Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016

According to the internet, 2016 will go down in memory like this:


I can understand why. It was a tough year for me, too, in a lot of ways.

However, it was also a lot more than a dumpster fire. In some ways, it was downright fabulous. In the interest of promoting positivity and optimism, and without pretending that 2016 was actually perfect and not hard for many people, myself included, I've decided to share some of the ways 2016 was a great year for me. And so, in roughly chronological order...


Coldplay
This year I discovered Coldplay. I've always been aware of Coldplay's existence, and have liked some of their songs in the past, but this year they really just spoke to me. Five out of my top 16 songs from 2016 are Coldplay songs. I even got to go see them in concert at the end of the summer.

It. Was. Awesome. I don't know if I will ever go to another concert that cool. They gave out wristbands with multicolored LEDS that synched to the music, so the entire stadium was part of the lights show (along with lasers, lights, confetti, and giant balloons). They played for over 2 hours, which is just insane, and played SO WELL live. 


video

French
I took a French class on a whim at the beginning of the year. I'm by no means fluent, but I now understand/speak enough to have basic conversations in the language of love. I plan to one day speak 5 or 6 languages, so getting to 2.5 (English, Spanish, et un peu de Francais) is a good start!

Dance
I was on the BYU Ballroom Dance Company's 2:00 team this last year. The year's performances culminated in a huge Ballroom Dance Showcase that I got to be a part of in April.


YouTube
Halfway through Winter semester, one of my friend suggested I try watching "A Crash Course in Big History," a series of YouTube videos about... well, everything, from the start of the universe to the end. Not only was it an awesome series of videos, but it introduced me to the geniuses behind the videos, John and Hank Green. I've since enjoyed watching lots more Green Brothers videos; I've also discovered this vast hidden world that is the educational side of YouTube, and have learned about everything from science to culture.

Two of my favorite Green Brothers videos: Are Poor Countries Doomed? and Towering Mountains of Ignorance.

Publications
I was published twice this summer (for the non-scientists in the room, a project I've been doing experiments for was published in a scientific journal--that's a pretty big mile marker in research!) Links here and here if you need help getting to sleep tonight.

Mocktails
A year and a half ago I attended a mocktail party, and decided that true happiness is sipping fruity non-alcoholic drinks surrounded by friends. This summer, I helped throw a mocktail party that included drinks, hors d'oeuvres, live music, and dancing.




 Skydiving
This summer I jumped out of an airplane 1,300 feet above the ground. After 60 seconds of free-fall, I pulled the cord (or, the guy I was strapped to did) and glided down to the ground. It was amazing. I think all extreme sports are trying to be free fall--it is the definition of awesome. (No pictures because they were $60 and I'm cheap. Sorry.)

Rock Climbing
Last summer a few of my friends and I bought gear and became rock climbers. This summer we became contagious. We took lots of people climbing, and even convinced a few to buy their own gear so that they, too, could be climbers.





Canyoneering
As if my summer wasn't already extreme enough towards the end of the summer my cousin invited me to go canyoneering. Free fall might be the most extreme experience possible, but canyoneering's combination of extreme (rappelling down 200' cliffs) and beautiful is something else entirely. 




Graduate School
The awesome didn't stop with the end of the summer. During Fall semester, I applied to graduate schools across the country so that I can get a PhD in Chemistry and go cure stuff. I got to fly to Los Angeles a few weeks ago to interview for a fellowship, and have already been accepted to Duke University in North Carolina (right next to where I grew up!)



While I was putting this together, I kept thinking of other awesome things that have happened this year, like hiking with my mom or going to a friend's house to watch General Conference. So, if I were to keep at it this post could get really, really long.

But I think I'll cut it off here. And hope that if 2017 ends up like 2016, it'll have as many awesome moments as 2016 did, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why are We Mourning?

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed yesterday, I was heartened to see all of my friends posting about how, either because of or in spite of the results of the presidential election, we needed to come together as a country, love each other, and lose the spirit of bitterness and anger that has characterized this election.

Today, rather than posts of love and encouragement, the general feel of my Facebook feed has been something like this: "why is everybody still complaining? The world isn't over. The sun has continued to rise. Even if things don't turn out as well as I'm hoping they will with this new president, things are really not going to be as bad as you all think, so buck up and stop crying! Besides, we had to deal with this four and eight years ago, so it's about time you had a turn at not getting what you want."

I think these statements are completely reasonable from the perspective of the people giving them. I think that as far as they concerned they are right; life will go on just about as normal for them, and they really don't have anything to worry about.

In fact, I'm one of those people that have nothing to worry about. My future is as secure as secure can be. I'm a white male in good health; Trump and Pence's initiatives will probably benefit me, if anything, and the only way they're going to hurt me is if they start discriminating directly against Mormons. Because of the great privileges and blessings I going to go to a sweet grad school next fall, maybe Stanford or Duke, and study chemistry and cure diseases and wear hot lab coats and blow things up in chemistry classes. I'll publish scientific articles in internationally recognized journals, and discover things that will change people's lives, and I'll be well-respected wherever I go. So, really, if it were just for me, I'd be right there with all of my friends telling the rest of the world to get over themselves and cheer up.


But... meet Kate. This is my adorable three-and-a-half year old niece. Along with being absolutely the most adorable child on the planet, she is a ball of energy and spunk. She talks in cute little toddler-speak and pretends to be either a cat or a unicorn, depending on the day. She has all of us, all of her uncles, aunts, and grandparents, wrapped around her little finger.


These is Kate's mom, my sister, Cindy. Along with being one of my favorite humans alive, Cindy is probably going to be a moderately famous author in a few years (her first book comes out in 2018; agents and publishers and everybody else who has read it just rave about it, so it'll probably make a splash). She is just as spunky as her daughter, and is also intelligent, thoughtful, and kind.

My sister has a genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis. This disease affects her lungs, her digestive system, and her immune system. When she was born the doctors told my parents that she probably wouldn't live past 19; on her 19th birthday we threw a huge party to celebrate that she was still alive. She's now 28. Keeping her alive has only been possible through huge advances in modern medicine. With the medications she is currently on, she is healthy enough that she's only in the hospital once or twice a year, usually for about a week at a time. She doesn't have nearly the energy or health of your average person, but she does a good job of using what little energy she does have to write and be a mom to Kate.

My sister's medications cost a lot of money. Like, several times what my brother-in-law makes a year. There is no way that they could pay for them unless my brother-in-law suddenly became a multi-millionaire CEO overnight. Because her disease is genetic, which means she's had it literally as long as she's been alive, insurance companies would generally deny her coverage because she has a "preexisting condition." The Affordable Care Act was a godsend for her because it doesn't allow insurance companies to deny patients coverage due to preexisting conditions. Through it they were able to purchase insurance, and, although the premiums are very high, as my sister puts it, "I'd rather be broke than dead."

Trump and Pence's plan to repeal the ACA puts my sister in a tight spot. She isn't eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, and if the ACA's protection for people with preexisting conditions disappears, literally no one will ensure her. She can get insurance through my brother-in-law's employment, I guess, if he is working for someone that offers a group insurance plan... except that he is doing contract work that doesn't offer group insurance plans. And even if he were to quit his current job and find a job that offers an insurance plan, what if he were to lose it and not be able to find another one?

Even setting aside the issue of whether or not she'll be able to get health insurance, before the ACA insurance plans typically had lifetime caps after which they'd stop covering a person; usually these were 1-2 million dollars. My sister's prescriptions are in the range of half a million dollars a year... I'll let you do the math on how long it would take her to max out one of those lifetime limits with medications alone, not even counting hospital stays.

 So, should she just... die so that the rest of us don't have to pay higher insurance premiums? Should she, unable to afford the medications that would prolong her life and keep her in as good of health as she has been, succumb to her disease and leave my adorable niece Kate without a mother?

You see, this is one reason why people are mourning the results of the election, and why it really isn't helping anything to say "buck up and stop crying." Although I, myself, will be completely and totally fine, as a middle-class white male in excellent health, I mourn because I don't know what is going to happen to my dear sister Cindy.





 I think there's another reason that people are mourning, too, that I don't understand as intimately as I do this one. I'll quote my good friend Mariah to explain it:

The world may [continue to be alright]. The individuals and groups against whom Donald Trump and Mike Pence's platform unjustly fights....not so much. I'm not worried about countries, nations, worlds so much as I'm worried about my Mexican friend who may experience hate crimes that may go unpunished under this presidency. I'm worried about girls who get raped or sexually assaulted who will be ignored and whose attackers won't be convicted, or maybe just for a couple months in jail to "teach them a lesson". (If people don't think this ALREADY happens, they need to open their eyes and do a bit of research--literally this year a girl was drugged and raped behind a dumpster, the man was caught in the very act by two eyewitnesses, and he was given six months in prison so that his "couple minutes of action" didn't affect his blooming sports career. And, as much as we'd like to believe it is, this is actually not even remotely uncommon. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to offend, but if you don't think this will get worse under a man who has no remorse (beyond getting caught) for sexually assaulting several women himself, I think you're deluding yourself.) I'm worried about gay and trans people, who will be legally persecuted and probably subjected to mandatory experimental therapy (check out Mike Pence's plan from January about "gay conversion therapy"). 

In essence, I'm sure the world will "recover" or "keep turning." I just don't think it's fair that just because many of us don't find ourselves in minority groups (meaning yeah, it probably will be okay for us and we can just wait it out) we try and tell people who are LITERALLY AFRAID FOR THEIR LIVES AND SAFETY that it's all just gonna be okay, don't worry about it, we can stick it out, it's not a big deal. I'm not trying to say we should be negative and doomsdayers, but I just don't feel comfortable telling my friends and family of marginalized groups that it's not a big deal, when actually, it is. 







What I wish I could ask you to do is to write your congressmen and ask them not to repeal the ACA. I'm a bit more of a realist than that, though, so instead I'll ask that, instead of brazenly asking us to grow up and stop crying, you take a moment to sit with us, listen to us explain our problems, and mourn with us. While I will not stop being friends with anyone who is rejoicing in Trump's victory, and while I do hope that he is able to accomplish lots of good and needed things, I plead with you, my friends, my brothers, my sisters, to stop condescending to us and, instead, give us some space for grief.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

So... Let's Talk About Dating

Quick comment before I get started--how have I made it three whole years since getting home from my mission without writing a post about dating? Maybe that has something to do with what I'm writing about today.

Anyway, on to business. Last weekend I started thinking about dating. I realized that Provo dating culture kind of hands you a concept of what being single is like on a silver platter. "Here, you should know that this thing that you are (single) is bad. You should feel shame for what you are, no matter how hard you're trying or how many reassurances you get from God and those who truly love and care about you. You should resent a lot of things, including people who find successful relationships with less effort than you've put in, every girl (or guy) who turns you down, and especially "the system," which is a combination of the expectations of church leaders and other adults, including family members, and the "Provo way" of dating."

Everybody gets handed this paradigm as soon as they seriously enter Provo dating culture. Some freshman escape it, but I've talked to lots of people who have only been home from a mission for a handful of months and already feel this way. And that singleness shame shows up all over the place--it might be why I've never before written a blog post about dating, even though I think about it as much as a lot of things I do write about.

What, I wonder, would a singleness paradigm based entirely on God's love, true doctrine, eternal perspective, and realistic optimism look like? I really can't even imagine it. I think I'm so caught up in the paradigm I described above, which is partially based on true doctrine (marriage is part of God's plan for his children) but carried to unhealthy extremes (you should feel bad about yourself if you're single), that I seriously can't even imagine what the correct paradigm would feel like.

If I had this paradigm, I can guess how I'd change. I think I'd be less afraid to ask girls out and less hurt by rejection. I'd be completely comfortable spending a Friday night with friends, or at home reading a book, if I couldn't get a date. I'd be able to genuinely celebrate every wedding invite that I got in the mail without feeling jealous. But still, these are just the symptoms of the paradigm shift, and I don't know what the shift is yet.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts about this. What is the correct dating paradigm? And how to I trade out the one I've got now for that one?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Water From a Rock

Every friendship is a miracle.


Maybe not a miracle on par with parting the red sea, but pretty much on par with striking water from a rock.

Saturday morning before General Conference I went to the grocery store. I ran into a girl I knew from freshman year in front of the frozen chicken. We stopped, chatted, and caught up a bit. I told her that I was in my last year before I graduate; she told me that she had already graduated and was living in Wisconsin, working for a software company. She mentioned that she enjoyed my Facebook posts, and said that they always made her think that she wished we had been better friends.

I thought about that last statement for a while after we parted. From everything I know about her, I think she's right--we probably could have been good friends. And yet, for all the four years we lived in the same city, four years in which we knew each other as acquaintances, it never happened. I'm not even too sure what it is that didn't happen. What is it that turns acquaintances into friends? How do strangers start putting momentum and time into a relationship? How do they start caring that they are in each other's lives more often than random grocery-store meetings?

There are probably several more people in my life like this girl, people that could become close friends if things fell into place. Maybe there are more than several; maybe literally hundreds of my acquaintances could become cherished friends, given the chance.

Part of me hurts a little bit when I think about this, hurts for all the great moments that will never happen.

Another part of me is so, so grateful for the friendships I do have. This part can see that Moses's rod has beaten fountains all over my rocky life. It recognizes that God has led me to friends who have lifted me, shaped me, supported me, and filled my life with delight.

It recognizes that every friendship is a miracle.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Be My Escape

Thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
D&C 6:14

I went into work this morning at 7:30 to spend several hours staring through a microscope (science is a hard and demanding mistress, but that’s a story for another blog post). I listened to a few current favorite CD’s, and then put on a CD by my favorite band from high school, Relient K. This song came on:


If I were to choose one song that defines my teenage years, I think it would be this song. Not only did I listen to it pretty much all the time, but it became a part of a prayer that I would say every so often, a prayer that went something like this: God, I’m hurt and scared and have no idea where I’m going, I’m feeling pain and heartache and uncertainty and other feelings I don’t have any idea how to describe, and I need help. Please, help me be okay, get me through this tough moment, and show me the way you want me to go.

Listening to this song again this morning was a beautiful experience, because I looked around and realized that He had listened.

A dozen years after this song came out, I can look around at my life and recognize that God did help me. He gave me strength and forgiveness every time I needed it; He used tough moments to polish and teach and improve me; He guided me in exactly the right way to bring me to the wonderful life I’m living now. Each and every time I prayed that prayer, every time I asked Him to “Be My Escape,” He listened, and He answered.

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever.
2 Nephi 4:34

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Beatiful Reflections

Before I get into what I actually want to write about: yes, I do know how to spell "Beautiful." The title is a pun because I'm writing about the Beatitudes. So I won't apologize for bad spelling, but maybe I will apologize for my sense of humor.


Anyway, the other day in church someone was giving a talk on the Beatitudes. I had some thoughts during the talk that I enjoyed writing down, and I thought I'd put them up here just in case they similarly delight someone else.

Matthew, Chapter 5.

3. Blessed are the poor in spirit:

If you consider yourself poor, it means you recognize a lack of something. Those who are poor in spirit recognize that they don't have everything they need spiritually, and are willing to accept God's offerings of mercy, grace, and love. Those who consider themselves rich in spirit, or well-enough-off in spirit, might reject these gifts even though they really do need them.

4. Blessed are they that mourn:

A couple of months ago, I was having a tough time. I "bravely" trooped through it for a couple of weeks without complaints, but finally one day I broke and laid it all out on the table before God. I said a very whiny and complaining prayer and, strangely, felt better. For weeks I couldn't figure out why complaining to God made me feel better, but eventually I decided that I felt better because I had been honest with myself and God instead of hiding my emotions or trying to pretend I felt differently than I did.

Mourning is honestly acknowledging your emotions. Mourning is honoring and accepting the way you feel, without trying to stuff your feelings down and pretend you don't have them (to follow this thought in another direction, I think that escapist behaviors like doing drugs, drinking alcohol, or viewing pornography (or other, milder but still damaging escapist behaviors like spending hours on Facebook), are often a way of stuffing down our feelings and making them "go away." Honestly acknowledging our feelings is a lot harder than stuffing them down or medicating them away with drugs, alcohol, or pornography, but much better). So, when we allow ourselves to mourn, that self-honesty puts us in a place of truth where we are able to receive God's comfort. Escapism takes us away from truth and reality, away from God and His love.

5. Blessed are the meek:

The world right now is not very meek. People shoot each other; they find offense with each other everywhere imaginable; they end friendships because of dissenting political opinions. Being meek, on the other hand, is being gentle, forgiving, and benevolent. We need more meekness.

The blessing tied to being meek is "for they shall inherit the earth"--a pretty big blessing! Maybe this blessing is huge because we need something really monumental to help us decide to give up our pride. I'm a prideful person, and I frequently feel like nothing on earth matters as much as proving somebody wrong on Facebook; being right is, in those moments, the biggest good I can see. This promise allows me to step back and say, "wait, my pride isn't worth it. I want what God offers me--the whole world--more than I want to rant at this person."

6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:

This is a very encouraging scripture, because hungering and thirsting are feelings you have before you eat or drink; I'm neither hungering nor thirsting right now, immediately after eating dinner. So, I will be blessed for wanting righteousness, even if I don't actually have it yet. My desires to be good will let God bless me, not just my actual goodness.

7. Blessed are the merciful:

Mercy is a balm to your own soul. Anger, rancor, and hatred burn the soul of the one feeling them; mercy allows those feelings to be quickly healed and replaced with love. Love feels a whole lot better than hate.

Sometimes I feel like if I forgive someone then there will be some great cosmic imbalance; if somebody does something wrong, then they have to pay for it, and I have to keep track of that wrongness until the universe makes them pay. If I let go of what they did, the universe might lose track and they might never suffer as they should. Two things to remember here: first, God made the rules, and any infraction of the rules is really an offense towards God, not towards me. Thus, I can trust God to keep the great cosmic balance, to make sure no wrongs go unpunished. This knowledge lets me safely let go of my anger without worrying about the cosmic balance. Second, Jesus Christ took upon himself the responsibility for, and the punishment for, every sin that has been or will be committed. He paid the price. He ensured the great cosmic balance. He bought mercy with His blood. So, Christ not only extends me mercy, He also gives me the reason why I can offer mercy to others.

8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

When Adam fell, he was taken out of God's presence and could no longer see Him. God gave him the Gospel, whose ordinances purify our hearts and allow us to reenter God's presence, to see Him again. The purpose of God's Church is to be a framework for receiving these ordinances, so that we can see Him again.

9. Blessed are the peacemakers:

Peacemaking is often about letting something go. It is about leaving a witty, biting comment unsaid; it is valuing unity over being right or being better than someone else. There is a lot of meekness and mercy in peacemaking.

10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake:

When we are put in the way of emotional or physical harm for Christ's sake, we feel some of the pain He felt in Gethsemane and Golgotha. Feeling that pain allows us to grow closer to Him, until we can also feel the cleansing, renewal, and new life of the atonement and resurrection.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Free Fall

Yesterday I took off in a small, 8-man airplane, ascended to 13,500 feet, and jumped out. After 60 seconds of free fall the parachute deployed, and I glided down for a smooth landing next to the small airport we left from.


I've been thinking about free fall since then. There literally are not words to describe what it feels like, falling from the height of mountains (actually, the exact same height as King's Peak, the tallest mountain in Utah), watching the patchwork of farmland below spin and slide, ears popping as my body accelerated to 120 mph, shouting into the wind and having my words snatched away before they even made it to my ears. There's no way to describe standing at the open door of an airplane and then insanely choosing to jump out. Every other thrilling experience, from roller coasters to rappelling down mountains, is just trying to come close to free fall. Free fall is the apex of thrill, the highest height, the most extreme extremeness.

It was so intense that my memory of it feels surreal, like it might have been a dream, or a parallel universe, or another life. The feelings I felt didn't seem to be part of this world. In a way it felt like it happened years and years ago, rather than just yesterday. Like a photograph of the sun has too much light and appears blurred and washed out, the stimuli were so powerful that my mind couldn't take it all in, and my memories are fuzzy.

And yet, I am absolutely certain that it happened. I am convinced that I jumped out of an airplane and fell at 120 mph. Even though I have trouble describing it, it really happened. Even if I never go skydiving again, even if I have to rely on memory until I am old and grey, I will remember that I jumped.

I've had other experiences in my life that are hard to describe. I've felt things while praying to my Heavenly Father that I have trouble explaining with words, things that don't really fit into the narrative of normal life, things so powerful that the memory of them feels strange and wonderful and a little surreal. My experiences after praying to ask if the Book of Mormon was true were like that. Same with praying to know if God is real, and if He loves me


But even if people question my experiences because they fall outside of the normal range of human experiences, or because I can't describe them in the same way I do scientific experiments, they were real. They happened. Even if years go by before something like that happens again, I can remember those experiences and hold onto them.