Sunday, February 28, 2010

Moving... and Keeping the Faith

Monday we spent a dozen hours researching the house we wanted to buy – researching Provo land codes, talking with structural engineers, learning everything we could, and setting up quotes with foundation repair firms. We learned that we could hire a structural engineer to diagram the repair work, then get quotes from foundation repair companies. That would significantly decrease our cost, since, without instructions from a structural engineer, the foundation repair companies used an extreme model – essentially putting the entire house on struts. It costs a few hundred dollars, but it’s definitely worth it, as we save thousands. We scheduled the structural inspection for Tuesday. 

But then, suddenly, Tuesday morning I didn’t feel well. It was the I-feel-sick-because-the-Lord-is-telling-me-not-to-do-something kind of feeling, and I had it bad. I knew that He was talking about the house… but why? Within a few hours, it was all clear. Have you ever tried to build a pile of dirt or sand by simply pouring it onto one spot? It grows higher, then, as the pile gets higher, it becomes unstable and sloughs off to the side, slowly becoming larger in diameter. The same thing is constantly happening with mountains – the top layers of soil are sloughing off, leaving the rock behind (hence why the tops of mountains often are sheer rock faces). That’s the story of the house we wanted to buy. It has foundation problems because it is on a slow-moving landslide. It is literally moving every year – both laterally and vertically – and moves more in wet years, if a pipe breaks, or if you water your lawn. Reinforcing the foundation won’t do much in the long run, since the entire mountain is moving. The slide has been moving for years, but the city didn’t know about it when the buildings were built. Buying a house that is not covered under insurance and that could fall down or split during a particularly wet spring isn’t the best idea. So it’s off. And we’re back to square one. But it’s for the best – the Lord kept us from making a poor choice and I now know more about foundation work, Provo city codes, and local geology than I even want to think about.

We moved this week into an apartment in Orem. Our roommate is a nineteen-year-old preparing to serve a mission. Thankfully, he was interested in learning about essential oils and suggested that we diffuse them in the apartment (there’s a lingering smell that won’t go away). He was attending UVU, but is working right now, saving money for a mission. His plans are to sell pest control in the summer. I’m thinking of recruiting him to work for Nature’s Fusions; we’ll see what happens there. Overall, he seems to be a good guy.

In the midst of everything happening, I’ve been thinking about finding another job – probably in place of the one I have at the MTC. I’ve spent the last year in the Development department and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve worked with the coordinating councils of the Church, seen documents start, go through Correlation, and then make an impact, and implemented massive changes in the world of missionary work. But, while our work coordinates global differences in the lives of missionaries and people all over the world, I feel a longing to be at the front. I want to be actively influencing people for the better – bringing them to an understanding of gospel principles, helping them to come closer to Christ. And my capacity at the MTC, as a sole team member with no one to talk to, doesn’t fit that need. I can’t quit right now (I’m probably not needed, but it would make things much harder for my team if I quit; there used to be 4 people in the position where only I am now), but over the next few months I’ll be looking. The only problem is that I’m not sure of a job that would afford me the abilities I want – so I can’t ask for it. I’ve thought of going to school eventually to become a doctor or a counselor, but I don’t know what to do now to make a difference. So I’m looking.
On Wednesday I thought, “Maybe it doesn’t have to be work; maybe it can be volunteering.” So I started volunteering with a group that helps people who struggle with depression. I feel like I’m making a difference there – one person at a time. I’m thinking about volunteering at the temple. And who knows? Maybe I’ll find a job that fits my needs to help people on a daily basis. Maybe I won’t, and so I’ll have to make sure that I am actively volunteering. I guess that may be ok, too.

My biggest concern this week, though, isn’t finding long-term housing or even a job. It’s that I have no clue what tomorrow will bring. I’ve made a dozen clear-cut decisions as to my future, but every time the Lord has pushed me back (in no uncertain terms). I’ve thought about moving for a job – even so far as to filling out applications for jobs overseas – but that didn’t feel right. I’ve pondered accepting the spots that have been offered to me at some schools, but that didn’t feel like the right choice, either. I’ve thought about just doing the same things I’m doing now, and that doesn’t feel right, and I’ve thought about changing… but all I can really see are shadows in front of me. So when I went to the temple this week, I asked for help. I asked for direction. And I asked for peace. 

In true loving fashion, the Lord didn’t give me a revelation of what would happen over the next few years. He told me to wait, and He took the time to remind me of a lesson I learned a long time ago… something that brought me peace. And that is enough. While standing there in the Celestial Room, He reminded me that there are only two requisites for feeling spiritual peace for the future. First, I need to know that God loves me and is involved in my life. Then I need to know that I am doing what is right. And, if I know those two things, then nothing else matters. There in the temple, I felt His love and His support. I have no clue what is happening in my life, but I know that God loves me. And I know that I am doing what I should be, right now, today. And, even though it’s hard to be so completely blind, that is enough. The Lord has promised me that He will bless me and take care of me, and that’s all I could ever hope for.

I look back at my life – at the things that I’ve done – and I wonder. I’ve been prompted to write books, perform in professional theater and act in movies, teach, write curriculum and design video games, start a business; where could the Lord be leading me? I have no idea. But that’s ok, because the Lord is my shepherd, and He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Sometimes the Lord gives us clear directions in life. Sometimes He expects us to make our own decisions. And sometimes He wants us to turn to Him, have faith in Him, and learn to do His will. But, whatever His goals for us in the short term, we can have peace. My invitation to you this week is to do the same thing I did – ask the Lord for guidance and direction. Ask Him for confirmation that He loves you, and that you are doing what is right. If you’re not doing what is right, then repent. Have faith and keep moving forward. He will bless you. I know that God loves us and is involved in our lives. If we do what is right, then He will guide us on the best path towards happiness and eternal life. Go out and be missionaries!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Raising your sights

We’re moving this week. Last Monday, after sending this letter, I got an anonymous tip from on an apartment listed in the classifieds. The listing showed a small room for rent on a month-to-month basis. The room looked too small to fit both of us, but something about the circumstances made me want to call anyway. We called and learned that the room was too small, but the lister (a 19-year-old saving money to serve a mission) was living in a larger room in the same apartment and was willing to move. He had originally intended to live with his cousin in the master bedroom and rent out the smaller room, but his cousin pulled out – an incredible blessing for us. So we’ll help him move from one room to another (he’s on crutches), decide exactly what we’re going to take with us (and what will get stuffed in storage), and then move. A hundred thanks to our anonymous angels and everyone else for your support.

This week was a little scatterbrained. I probably spent 20 hours working on a website for Nature’s Fusions and finally have something I can live with (albeit temporarily) – It’s not your normal website. I don’t do html very well yet, but my desktop publishing skills aren’t terrible. So, instead of putting all the information for the site online, the site links to a pdf document which is an online, interactive catalog. It’s totally functional – with shopping cart and all – just not very typical. I like to think it’s simple, sort of elegant, and functional. And at least it’s not an eyesore.

                Other than preparing to move, working with crazy deadlines at the MTC, and staring at pdf documents until 3 in the morning, we’re also looking at buying a home here in Provo. Yes – buying a home. I know that’s a major commitment, and a huge jump, but it feels like the right direction. And He has never led me wrong. And, again, it is amazing to see how the Lord has acted in our behalf over and over again. When we learned that we needed to move, I started looking for houses in the Provo area. I was looking for something super-small – anything with four walls and a roof and I would call it good. I finally settled with the absolute cheapest option – a hut at the bottom of the hill (literally – it is not really much more than a hut) that was on the market for about $60,000. It had only the land it was on, and was attached to another hut. The roof had fallen in, the door was off the hinge, and even though the listing said the water was ‘sanitary,’ I wondered if we would have to buy bottled for a little while. But hey – my brother has lived in Nicaragua and I’ve lived out of a suitcase. We just needed something. We went as far as talking with mortgage officers and contacting real estate agents here in the area to buy the house. But it wasn’t to be – the Lord intervened and the man who had listed the home declared bankruptcy – only days before we almost bought it. The house wouldn’t be even available for listing on the market for at least a few months. Divine intervention – you have to love it. The next choice – found by my brother – was a much larger home, but still within our price range. We went through all the routes and found, to our dismay, that it had been bought already. Sad day. The third option was a big house, too, but out of our price range (which, truthfully, means we have no good reason to be looking at massive houses in the first place) when we learned there was another offer on the table and it needed foundation work. So it looked like back to square one. Except that then I had a shock of thought – just offer to buy the second house from the guy who bought it as an investment property. Even paying more to him, it would still be the deal of the century – the largest house anyone in our family owns for less than anyone bought their home. At $17 per square foot, the equivalent would be buying a 2500 square foot home for $40,000 in a neighborhood where similar homes retail for eight to ten times the price. So we tried it. We called the real estate agent, told her we wanted to make an offer on the house her client had just bought, and he said he would be willing to accept it. We’ve already seen the house and it is massive, beautiful, and amazing. I’m hopeful that it will work out. There is definitely work to be done – foundation work to close a 1-inch crack in the basement, patching cracks in drywall, some flooring issues, but the “maximum” cost for foundation work according to the websites I’ve seen is about $30,000, and most say the high end is around $20,000. It could end up being more since the house is big. Other than the foundation, though, we can do much of the work ourselves. I’ve wanted another job anyway. And my brother had an idea – make it safe, then rent it out to single guys in exchange for work hours. We know dozens of guys who used to work in construction; some would jump at the opportunity for reduced rent in exchange for work they already know how to do. We would save money, they would save money, and the work would go faster. But we’ll need to buy the house first. It still may not work out. I’ll keep you posted.

                I think it’s interesting to see how the Lord so easily changes our focus and raises our sights. I was more than happy to pay for an overpriced, decrepit hut on the side of the road; instead, we may be buying a ridiculously priced mansion on the top of the mountain. I think that the Lord works that way with us in almost every situation. We have a vision of what we want to accomplish – what we want in life – and He intervenes. Tactfully, He informs us that our plans are not really up to par, and then shows us His vision – what He wants us to accomplish with our lives. And then He lets us choose. It can be a scary thing to see the Lord lay out a blueprint of what He wants you to accomplish. I’ve been wondering what I’ll be doing this summer – and this could be the answer. But as we follow His guidance and do what He asks, we will always be blessed.

I know that God lives. He loves us. He is actively involved in our lives… sometimes, so active that I stop and wonder. He really does care about us – about our families, about our dreams, our hopes, and our futures. He wants us to be happy, more than anything else in the world. And so I invite you to turn to Him and ask Him for advice. Give Him your plans – your goals, your visions, and your dreams, and ask Him for help to accomplish them. Maybe you’re better at making plans than I am – and He will help you to accomplish your goals. Most of the time in my life, however, the Lord lifts my sights and changes my visions… and teaches me something about who I am and who I might become someday. I think He’ll do the same for you. Then go out and be missionaries!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning in a different way

I’m amazed at how much the Lord is involved in my life. Recently I’ve felt that I need to make decisions for the summer, next year, and the next few years of my life. But I didn’t have the pieces to make those decisions. Last week I asked for some guidance; this week is what happened.
Tuesday night we learned that we need to move. The family we are living with asked us to leave by the end of the month. We’re not really sure what the circumstances are, but either way we need to move.

The next day was Wednesday; I left work at the MTC early to go to the BYU housing fair and work with my brother to find a new place to live. Hours later, we still hadn’t found anything that really fit our needs. Ideally, we would find somewhere where both my brother and I could live, where we wouldn’t have to sign a 12-month contract, where it doesn’t cost tons of money, and where we wouldn’t share ventilation with other people (so that we could fill essential oil orders – right now we have to do them outside). If we can’t find anything that fits, then we’ll have to scrap the last criterion and live anywhere. If any of you are aware of something in Provo/Orem/Springville/Utah valley that might match, I would love a lead.

By Wednesday night I realized that I was stressed. Normally things just roll off of me and I’m able to do whatever I need to get done. But when I’m over-stressed, everything in life seems to weigh heavily on me… pressing down and threatening to smash me. That’s when I get sick. When I’m stressed, I work out, give service, write & read my scriptures, or go play music… but it was ward temple night, so I went to the temple and asked for help. Cast thy burdens on the Lord. I am so grateful for the temple. I still have no clue how any of these things are going to be resolved. But I know that the Lord loves me, that I am doing His will, and that He is actively engaged in guiding my life to help me to become a better person. And that’s enough.
Wednesday wasn’t the end of the interventions in my life. I’ve been trying to date someone recently and realized that her not answering or returning phone calls was probably due to her lack of interest. I’m not too crushed; it just means that I need to find someone else to date.

Work at the MTC has been crazy; my coworker moved to the West Coast last week and suddenly every project in the department is mine. Literally. I have three bosses, and my work, while definitely making a difference in the missionary effort, is completely draining. Some days I leave work early just so I can get away from my desk and be somewhere else… not having to stare at an Excel spreadsheet anymore.

Add to that the feeling that I need to find a new job (in this job market?). Over the last few weeks I’ve started looking at options, but I have no clue what I want. There are so many open doors… and right now I haven’t had the time to talk with the Lord and search my soul for direction. Writing this letter was supposed to be my time, but I got home from a family dinner on Sunday, sat down, wrote less than a page, and then fell asleep on my keyboard. Praise to the Lord for President’s Day. Hopefully I can figure out a piece of my life.

The last piece of information this week was a letter from the graduate admissions department of BYU. It was in the mail Saturday and told me I had been declined admission to the MBA program. While that was somewhat confusing, since I had felt so strongly that I needed to attend business school, suddenly even more options were open. I could change jobs in Provo. I could throw myself into Nature’s Fusions. Or I could pick up, move anywhere in the world, and do anything at all. I could try to attend a different graduate school… but right now I’m not sure whether I would prefer a Masters, MBA, or an MD/PhD program.

There are so many doors open. I just don’t know which one to choose. I don’t know what I want at all – whether I want to stay in Provo, move somewhere else in Utah, somewhere else in the country, somewhere else in the world. I don’t know much of anything. But the one thing I do know is that I want to change the world, serve people, and learn as much as I can. Hopefully the Lord will give me guidance and I can figure out what to pray for as I talk with God today. But maybe I won’t… and I’ll have to make my own decisions, ask for confirmation and support, and have the faith that He will help me accomplish my goals.

Each of us has times when we are faced with open doors – times in our life when we can define who we want to be. Sometimes we can clearly see the path in front of us; other times there are so many good paths that it’s impossible to choose. But, in everything in life, the Lord is with us. He stands at our side, guiding and sustaining us in the choices that we make. And while He may not point us in the exact direction we should go, the principles of the Gospel ensure that we are moving in the right general vicinity. And we have the promise that He will never let us make a decision that will take us away from Him without letting us know in advance (hence all of my rejections recently). I’m grateful that He is involved in my life. Without that perspective, this week would have been absolutely terrible. With it, even though I have no clue where I’ll live in two weeks, what I’ll be doing for a job, or if it will ever be the right time to attend graduate school, I know it will all turn out alright. And someday I’ll be even better than my own plans could have ever made me.

I know that God lives and that He is involved in our lives. He cares about everything that we do and wants us to be happy. If we will simply follow His guidance and choose the right, everything will work out. My invitation to you is the same thing I’m going to do: look at your life and determine what you want. How do you want to change the world? What are your goals and dreams? Talk with the Lord. Tell Him your desires. Then listen, follow His promptings, and go forward with faith. Go out and be missionaries!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Learning at the Hand of the Lord

The Lord finds whole new ways to teach me with every passing week. I met with the head of recruiting at the BYU MBA program to talk about program requirements; she mentioned that the requirement to not have a job during your first year was very important. Before (and even after) our conversation I had mixed feelings about that. I only usually ask for exceptions to rules once I understand the rules, so I inquired and learned that all of the time is spent with teams - dedicated to teams - everything with teams. Anything that could take you away from your team is strictly prohibited. While that makes me wonder about time-consuming callings and the MBA program, I completely understand the need to create cohesive teams. It is a business management program, and managing a business normally means working with other people. At the same time, I don't see a problem with getting Nature's Fusions on its feet, delegating/hiring out most of the responsibility, and then being in the background during my (potentially nonexistent) free time. I haven't yet had an interview, so we'll see what the admissions staff has to say if and when that happens.

At work at the MTC, I just learned that a set of lessons I wrote have been appropriated by the Brethren. The lessons were originally designed for mission presidents in the field, but are now going to be used to train mission presidents as they come into the MTC. Wow. We put a ton of effort into those lessons, but I was surprised anyway by how quickly they had been approved. Before I started on the project, they had gone through dozens of drafts, complete rewrites, and back-to-the-drawingboard conversations. My job as a style editor was to take all the content, strip out individual voices, and put them together with similar formatting, words, activities, etc. As much as I'd like to say that I can write without a voice, stripping out individual voices normally meant just inserting my own in every line. One day I had given my supervisor yet another of what I thought was a polished draft for feedback from our superiors, then suddenly it had been approved by everyone up the line. Now I learn that the lessons are being slightly reworked by General Authorities who will use them in June. It's like writing an essay for your English class and then seeing it picked up by the Associated Press. No. Even more than that.

On the Nature's Fusions note, Monday I met with a midwife and put together a number of fusions for her to use in her practice. I called to follow up and she mentioned that the ones she had used were effective; her clients thought so, too. A cousin with Cystic Fibrosis has been willing to try out using some oils in his breathing treatments, and this week he mentioned that they were 'really powerful,' made him cough a lot (a good thing), and were getting deep into his lungs. Hopefully they will be a good complement to traditional CF therapy. And we met with a web designer to begin talking about creating a website on Thursday - I think it will be a good experience for everyone involved. In the interim, I've created an absolutely terrible website at - right now it's simply a list of all the things we carry with links to buy them and a link to our order form. The prices are still great, and one side of the order form looks nice, but the website isn't especially professional yet. This week's project is to create a working sales brochure that explains each of our main offerings and gives references to both medical research and anecdotal/historical uses. I've also begun talking with a manufacturer to order diffusers; that should cut our costs for diffusers significantly. We're putting in the order sometime this week.

But, along with ups come opportunities for growth. We were filling bottles late one night and somehow one or more smells got into the ventilation system and woke up the family who lives upstairs. Most essential oils smell nice, but we were doing some of the more potent fusions that night. The people were not incredibly happy and asked us not to use aromatherapy in the house. That makes for some interesting developments, but we'll just have to make do - probably filling bottles outside so that the smell doesn't affect anyone. Then, later in the week after going through the process of getting a tax ID number and registering online, I decided to apply for a business credit card. I had no initial concerns, but the application came back within a minute with the judgment: denied. I normally hate making phone calls, but I'm learning to enjoy them and make them enjoyable for the people I call... so I called customer service and asked for an appeal. The representative was confused as to why the system would deny my application; he assured me I had great credit and sent it to a review board. Again, asking for an exception. Maybe I should write a book about that.

While I was enrolled in school, I was concerned that I wouldn't have an intense learning environment when I left. You don't really take classes in life, and many jobs don't require the level of learning that is required in a classroom. And since my passion in life is learning, I spent a full four years at BYU trying to stock up until attending graduate school. But, in the last year, I've learned that the Lord doesn't restrict intense educational environments to the university. He teaches us in the workplace, at home, in our studies, and with our families. I have learned more this past semester outside of school than I ever could have learned in it - because I am learning to listen to the best teacher in existence. Through it all, the Lord has been teaching me. He inspires me as I make decisions, allows me time to work through ideas, and gives me confirmation when I've made the right choices. He buoys me up when I feel like the world is on top of me, and helps me to do what is really important in life. There's no way I could do it without Him. And I guess I'll keep learning whatever lesson He announces as long as it comes. Organic chemistry & aromatherapy, non-aggressive sales & teaching techniques, finance, anatomy, and business management are the subjects right now, and this semester of my life has only started. Hopefully I can continue to learn at His hand... so that I can be a better servant in Zion.

Each of us goes through experiences in life that are unique to us. And each of us, no matter where we are, can have an intense learning environment if we simply turn to the Lord. The prophet Joseph explained that learning at the hand of God would give us knowledge greater than that found in any book or published journal... greater than the knowledge of all the experts of the world combined. Do we want that? Do we ask for it? Do we experience it as it applies to our everyday lives? The Lord is anxious to bless us; He only waits for us to ask Him and to learn at His hand. And as we learn from Him, we will grow in light for the rest of our lives. My invitation to you for this week: look at your life and determine what knowledge would help you to better fulfill your everyday tasks. What do you need to know? My generation turns to the Internet for the answer to every question. Other generations looked to textbooks, encyclopedias, or libraries. But the source of all truth can answer our questions... and He does. He can answer a question about the truth of the gospel as easily as a question about calculus or aromatherapy... and when we learn at His hand, we learn eternal truth. Ask for it, and He will answer. Then, with your knowledge of the truth, go out and be missionaries!
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