Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas and New Years Resolutions

New Years Resolution #1: Actually respond to emails in my inbox within one day, instead of just reading them, starring them, and feeling guilty about not responding for weeks at a time.

This week my family drove from Chicago to spend Christmas here in Utah. With Grandma gone, I'm not sure how many more Utah Christmases we will have. But they came out and it has been nice. One night, we decided to drive to see the lights at Thanksgiving Point and had a bit of screaming in the car. No one was very happy, and none of us were really in the mood to see Christmas lights. At that exact point in time, none of the radio stations were playing Christmas music to improve the mood, so I turned off the radio and began singing “Angels We Have Heard on High.” I'm not sure what I was thinking. I definitely was not in the mood to sing Christmas carols... but thankfully the Lord (who had probably given me the idea, or urged the instinct that was already there) knew what would happen. After only a few moments, each person in the car joined in the singing. Singing has a profound effect on my family; in just a few minutes everyone was cheerful, happy, and the Spirit of Christmas poured into our hearts. We had forgotten about the issues left only a few miles back on the road. When we arrived to the entrance of Thanksgiving Point and saw a line of cars that was at least an hour long, we put on our coats, turned on the heater, rolled down the windows, and sang our hearts out to the cars nearby. Doesn't everyone sing glorious four-part harmony to pass the time? I love my family.

New Years Resolution #2: Study (for the entire year) from a great teacher without cringing at the cost.

This week the Lord helped me confirm a few things I need to do. I've felt that I need to study voice again and I found a voice professor at BYU who is really interested in physics (means that he should be able to give me scientific explanations for vocal phenomena instead of gibberish), teaches a number of styles (which is important), is a baritone (a first – a teacher who actually shares my voice type), and served his mission in Italy (sugar-free icing on a healthy cake). A short email confirmed that he had spots available in his studio. But, most of all, it feels right. He helped to write a book called “Beautiful Singing” that talks about the physics behind vocal beauty. I only hope he doesn't end up having some major family catastrophe like has happened to most of my previous voice teachers. My next To Do is to apply to the BYU Marriott school of business for the MBA program. When I first realized that I wanted/was supposed to get an MBA, I tried to identify places where I could do interdisciplinary studies and have new resources and new contacts. But, in the time since my application to Stanford, I've realized that the Lord may be taking me in a completely different direction than the one I had envisioned. I wanted to go to Stanford because I wanted something that would pack a punch... but I'm not sure I really need it. The people who would have been wowed by Stanford can be wowed in other ways, and maybe I need to attend BYU again for the same reasons that I attended it in my undergraduate years – for the incredible ability to learn by the Spirit in the classrooms, to share the light with others, and the people who live there on the campus. The next deadline is in a few weeks; I'll go in to talk with someone this week to discuss what would be the best option. And we'll see what happens.

New Years Resolution #3: Pray daily for the opportunity to teach principles of the gospel and invite others to come unto Christ.

Most of my life I've been motivated by wanting to do what is best for the world. I loved music but, truthfully, didn't feel it was a good enough use of my talents. I thought about studying dozens of different subjects, but when I couldn't find something surpassingly noble in my study, I often opted out. I didn't really see it as self-sacrificing – I only really felt fulfilled when I was doing something that I knew would impact the world in some meaningful way. Finally I found what I wanted in teaching – what I felt was the noblest of all professions (and it helped that David O. McKay agreed in a quote on the building that bears his name). Why? Because teaching, from my perspective, was the only real way to right the wrongs I saw in society – to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich, the learned and the unlearned. It was the only way to stop wars, end famine, and fight disease. And it felt right. But as soon as I found it, the Lord revealed to me that my motivation to change the world, while definitely noble, wasn't really what I wanted. My motivation to teach was born from the belief that people who are poor have fewer blessings than those who are rich – and that those with less knowledge have fewer blessings than those with more – hence it was my moral responsibility to right the wrong and bridge the gap. Most people believe that in our world. But the purpose of life has nothing to do with wealth or material possessions. It has very little to do with most knowledge, and has little to do even with health, safety, or even survival. The purpose of life is to come to earth to be tested to see if we will do all things that the Lord our God commands us – something inherently rooted in our actions and in our wisdom. Hence the people who are better off in life are not those with better health, more material wealth, food on the table, clothes on their backs, peace in their nations, or anything else that 'plagues' (I would now say “distracts” instead) our world. The only thing that matters is a knowledge of the gospel and the conviction to live by its teachings. Hence, at least for me, the nobility of a profession isn't tied to how well it rights the wrongs of the world, but how well it enables you to share the gospel and invite others to come unto Christ. Suddenly being a clerk at a bank is a viable lifelong career – simply because of your ability to interface with people, share the gospel in words and by example, and help others to come closer to Christ and live happier, more fulfilling lives. I can understand why the Lord would say that all honest work is good in His sight – because, while He definitely cares what we do, ultimately, our work is to help others come unto Christ. That has changed my goals in life. I've always set my sights really high – to change the world in some massive way or another. And perhaps I will. It's still my goal. But, as I go forward with that goal, I'm able to see how I can change it, day by day, in much more important and lasting ways.

New Years Resolution #4: Find meaningful ways to use the money I save to bless those around me.

Most of you know that I'm extremely frugal. We'll leave the outrageous examples for another time. I save my money so that I can make a difference in the world... and so this week was incredible as I did something I've felt strongly about for a few months. My family started researching complementary medicine a few months ago when my sister was diagnosed with cancer. In subsequent months, I dove in as well and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of misinformation, outrageous pricing, bogus claims, and dishonest business practices that I was immediately turned off. My family focused on essential oils and I was especially frustrated that almost every essential oil company seemed to be a multi-level marketing scheme... and many books were simply advertisements for those companies published under a different name. But then I started finding medical research studies, international communities that were willing to give clear and factual information, and real results in my family and friends. My sister's exercise-induced asthma, where she previously used two inhalers, is gone. A good family friend uses essential oils to successfully fight pain from massive surgeries and scar tissue. And I've used them in my own life. Last night I gave them to a fellow performer who couldn't breathe or sing. By his solo, his voice was soaring. And medical research is slowly moving in that direction. So I felt that I needed to share it with the world – and to make it more accessible, truthful, and convenient. I prayed for help, found honest international suppliers, and this week finally put in the order for my first round of inventory. I'm starting an essential oil company, focusing on high quality, low prices, and accurate, truthful information. Had you told me that I would be opening an aromatherapy business six months ago, I would have told you that you were crazy. But it feels like a good choice. I see it as a social investment; if I make no money and change a few lives, I'll be happy. And I've already seen the changes that it can make.

New Years Resolution #5: Write another book that teaches principles of the gospel by the end of the year. Also, find an illustrator for Ten Days Until Forever and a publisher for Watching Cookies in the Oven (and maybe the rest of the manuscripts, too).

Ultimately, the Christmas season is about Christ. I know that Christ is our Savior. He came to earth to live a perfect live, take our sins and struggles upon Him, and then finally rise in glory... so that we can rise as well. I know that He lives, that He is with us, no matter what has happened and no matter what we have done. His hands are outstretched over us and He has numbered our days. And while He feels our physical pains, His greatest desire is that we will understand the meaning of life – and find joy no matter what our circumstances. He will come again. Go out and be missionaries!

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