Sunday, November 26, 2017

Life is Pain - But Not Despair

So, I wrote a talk about hope, for Sacrament Meeting. It was meaningful to me for a lot of reasons! I want to share it. I hope it may be helpful.


As I have thought about hope recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that life is hard, and has to be hard in some ways, and God has given us Hope as a gift to help us through it.

In addition, it is not only nice to have, but we can’t reach our eternal destination without it. God is a Person full of Hope, and we must be too, to achieve our divine destinies.

To start, I wanted to share from my own experience. A couple years ago, before I moved out here, I was going through a hard time. This particular hard time was a complicated break-up. I’ll spare you all the details on what made it complicated, but it was complicated and painful. And I was trying to figure out how to get through it. I had been studying gratitude a lot in the months before all this, and had the sense that I needed to exercise gratitude in order to get through it. And I did my best to show gratitude, when I remembered to.

After expressing my pain to God, my prayers went something like this: “I’m grateful to be feeling pain, because it least it means I am alive and that I care about something or someone, and that I’ve resisted the urge to just be numb instead. I’m grateful to be learning about myself and about life. And I’m grateful that because I’m going through pain now, I can trust that I will have an increased measure of joy in the future.” Some days I felt more sincere about this gratitude than others. But the more I expressed this gratitude, the more I really started to look forward to the future, and feel hope. Hope that is possible, due to Jesus Christ, and all that He chose and chooses to do for us.

For me, it was a break-up, but pain comes from many places, and I think this can apply to just about any pain, whether it be failure, rejection, guilt, shame, abuse, illness, stress, loneliness, or other things that make life hard.

I mentioned that hope makes our hard lives a little easier. I found an interesting thing in the scriptures this week. As I was reading the Book of Mormon this week, I happened to be in Moroni, and all the references to hope popped out at me, since I knew I’d be speaking about hope today. I found that there was another word that was in close proximity to the word hope, in two separate verses:

Moroni 7:3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.

Moroni 9:25 My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.

As a person who very frequently struggles with an overanxious mind, I was drawn to the word “rest”.  I believe there is a connection. When we believe Jesus Christ and His promises and His love, we can finally find rest for our hearts and our minds.

I also learned from the scriptures that the opposite of hope is despair. (Moroni 10:22 And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair.)

In my pondering, I’ve come to this conclusion:

We were meant to feel pain in this life, as a necessary part of God’s plan, but we were not meant to carry around despair.

I believe and testify that this is true! We are probably all currently going through some pain, and that is normal. As a wise person once said, “Life is pain, and anyone who says differently is selling something.” However, if any of you are feeling despair, please take comfort in knowing that despair is not part of God’s plan, and that He will help you overcome it!

How do we overcome despair? Well, I’m not perfect at it, but I have been working on it. And the scriptures have even more helpful words about it than I do.

From my own experience, gratitude helped me to find hope, as I mentioned before. Find something, anything that you are at least a little bit sincerely grateful for, and thank God for it. You could also write it down if you choose, as a reminder to yourself. Gratitude is a muscle that must be exercised. Establish a routine or a practice of gratitude, and I promise you will find more hope than you had. This is testified of in both scriptures and research in the fields of psychology and social science.

The scriptures talk about hope and faith, and how they inextricably tied to together. (Moroni 7:42 - Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.) I believe this means our faith and our hope grow in very similar ways. I’ve been attending a self-reliance class that has been wonderful (and has far exceeded my expectations), and we have talked a lot about faith. Faith is a principle of action. It requires taking a step forward. For anything to change in our lives, we need to change our behavior and take steps forward. This means that in order to have hope, we need to take steps of action.

What might these actions be? They may be different for every person. The first action, or step of faith, may be to seek professional help. If we are feeling despair, it would make perfect sense to seek the help of a counselor or psychologist. There is no shame, and should be no stigma in that. I can testify of its helpfulness, from firsthand experience. It is an act of faith that will be rewarded with guidance and healing, and yes, hope.

Another action may be to seek the help of a bishop or branch president. They can exercise the priesthood to help us overcome our despair, in a variety of ways, such as priesthood blessings, counsel, help with addiction recovery,  a listening ear, opportunities to serve, help with the repentance process, and more.

Another action may be to stop doing something destructive. Or to start doing something constructive. Maybe our action might be to serve. To establish a scripture study program for ourselves. To make healthier choices, regarding sleep or diet. To spend more time with people who care about us, or less time with those who don’t. To confront something we’ve been afraid of confronting. To forgive someone who has hurt us. To pray sincerely. To try something new. There is a nearly infinite number of ways we can take action and exercise our faith. As we do take action, our faith will grow, and right along with it, so will our hope.

As our hope and faith grow, our despair will shrink, as hope and despair are opposites.

To emphasize the fact that faith requires actions, I want to quote Ronald J Hammond, who was an area authority in 2007, and one of my favorite people of all time. He gave a devotional address called “First Person Faith in God” which has stuck with me for over ten years now:

“Brothers and sisters, you will hear faith-promoting stories about others. That will inspire you. You will see the Lord’s hand working wonders in the lives of others. That will encourage you. But, I witness that the saving kind of faith in Christ is a very personal, sweetly private, first-person kind of faith developed only ‘in the process’ of personal involvement in life’s challenges.”

We have to choose for ourselves to take action, to exercise faith.

We also need to remember that growing faith takes time. To quote Elder Hammond again:

“The oil of first-person faith is added to our lamps drop by drop. It is a process not an event, and if you understand and really believe this, then you will move with surprising serenity through life’s experiences that do not turn out as you had planned.”

I love that word: serenity. Going along with this quote, the scriptures give us a clue to know whether we are increasing in hope. From Moroni 7:3, which I mentioned earlier:

3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.
4 And now my brethren,I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.

When our hope is sufficient, we will be peaceful people, who do not antagonize others. Who do not feel the need to defend ourselves from others. Or shame others in order to help ourselves feel better. When we have hope and faith, we realize there is not a scarcity of God’s love. We can have a stable calmness that stabilizes us through the bumpy, real, painful, challenges of life.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was never meant to take away all our pain. As Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, He went through more pain than any of us can possibly imagine. He didn’t deserve that pain, but He experienced it anyway. He did not enjoy that pain in the slightest - He begged for it to be removed, if it was possible - but He did not despair. He knew that if He had to grow through it, He would make it through it. He trusted our Father in Heaven that this pain would eventually lead to joy. Both His joy and ours. He was right, and He was successful, and because of Him, there is a future for each of us brighter than we can comprehend. Or as one of our hymns states, “There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh.”

So we can overcome our despair by trusting in Jesus, who the Apostle Paul described as the “high priest of good things to come.” I’ll now quote from Elder Jeffrey R Holland:

“Because of the life, death, and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can escape the consequences of both sin and stupidity - our own or that of others - in whatever form they may come to us. If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow -- and every day -- is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children! It is a plan predicated on the truth “that all things work together for good to them that love God.” So keep loving. Keep trusting. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”

I know that we can overcome despair. We can make it through our pain. And we can find the stability and rest we need to make it through this life, even amidst the pain, by obtaining a firm hope in Jesus Christ. I testify of Him as a Healer, Friend, and Savior, and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Let Your Hearts Rejoice"

A short blog post, about a verse of scripture I read this morning.

2 Nephi 9:52 Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice.

Sometimes I make life too complicated, but this is a good reminder of the simplicity I can be following. As I take in God's words through the scriptures, through prayer, through general conference, and even the inspired words of friends; communicate with God daily through prayer; and express gratitude, my heart will be able to rejoice. It won't make everything feel better, but at least that special spiritual part of my heart can be full of joy.

I also especially related to the phrase "Let your hearts rejoice." I am one of those people that often won't let myself be happy. Being happy is vulnerable. Perhaps through Christ I can feel safe enough to let the guard down enough to be happy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Technology Addiction - Progress

Hello all!

(This is a long post. The summary is that I found a way to avoid feeds while still getting the information I need most and staying connected with others. And I feel a little more in control of my life.)

I don't want to get ahead of myself or get preachy and tell everyone they should do what I'm doing. But I do want to share my experiences so far. The power of story / experience is important, so here I go!

I have finally been able to let go of scrolling mindlessly through feeds! I have multiple failed progress charts all throughout this year from when I was trying to limit my Facebook time to 40 minutes, then 30 minutes a day, then even 20. I think one time I kept to my goal for 10 days. Then of course the goal would fall apart. Again.

But things are going much better this time. I deleted the Facebook app (and the News app, and a few other apps that had feeds), and I set up my Facebook settings so I would get emails of the things I actually need to hear about (YSA announcements, and announcements from other relevant groups). I basically set it up so that any information that would be actually helpful to would be emailed to me. That way I'm still connected, and can receive the information I need, but I can completely avoid my Facebook newsfeed. The only time I get on my news feed is when I'm on the computer, which is not very comfortable for me, and my browser will kick me off of Facebook after ten minutes. It's taken care of the addiction problem, because the addiction is not to Facebook itself. The addiction is tapping on my phone in moments of boredom, or transition times, and scrolling through information / stimuli. Instead of reaching for my phone (which now is a much more boring phone than it used to be), I either reach for my planner / notebook, or just move onto whatever my next task might be.

I do still feel the need to lower my notifications in all the apps on my phone. The difference is that checking my email never holds my attention for more than 5 minutes. It doesn't drag me down into a never-ending stream. A list of emails is finite (unless its my mom's inbox, perhaps - love you Mom!), whereas a Facebook feed can feel nearly infinite. By only having apps that provide a built-in end to the amount of time I spend in them, I never get sucked into my phone for very long. And so now I definitely feel it's hold on me lessening.

Part of this was all motivated by the podcast "Note To Self", and the subsequent book "Bored and Brilliant." Knowing that other people were gaining the courage/determination/motivation to delete their apps and reclaim some of their time helped me to do it too. I like doing things with other people... even if they are people I don't actually know. But we're united in this goal, so that makes it enjoyable.

I hope to later report more about the benefits of all this. I'm hoping I can put some of my reclaimed time to use at practicing my new banjo. In a few weeks I may be able to post of video of myself playing clawhammer banjo. I hope so.

I do still get on Facebook and Instagram for a few minutes a couple times a week, because I do want to hear about my friends. Please feel free to interact with me there. I'm not leaving it entirely. I use Facebook Messenger to interact with people all the time, since it is a separate app, and I don't have to see the newsfeed there.

This was not my most exciting post. But it is my current story. And if anyone else is the same as me, wanting to be less controlled by their phone, and also benefits from working on goals with others instead of alone, I wanted to explain what's been working well for me.

Also, please let me know if any of you have blogs. I would love to receive email updates about my friends' lives. =)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Technology Addiction

I'm going to be trying to change the way I use social media. I want to stay in contact with people, but I need to avoid "feeds" wherever they happen. Facebook's news feed, my News app's feed, maybe even Instagram for a while. They pull me in too often, and for too long.

So at least for now, I'm going to use my blog as my main way of sharing. I'm gonna try using IFTTT to get my blog posts to automatically post to Facebook, for those who want to hear from me there. And then I plan to get on Facebook once a week or so, to see updates from friends (I don't want to be completely out of the loop - just a little bit).

We'll see how this goes. I plan to delete my apps tonight! D=

Sunday, May 14, 2017

To the Uttermost

I am using the topical guide in the scriptures to study about Jesus Christ this year. It's been a really good experience. I've learned about Him being the Bread of Life, about Him becoming our father as we receive His gospel, and other things. I'm now reading about Him as our Advocate. This is the first scripture in that section, and I love it:

Hebrews 7:25 - Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

I know that God is a God of both justice and mercy. But I have recently been feeling in my heart the importance of focusing on His mercy, at least when it comes to emulating Him. I am imperfect, and prone to making mistakes and misjudging situations, so I know I have the potential to mess up mercy and justice in my own life and relationships. If I am going to mess up, I would rather be too merciful than too just.

This scripture touched my heart, and reminded me of some beautiful words from Elder Holland, given in general conference in April 2012:

"Which leads me to my third and last point. This parable--like all parables--is not really about laborers or wages any more than the others are about sheep and goats. This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.

I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

Whether you are not yet of our faith or were with us once and have not remained, there is nothing in either case that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace,” and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord."

Let's not give up hope on ourselves, or anyone else.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Next Hobbies - Digital Art, Headstone Photography, and Swimming

Now I'd like to let you know what my next hobbies are! (Well, I guess I did, as they're in the title.)

-Digital art
-Headstone photography

I got a stylus on Amazon for about $7 a little while ago, and then bought a $5 sketching app, and I've had a pretty good time with it! I know my materials and what I've created are nowhere near professional, but that's not what I'm going for anyway. I just want to be able to make attractive pieces of art that reflect images in my mind. Basically, express myself. Currently I'm working on copying pieces of art that other people have made, to help me learn HOW to use the different tools, get different looks and effects, etc. I've found it very enjoyable so far, and plan to focus on it a lot in the next month (especially on the rainy days, of which there have been many!).

The next is headstone photography, using the BillionGraves app. I was having a hard day last Sunday, and someone I was talking to about my challenges suggested I needed a project. I thought "I already have projects", but decided to try to think of a big project that I could accomplish - something that would take a lot of work, but I could eventually check it off and be proud of having done it. I came up with several ideas, but one of them that I got really motivated to do was take pictures for, using their app, with the goal of getting all the headstones in Bloomington onto the website. Then to top it all of, I found out they are having a May competition thing, and anyone who takes 50,000 pictures during the month of May gets a free Apple Watch! I was all excited about that - until I realized that at my pace, it would take over 200 hours. So... ne'er mind. No Apple Watch for me this time around. But I still have the goal of getting Bloomington completely documented! And I think I will definitely enjoy my time as I can take the pictures as an act of service to those seeking out their deceased family members' information, play Pokemon Go in the background with my Pokemon Go Plus, listen to podcasts or books or music, and be outside, all at the same time! It's a win-win-win-win situation. Even without the Apple Watch!

Lastly, swimming. I did this last summer, taking lessons for two weeks. I learned the freestyle, the backstroke, and simple diving. It was great fun, a challenge, and good for me. I plan to sign up for lessons again, probably in June. Also, I want to report that a picture of me made it onto the website for adult group swim lessons. I'm kind of a big deal...

Anyway, feel free to cheer me on! Or share your own hobby ideas as well. And most of all, if you want to participate in any of these with me, PLEASE let me know. One of my favorite things in the world is not being alone!

Returning to Report

Hello friends! I wanted to report how my first three hobbies of the year went! As you may remember, they were:

-Create a YouTube channel
-Board games
-Embrace my inner nerd

The YouTube channel idea died fairly quickly, as I looked into copyright law. Covers aren't legal to put on YouTube unless you pay the fees. And that just kind of took the fun out of it! My only options are songs I wrote myself, or songs in the public domain. I don't feel up to songwriting just yet. I may come back to this at some point later though. Maybe I can convince people to perform music with me that we record, but don't upload. Who knows. I do know I would love to perform with people. I definitely miss having music performance in my life, and I would like to be able to do all kinds of cool songs, arrangements, and covers, not just classical choir music. Again, I'll need to come back to this.

Board games went really well! I got advice from Facebook friends about what games they love, and ended up mostly with card games. The games I ended up with were:

-The Game of Things
-The Oregon Trail
-Harry Potter - The Battle of Hogwarts

The only ones I haven't actually played yet are Punderdome and Harry Potter. The others I've played, and all are pretty good! I now have some good memories, playing these with friends. One of my favorites was the game of The Oregon Trail that the Porters and I played in Wisconsin. There's nothing like a nearly unbeatable game full of dysentery and death!

The third hobby was embracing my inner nerd. Success. I re-read Harry Potter, plus read the Cursed Child for the first time. I've been listening to a Harry Potter podcast that I enjoy as well ("Harry Potter and the Sacred Text"), and got myself a ring with the words "Expecto Patronum" inscribed. I also got on Pottermore and was sorted into Hufflepuff house. In addition, I continued to play Pokemon Go without shame, made some progress on "William Shakespeare's Star Wars", and other similar activities.

Probably the nerdiest thing of all is that I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Our group consists of my roommates, our dear friends the Earl's, and our DM named Sam. My character is a half-elf cleric with the personality of Rapunzel / Buddy the Elf. My charisma is maxed out. I am still getting used to playing, being spontaneous, and having fun. It's a little scary to "play pretend" as an adult. But, sometimes it goes SO RIGHT (or so wrong!), and we laugh harder than I have in months or years. We continue to meet every few weeks, and I have no intention of stopping!

So now you know! These are the hobbies I've been working on, January through March, with some continuing on, which is after all, the ultimate goal: finding the ones that stick.

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Hobbies!

I was going to start out by apologizing that I have not improved at dancing since my last post. But then I thought about how these are hobbies, and they are supposed to be fun! And a process I can learn from. I've learned that although I want to be a good dancer, I really need to do it with other people, when they're counting on me. I have no motivation to do this by myself for fun, even though I like the idea of being a great, confident dancer.

So, moving on!

I have a plan to do things a little differently. Instead of one hobby each month, I'll have two or three hobbies for each quarter. This is because I don't always get myself involved right away, and before I know it, the month is over! Also, I like the variety.

For the First Quarter of 2017:

1. Board games
2. Creating music content for a YouTube channel
3. Embracing the inner nerd through

  • Harry Potter (listening to the books, listening to related podcasts, finding opportunities to talk about Harry Potter with others, creating art using my favorite quotes) 
  • Star Wars (reading "William Shakespeare's Star Wars" by Ian Doescher, watching the movies again, learning more back story)
  • Avatar The Last Airbender (checking out the next comic from the library once it is published, possibly doing art projects, re-watching favorite episodes)
  • The Princess Bride (re-reading that wonderful book)

One of the main things I've learned is that I love doing things with others (though in small groups). Board games will definitely involve other people, which is what I want. Creating music will have alone work as well as collaborative work; I hope to be making music with others. And embracing my inner nerd can be done either alone or with others.

I've also learned I usually need a project or an end-goal to motivate me. Game nights are the end-goal for the researching and purchasing of board games. Sharing music online will be the goal for the second hobby. My inner nerd hobby doesn't necessarily need an end-goal as much as the others do, but I have some defined goals listed above in parentheses.

If you'd like to join me in any hobbies let me know! Also let me know of your favorite board games so I can look into them, your favorite songs so I can try arranging and performing them, and your favorite epic stories so I can read/watch them.

Happy New Year!