Thursday, December 30, 2010

Called by my own Caledonia

I never made any promises of regular updates, but I do feel to inform you of a possible lack of them the next little while.  Not too long--I'm just gonna be really busy till the semester begins--but at least know that I mean to be coming back here when I can.  So don't forget about this place!

In the meantime, some thoughts:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Day 26: I remember the Alamo

A picture of something that means a lot to you.

When that line is crossed, the mind is made up and the heart follows; the soul turns not around.

Friday, December 24, 2010

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Another moment from the mission:  Elder Allred, Elder Crandall, and Elder Howell singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, with me accompanying on the piano.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 17: A safe haven

A picture of something that has made a huge impact on your life recently.

So I don't have any pictures of Institute itself, but that's a pretty nice logo, right?

There's nothing like having an hour or two during the day to just take a break from regular classes and come to where there's shelter from the world and the challenges of student life.  Institute classes start with a hymn and a prayer, and end with another prayer after a session of feasting on the scriptures and discussing the principles found inside.  When not in a class, students can relax in various common areas, where there will often be refreshments (and who can say no to free food?  I can't count how many peanut butter sandwiches I ate at Institute this semester) and things to do (like magazines, ping pong tables, and a basketball court).  There are friends to be made all over the place.  Basically, it's the best way I know of to recharge in the middle of a school day, and I always leave feeling happy and ready to take on the rest of my day. 

Institute has especially been a miracle in my life since getting off my mission.  While it's not the case for every returned missionary, I'm certainly not alone in saying those first few months back home are really hard.  It feels like hitting a spiritual brick wall.  And if it weren't for Institute, I don't know how well I would have stayed afloat.  On days I was sad or lazy or just plain not feeling the Spirit, I'd go to my Institute classes and come out strengthened, having a renewed determination to serve the Lord.  When I stopped reading my scriptures, my Institute teachers were there to challenge me and help me get back on the right track.  The principles and real-life applications I learned in class influenced the choices I made outside of class, making my transition back into "real life" a lot more manageable.  Even just walking into the Institute building makes a difference in my day, because it's noticeably peaceful compared to the rest of the campus outside.  That alone has made an impact.

So, here's to Institute.  During a time of change and choice, it's helped me know where I am and where I'm going.  And who knows where I'd be without it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 14: Savior, Redeemer

A picture of someone you could never imagine your life without.

Painting by Greg Olsen

Savior, Redeemer of my soul,
Whose mighty hand hath made me whole,
Whose wondrous pow'r hath raised me up
And filled with sweet my bitter cup!
What tongue my gratitude can tell,
O gracious God of Israel.

Never can I repay thee, Lord,
But I can love thee.  Thy pure word,
Hath it not been my one delight,
My joy by day, my dream by night?
Then let my lips proclaim it still,
And all my life reflect thy will.

O'errule mine acts to serve thine ends.
Change frowning foes to smiling friends.
Chasten my soul till I shall be
In perfect harmony with thee.
Make me more worthy of thy love,
And fit me for the life above.

Hymn #112, Savior, Redeemer of My Soul

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 12: On stage

Day Twelve: A picture of something you love.

I'm going to take some liberty with this one and post a video instead of a picture. This one happens to be from a concert held last night with the Taylorsville-SLCC Symphony, SLCC combined choirs, and musicians from Granger High School, performing Vivaldi's Gloria. The movements here are Gratias Agimus Tibi, Propter Magnam Gloriam, and Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus.  (Special thanks to Matthew for taking the video.)

I love performing with an orchestra.

I love arriving backstage before a show and hanging around with the other performers while we wait to go on.

I love when the conductor calls everyone together for a pep talk, reflecting on how great our rehearsals went, and how if we just do what we did there, we'll put on a good show.  I love in these circles when recognition and thanks are given to those contributors who, with their service and leadership, were a giant help to the group in recent weeks and months.  I love the general feeling of family and unity among everyone involved in the show.

I love stepping out onto the stage and being bathed in light.  I love seeing the waiting audience, finding my seat, and exchanging rounds of "Good luck!" and "Here we go!" with the orchestra members around me.  I love that electric feeling before the show begins--that feeling of this is it.

I love standing uniformly with the rest of the orchestra when the conductor enters the stage.  I love the audience's applause when their wait is done and the show begins.

I love the look of all the sections raising their instruments at the conductor's command.  I love those surprising first notes, when we realize the acoustics in the auditorium aren't what we had in rehearsal.  I love playing the harmony, but also those especially expressive places in the music that sing, "Here come the second violins!"  I love the tingling feeling that comes with particularly epic segments of music, and being in the middle of the loudest place in the whole building during those moments.

I love whispering and giggling with my stand partner between songs while we sort through our sheet music.  I love peeking at the audience to see who's there and how they're receiving our performance.

I love the break at intermission, and walking around with a feeling of importance because I'm part of the show.

I love being joined by a choir for a grand finale that opens the windows of Heaven itself.

I love the standing ovation as we all rise once more and breathe a sigh of relief over being done for the night.  I love that brief awkward moment, when everyone wants to get off the stage but no one wants to be first.

I love the atmosphere backstage when the show is done and we're all patting each other on the back saying "Good job tonight!"

I love walking back to my car and hearing someone hum a song that we played.

I love all the different places I can go with the orchestra to have these experiences.  I love the beautiful churches and the old school auditoriums, the ritzy hotel lobbies and the outdoor amphitheaters.

And that only scratches the surface of my love for performing; I really couldn't imagine my life without it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 9: Brother from another mother

Day Nine: A picture of the person who has gotten you through the most.

There are a lot of ways to look at this one, but I think in general, Dave takes it.  I met Dave during my sophomore year of high school.  The timing couldn't have been better, because as much as I loved the experience as a whole, in some ways I consider the years from the start of high school until my mission the most turbulent I've had so far.  But Dave was always there.  He got me through practically everything, from algebra classes and region dances, to lonely days and stressful social dramas.  It wasn't that complicated, either: we'd sit and talk, perhaps over a game of Risk, maybe grab some pizza, and that fixed just about everything.  It always meant a lot to have a friend I could count on, talk about anything with, and just be myself around.

That continues even today.  We're both a little more grown up now, and have challenges that I doubt we would have even imagined in high school.  These things keep us very busy, and it can often be quite difficult to find time to get together.  But Dave's still there, along with his wife Stephanie.  Together they have made my life brighter.  I consider them just as much my brother and sister as I do my friends, and when we do get to visit, it's just like seeing family.  I can say with certainty that if I could ever be half the friend they have been to me, I would have done well indeed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 8: Matthew goes to the zoo

Day Eight: A picture that makes you laugh.

Gee, I guess the penguins didn't really cut it for ya, did they?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 7: The badge

Day Seven: A picture of your most treasured item.

This is my missionary badge: an embodiment of a lifetime of dreaming and preparing.  In the years leading up to my mission, this badge was very much my own Holy Grail--so far away, so legendary, as I quested with great effort to obtain it.  Well, after a long journey I finally won my prize, and for two years, wherever I went, so did the badge.  It identified me in more ways than I can describe; and indeed, no other item has ever so completely illustrated who I was.  I love my missionary badge.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 5: Lessons from flags

Day Five: A picture of [a] favorite memory.

I don't remember exactly when we started doing it (just that I was there), but throughout my teenage years the young men in my ward would get up early in the morning on various holidays and put up flags around the neighborhood.  It wasn't easy to drag myself out of bed--much less on a day when many would be sleeping in--but it was always worth it.

Everyone would show up at the workshop of our Scoutmaster, Wally.  There we would load a few trucks with the flags, rebar stakes, and driving hammers, then after a word of prayer, we'd all pile into the trucks and it was off to work.  When we had enough guys, I would often sit up front with a list of the homes that had ordered flags, and check them off as we went.  This was especially nice on the colder mornings, because I would hardly ever have to go outside and drive rebar into the hard ground.  But I also enjoyed unrolling flags and posting them.  With everyone helping, we would usually finish within half an hour or so. 

It was always nice to come home after that and see where flags had just been planted up and down my street.  Hardly anyone would have been awake yet; and upon reentering my quiet house, I too would fall back into bed for another while.  Throughout the day as we came and went, the flags were admired.

I had more fun taking down the flags in the evening.  We'd meet back up again before it got dark, and this time the work would move a lot quicker because it would take just one boy to remove a flag and its stake.  As the trucks went around, one of us would jump out when there was a flag to be retrieved, and sometimes there wouldn't be any of us on board because there were so many flags outside.  My favorite thing was when whatever truck I was riding in would get well ahead of me, and I would have to catch up.  With a flag waving proudly behind me in one hand, and a rebar stake in the other, I felt like a revolutionary running through those streets. 

I use this memory to represent all the little lessons I learned in the Young Men's and Scouting programs.  I talk often about youth conferences and other such big events, and they certainly deserve it for all the good they did me.  But the remaining ninety percent of the time, we weren't doing things like that.  We stayed in town, and sometimes wouldn't even leave our own neighborhood.  But these were some of the most important learning experiences of my life.  Our Young Men's president, Gordon, taught us that fun is "being where you're supposed to be, doing what you're supposed to be doing, and doing it the best that you can."  And that lesson stuck.  We learned to serve.  We learned to love the Gospel and each other.  We learned to learn and understand.  And the flags are only one of many examples of how we learned to work.  Much was expected of us, because our leaders knew our potential probably better than we did at that age.  We were given assignments and held accountable for carrying them out.  And you know what?  It was fun.  Not only did we learn to do these things, but we learned to love them, because we gained an understanding of the principles upon which they had been built.  I wouldn't be who I am without that.

And now I can look back and truly say all those early mornings contributed to one of my most favorite memories.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 2: Old Friends

Day Two:  A picture of you and the person you have been close with for the longest.

I didn't have a picture, so I had to take two from the most recent time we were both around the same cameras and put them together!  So, this is Alex (in his role as Joseph Smith) and me (in my role as Lehi) at a youth conference in 2008.  

Aside from my parents and older siblings, Alex is the first friend of my conscious memory, and we were around each other pretty much from day one (not yesterday's day one--the day one that happened like two decades ago).  His mom was my babysitter around the time he was born, so I'm guessing that's how we met . . . though we would have grown up together anyway, since we lived in the same ward (which in Utah means really, really close).  As a kid I practically lived at his house, doing all sorts of things from video games and trampoline wars to playing baseball and building (and rebuilding) a clubhouse.

Even though he was almost a year younger than me, he was always the example I looked up to; and even after we got more involved in our own separate interests and social circles during junior high and high school, he was still always there to encourage me during the tough times, in addition to church and Young Men's activities.  I especially remember during my sophomore year when I always seemed to have a chip on my shoulder, he and his brother Spencer would make sure I knew about things like dances and seminary activities, and disarm all the excuses I used to get out of going.  That really helped me a lot, and the whole family is like that--just excellent models of faith, fellowship, and diligence.  I believe that one of the reasons I turned out the way I did was all the time I hung around them (and all remain good friends to this day).

After high school, Alex and I were coworkers twice, and the second time it was he who convinced the manager to hire me.  The funds that resulted from that job would contribute much to my mission, for which I am indeed grateful.  Now my friend is on his own mission, wrestling alligators in Florida (and I'm not lying about those alligators, either).  I look forward to when we meet again.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 1: Fifteen facts

Stacy's always sharing wonderful ideas to inspire a greater appreciation for life.  Her latest is a "thirty-day" challenge (plus one), with a blogging activity for each day of December.  I personally won't be doing all of them, but it sounds like a blast, so I will do at least a few.  With that said. . . .

Day One:  A picture of yourself with fifteen facts.

1.  I love to sing.

2.  I have never had a nose bleed.

3.  I hate most parties, but like being invited.

4.  I tire easily.

5.  I like to sleep with Conference talks playing.

6.  I often let my beard grow out for a few days, but it will always be gone by Sunday (or earlier, depending on who I'm seeing).

7.  I love massages.

8.  My greatest fears include disappointing others, going deaf, and losing the use of my hands or right foot.

9.  Though I like being acknowledged and won't turn down an opportunity when it is given, I always feel a little awkward when I'm in a social setting and someone asks me to play a song on the piano, because I can't stand showoffs and I don't want to look like one. 

10.  A pet peeve: people who take a harmless joke seriously and try to correct the obvious fallacy in it.

11.  Aside from regular activities, I like to spend a couple hours at my church during the week.  I go to practice the organ, but stay for the grand piano and the solitude.  I love an empty chapel (except on Sunday, of course).

12.  I will (almost obnoxiously) find the bright side in any situation.

13.  I love lilies.

14.  I refuse to use the term "LOL."

15.  I love to dress formal.
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