Sunday, August 22, 2010

Learning to Have Fun

A few months ago the Lord told me I needed a vacation. I’m not a vacation person. The thought of leaving behind all my responsibilities and floating with the breeze on an island beach fills me with absolute horror. But His suggestion (and the comments that have followed me since birth) helped me realize that I was taking life too seriously. Amid the tumult of buying a house, helping siblings prepare for school, serving in a new calling, and working on way too many projects, I think I’m starting to better understand what He meant. This week I had fun.

I could tell you about the house we bought in Orem on Friday – my brother and I will be moving there in a month or two and then we’ll have a housewarming party. I’d probably rave about the 19 peach, apple, plum, pear, apricot, walnut, chestnut, and cherry trees, along with blackberry bushes, grape vines, and the massive hedge of lilacs. Or I could address the massive workload of being an Assistant Executive Secretary in a student ward during turnover time. I definitely have my work cut out for me. But I think I’ll write about something totally different and completely atypical instead. Brace yourselves.

Monday, after getting back from San Diego, I went with my family to Bridal Veil Falls up Provo Canyon. We ate dinner down at the bottom of the falls, and then the rest of the family hiked up while I watched my little brother jump in and out of the freezing water at the bottom. As I watched him and other kids there, I was amazed to see how one little thing affected their attitude. My brother was wearing crocks – shoes made of plastic – and so wasn’t concerned about stepping on rocks. He would have been happy to spend hours jumping in and out of the water. Every other kid took painstaking steps while in the water, focusing more on the rocks and the potential pain than on enjoying themselves. Looking at my own life, I realized that maybe I needed to learn to put work and everything else on hold once in a while, put on my crocks, and jump into the ice cold water… for the sheer fun of it. I had just gotten a call from my boss letting me know that my start day had been moved back, so I had the chance to put it to work.

My own having fun came in a somewhat roundabout manner. When my family researched purchasing passes for our annual trip to the waterpark, we learned of a new 13-month season pass that was good there, for basketball games, baseball games, and two Trafalga mini-theme parks nearby. Since it lasts until Labor Day of next year and was really inexpensive with a coupon code, we bought the passes for everyone. Our trip to the waterpark went in the usual manner – we arrived on a sunny day, storm clouds gathered, lightning struck, and they closed the pools and the rides for almost 2 hours. While we waited and everyone else left the park, I convinced my family to play a game. It’s normally played with bean bags – you toss them around the circle, crossing through the center, always receiving the bag from person A and tossing it to person B. You slowly increase the number of bean bags and try to time your throws correctly while catching the ones you receive. We didn’t have bean bags; my idea was to use single tubes (the massive inflatable ones) instead. Everyone thought I was crazy, but we tried it and, within minutes, were rolling with laughter. It worked really well. We played for 30 minutes before the wind picked up. Then a lifeguard came over and told us we couldn’t throw tubes because the wind was too strong. She mentioned that we actually weren’t supposed to be throwing them anyway, but our game had looked like so much fun that they just wanted to watch. When the park finally opened again, there were no lines for anything. The sunny – lightning – empty park motif has happened every time we’ve gone for the last 10 years. Nice.

Then we went to Trafalga. I wasn’t really too keen on going to a place to play mini-golf and bumper boats, but my siblings and cousins were enthralled. And that’s what mattered. And then I got hooked. On laser tag. They have a laser tag arena (not huge, but not cramped either) where 20 people can play a 15-minute game. The arena is set up well… and so I began playing with family, friends, and complete strangers. And I have a confession to make. I love laser tag. I love ducking beneath a window to shield my shoulder pads or crouching in a corner, head up, watching for flashing red or blue lights. Laser tag meshes the adrenaline rush of team and individual survival with the reality that (unlike paintballs or BB’s or video games) they don’t do anything to you, virtually or physically. There is no violence, blood, pain, death... just a buzzing sound – you’ve been tagged – and a countdown from 3 until you’re ready to go again. A fifteen minute game is long enough to work up a sweat, and as we leave the arena each time, my brother and I were usually the top two scorers. He and I must have inherited some of the stuff that earned our grandfather sharpshooting medals in the military years ago. After playing three games in a row, we stopped to reflect on what had just happened. We bought a 13-month season pass that allows us unlimited entry to a bunch of attractions. The arenas I’ve played at before cost up to $15 a person, per game… and I’ve never even heard of a season pass before. I can imagine meeting friends, having family parties, all revolving around laser tag. I told you I loved laser tag. Now, if they only had a season pass for dates…

Most of you know that I don’t let myself just go and have fun as much as most people. I focus on doing things that will bring me closer to my goals, instead of just doing things for the sheer pleasure of doing them. And I don’t think that I’m going to change that. But I’m learning that I can find ways to use activities I enjoy to accomplish my goals. Laser tag is pretty good exercise. It’s a good way to relax. And I think it sounds like a good date activity, too (as long as you’re on the same team and stay together). Those are all things that are important to me – and that means I have a pretty good excuse to play laser tag.

Each of us needs to enjoy life. Some of us need more fun than others, but we all need to find things to look forward to – things that can be a part of our lives and motivate us to be better people, while helping us to fulfill our goals and dreams. As far as asking for help this week, I’m trying to do missionary work and I’d love your prayers. For my invitation, look at your life and think of something that you love doing… and find ways to incorporate the things you love into your everyday. I’m learning that it’s worth it. Yes, it may take time, or it may mean that you spend a little less time working at your desk. But it will energize you and allow you the opportunity to refresh your soul. I know that God wants us to be happy. Sometimes that means learning to work hard and enjoying the work we do. And sometimes it means finding new ways to enjoy life. Smile. Have a great week. Go out and be missionaries.

I love you all!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Sunburns, Sand Crabs, and Ocean Baptisms

This last week passed in a whirlwind. From job interviews to oceanside baptisms to long car trips through the desert, it's been crazy. And, strangely, something inside me says this is only the calm before the storm.

My family came into town Wednesday. 12 hours later, we arrived in California for my cousin's wedding. Weddings are amazing events in my family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, distant relatives, and family friends drive and fly from all over the world in a massive show of support. Together we got sunburned at the beach, mastered the art of digging for sand crabs, took hundreds of pictures, and spent hours talking until late each night.

Amid the tumult, my little brother was baptized Friday before the wedding dinner. We gathered under a blue canopy and held a short meeting - passersby staring as we sang Primary songs. I gave a talk on the Holy Ghost and then he walked out, wearing white, to be baptized in the Pacific Ocean.

Yesterday, the sealer in the temple related some cogent advice from Church leaders on how to develop eternal, happy relationships. Be kind. Think of others before you think of yourself. Involve the Lord in everything you do. A few moments later, the sealing was over, and I joined the rest of the wedding party outside waiting for the new bride and groom.

Each time I attend a wedding, I wonder, wistfully, how long it will be until mine. I saw a few shooting stars from the Pleiades this week; someday, hopefully, my wish upon a star will come true.

I guess this week's message focuses on the importance of listening to the Lord. No matter where we are or what is happening in our lives, turning to God will give us the strength to move forward. I know that God cares about us. He wants to be actively involved in our lives. Turn to Him, and ask for guidance in the events of your life.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Enroute to Stardom (or someplace)

It's amazing to look back and think that just a few weeks ago I was stressed out beyond thinking, just because I didn't know what was going to happen in the future. Deep down inside, I knew that God was involved in my life; I just hadn't yet caught the vision of what He wanted to accomplish. In my prayers recently I've pled with the Lord to help me be more involved in the work – to find ways to better serve those around me. And so, this week, that is what He did. I think I am just now realizing that He has way more in store for me than I will ever understand.


Monday morning I woke up and logged in to my most recent endeavor – being more involved as a friend and a missionary in the online world. I found new friends, chatted online, commented and posted on blogs, and tried to find ways to lift people in the world around me. Whether or not I had a major impact, I felt like I was doing something worthwhile – making a difference in the world. But you know me. I always try to think bigger. But what could I do to have a bigger impact?


I checked on the music competition I entered – and realized, quickly, that my name wasn't there. There were 16 entrants in the male category; I wasn't even in the top 10. Ouch. I really liked the recording I made (and still do), and so did almost everyone who listened to it. I guess I may have to put the "changing the world through music" plans on a temporary hold – at least for now.


Then I got an email from a guy who had found my blog through my profile on Yeah. Interesting. He mentioned that he was beginning an ambitious blogging project – creating a "Top 100 Blog" – and felt my inspirational writing would fit well in the group. He had already invited a few other people, but felt prompted to go on to, search for "author," bring up my profile, read my blog, and invite me to participate in the project. The Lord works in mysterious ways. There are seven of us working on the blog; we met as a group on Saturday to discuss names, themes, word limits, and everything else cogent to the project. After a long discussion on what topics to address, we decided to each have a day to just write about our lives and the topics that are most important to us. I was immediately voted the Sunday blogger. Since each post will go through two editors before publication, I'll probably write throughout the week and then let the "scheduled post" function take care of Sunday. The launch date (and launch party in Provo) is Saturday, September 18th. More info upcoming on that project as time gets closer.


On the job front, I wrote a follow-up email when I hadn't heard from anyone by Wednesday. I got an email in return; as I had suspected, they were just really busy. I had no clue how busy. My phone died Wednesday night and the next morning I woke up to a message from my future manager, indicating that he only had time to talk between 4 and 7 am that morning. He was doing a car-counting service project for the community. It was 6:40. I pulled his number from the message details and we had a great 20-minute call. He wanted to meet in person, but he's totally booked until this Wednesday. From the tone of our conversation, I'm pretty sure I've got a job. It will probably be crazy busy. Hopefully we can find some time to meet and figure out what my responsibilities will be.


The final piece of "how I can be more involved" news came with a phone call this morning to have an interview at Church. Long story short, I got called to be an Assistant Ward Executive Secretary. For those who aren't familiar, that assignment means that every Sunday is completely booked from 9 to 5 – attending every meeting and being in the next room during every interview. And I thought my Sundays were busy already. But it's a great calling. I'm the assistant, so I'm in charge of scheduling all the interviews for the bishop's counselors. I'm also in charge of the ward website and helping to put together a ward directory for this next semester. The bishop knows that I may not be here long, be he was anxious to give me the calling anyway. Whatever happens, I'm excited for the chance to serve.


Last Sunday night I cried myself to sleep. In my fast, my prayers, and my every thought I asked God to help me reach out to the people around me, to help me lift up the hands that hang down, to help me be a better servant. And, this week, He did. I know that each of us wants to make a difference in our world – to better fill a role that the Lord has in store for us. Maybe it's to be a better mother, a better student, a better missionary, or just a better person. And so we search for it. We pray for guidance and, sometimes, the Lord is silent. And sometimes He lets us know He's listening with a flurry of answers designed specifically for us. My invitation for you this week is to ask the Lord to help you be a better servant. As you do, He'll help you find ways (maybe massive, maybe small) to improve and come closer to Him.


p.s. – I totally forgot to ask for help in this post. I'll open the floodgates. I don't have a girlfriend or anyone that I'm currently dating. I don't think I'll ever write about the difficulties inherent in my relationships. The Lord may have reasons to keep me single now, but eventually I'd like to find someone (1) who I can be attracted to and (2) who is willing to do anything in the quest to be a better person each day. Feel free to send pertinent advice, phone numbers, or whatever.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Helping people improve. Being a missionary.

Sunrise here in Provo is an amazing thing. Hours pass, the sky slowly grows brighter, but the sun stays hidden behind the mountains… threatening to never rise. You wonder if the day will just go on without the sun ever arriving; it gets late enough that you have to move on to other things. And then, in an instant, rays of light stream over the mountains, lighting the sky and bringing full day to the valley below. Life the last few weeks has been sort of like a sunrise in Provo. Everything slowly grows brighter, and then it all falls together. Life is amazing.


I recorded my full studio vocalist demo Monday. It's 4-5 songs (depending on whether I want to make someone listen to opera) that I can send to producers and others. I'm not completely ecstatic about some of the songs I did, but it worked. I'm probably my worst critic. Just email me and ask for a copy of the demos - the help I'm asking this week is that you send them on to whomever you know in the music recording world who might be interested. I'm looking for opportunities to do what's called "studio singing" – recording songs or jingles or whatever that someone else has written who needs to find a voice to sing it. If you don't know anyone, then just keep your eyes and ears open.


Wednesday and Thursday I attended the Professional Career Workshop run by the local LDS Employment Resource Center. I went in skeptical of what they could say; the only advice I had gotten before from the center consisted of line items in my resume and filling out online profiles. But the class, which went from 9-4 both days, was actually a really good program. I was by far the youngest person there – the next youngest was 33 and the average age of the group or experienced professionals looking for work was probably 50. We learned about everything from negotiation to turning negatives in our resumes into positives. We wrote and presented 30-second concise statements introducing who we are, what we've done, and what we can bring to a company. And we practiced, and practiced, and practiced – even doing multiple mock interviews with live feedback from our coach and classmates who videotaped the interview. Just going for the networking side was worthwhile; one of the men already emailed me with a lead for a group of artists looking for children's book writers. If you know anyone looking for work, that might be a good thing to suggest. For me, the timing before my interview Friday couldn't have been better.


Friday I had a job / informational interview with the co-founder of a big consulting firm here in Provo. It had been scheduled to take place at their corporate office, but was changed that day to a meeting at his house – located in a gated community in north Provo. I wasn't sure if a shiny office or someone's private mansion was the more intimidating setting. I had no idea what to expect (Is he going to give me advice? Offer a job? Just talk?), since the interview had come from networking contacts – so I wore a white shirt, tie, and carried a copy of my resume. When I arrived and met the guy, he was smiling, wearing shorts, and barefoot. We went outside to talk next to his pool and I was greeted by a massive dog that promptly began smelling everything from my shoes to my hair, coating me with inch-long gold hair in the process. The interview was sort of shocking; he ran it like a job interview mixed with personal advice on how to move up in the company. He had chosen a potential job for me within 10 minutes of beginning the conversation. I also met his wife, who happens to have written a motivational book about finding symbolism in everyday life (we're exchanging manuscripts). It was over an hour and a half long, and we only stopped talking because he needed to get ready to leave for the Middle East. As he led me back to the front door, he commented that the interview wasn't normal for him, either. "I'm not this positive for every interview. I really enjoyed this," he said… and assured me that I should expect a call from them very soon. Wow.


My thoughts this week, though (outside of stress for jobs and moving into an apartment), are on missionary work. Someone asked me a few days ago how I thought we could have the same blessings that missionaries have in the mission – being guided by the Lord, protected from temptation, amazingly happy. After thinking for a moment, I realized that the answer was actually amazingly simple. It's the same outline for every blessing; in D&C 131 it says "…when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." You want a blessing? You follow the law that brings that blessing. You want the blessings of being a missionary? You follow the same laws as a missionary. You do what a missionary does.


Applying it to life is where most people I know just give up. They say, "We can't have the blessings of being a missionary since we can't dedicate ourselves to sharing the gospel full-time." Missionaries all over the world share the gospel in different ways. They follow a diligent schedule. They pray for guidance in building the kingdom. They study for themselves and others. They make plans. They reach out and help others. And those things everyone can do. As far as working during the day, some missionaries serve by teaching English classes to government officials. Sounds like an English teacher to me. Others sing in choirs and performances. Others do family history, or answer telephones, or serve in the temple. Others work to help with natural disasters. Missionaries do a lot more than just knock doors and stop people on the street; in reality, every honest job can be approached like a missionary would… and over time the things that each of us does in our lives, every day, become sublime.


Each of us had things that we do during the day. Cleaning a house, talking with others, working in our chosen (or current) career; but no matter what we do, we can be constantly helping others improve. The Lord has all blessings in store for us. We just need to ask for and live worthily to receive them. So that's my invitation this week. Look at your life and make it into missionary work. Everything in your life. Find meaning in the mundane things – folding laundry or counting cash in a drawer… and your attitude will turn you towards the Lord. You'll be more willing to ask Him for help, and He will help you. I know that He loves us, and that, for Him, all things have meaning beyond what we see. Everything He created in life is a symbol to help us think of the divine. As you strive to find that meaning, life will become richer… and you'll have a greater influence for good. Go out and be missionaries!

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