Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Singing in the shower

Sometimes the answers we need the most are the ones we don't want to hear.

I wrote before about how a mission was like an entire, miniature lifespan.  An elder is "born" in his first area, forms relationships, gains experiences, and "dies" in his last area when it's time to go home.  But when you think about it, that missionary can also build something of a "career" in that mini life, much like an actual career in the real world.  Some are leaders.  Some are athletes.  Some are professional movers.  Some work in an office.  The list goes on, and each one of those jobs plays an important role in the healthy functioning of the mission as a whole--because, just as those years of missionary service form a parallel to the complete life cycle, so too does the whole group of missionaries become a complete society in and of itself.

As for me, my career in that society--the identity by which I was known throughout the mission--was music.  On Preparation Day, when everyone else was in the gym playing basketball, I was practicing on the chapel piano.  I played for all sorts of meetings, and never did keep track of all the special numbers I had the opportunity to accompany.  Whenever my sister (who also lived in my mission field) had the elders over for dinner, if they didn't recognize my name she would simply tell them I played the piano, and they knew who she was talking about.  What's more, in order to teach those elders who expressed a desire for piano lessons, rather than take away from our proselyting time, I spent a number of nights before bed writing a guide on basic piano methods and how to read music, then distributed copies.  

A sample page

So, yeah, without bragging . . . it was kind of my thing.  If only I had been paying attention!

I like to joke around with my Sunday School teachers.  A couple weeks ago I walked into class as everyone was making small talk about the coming semester, and I told them I had changed my major again.  "Oh!" they replied with playful grins.  "And what is it this week?"

There was truth in the joke, of course.  My habit had been to get excited about something, try it out, then discard it and start all over again.  Discovery by trial and error--just a bit more drawn out than I might have liked.  And that process led to somewhat of a crisis for me over the summer: one of those "swim or drown" moments that either defines someone's life or smothers it.

After spring semester I decided I wanted to go into public relations.  I thought it fit me well, and it encompassed some beliefs I held and activities I was already interested in anyway.  It just felt right; and after all the other fields of study I had tried, I thought for sure I had found my niche.  I was excited, and got started right away.

Everything was going well, but about halfway through the semester I started realizing something: I didn't belong in public relations.  It wasn't that I wasn't understanding what was being taught.  Actually, my teachers thought I had a real talent for this stuff.  But I noticed myself feeling a little more gloomy every day, and I didn't like what that spelled for my future in such a career.

Well, this was a problem.  I had already tried every major that really interested me, and now that I was second-guessing public relations, nothing was left.  There was no career that didn't absolutely depress me just by thinking about it.  It was time to swallow my pride and be honest with myself: I didn't have even the faintest idea what I wanted to do with my life.

This was a devastating revelation, and I was scared.  Sure, I might have been a good translator.  I probably could have done well in public relations or accounting, even.  I could have done it . . . but I wouldn't have been happy.  Yet at this point, what else could I do?  It seemed I would have to settle for misery.  I would certainly work a job I hated in order to support my family if it ever came to that, but would my depression at work rub off on those I loved?  What kind of man would that make me?  What would my family have to live with?  I was haunted by every dark question, and each one weighed more heavily on me than the one before it.

Let me put in a plug here for a wonderful book: Major Decisions, by Henry J. Eyring.  Please, if you have any doubts as to what you want to do with your life, read this one; it's well worth your time (and as far as educational advice goes, I can't think of anyone better to give it than an Eyring).  I am thoroughly convinced that God worked through this book to change my life, the exact same way He works through the scriptures.  I was looking for answers and not getting any, and then I remembered this book that I had bought during the final days of my mission.  So I popped it open one night and just sat on my bed with it until I couldn't read anymore.

That's when I found it: the insight that led to the game-changing play.  It essentially said (and forgive my sloppy paraphrase; it's much better in the book), "Consider what you think about in the shower--what you think about when you don't have to think about anything else.  That thought might be a good thing for you to pursue."

Well, okay, I thought.  I didn't really take it too seriously at first, but I started pondering.  And nothing really came for a few moments.  What do I think about when there's nothing else to think about?

When the answer finally came, I didn't like it.  It scared me about as much as had my original ignorance of what to do.  At first I was sure the exercise had backfired; that's almost what I really wanted to have happened.  Music?!  I thought.  I'm pretty sure everybody sings in the shower.  If they don't sing, they hum.  If they don't hum, they think the song.  No one escapes music when they're in the shower. 

But I quickly remembered the things that made the answer completely valid:  I live for music.  I can count all my true passions on one hand, and that's one of them.  I don't just sing in the shower--I analyze.  I plan.  I compose.  I conduct.  I dissect and augment.  There's an air piano in there with me, and I know where the keys are.  There's an orchestra, and sometimes I'm in the violin section, sometimes I'm at the piano, and sometimes I've got the baton.  The audience has the printed program in their hands, and I know what songs are on it and in which order.  I know who's playing the solo and when, I'm preparing to signal the drums to fade out, I'm waving the cello section into their melody. . . .

Music was the answer!  . . . But I didn't want it to be.  Throughout my life I had heard all about the downfalls of a music career, and I promised myself that I would never, ever, major in music.  If ever there was a time I wrestled with God, it would have been that night in July.  I was stuck in a corner, determined to get out.  And here I was, going back and forth with the Almighty.  I was not going to major in music.  But you see, the thing about God is He's a better wrestler than I am.  We stayed up together almost all that night playing our game, and in the end, He beat me.  He beat me good. 

But that's another thing about God: He's a good sport.  He shares His victories; when He wins, I win.  By the following morning, I was excited about majoring in music.  I was finally at peace.  I knew God was backing me up (because, after all, He did put me there in the first place).  And since then, He's just been teaching me more and more about what I'm getting into.  I do not regret the choices I made on the way here.  I'm grateful for what I've learned about business, finance, customer service, life insurance, and a myriad of other things in which I've dabbled.  Heck, even my (very) basic knowledge of the concepts of Arabic has helped me somewhat in my Gospel study and in my understanding of the other two languages I already speak.  All these things have been, and will continue to be, for my good.

But my dream now is to be a high school music teacher, and it feels amazing.  It's something I can think about and actually look forward to doing.  It fits so well; and when I tell people what I'm studying, they finally agree.  I definitely agree.  In other words . . . it's a real dream.  

So here I am now.  The new semester has started, and so has my new path.  All my classes are wonderful; I love being there, and I feel revitalized with every new lesson.  I love sitting in the front and trying everything.  My homework doesn't feel like homework, and I'm finally doing it because I actually want to.  In so many words, I'm right where I need to be, and I'm happy.

Sometimes it's the answers we don't want to hear.   

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Living Room

And why do they call this the Living Room?  It's the furniture:

Absolutely brilliant spot to hike up, find a seat, and watch the sunset.  Do it sometime!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dinosaurs and other weekend-y things

A weekend at Vernal, Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge, and the Hogle Zoo is a weekend well spent.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Recent observations

When drinking lemonade from a can or a bottle, I always check for the little thing that says "Shake well before enjoying."  If I can't find it, I give the drink a light jiggle anyway and open it very cautiously.

The Swiss milk chocolate ice cream at Leatherby's took far too long to enter my life.

The washing machine never takes as long as I plan for it to.

The Spanish and Arabic names for Germany come from the fact that the "Alamanni" were an actual Germanic people.  Lightbulb!

I feel out of place in my age group.

The Uinta Mountains look better from Wyoming southward than they do from rural Utah northward.  I think Utah is just gloating to the neighbors, and I approve.

Throughout my life I have had more close female friends than males, but I still get kind of nervous talking to girls.

I have been to the movie theater at least once every single week this summer.

As long as I am in Utah, I will have to accept the fact that Texas barbecue and Tennessee barbecue are going to appear on the same menu (and sometimes on the same plate).

I want Blogger to notify me when somebody has left a comment after me on someone else's blog.

I don't want Facebook to notify me when someone makes a post in a group of which I am not a member.

Homestar Runner has an appropriate quote for every one of life's situations.

"There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it."  --Bertrand Russell

The mail seems to come earlier these days.

My car is never ready to go back into first gear.

A lot of people in Texas come to Utah at some point during the summer.

I have as much fun conducting music as I do playing music.

I don't look forward to Saturdays like I used to.  I'm more of a Thursday and Friday sort of person.

One would think Target keeps their collectible Lego minifigures in the Lego aisle, but they're actually tucked away in the seasonal aisles--perhaps to be used as stocking stuffers, Halloween treats, Valentines, or whatever.  It's back-to-school season now.  I can't find the collectible minifigures.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Smile for the storm clouds!

In light of the way things are going in the world, some thoughts from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:

Within the swirling global events—events from which we are not totally immune—is humanity’s real and continuing struggle: whether or not, amid the cares of the world, we will really choose, in the words of the Lord, to “care … for the life of the soul” (D&C 101:37). Whatever our anxious involvements with outward events, this inner struggle proceeds in both tranquil and turbulent times. Whether understood or recognized, this is the unchanging mortal agendum from generation to generation.

When we strive to keep God’s commandments, “the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Then, even on bad days, we will still “keep our own soul” regardless of external conditions (see Prov. 19:16).

. . . Therefore, though ours is a time of conflict, quietly caring for “the life of the soul” is still what matters most. Though events set up the defining moments which can evoke profiles in righteousness, outward commotions cannot excuse any failure of inward resolve, even if some seem to unravel so easily. If hostilities break out here and there, we still need not break our covenants!

. . . Uncertainty as to world conditions does not justify moral uncertainty, and distracting churn will not cover our sins nor dim God’s all-seeing eye. Furthermore, military victories are no substitute for winning our individual wars for self-control. Nor do the raging human hatreds lessen God’s perfect and redeeming love for all His children. Likewise, the obscuring mists of the moment cannot change the reality that Christ is the Light of the World!

Let us, therefore, be like the young man with Elisha on the mount. At first intimidated by the surrounding enemy chariots, the young man’s eyes were mercifully opened, and he saw “horses and chariots of fire,” verifying “they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:17, 16). Brothers and sisters, the spiritual arithmetic has not changed!

. . . Meanwhile, the defining moments in the “life of the soul” continue to turn on whether we respond with self-indulgence or self-denial in our daily, individual decisions, as between kindness and anger, mercy and injustice, generosity and meanness.

Wars do not repeal the second commandment. It knows no borders. Its adherents wear no national insignia, nor do they have skin of a particular color.

We may experience hunger, for instance, but if so, we can still respond as did the widow who used the last of her meal to feed Elijah (see 1 Kgs. 17:8–16). Such sharing amid real deprivation and poverty is always touching. Earlier in his life, a wonderful bishop of my youth, M. Thirl Marsh, repeatedly tried to be hired at the mines during the Depression. Being underage but large of stature, he persisted and was hired, but several friends were not. Apparently, on more than one occasion after his hard day’s work, generous young Thirl shared his earnings equally with these friends until they, too, were hired. No wonder he was such a caring shepherd of the flock later on.

. . . The outcomes of this ongoing process include having “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). No wonder, therefore, this process enables those so converted to “strengthen [their] brethren” (Luke 22:32) and so lift others by being “ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Such righteous individuals perform another vital but quiet service to mankind: they become part of the critical mass which can evoke God’s much-needed blessings on all humanity.

Truly converted disciples, though still imperfect, will pursue “the life of the soul” on any day, in any decade, amid any decadence and destruction. This process constitutes being about our “Father’s business” (Luke 2:49; see also Moses 1:39).

Since this full conversion is what is supposed to be happening anyway, stern events and turbulence may actually even help us by causing a resumption of the journey or an acceleration.

Brothers and sisters, amid the volatile and vexing cares of the world, let us, as instructed, care for the “life of the soul.” Thanks to Jesus’ glorious Atonement, the life of that immortal soul outlasts the stretching longevity of any star and hence the short span of passing mortal events, even if grim!

(Neal A. Maxwell, Care for the Life of the Soul, April 2003 General Conference)

The glass truly is half full, my friends.  Yee-haw!
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