to become a better performer so that I can build the kingdom. I don't know exactly how... but it will be some part of my life.

With a new school year, people all around the world are beginning classes, meeting new people, entering new eras of their lives. This is the first time in a long time that I haven't been a student, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. But whether we are beginning school or simply continuing the work that is a daily part of life, each day we have the opportunity to become new people – to wake up and be better. Today I can change. I can be more outgoing, more kind, more friendly. I can concentrate more on the things that matter, and I can change the lives of others. Today I can better determine the will of the Lord for me, in my life, and hopefully I can become what He sees in me. Whether that is a performer or a teacher or simply a developer at the MTC, the Lord will help us.

I know that the Lord has given us each the talents and trials necessary to shape us for perfection. He cares about us individually, and has a plan for us. If we will turn to Him, He will guide us on the path that will help us learn to be happy in this life and in the life to come. Find your own pathway – learn to accept it and love it.

One Day at a Time - August 23, 2009

Monday I arrived at my film shoot with the intent of being there early, finishing quickly, and having plenty of time before my performance that evening. I learned upon arrival that they didn’t plan to film my scene until after seven o’clock that evening – and I had call for the Pirates of Penzance at 6:15 in Salt Lake. After talking amongst themselves, they (the director & producer) decided to simply find someone else to fill my role. They asked if they could use the costume I had brought even though I wouldn’t have the role. I don’t think I’ve felt that expendable in a long time… The director felt bad about my not having a role, so she offered to let me play the part of the doctor (he had dropped out for some reason) – which is actually a larger part. On Friday we filmed that scene. Now that’s done – no more film practices and no more film shoots.

Wednesday my brother flew into town – he starts school this next week at BYU and wanted to find a place to stay. He is also doing a program called Late Summer Honors – where you get a credit for about a week straight of class. We attended a concert by our cousin Dallyn Bayles at BYU Education Week… and I realized (after Dallyn asked me if I was going to go the performing route) that I’ve been spending a lot of time performing in the last little while. Dallyn studied Music/Dance/Theater at BYU and then went to Broadway. He now tours with the national tour of the Phantom of the Opera. I’ve never really had the desire to be a famous Broadway performer, but I started looking at how much time I had been spending on stage. Hours of musical practice, performances three times a week, a role in a film… Truthfully, I don’t really think of myself as a diehard performer. I didn’t allow myself time to perform much while I was at BYU because I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. This is the last week of Pirates of Penzance; as of now, I’m not sure how much of my life I’m going to dedicate to performing after the run ends on Saturday. Maybe some, maybe a lot, maybe almost none at all.

I started applying for part-time jobs in teaching physics this week… and then I realized that teaching physics didn’t feel very compelling. I wasn’t looking forward to creating a curriculum, and, even though I wish I had a classroom of students to teach, it doesn’t feel like the right choice for right now. And so I’m back at square one. I’m not sure if I’m going to have another job in addition to my work at the MTC. We’ll see what happens as time progresses.

My family came into town on Thursday so they could see me in Pirates and also for my cousin’s wedding. I’m really glad they were able to come – since it wasn’t a scheduled vacation, we’ve had much more time to talk (even though I’ve still been busy) and I’ve enjoyed spending time with each of my family members. They decided to stay an extra day before driving back, and in the meantime we are learning more about possible routes to take for fighting my sister’s cancer. Friday night much of my extended family attended Pirates of Penzance, along with a bunch of friends – we had over 75 seats in the theater!

And then Saturday was my cousin’s wedding in Salt Lake. It was an amazing experience – and I can’t help but feel a little bit left out. She’s the first grandchild to be married, and my uncle (who is a bit younger than I am) is getting married in November. I, on the other hand, am not seriously dating anyone. I have no clue when I’ll be married. But, looking back at the events in my life, I’m prompted to feel that I’m ok. The Lord has taken care of me in the past, and He will continue to take care of me in the future. Just because I don’t know what is going to happen with choosing a graduate school, finding another job, dating, performing, or anything else doesn’t mean anything. I can still live each day and do what is right. And I know that He will bless me for my efforts.

The Lord gave the counsel that each day is sufficient to the evil thereof. I would really like to know what is going to happen in my life in the next few weeks, months, and years. The Lord has kindly shown me that every plan I’ve made has been inadequate and my prayers for direction are answered with the vague, “Be patient. Act now.” But I know that the Lord is involved in my life.

Each of us has times where we don’t know what is going to happen in the near or distant future. We wonder what pathways to prepare for – which way we will go when we arrive at the fork in the road. Sometimes, the Lord sees fit to give us a vision of our path – to inspire us and let us know the conditions ahead. And sometimes He sees fit to let us walk by faith – moving forward in the darkness with the simple assurance that He is at our side and will not let us fall. I know that God is with us, and that, if we will turn to Him, He will guide us in all our paths. And, when the time comes, He will open doors we never thought possible to make us into men and women better than we could have ever dreamed.

Moving Forward with Faith - August 17, 2009

Life is crazy busy. We have two more weeks of performances for Pirates of Penzance, filming begins today for Stand Strong the movie, we are testing my Development project with 160 missionaries at the MTC on Wednesday, my family comes in to town on Thursday… yes, crazy busy.

There were three reviews that came out for Pirates this week. The first, from the Deseret News, was less than flattering. The reviewer was very critical of the technical flaws of the show and called it amateurish, even though she mentioned that she had enjoyed watching most of the leads and minor characters. More specific to me, she said that Frederic’s (my) performance was monotonous. I wasn’t really sure how to take the review at first. Thousands of people read the Deseret News, and now thousands of people were reading that a theater critic thought I was monotonous in my performance. First of all, was it true? And, if it was, what did she mean by monotonous? Was it the staging? The way I sang? Or simply just my facial expressions and gestures?

On the Deseret News website I read the comments people had made on the review. Half the comments decried the reviewer for being too harsh, and the other half decried the commenters and supporter her in her harshness. After reflecting for a few minutes, I realized that her review, while it seemed negative, could very easily be turned into a blessing, so I expressed my thought and desire to improve in my own comment. It doesn’t really matter why the review wasn’t incredible – part of the effect of the review was to make me rethink part of my performance.

The second review was from the Salt Lake City Weekly. He had attended the show the same night as the Deseret News reviewer and really enjoyed the show. I remembered that most people who had left that night had been smiling… and so I committed myself to being a better performer – to make even the critics smile. Friday, another reviewer came, and after the show, a few audience members complimented me by saying, “I couldn’t stop laughing – you were so funny!” or “Are you from Australia? Great accent!” I felt like I had improved almost overnight, just from taking notice of what one person thought about the performance. That third review was the best of all – from the Salt Lake Examiner.

Simultaneous with all my busy-ness, I’ve been wondering what to do after the end of August. Originally, my volunteering at the MTC, Pirates of Penzance, and filming for Stand Strong all ended on August 29. Beyond that date was a cloudy nightmare – I had no idea what would happen. And, until yesterday, I didn’t know what to do about it. The past few summers, the Lord has waited until the very last moment to change my plans and put me in the situations I need in order to grow. I didn’t have a job last summer until after I had to move out of my apartment. The year before, I didn’t realize I was going to take classes during the summer until a few weeks before school ended. At first, my constantly changing plans were frustrating. I like to know what is happening and be a part of the scheduling process in my life. That way, I can plan for the future and have a clear vision of where I am going. But, at the same time, I realized that I needed to put my faith in the Lord and know that He would guide and direct my paths.

This summer, I had the same experience. A long road of promptings led to my working at the MTC and I woke up one morning with the desire to try out for Pirates of Penzance. And, since it had happened so many other times, I assumed the Lord would follow the same process with my life for this fall. But I haven’t gotten any responses from prayers as to what to do come September – absolutely nothing. I know that, if He tells me, it will be late August or September, but right now I don’t know whether the Lord wants me to be in Utah or Chicago or somewhere else… teaching or performing or writing or doing something else… and if I don’t make plans I plan to fail. Yesterday, as I listened to speakers in Church, the Lord asked me a question. “David, how would you act if I told you to take the job at the MTC, find a part-time job teaching physics, and look for opportunities to perform related to the Gospel?” I replied that I would definitely move forward on all those levels, sure of His support and knowing that He would correct my course when the need arose. His reply, “Don’t you already know that?” I realized that the Lord, for now, wants me to follow the guidance of Brigham Young – to make the best decisions I can, pray for guidance, and then to know that the Lord is behind me with full force. If I pray for guidance and the Lord does not give me an answer, I can make my decision and know that He will consecrate my efforts as much as if I were following the command of an angel. And, if I make the wrong decision, He will make corrections along the way.

Each of us lives a life of uncertainty. Even though we may have plans, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, we may want a map to find our way out. But, even if He is not telling us exactly what to do in life, the Lord is at our side – prompting, assuring, and preparing the way before us to accomplish the greatest things the world has ever known. I still don’t know exactly what will happen when the summer is over (and the time is getting closer and closer), but I’ve decided that that is ok. I can make plans and then change them should the need arise. And that is the first plan-related decision to which I’ve received an affirmative response. Yes. I should make plans and act accordingly. And the Lord will bless me.

I know that God is our Father, and that He wants us to grow and progress in this life. Sometimes, He gives us a list of things we need to accomplish – inspiring us with a divine calling to change the world. And other times He leaves us to our own inspiration – anxiously engaging ourselves in a good cause of our own free will and choice. Don’t worry – if you are about to do something wrong, He will tell you (even if it means prompting someone to write a less-than-stellar review of your performance!). Wherever you are on the path, I challenge you to move forward with faith. Perhaps that means doing something difficult that He has already commanded… or doing something even harder that you feel would be a good choice. We have an incredible promise: if we are doing what we think and feel is right, the Lord is bound to be with us every step of the way.

The Show Must Go On - August 9, 2009

Life is good. I have a job interview tomorrow at the MTC to see if they want to hire me in place of being a volunteer (doing similar to what I’ve been doing the last few months). I still don’t know what my plans are for life after September. And I don’t even know where to look… but I guess I’ll be patient, send out a resume, and keep my spiritual eyes and ears open. My cousin enters the MTC this Wednesday – she’s going to the Argentina Rosario Mission. I will be somewhere in the mountains of Idaho… hopefully receiving revelation to direct the course of my life forever (or at least the next few months).

Both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake City Weekly came to review the Pirates of Penzance on Friday. We perform every Friday, Saturday, and Monday in August. I knew they were coming, but that didn’t change the anxiety that grew from their presence. In the acting world, newspaper reviews are viewed with a sort of awed reverence. A great review can boost your spirits and make the play incredible because you believe what the reviewer wrote… and a bad review, while it probably will also sell tickets, can cause you to reflect on your acting and “prove the reviewer wrong.” Each of our performances thus far had included one or two minor technical issues (as they always do) and we wondered if there would be any problems with this one.

It didn’t help that I had taken my costume home to wash the makeup out of the collar and had forgotten to bring it with me to the theatre. When I realized that, it was 6:09. It takes an hour to get back to Provo and an hour to return to Salt Lake. There was no way I could get my costume. Thankfully, the Lord reminded me that my grandmother was attending the performance and I asked her to pick it up on her way. As I waited and watched the clock tick closer and closer to show time, I realized I had two options. I could either hyperventilate, tell everyone I had forgotten my costume and ruin their spirits, and wait for it to get there, or get everything else ready, help everyone warm up their voices, assure them if they asked that my grandmother was bringing my costume, and wait for it to get there. I chose the latter, and a wave of peace washed over me. Perspective is a powerful thing! Five minutes before the show started, my cousin ran in carrying two puffy white shirts. Perfect timing.

Early in the musical, I have a somewhat angry song where I berate Ruth (my former nursemaid) for deceiving me. That same night, about halfway through the song, a massive fly that had been flying around began to land on our faces – right in the middle of our foreheads. It landed on my face, then flew away and landed on Ruth’s face, then back to my face, then back to her face. At first, I was able to ignore it – I thought, “I’m an actor – I can ignore a fly and keep going with the scene.” But it continued to land on us – and always on our faces! I finally tried to swat it away, the audience laughed, and I realized that they were paying more attention to the fly than they were to us! The scene ended, I sent Ruth away, and the audience applauded our performance. The fly then landed on my face again – right between my eyes. I brought both hands up and, miraculously, was able to hit it hard enough that it was stunned on the floor, where I summarily stomped it with my boot. The audience roared, and their applause was huge – much more than at the end of the song we had just finished.

The first act continued without flaw, but early in the second act the music suddenly cut out. We have some actors that specialize in improv, and one began taking orders for dinner. He then realized it was probably too late for dinner, so he asked what everyone wanted for breakfast. The answer was pancakes. Again, the audience laughed and, while they were probably aware of our discomfort, they were happy to see it from a different perspective.

In each case on stage, there were multiple possible perspectives through which to see the things that were happening. It would have been easy to see them each as disasters that could ruin us on the night that reviewers would be taking a critical eye to the show. But it was also just as valid to see them as opportunities to shine in difficult circumstances. One perspective is immobilizing, while the other is enabling… even they describe the same event.

Each of us has things that happen in the course of our lives that could, potentially, ruin everything. They probably won’t. We make mistakes that could end in complete disaster. They usually don’t. And, even if they do, life goes on. There’s a great saying in show business that applies to life in so many ways – “The show must go on.” It means that, no matter what happens off the stage, when it comes time to take your character to the stage, you do it. If someone misses a critical entrance and the music goes out and the audience isn’t laughing at your jokes, you go with it. Because, ultimately, the performance depends on you as much as it does on everything else. You have the power to make it a great performance in spite of everything else that happens. In the same way, life swirls around us and often leaves us with few options. Failure stares us in the face and the things we hope for don’t go according to plan. That’s when it’s time to put your faith in the Lord and improv – follow the guidance of the Spirit and do what feels right. He will take you by the hand and bless you in your life.

I know that God loves us. He is watching us perform our lives, and He knows that life is hard. He also knows that we haven’t had the opportunity to memorize the script or the stage directions of life, and so He is constantly giving us direction. Some scenes in life go perfectly – according to plan and help us feel like we are doing the right thing. And others, even when we pray for success under critical review, seem full of potential frustrations and failure. We will often need to improv and make our own decisions… but He is always there. If we can look at life as a stage designed for our success – and realize that our only audience is He who loves us – then perhaps it will be easier to pick ourselves up when we fall and say, “The show must go on.”

That Ye Be not Judged... - August 2, 2009

Opening weekend at the Pirates of Penzance was incredible. Our audience was amazing, the jokes were funny, and the scenes were even funnier. We had people rolling in the aisles and even the actors watching backstage had to bite their tongues! I think that this show is the funniest one I have ever done, by far – and since it was written in the 1800’s, it’s all clean.

Opening night one of the actors told me I had gotten the “Show Saver” award. Right before one of my major solos, the music had suddenly stopped. It was in the middle of a really tense scene where I was standing alone in a spotlight, so I couldn’t really improv… and I knew that our sound guy wouldn’t be able to simply pick up where the music left off. After a short hesitation, I started singing a cappella, and sang without music for the rest of the song. The music turned on at the very end (at the perfect time) and it was perfectly in tune. Thank heavens for almost-perfect pitch! Saturday’s performance was even better than Friday’s, and we are excited for our upcoming performances throughout August.

Earlier in the week, after a dress rehearsal, one of the cast members fell down the stairs and hurt her shoulder. When I heard that she was spasming in pain and didn’t want to go to the hospital, I ran downstairs and tried to assess the situation. The girl’s dressing room was full of girls (duh) and it didn’t look like I would be able to even get close to her. So, after mustering some courage, I asked if she wanted a blessing. “I’m not LDS,” was her reply as she continued crying. “That’s ok,” I said. What she said next made me cry, “I don’t deserve one. God hates me.” Another spasm of pain hit her shoulder as my director walked into the room. After ensuring that someone was going to take her to ER, she asked me to come upstairs to finish the run-through I had left.

I cried for the rest of the rehearsal and all the way home. I had met people who didn’t believe in God, but to know that He is there… and to believe that He hates you? That sounded much more painful than anything she could have done to her shoulder. She apologized to me the next day and said that she had felt bad the entire time she had been in the Emergency Room, and I realized that perhaps the Lord was simply giving me a potential missionary experience. I felt prompted to give her a copy of my book. Strangely, for the last few weeks I’ve been carrying a copy of Watching Cookies in the Oven in my backpack. I asked her to read it and give me feedback after our performance on Saturday. We’ll see what happens.

At the same time, I realized that at least a few of the other cast members simply lived different lives. One of them got a call from his bishop asking if he was still planning to bless his newborn at Church… and I realized that I had passed judgment on some of them based on only a few things in their lives – their language and their conversation topics. Since some of them swore and chose somewhat crude topics, I assumed that they couldn’t be active members of the Church. That they could be has made me re-evaluate how I look at the people around me.

I’ll admit that I’m probably over zealous when it comes to the Church. I feel left out when I’m not involved in the planning, publicity, or at least the preparation of every major activity that comes around, and I attend two different wards and hold callings in both of them (close to 10 hours of meetings each Sunday). I volunteer close to 30 hours each week at the Provo Missionary Training Center. I’m not willing to use any type of overly passionate language – whether it’s a “real” swear or not, I actually read the Sunday school and Priesthood lessons before Church, and my idea of a great date is to do something simple, then have a long gospel conversation.

For some reason I thought that people were either as passionate as I was… or lacked passion for the gospel entirely. And while true commitment is black and white, there are so many people in the world who are struggling – people who want the blessings of keeping the commandments of God, but who, for one reason or another, can’t seem to break bad habits. They struggle with swearing, or road rage, or keeping the Word of Wisdom… but, deep down inside, they know the truth and just need some help remembering.

In reality, all of us struggle as we travel the pathway of righteousness. Only Christ lived a perfect life, which means that each of us has turned away from the path, even when we knew what was right. But we can each also press forward, leaving behind our trials, our temptations, and our sins. We can become better each passing day.

I don’t know what I will do at the Pirates of Penzance to be a better missionary, but I know that, if I am willing to follow the guidance of the Spirit, He will help me to become a better person and to influence the people around me. My challenge for you this week: first, identify and work on one of your own personal weaknesses. What is something that you do that would cause an outsider to doubt your faith? Second, lay aside the flaws you see in someone close to you, and try to see him or her as a struggling child of God who needs your help. I promise that as you strive to bless the lives of others, the Lord will tell you what to say and do to help them come unto Christ.

Running the Gauntlet - Charity - July 26, 2009

Only 5 days until opening night at the Pirates of Penzance! At this rate, I only hope my body can produce enough adrenaline to last the entire week.

I recently had an amazing learning experience. At the temple last Saturday (8 days ago) I was waiting in the chapel when I felt strongly impressed to ask the Lord for a blessing. I opened a Bible and turned to a verse that promised me that, if I would ask, the Lord would hear my prayers. I pulled out a Book of Mormon and opened to Moroni 7. There I read about the importance of charity and asked the Lord to help me to gain it. I wanted to gain empathy for others – to become a better person by better learning to understand and love the people around me. I felt the love of the Lord and was sure that He would bless me with my request. Little did I know how He would bless me.

The next day was Sunday, and in both of my wards the Priesthood lesson was on charity. I felt like I academically understood charity – it is the love that God has for His children, the supreme ability to see people for who they can become and who they are in His sight… given to us. When we have charity, it moves us to action – it moves us to serve others just as Christ would do in our position. It is being willing to separate the sin from the sinner and to forgive everyone – and true charity is not just for one person. It is for all of mankind – a feeling that encompasses you and fills you with the desire to bless the lives of everyone throughout all the world and everyone else that will ever be on it. But, at the same time, I wasn’t sure that I really had charity. Empathy – a key characteristic of charity – has always been a bit difficult for me. Society has always told me I was different – whether in school or anywhere else – a good example is one of my last roommates who was a statistics major: he called me a permanent outlier – someone who never fits into the “normal” crowd. That doesn’t really help when I’m trying to put myself into someone else’s shoes.

Monday evening I had a really rough rehearsal for Pirates. I got cut from the first fight scene – which had been one of my favorite scenes – and the our director threatened to cut one of our love songs if we didn’t “fix the problem.” But I didn’t even know what the problem was. I and the other actors had felt that the run had gone really well, but after we were finished the director gave me note after note of things she hadn’t liked. Then the assistant director went, with more notes, then the choreographer, and finally the music director. Each one very clearly outlined something they hadn’t liked in my performance… but only sometimes did they offer a better (in my viewpoint) suggestion.

As I drove home I felt like I was caught between a rock and a hard place. In the past, when I had gotten criticism from directors, I had tried to interpret the spirit of their directions and apply it in the way I thought they meant to say it. But, every single time, I interpreted what they meant wrong and they brought it up again. If I did exactly what they had said to do – interpreting their directions literally – they then asked me why I had interpreted their directions literally when it was so obvious that what they were saying was a generalization. Add to that the fact that I thought I would never be able to communicate very well with my director, I felt like the other cast members hated me, and I realized that my surliness was not reflecting well on being one of the few active members of the Church in the cast… and I felt terrible. So terrible, in fact, that the thought crossed my mind that I could quit the show – but I could never do that to the other actors or to myself. I had made a commitment and I would go on with it. I just needed help.

I found myself praying aloud, asking for help in making the right choice. I wanted to do the right thing, and I believed that God could help me do it, no matter what the ultimate consequences. As I prayed, I realized that the Lord was simply answering the request I had made in the temple. He was teaching me charity.
I looked back at my directors. Originally, I thought that all the notes and feedback that my directors had given me over the last few months was because they had an idea about what Frederic should be and I wasn’t it. They weren’t very nice in their motivational style and didn’t seem to care much about me or my desires on-stage, only the character I was playing. I couldn’t understand their motivation, and I hated that they weren’t at all articulate in their directions. But as I looked at them through the light of charity, I saw a very different picture. Each of my directors had a very different life than I do. They don’t live in an environment where everything is based on optimistic reinforcement and they don’t have time scheduled to reflect on their thoughts each passing day. They haven’t studied computer science, which teaches the ultra-importance of perfect clarity in word choice. In a computer program, you must say exactly what you want the computer to do. Otherwise, the computer will do what you told it to do – not what you meant to say. They haven’t studied motivational theories and they carry the motivational tools that were most effective in their own experiences. But, most compelling, they care about my character, and they want me, as an actor, to play the character. They don’t simply want me to do what they told me to do – they want me to be free to act within the boundaries they see on the stage.

This thought completely changed my perspective. What was an immensely painful struggle only a few moments before suddenly became an opportunity to learn and to grow. And so, armed with this new knowledge, I made my choice. I would interpret the feedback I got, be super-happy no matter what happened in practices, and I would shine as Frederic when the time came. Tuesday evening I arrived at practice early and we worked with the owner of the theatre. He gave me some really good, concrete ideas to use in a few scenes – and our director liked his ideas. It was a great feeling to actually agree on something. I remembered each of the notes from the night before, and added in the strong English accent she had asked for, and there was a miracle. After the run, I didn’t get one negative note. She gave me seven positive notes (the first ones ever!) about things that she had really liked and three notes about new things she wanted to try. I felt like I was on top of the world… and it was all because I had learned a little bit more about charity… and had applied it in my acting. Since then, practices have been amazing. I only wish I had had the foresight to ask for it sooner!

Each of us has difficult situations in life where we do not understand the people around us. Maybe they seem callous, rude, selfish, cruel, or simply evil. But, even if those traits are true, God loves each and every one of His children, equally. He knows our hearts and cares about our dreams, no matter who we are… and He wants every one of His children to return back to His presence. True charity is gaining that love.

I know that God loves us. If we will follow the process outlined by Moroni – and pray with all energy of heart that we may be filled with this love – the Lord will help us to better understand those around us. Perhaps it will be easy. Probably not – it will probably be painful and hard. But charity is the greatest of all. From what little I’ve experienced, seeing others from God’s perspective is worth any price.

Gospel Symbolism from my First Kiss (yes, you can laugh!) - July 20, 2009

This last week went great. Practice for the Pirates of Penzance is getting down to the line – we open in 11 days! We also had our first cast meeting for Stand Strong – the movie I’m in. Saturday I was driving home from practice and had the thought that I should go find a mechanic’s outfit for Stand Strong. I don’t know what they are doing for costumes… but I had the thought and felt really strongly that I should go to the Deseret Industries thrift store in Provo. I walked in and suddenly wondered what I was doing. I didn’t even know what a mechanic’s outfit looked like – and I had definitely never seen one at DI. After searching for a few minutes, I stopped looking and started listening – trying to determine why I had been prompted to go to that specific store. After walking for a few moments, I found myself browsing through the men’s sleepwear section. I never browse that section – that’s where they stock night gowns, bath robes, and long johns. But then a tan fabric caught my eye and I found a tan jumpsuit that had a lot of pockets. I tried it on and found that it fit almost perfectly. Since it was brand new (and had no grease stains), it took some further research to confirm that it is a mechanic’s outfit. Wow. Sometimes I think that the Lord uses DI to give me presents. He inspires someone to donate something I need, and then tells me where it is and when to pick it up.

Before I go on in my letter, I want to give a caveat: most of the time I’m incredibly serious. I take life seriously and try to find meaningful symbolism in pretty much everything. But even that, in some situations, can be hilarious. And so, this letter lends itself to humor much more than usual. Feel free to laugh.
On July 16th, I had my first kiss – you know, the one that you're supposed to remember forever? Well, it was certainly memorable, but not necessarily for all the right reasons. On Monday of last week my director for the Pirates of Penzance had the girl who plays Mabel and me come in to discuss our onstage relationship. We talked about different events throughout the course of the play and how each one affected us individually. After talking for about an hour, our director told us we should kiss at some point during the show. Many productions place one after the “Oh, Here is Love” scene, and so we suggested doing it there. She agreed, and also wanted us to kiss at the very end of the show.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the director changed her mind. Just as we were finishing the love scene, she called out to tell us she wanted the very end of the musical to be the climax. The assistant director then explained how the end of the play was supposed to go – not a slow, prepare-for-it, lean in kind of kiss. I was supposed to “grab her and lay one on her.”

On Thursday was our producer’s review. I made sure I ate a few breath mints between scenes, and we got to the point where we were waltzing together – right at the end. As I spun her out, my costar started forgetting her choreography and began asking, “How should we do this? Should we do that?” According to what the directors had said to do, I grabbed her and kissed her.

The only thought that crossed my mind was, “This is kissing? How anticlimactic.” The music ended, we broke apart and everyone around us hooted. I wiped my mouth; as I made my way to my seat for notes I couldn't really tell if the “hot” comments were about us or about the actual temperature of the stage – everyone was coated in sweat.

Up until this week I was an “I'm not going to kiss anyone but my wife – and the first time will be across the altar” kind of guy. I realize that I am definitely not in the norm when I admit that, but after my first kiss I'm not sure I'm really missing much. There were no goose bumps, no butterflies in my stomach, no shiver running up and down my spine – I didn’t feel any of the feelings that are normally associated with kissing someone. Truthfully, I’m not all that thrilled about doing it another 20+ times – I think I would be happy if they cut it altogether and replaced it with a dramatic dip.

But, at the same time, I realize that my experience isn’t the norm. Most people don’t kiss someone because they are assigned to kiss them. Most people have time to prepare, and most people are in love (or at least think they possibly could be). I remember one of my professors from a marriage prep class at BYU. He always said that kissing was supposed to be enjoyable – not just something you do. “If you’re not enjoying it,” he said, “then you’re doing something wrong.”

There are plenty of reasons why I didn’t get emotionally involved in my first kiss. First of all, I didn’t think it was fair to me since my dreams of first-kissing across the altar had just been smashed. Second, my costar is six years younger than I am – seventeen years old. I’m twenty-three. There is no way that I could ever have feelings for a seventeen-year-old. And, anyway, I don’t think we’re right for each other anyway. Whatever the reason, I realize that I was missing a crucial ingredient in my first kiss – my heart.

There are many things in life that require and emotional and intellectual involvement (more than simply action) in order to have a lasting effect. People who pray without believing (or at least willing to believe) that God hears and answers prayers won’t recognize divine answers to their questions. Those who read the scriptures without actively searching for truth to apply in their lives will probably fall asleep while reading them. And those who give service or keep any of the commandments without having their hearts involved will be less willing to learn the lessons the commandments were designed to teach. Most of the important things we do in life need to have our heart behind them in order to be enjoyable... and in order to be effective. As Moroni says in the Book of Mormon, we must act with a sincere heart, with real intent, in order for our actions to be worthwhile.
God has created this life to teach us to be happy and to help us become like Him. He has given us commandments and guidance to help us along the path. Heart is the key - just as kissing someone on stage without involving your heart won't do much for your relationships, following God without your heart won’t bring you any closer to Him. If follow with our hearts and our hands, we will not only be on the path, but we will constantly have our destination in sight. We’ll be happy.

Little Miracles - July 18, 2009

I was driving home this afternoon from Salt Lake and realized that I would probably need a mechanic suit for at least some part of the movie that I'm in. I immediately felt like going to the Provo Deseret Industries... but then realized that I had never seen a mechanic suit in the first place. I wouldn't even know where to start. And why would there be a mechanic suit at DI? But as I approached State Street I felt prompted to go again, so I found myself driving there. As I walked in, I scanned the sections and wondered what a mechanic suit was supposed to look like. Was it long-sleeved? Woven? Short-sleeved? What color would it be? After searching through hundreds of shirts and pants in the dress and casual sections, I was about to give up when I realized that I was going about it in the wrong way. The impression to come to DI hadn't been a thought from my mind from past experience - it had been a spiritual prompting with a purpose behind it. I had been using my head to figure out where to find a jumpsuit - not using my heart to listen. I pulled my cart from the Men's clothing section and just walked in the direction that felt right. A moment later I was across the aisle next to a stand full of clothes labeled "Men's Sleepwear." I never peruse the sleepwear section, since all it has is boxers, long johns, and bath robes... but a tan, smooth piece of cloth caught my eye. I pulled out the hanger - it looked like a jumpsuit of some kind. "This is why you came," a voice whispered to me, and, after a moment, I realized that it was a mechanic's outfit. A trip to the dressing room confirmed that the jumpsuit would need only minor alterations (hem the pants, take in the waist) to be a perfect fit.

A Proverb and a Project - July 13, 2009

I realized yesterday, somewhere between home teaching, saying goodbye to my family, and church meetings, that I wasn't going to have time to write this letter. I started wondering what I would do - how I would find the time when I needed to drop off my sisters at soccer camp, I had a major deadline at work, and when Mondays have no free time in the first place. As I felt the stress grow and grow, I remembered a proverb I learned on my mission. The branch president in Ladispoli spoke during Sacrament Meeting one day and explained the following: There are two types of problems in life. The first type of problem is one that has a solution. If you have a problem, and there is a solution, there is no need to worry - all you need to do is find the solution and put it into action. Worrying about the problem doesn't help you find the solution any faster. The second type of problem is a problem that has no solution. If you have a problem and there is no solution, there is no use worrying - you will never find a solution, no matter how much you worry. The moral of the proverb is this - no matter what your problem in life, don't worry about it!

As I thought about my minor problem (which was simply that I had committed to doing more than I was physically capable in the time allotted), I realized that worrying wouldn't get me anywhere. I would write the letter eventually, and when that time came, I would write it. Before I had the time, there was no use in worrying about finding it. As I gave up my stress, I felt a wave of relief wash over me... and I slept well and was able to concentrate on the important other aspects of my life.

Each of us has things that stress us - decisions that we will need to make in the future, outcomes in life over which we have little control... anything that we can't do right now. I have tons of those right now. I submitted my manuscript of Watching Cookies in the Oven this week to Deseret Book and I could be incredibly stressed, hoping that the editor likes it... I don't know what I will be doing come September (as far as a job is concerned) since every decision I've made has made me sick to my stomach... and I wish that I could figure out my life plans... but, whether I stress or not about all these things doesn't ultimately affect their outcome. It only affects me - and, at least in my life, added stress is not a postive ingredient!

Beyond that, life is great. I was just cast in a movie called Stand Strong - I'm a funny character named Andrew Turner who is also a mechanic. We'll see how that goes. Practice for Pirates of Penzance is getting more intense as we approach show time, and my family was just here. While they were here, we went to see all sorts of alternative doctors to see if we could find a way to treat my sister's cancer. After talking with friends and family, my sister decided to follow a few courses of action - becoming completely raw, mostly vegan, drinking tons of water, and using essential oils as topical and dietary sources of cancer-fighting compounds. Some of the doctors did things that made sense to me - the explanation of essential oils going through the semi-permeable membrane of the skin, for example, made complete sense to me. But some of the other things they did - like muscle testing and iris reading - were completely foreign and made me uncomfortable. I have trouble believing things that aren't spiritual in nature and aren't easily explainable, and so I really didn't want my sister to make important decisions based on a knowledge-gathering technique that I couldn't understand. I've studied quantum physics, so you can explain at whatever level you want. And yet, I have a desire to understand things and to accept them even when I don't understand... and to know how they work - to know how a woman without a degree in medicine can look at my sister's eyes and know that she has massive amounts of scar tissue in her knee and can "see" four visible lumps on her thyroid - something a doctor could only tell from a CT scan. That actually happened in one of our appointments. I know that there is something there... but what? And how do you find it and objectively qualify it? I've always loved immersing myself in new environments... I guess the Lord has given me a new course of study!

Your sources of stress may be important decisions, events, relationships, or anything else. I'm giving you permission to let them go - to do what you can do today, today, and wait for tomorrow to do what cannot be done until tomorrow. Life is too short to worry. The Savior taught people on both continents the same injunction: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof." (3 Nephi 13:34, Matt 6:34)

Waiting - July 6, 2009

We had our massive every-three-year family reunion this past week. It was a great opportunity to talk with family members from around the world, develop better friendships, and catch up on what everyone has been doing for the last many years. The last reunion I attended was seven years ago, and I realized that attending a reunion as a 16-year-old and as a 23-year-old makes the reunion a very different place. Even though I’ve always fit in better with the older crowd (since I’m at the oldest end of the third generation and most of my second cousins are little), this year I actually felt like one of the adults. There’s still an age gap of 20 to 40 years, but I had a great time. We were up at a ski resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon and had great food, games, talk time, campfires, pool parties, mountain hikes, family slideshows, and a talent show. I was in charge of the talent show. We had a few people sign up, and I wondered if I’d be able to fill the time allotted, but in the end more acts appeared and everyone thought the show was great. Yes!

My family is in town, and most of this coming week will be spent with them (as long as I’m not at work or practice for Pirates of Penzance). It’s great to talk with each of them and learn about what has happened since I saw them last.

I had an interesting thought this week. I was sitting in church, and wondered if I should get up to share my thoughts and bear testimony. I realized that I had every reason in the world to stand, but I was waiting for the Lord to tell me, explicitly, what I needed to do. But why was I waiting? And why did the Lord need to tell me to do a good thing before I was willing to do it? As I thought about it, I realized how absurd my thought process really was.

In most of my life, I spend my time moving forward as fast as possible. I choose a direction in work, school, or other parts of life, pray for confirmation that it’s the right way to go, and then go for it. In every case where I act in faith, the Lord blesses me. Doors open and I feel that I am doing my part in building His kingdom. Eventually, (whether after an hour or a few years) He tells me when I need to change course. But, for some reason, looking at my life, there are things I am less apt to do without being directly instructed. Bearing testimony in Church is one – though I feel impressed to do it almost every month, I don’t do it until I feel impressed. Why? Sharing my thoughts and feelings about the Gospel with close friends is another – the teachings of the Church are such a huge part of my life… but yet I still wait until I am commanded to share them. Why? Going outside of myself and lifting others who I may not know – I can often see, from the beginning, the great potential of others around me, but I don’t try to help them realize it until I feel it’s the right time. I even have had trouble calling people on the phone when I know that it was my idea and not the Lord’s. Why?

Truthfully, I think the answer is that I must be afraid – afraid that I will fail and fall on my face when I act on my own thoughts and inclinations. I’m afraid that the Lord won’t approve of my actions for some reason and that He will let me fall. And, while I try to do as much as I can that is good in the moment, there are some things that often seem too delicate to leave to my own judgment. Relationships and people fall into those categories. My potential future relationship with others seems too important to be doing things that may or may not work.

I probably am guilty of simply not acting on my own in this respect. This may seem a bit odd, but when I first started dating, I usually prayed and asked who I should date, then chose someone, asked for confirmation, and then finally asked them out. And it worked – the Lord was willing to give me answers to my prayers – and just as willing to give me answers later when I asked if this was a girl I should think about marrying. The same thing happened when I wrote Sacrament meeting talks and sometimes when I write this letter – I ask for help, the Lord tells me what to write, and I write it. But sometimes He doesn’t tell me what to do… even when I know that it is incredibly important.

But that is how the Lord works. In the scriptures, it explains that faith normally precedes the miracle – not the other way around. I need to show my faith before He can pour out His Spirit and change and influence my life. Going back to my original running example, I need to be willing to choose my own direction in life, go running, and have the faith that the Lord will bless me – the same way that He has blessed me in every other aspect of my life.

Each of us has aspects of our lives that come more naturally than others. We may feel in our element while at work, with our families, or with friends... but, at the same time, each of us has places where we feel inadequate – where we are waiting for the Lord to direct us before we do what we know needs to be done. I have learned a powerful lesson in life – the Lord will always let His righteous children know before He lets them fall on their faces. If you ask for His guidance and help, do not receive a prompting as to what to do, and then act according to what you feel is right in your heart, the Lord is bound to honor your actions as if He had sent an angelic messenger and commanded you to accomplish them.

I know that God lives, and that He is actively involved in our lives. But He is also actively involved in our personal growth – teaching us and allowing us the opportunity to make decisions on our own in order to become more like Him. In some cases, He leads us by the hand, taking us through darkened corridors, leading us to greatness. And, in other cases, He asks us to walk with the hope and faith that He is still there beside us, turning on the lights as we go. May we each look around us and find things that we can do and do them – even if the Lord has never told us to – so that we can better see His hand in our lives.
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