Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lift Up Your Heads

There are lots of reasons to go to church. At church you renew your covenants, regain the spirit, receive a remission of your sins, strengthen your faith, learn Gospel doctrine, associate with good people, and the list goes on.

My own, personal reason for needing to go to church every week played out once again today.

The most frustrating thing in my life is my own fallen nature. The fact that I make mistakes, have limits, and sin, just drives me crazy. Though it is crazy and unrealistic, I wish that I could just be perfect right now. I wish that I didn't ever have to relearn a lesson that I've already learned once. I wish that I didn't ever recommit a sin that I've already repented of once. I wish that those moments when I feel like, "yes, I've figured it out!" would last forever, instead of fading away and once again permitting me to exercise faith in a daily, enduring-to-the-end kind of way. 

Today was one of those days when I felt burdened by my fallen humanity. I walked into church praying for help and hope, but feeling like I might never find it, because haven't I walked into church praying for hope before? Haven't I found it, left promising that this time would be different, this time I wouldn't make the same mistakes again, and then ended up falling again?

As I sat, feeling dejected and lost, the choir stood up and started singing "What Child is This?" As I listened to the beautiful lyrics, I stopped thinking about myself and started thinking about Christ, the one whose birth we celebrate this season. I picked up my Book of Mormon and started reading through 2 Nephi, and found the following words.

"Let us remember him, and lay aside our sins, and not hang down our heads, for we are not cast off." 

The Spirit bore witness of the words as I continued reading. 

"Wherefore, I know that thou are redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.

"Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah."

That is the truth that I need to remind myself of every week. That it isn't my own perfection that will get me to heaven--I already sunk that ship with my very first sin, which was years and years ago. No, it isn't my own perfection that will get me to heaven--it's His. Christ, the Lord's. 

And even as I write this, I'm guessing there will be another day when I feel burdened and saddened by my fallen, sinful nature. But there will also be another sacrament meeting when God can speak to me and remind me that I was never going to be saved by my own grace anyway. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is It True? Thoughts on my Testimony of Jesus Christ After my Grandmother's Death

I wrote this post on Thursday, October 30th, just a few minutes after my dad called and told me my grandmother had passed away that morning.

I just received news that my grandmother passed away.

While I was surprised by the news, it wasn’t completely unexpected. Her health had been declining for the past several years, and she suffered a stroke several weeks ago that put her in the hospital for several days. Still, she was my grandma, my dad’s mom, and she was gone, and so I decided to look for a quiet place on campus where I could think and be alone.

I found the Joseph Smith memorial court, a lovely little outdoor area inside the Joseph Smith building with a statue of the prophet looking up into the air. Finding myself alone, I sat down, cried a little bit, then started thinking.

“Jason,” I said to myself, “I need to know if you really believe all this stuff. Do you really think that your grandma is still alive, in the spirit world, meeting her parents and brothers and sisters and maybe even Jesus, and that one day  you will all be resurrected and live together again? Do you really believe,” I thought as I looked at the statue, “That Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His son Jesus Christ, and that through Joseph Smith the authority to seal families together was restored by God?”

The response I gave myself was quick and solid. “Yeah, I do,” I said. “I know it’s true. I’ve asked if the Book of Mormon is true and received an answer—several times. I knelt down in this same courtyard a few months before my mission to ask if Joseph Smith was a prophet, and God said yes. I’ve felt Christ’s love, and seen His light, and as fantastical as it all may seem sometimes, I do know it’s true.”

I felt at peace. I still felt sad, but I felt at peace.

I pulled out the pocket-size copy of the Book of Mormon I always carry in my backpack and turned to Alma chapter 40. I read, “The spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”

As I read these words I thought about my sweet grandma. I remembered conversations that we’d had recently about her young adulthood, and about how proud she was of her children and grandchildren. I remembered the famous cookies that she used to bake by the hundreds, it seemed, for every family gathering. I thought of the legacy that she has left behind, a legacy of faith and obedience to God.

Then I turned back to Alma chapter 40 and read one more passage: “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame… And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God.”

This morning my grandmother died, but death is not the end. Death is not an empty void; it is the turning of a page to a new part of life. I know that she is still alive, in the spirit world, and that one day I’ll get to see her again. It will be wonderfully glorious, that meeting, as we rejoice in the miracle that is life, and death, and resurrection. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014


This is another post about my time as an efy counselor. As a counselor at a camp for teenage boys, there were several critical questions that I needed to have ready answers for. Questions about going through hard times, about how to know what is true and what is not, and, of course, about who was my favorite super hero.

This third question made me stop and think. Which super hero was my favorite? Why him or her? What would differentiate my favorite super hero from all of the others, how could he or she be awesome enough to be significantly more awesome than all the other heroes' awesomeness?

Eventually, I decided on Captain America. Though he isn't as witty as Spiderman, or as roguishly cool as Iron man, I appreciate that Captain America pairs his super strength, ultimate frisbee skills, and good looks with a real, true, deep, goodness.

Captain America doesn't go about hero-ing because he wants to be rich or famous. He doesn't use methods that are shady or inappropriate to achieve worthy goals. He is a hero because he wants to help the world be a better place; he firmly sticks to his moral code, and refuses to sink to the same low levels as his enemies.

From the very beginning, Captain America focuses on doing what is right no matter what the consequences. In fact, this is what differentiates him from his competitors in the super-soldier program--the scientist in charge of the program notices that, while other soldiers were bigger and tougher, they didn't have his strong moral compass. Or, in the words of the Lord to Samuel, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height or his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appeareance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tender Mercies

A few years ago Elder David A. Bednar gave a talk about Tender Mercies. He mentioned a scripture in the first chapter in the Book of Mormon which says, "But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." (1 Nephi 1:20). He said that, the way he understands tender mercies, they are like post-it notes that the Lord leaves in our lives to say "I love you." Little miracles that, in some divine and special way, communicate how much He cares about us.

Last Thursday, I finished studying at about 11:00 PM. I was exhausted, drained, and brain-dead. I knew that I would need to be awake by 6:00 AM the next morning to continue studying and working on homework if I was going to be able to finish all of the week's homework assignments. As I started the walk back home from campus, a 15-20 minute walk, I said a little prayer: "God, I'm tired, and I'd love a ride home."

As I walked down the hill towards the street below, I started thinking about miracles and tender mercies. In my experience, miracles usually come when I have given my best effort and have nothing else left to give, when my best effort isn't enough to do whatever I'm attempting. However, if I haven't yet given my best effort, sometimes God withholds a miracle so that I have a chance to learn and grow before receiving divine help. Maybe that's what was going to happen here? I'd grow stronger by making the 15 minute walk home even though I was exhausted and would have to get up early the next day. 

In fact, that would probably be the best thing for me down the road, I began to rationalize. So, I shouldn't actually expect anyone to be there to give me a ride at the bottom of the hill, even though God definitely does have the power to do something like that.

I smiled to myself and started forward. A car honked; I ignored it.

"Jason! Hey! Where are you going, and do you want a ride?" This time I turned around. 

A friend from North Carolina that I hadn't seen in 3 years gave me a ride back home. Along with resting my tired legs, I got to catch up with him as we talked about our missions

After I thanked him for being a literal answer to my prayers, I hopped out of the car and walked to my apartment, thinking about tender mercies. Little miracles that God really doesn't have to do--I would have survived the walk--but that let Him tell me He loves me. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Of Love and Mountains

Last Saturday my brother-in-law and I hiked Mount Timpanogos, a 11,752 foot behemoth of a mountain just a few minutes north of BYU. It was an invigorating, exhilarating, exhausting, rewarding experience.

During the hike, it stuck out to me how cordial and polite all the hikers on the trail were. Not only did they smile and say "good morning," but they would move to the side and wait while we passed on the narrow trail. Those who were already coming down the mountain path encouraged us, telling us that we didn't have far to go and that we could make it.

I was especially impressed by a comment I overheard on the summit of the mountain. Several groups of hikers sat around enjoying the view, exchanging small talk, and recouping energy to begin the trek back down the mountain. One man said, "Even if we didn't hike up at the same time, in a way we all did this together. We've shared something here."

A day later, as I was studying a talk from the last LDS General Conference in April, I understood why the hikers' cordiality and friendliness stood out to me. In his talk entitled "Love--the Essence of the Gospel," Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, compares our mortal experience to a journey. He states that God's great commandments for this journey are to love God and our fellow men. The hikers on Mount Timpanogos understood this, and had demonstrated love for their fellow travelers by sharing kind, encouraging words, by getting off the trail to let them pass, and even just by exchanging a smile and a greeting. As expressed by the man on top of the mountain, all of us were in it together.

As I reflected on these experiences, I came to realize how important it is that I love and serve all those around me. As President Spencer W. Kimball said, "We must remember that those mortals we meet in parking lots, offices, elevators, and elsewhere are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve." If I am able to remember this principle and maintain an attitude of selflessness, then I'll be able to help people along this difficult journey, just as the kind smiles and words of encouragement helped me hike to the top of Mount Timpanogos.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Snapshots: End of Summer

Looking toward the river, I begin to scramble down the slope. My worn shoes slide for a split second on some loose dirt, then I regain traction on rockier ground. I scramble down the rocks at a slightly reckless speed, almost falling several times before the ground levels out. Then, tentatively, carefully, not wanting to fall in and spend the rest of the day with wet shoes, I venture out onto the rocks in the middle of the river. Hopping from one rock to the next I arrive at the middle of the river. I crouch down and dip my hand in, feeling the cold water, snowmelt from Mount Hood, flow between my fingers. I stay there a moment, living, feeling, experiencing; I stand. Lifting my head, I can see a sliver of the waterfall around a bend in the river. I glance back down at the river flowing by my feet one more time, then resume hopping, clambering, climbing, and sliding on toward the waterfall.

"Gather round, children," I yell in my best British accent. A dozen freshmen come forward and form a semicircle around me as I proceed to introduce them to my beloved campus. I point to the buildings, giving them their names and their (sometimes seemingly unrelated) acronyms; I explain what each building is used for, then tack on my personal touch, the secrets that it took me months to learn that have enriched my time here at BYU, the things I hope that each of them get to experience during their first year--I tell them about the musicals and the dances, I advise them to search out their classes early in the building that is built like a maze, I crack a joke and, more because I'm speaking in a British accent than because it is actually funny, everyone laughs. Then I turn to a girl in my group that is actually from England and hesitantly ask, "how's my accent?" 
"It's really good," she says, giving me a bright smile with a hint of pity behind it, "but you should stop it."
More laughter. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mickey Mouse

I started writing this blog post with the words “one of my favorite parts,” then realized that I use that phrase way too often. Redo:

One thing I loved about being an EFY counselor was playing games for “Family Home Evening” on Monday nights. We would play ridiculous games with names like “Gotcha!” and “Killer Frog,” then ask the simple question, “How does this relate to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” Every single week I was astounded by the deep connections that 14-18 year old kids could draw from playing silly games. Even more than any of the individual lessons that I learned from the games we played, I learned that “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of [Christ]” and His Gospel.

It comes as no surprise then that on my trip to Disney this last week I learned things about the Gospel from Mickey Mouse.

I’m going to preface this by saying that, as a kid, I really didn’t get Mickey Mouse. I’ve always loved Disney, but I’ve looked on Mickey Mouse as more of a predecessor to later, greater icons than as anything special by himself. But now I feel I understand Mickey, and here’s why.

Wednesday night I watched a water show called “World of Color.” It was a really spectacular combination of fountains, lights, mist screens, projectors, bubbles, and jets of fire. The story, or focus, of the show seemed to me to be about love—love for life, for family and friends, and for that special someone. It was a truly joyous experience, and it made me think about how wonderful my life is when I’m focused on loving others.

Right after “World of Color” we raced off to watch a show called “Fantasmic,” starring Mickey Mouse. The plot of the show goes something like this: Mickey dreams amazing things, Peter Pan fights Captain Hook on a life-sized pirate ship, Princes and Princesses dance and sing, evil villains plot to take over Mickey’s dream and turn it dark, Mickey has a great one-liner (“you may think you’re powerful, but hey, this is my dream!”) and blasts away all the baddies with his awesomeness. Fireworks ensue. Here’s what I got from this show—good beats evil, and does it really awesomely. The world may try to paint its way of life as being glamorous, powerful, and even inevitable, but God’s way, the good way, Mickey’s way, is truly and actually awesome. It’s fun, it looks cool, it involves dancing and singing and swinging from pirate ships, it’s awesome.

I thought I was done with shows after Fantasmic on Wednesday night, but luckily one of my buddies talked me into going to see one more, “Mickey and the Magic Map.” It was a Broadway musical quality show, with about 30 minutes of singing, dancing and cool costumes—basically it was right up my alley, the stuff that I live and breathe for. The story of this particular show was all about following your dreams, never giving up, and being yourself. While watching it I got excited for the future and all the amazing things that it will bring, and even more committed to working hard to accomplish the goals that I have set for myself.

After seeing all of these shows about Mickey Mouse, I revisited my apathetic opinion of him. I decided that Mickey isn’t just a precursor to greater icons, but rather, he is the symbol of them all. Mickey represents goodness, purity, chasing your dreams, and always striving to be better.

Those aren’t the only things I learned this week (and did I mention the amazing people I met and how much fun I had?) but I think that’s probably good for one blog post. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

What to write?

I am sitting on a pillow in a hallway outside my boy's rooms, waiting for the all-clear to be given so that I can go to bed, closing my eyes on my last day as an EFY counselor. Working as an EFY counselor this summer has been a dream come true, a learning experience, a challenge, and a joy all rolled in one.

There are so many thoughts bouncing around in my head that I'd love to get down, and I think I'll try to write at least one more blog post about my efy experiences later on after I've slept a little. However, the primary thought on my mind, the thought that has been with me from my very first week as a counselor until now, is how grateful I am to my Heavenly Father.

I am grateful that He has, through a process of time, trials, blessings, and a mission, made me into someone that has something to give at a place like EFY. He took little old me, a rather weak and simple person, and gave me a testimony of His Gospel, gave me habits and knowledge and a voice to sing with and words to teach with. And somehow, miraculously, incredibly, I've become an EFY counselor, someone that He would trust to take His precious young sons and daughters and leave them a little better than they were when they got here.

I can't wait to see what He'll do with me next. His vision for me is, and I'm sure always will be, so much more awesome than anything I could come up with myself, and I'm really excited to find out what it will be.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Thoughts on efy

I just finished my first week as an efy counselor. I’m a teensy bit tired and my thoughts are rather scattered, but I thought I’d write about some of the things I learned/noticed this week.

This Monday was my birthday. My last two birthdays were interesting, as mission birthdays are, but I noticed this Monday how really wonderful it is to have a day when people let you know they are grateful for your existence. It was quite uplifting.

When I first started my mission, I cried quite a lot. The lessons we taught were often spiritual, and I’m one of those people whose spiritual sensitivity is tied directly to his tear ducts, so I got used to carrying around tissues. After about a year, however, I stopped crying during lessons. I accepted the change, and figured that it was a part of my spiritual maturing—that because of the experience that I now had feeling the spirit, I didn’t need to cry any more. Thursday evening as I sat in devotional crying--for the third time this week--I realized that I was wrong. I’m still a big softy at heart, and may never get over my testimony-tear-duct thing.

Teenagers… I’m thinking a lot about what being a teenager is like, and how I as a young adult who was one not too long ago can best relate to and help them.

There are a lot of similarities between being a missionary and being an efy counselor. I sacrificed sleep and personal interests in order to help other people. I thought about fulfilling needs and answering questions and teaching doctrines effectively. I ate lots of salad. I woke up early. At the end of every day I was exhausted and spent, but also content and fulfilled.

There are lots of differences between being a missionary and being an efy counselor. Part of my job description was dancing energetically (and can I just say how fun it is when 10-15 teenagers are copying every dance move you do?) My companion this last week was way cuter than any of my mission companions. I was encouraged to take midday naps. Instead of being in bed by a certain time, I had to make sure that everyone else was in bed by a certain time. My leader told me to flirt with girls. 

It is in those moments when you aren't thinking about yourself at all that God will give you the sweetest and most tender of His tender mercies, teaching you things that will be of most benefit to you personally. 

I still have four more weeks as a counselor. I'm excited for everything else I still get to learn!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

His hands

This last week I was trained as a counselor for a youth summer camp called "Especially For Youth," or efy. I attended efy several times as a participant and always planned to be a counselor someday, so this was really a dream come true for me. Now that training is over, my life for the next five weeks will be dedicated to helping young men and young women ages 14-18 learn about the Savior, learn how to study the scriptures, and prepare to serve missions and live true to the Gospel.

I'm sure I'll have lots of efy experiences to write about in a few more weeks once I've had a chance to be a real counselor instead of just a counselor in training (or a "shadow counselor," as they liked to call us--I usually referred to myself as one of the shadow people), but today I'd like to write about something wonderful that happened this week that actually doesn't have anything to do with efy. 

Every Thursday night at efy the main speaker of the session, called the session director, gives a fireside on the atonement of Jesus Christ. I remember these firesides being major building blocks to my testimony when I was a kid--Brother Gardner in 2006 spoke beautifully about the pain that the Savior suffered and the love that His suffering shows us, and I felt the Spirit strongly while listening to him speak. Because of these past experiences, I was expecting a spiritual experience that had to do with the atonement during this Thursday's fireside.

The session director, Brother Merril, talked about Peter walking on water and being rescued by the Savior after he let his focus wander and fell. He compared our lives to Peter's walk, how we are sometimes faithful and sometimes doubting, but that the Savior is always there to save us. He used a beautiful painting of the scene as a big part of his message, and invited the youth (and the counselors) to think about various parts of the picture; first he drew our attention to Peter's face as he fell into the water, then to the Savior's as He reached to grab Peter’s hand, and finally to the Savior's hands clasped firmly around Peter's. 

This Thursday, it wasn't Peter's face that caught my attention; his fear as he looked into the surging deep rings true to me, for it is how I feel about life without the Savior, but that wasn't what most drew me. It also wasn't Christ's face, with His look of confidence, compassion, and love that attracted my gaze. Instead, what most captured my attention were Christ's hands. 

As I looked at Christ's hands firmly clasping Peter's, I glanced down at my scriptures in my lap. Clipped to the front cover of my triple combination there is a little black name badge that says, in plain, simple letters, "Elder Ray." Below that it reads, "La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Últimos Días." As I looked at this name badge that for two years I wore over my heart, I realized more strongly than I ever have before how much I miss being Christ's hands.

For two years, as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints, I lived without worrying about myself. I dedicated all my time and energy to blessing other people’s lives. I studied, worked, memorized, learned, practice, and trained so that I would be able to speak the words that Christ would speak if He were there in my place. It was without a doubt the hardest experience of my life; it stretched me and challenged me in ways I never expected. It was also the most wonderfully fantastic experience of my life to date, in which I experienced not only pain and sorrow, but also love and joy beyond what I had ever before thought possible.

And so I sat in that crowded auditorium surrounded by crying youth, and I cried with them. I cried out of sadness that I am no longer a missionary, that my name badge has to be clipped onto my scriptures instead of over my heart where I still feel it belongs, and I cried out of gratitude that Christ ever loved and trusted me enough to make me His hands.

I’m quite clear on what my job is next, on what God was trying to telling me Thursday night. My mission was a fabulous, unforgettable experience, but missions only last two years (or eighteen months) for a reason. God wants me here now. He has other plans for me, other works for me to accomplish, other loves, joys, and sorrows He wants me to feel. But He doesn’t ever want me to forget that He made His hands. He gave me a mission call to the Chile, Viña del Mar mission that lasted two years, but long before that He had already given me a lifelong call to discipleship. Years before I became used to wearing His name on a badge over my heart, He had already asked me to take His name upon me.

But I’m ready. I’m willing. I want to make my hands His, whenever and wherever He needs me, be it during the next few weeks as an efy counselor or serving as a home teacher 50 years down the road.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


I step out into the bright, warm, cheerful sunlight and walk up the stairs. The muscles in my legs engage and tense as I run up them two at a time, my lungs filling joyfully, abundantly with air,the barest hint of a breeze cooling my face. I smile as I reach the top and look out over the campus that I love so much, at the sharp profiles of the buildings and the softer lines of the trees and flowers.

On my way to the library I delight in new acquaintances and old friends. My mind lights up as I consider the bright future, all of its potential and possibility and allure and mystery. I sigh with happiness while breathing in the past, shared smiles and laughter, fun and adventure, family, friends, and strangers, but all really just family

The words of a song recently sung bubble up from somewhere down in my soul, up into my mind and very nearly out my lips. My feet subconsciously move in smooth, sharp patterns, remembering and replicating something I danced this morning, last weekend, all my life.

In this moment a silent prayer of gratitude leaps out of me: "Thank you," I say, "for this wonderful, beautiful, glorious life."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dancing and Confidence, Part II

I wrote a few months back about retaking a dance class being a great way to increase your self-confidence. But, what if confidence boosters aren't for you? What if you'd rather receive incredibly conflicting, opposing messages about yourself instead of just the boring positive ones? Well, you're in luck--I figured out how to do that too!

Here's the secret: take two dance classes at once. But wait, there's more--they can't be just any two dance classes. I recommend taking two classes in the same line (like two ballroom classes, or two Latin classes), one class that is incredibly easy for you and the other almost impossibly difficult.

That's what I did this semester. After two days of Dance 184 (Beginning International Standard, aka Ballroom) I decided that it was far too simple for an Astair-ian genius like myself. So I waltzed right up to my teacher (oh dear, that was punny) and asked if I could take Dance 284 instead (same dances, higher level). She said that I really shouldn't skip the beginning level class, because beginnings are great places to start and all, but did agree to let me take them both concurrently.

About thirty seconds into my first day of Dance 284, I realized how woefully unprepared I was. Not only was I ignorant about all of the technique that I still had to learn in 184, but I had missed the first three days of class and didn't know any of the steps in the routine!

And so it began. Every day at 9:00 I go to Dance 284, pretend like I almost half-way know what I'm doing, apologize to every poor girl who has to dance with me, and try not to seriously injure anybody or their feet before 50 minutes are up. Then, somehow, the entire world turns over on itself by 10:00 for Dance 184, where I become a demigod of dancing dexterity*, mastering each and every move in the blink of an eye and then flawlessly demonstrating them for the rest of the class.

They say there has to be opposition in all things, so I guess this is probably good for me. Somehow.

*In the spirit of declaring my own cleverness that I started in paragraph 3, I just had to point out that that was really cool alliteration. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Because of Him has a page this year titled "Because of Him" (you can find it at you haven't already seen it, I recommend going there and watching the video). This page talks about everything that Christ made possible through His atonement and resurrection--peace instead of turmoil, forgiveness instead of guilt, innovation, technology, love, and the wonderful truth that every single one of us will live again. 

When this page was published, several of my Facebook friends started posting things with the hashtag #becauseofhim, sharing their testimonies and experiences. For the past week I've been thinking about all the things I have #becauseofhim, and as I've done so, I've been absolutely overwhelmed with gratitude. My life right now is amazing; every little piece of it is working together in ways twice as miraculous and wonderful as anything I, by myself, could have imagine or engineered. 

So, here are a few of the things that I have #becauseofhim (because one of my blog posts would never be complete without a bullet-point list, would it?)

  • I am going to school at BYU, my dream school; I'm on track to building the career of my dreams.
  • I'm financially stable (which, considering how much it costs to feed myself, is a real miracle). 
  • My job rocks.
  • I got to sing with Men's Chorus this year, a dream I've had since freshman year.
  • Temple blessings mean I'll get to be with the coolest people I know (that's my family, in case you were wondering) forever.
  • My health is fantastic.
  • The weather is beautiful.
  • Prayer and the scriptures help me answer any and every question I have. 
  • I am able to find forgiveness to replace guilt for my imperfections with peace.
  • Even when I'm unsure about what is going to happen, I trust that God has a plan for me that will take me wherever I need to be. 

I only hope that I can be as faithful to Him as He is loving, kind, and merciful to me.

Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I am a dreamer.

When I was a small child, I remember spending hours at a time day-dreaming, inventing wild stories and fantasies, planning great and fantastic futures. As I've grown older I've continued dreaming, but focused my dreams more and more on reality and the future, on the things I'd like to do and the person I want to become.

I am willing to fight for my dreams. In popular literature I believe this is depicted as a positive trait, and in many cases I think it does benefit me; for example, my willingness to fight for my dreams sometimes keeps me studying late into the night, knowing that every hour of study will pay off when I graduate. However, this fighting spirit is also a problem, for my personal dreams do not always coincide with the will of God.

In those cases where my own dreams and plans for my future are not the same as God's, I sometimes find myself resentful of having to give up my dreams. I try to accept God's plan for me, but often do so while whining and grumbling. My constant challenge is to let go of my own dreams, to let go of my own will, and to totally, faithfully accept God's will in all things.

Because He loves me and is awesome, God lets me know every now and then that I can trust him--that I really can let go of my own will in favor of His. He does so through what Elder Bednar once identified as "tender mercies," little blessings that aren't necessary but that let God say "I love you." I think that these tender mercies are like dreams that God gives me when he asks me to give up my own.

Tonight was one of those dreams. Tonight was so fantastic that I had to remind myself that it actually was reality, and not one of my boyhood fantasies.

Part 1: At the beginning of the school year, I auditioned for and was accepted into BYU Men's Chorus. I've wanted to sing in Men's Chorus ever since I started school at BYU, and singing with them last year has been fantastic.

Part 2: Sometime during my teenage years I learned about a cool a capella group named Vocal Point, also from BYU. I've been lucky enough to see them perform a few times live.

Part 3: A few weeks ago, somebody had the idea that Men's Chorus and Vocal Point should do a song together. As a result, I spent three and a half hours this evening in a video recording session, preparing a music video that will be released in the next few months; Men's Chorus and Vocal Point met in a professional theater to record a beautiful version of "Nearer My God to Thee." There was even a crane camera and a fog machine! The whole experience was surreal, dreamlike, and a whole lot of fun.

I may be a dreamer, but I think God is too. I also think He has a lot more experience dreaming than I do and is better at it. I hope I can always see and appreciate the dreams, the tender mercies that God gives me. I hope I can learn to accept and embrace His will, His dreams, even over my own.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life Is Short

Two days ago, on Friday, March 21, the BYU Men’s Chorus (of which I am a part) sang its first solo concert of the year (named “Epic” because, well, it was) to a sold out audience.

Later that night, Rhett Fisher, Tenor I, who, like I, was singing with Men’s Chorus for the first time, passed away.

When I found out Saturday afternoon that Rhett had died, it hit me harder than I would have expected. I didn’t know Rhett well, but I knew his face, we had talked a few times, I would have said hi to him if I had seen him anywhere else on campus.

I read this talk from conference a few years ago, and cried for a moment as I thought of all the songs that Rhett would not be able to sing.

One paragraph from this talk stuck out to me. It says, “The Father’s plan of happiness for His children includes not only a premortal and mortal life but also an eternal life as well, including a great and glorious reunion with those we have lost. All wrongs will be righted, and we will see with perfect clarity and faultless perspective and understanding.” I imagined a great and glorious reunion between Rhett and the rest of the Men’s Chorus; maybe we’ll sing our Epic concert through again once more, every one of us present, not a single voice missing from the choir. Maybe we’ll just smile and laugh and be glad that everything did, in fact, turn out all right.

Saturday night was our second concert. I think each one of us sung for Rhett; it could have turned out very badly, but we all managed to keep our emotions inside our hearts and out of our eyes, and it was beautiful.

In a quiet moment during intermission, as I was sitting and reflecting, the thought came to me—life is short.

Later on, during other quiet moments of reflection, I thought more on this idea. Life is short. Death comes to us all, to some sooner and others later but quickly enough to each one of us.

In fact, I decided, life is too short.

Life is too short for mediocrity; it is too short for anything but excellence.

Life is too short for sin. Because we’re fallen and make mistakes, I might change that to say life is too short for unrepentant sin.  

Life is too short for indecision (a personal weakness).

Life is too short for abandoned dreams. It’s too short not to try, even though you might fail.

Life is too short for bitterness, envy, or grudges.

Life is too short for anything but charity towards every single person on this earth.

Life is too short for side hugs, for half-hearted goodbyes.

I plan to remember Rhett. I hope to remember the year that we sang together, lifting up our voices to praise God and express the joy we found in living. And I hope to remember that, though I might still have a comparatively long life ahead of me, life is short, and should be lived as such. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day

Valentine's day: A day when people who love each other do cute little things just to let each other know they care. 

This morning, I decided that since my valentine was God, I would pay attention to all the little ways He might tell me He loves me throughout the day. Here's what I saw.

  • Amazing weather. It was so nice outside, it just made me smile every time I stepped out of a building. 
  • A random burst of energy at 4:00 in the afternoon. Usually I'm struggling to keep my eyes from drooping by 4, but not today--I felt like I could have run a marathon.
  • A delightful video of Alex Boye and a children's choir singing "Let It Go," from the movie Frozen. 
  • Batman wishing me a happy valentine's day on my way in to biology. 
The night's not over yet. I'm excited to see what other ways God will wish me a happy valentine's day! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Research (no, this isn't about what you think it is).

As you might know, I’ve been doing some research this semester. Today I want to write a little bit about my findings—I’m sure you’ll find them fascinating.

Oh, and I’m not talking about researching diabetes; I don’t have anything conclusive there yet. I’m talking about my research into the fascinating lives of homines maritales: married people. My research has revealed that homines maritales all have several strange behavioral patterns in common.

First off, I’d like to explore the oddity of the h.m. diet. As far as I can tell, married people tend to eat their meals at regular, sensible times of day; obviously they haven’t figured out that they can put off eating dinner until 10:00 or 11:00 on busy days if they please (I mean really, someone ought to tell the poor things!) They spend some time preparing their food, and usually eat balanced meals in reasonable proportions--I think it’s safe to say they don’t even know it’s possible to live on top ramen and pp&j sandwiches for days at a time. They also try to eat together as often as possible, and completely miss the utility of hurriedly shoving down a muffin for breakfast as you walk out the door.

I’m sure you’re probably flabbergasted by the strange eating habits of homines maritales, but just you wait—their sleeping habits are even stranger! I have yet to meet an h.m. that has realized that he can stay up until 2:00 in the morning if he pleases; in fact, most married people I meet tell me they go to bed sometime between 7 and 9 in the evening—Can you imagine? 9 pm? It’s ridiculous! They also tend to sleep about 8 hours a night, which, in my personal and highly qualified opinion, is just too much sleep. I mean, most sensible single people I know tend to run on 5-6 hours of sleep with very few side effects. It’s the way nature intended us to be, I’m sure. I think I read it somewhere on the internet.

Finally, the most obvious, yet baffling characteristic of homines maritales is their immense satisfaction in spending almost all of their time with just one person. I completely fail to grasp why any sane, reasoning human being would trade all of the drama, unsurety, and nervousness of dating several people you don’t know very well for a single relationship of selfless love, devotion, trust, and shared experiences with someone you are committed to spending your whole life with. Really, the idea sounds even more ridiculous on paper than it does in my head—and that’s saying something!

These are a few of my observations on the peculiar and strange life of homines maritales, or married people. I hope you have enjoyed reading them, and I assure you that I really didn’t make any of this up, as crazy as it may seem.

(P.S. Thanks to Cindy Lynn and Mahon for being my primary test subjects!)

Friday, January 24, 2014

I know how the angels feel

Every Friday in Men’s Chorus we have “Friday Announcements.” Friday Announcements are supposed to be big and notable things such as mission calls, engagements, marriages, and births.

Today, after the Men’s Chorus President gave a few announcements, he opened up the floor for this week’s Friday Announcements. Someone stood and announced his mission call to San Salvador; everybody cheered. Someone else stood and began advertising something, and was humorously told to sit down.

Then, once it was clear that nobody else had anything notable to share, a dark-haired man towards the edge of the room stood up. He simply said, “Hi everyone, my name is Larry, and I’m getting baptized!”

The room exploded. We applauded Larry for a minute straight; ear-splitting, earth-shaking applause, shouting and whistling and expressing all of the joy that was in our hearts; joy from hearing that one of our friends, our brothers, was making the decision to follow Christ, to take His name upon him, to be saved.

While the applause was at its peak I imagined a conversation that could have taken place between two angels sitting in the front of the room. Perhaps one would turn to the other and say, “They’re pretty loud, and they do seem happy, but they should see how excited we were when we heard Larry was getting baptized!” 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Problem with Optimism

I am an optimist. I would even go so far as to say that I’m optimistic to a fault. As far as I understand it, “to a fault” colloquially means “a whole lot,” but more directly it means “so much it changes from a virtue to a vice.” How is that possible?

Optimism, at least the way I understand and practice it, is very forward-looking; it focuses on the future, happily anticipating all of the great things to come. Optimism says that tomorrow is going to be a great day, that things will always get better, that you should move forward in life with a smile on your face and a bounce in your step, eager to discover the future and all it will bring.

An unfortunate side-effect of optimism (at least in my case) is a lack of appreciation for the past. I tend to think that the past is something to move out of as I go towards the future, a time that I am striving to get away from. The past is a time when I had greater sins and greater flaws than I have now (and certainly than I will have in the future, since optimism also means constant improvement).

A few days ago I read through the first few blog posts that I ever published, from my freshman year of college. As I read I was startled to find that not everything I wrote was uninteresting, sad, or regretful; in fact, I would even go so far as to say I enjoyed reading what I had written. I even found some of it to be witty, funny, or wise. I had the feeling that if present-day Jason were to meet freshman-year Jason, we’d get along well, because he was decently cool, after all.

Sure, I’m happy to be who I am now and not who I was then. I wouldn’t give up all of the positive changes I’ve made over the last three years for anything in the world. However, it was good for me to recognize that the past still has value, to realize that some things that have already been done are as great and wonderful as the things I am doing now, or will do in the future.

I plan to continue being an optimist. I like optimism; I think it’s a very happy way to live. However, I also hope to temper my excitement for the future with a healthy remembrance and appreciation for the past. That way, the wonderful past and the brilliant future will keep me centered in the fantastic present. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Weekend Musings

Yesterday in Organic Chemistry lab, I was feeling quite satisfied with myself as I finished the first part of the experiment (making banana oil, which smells absolutely delicious and attracts honey bees). My solution was well mixed, my apparatus was set up right, all I had to do was wait an hour for all my ingredients to boil. Looking around the room, I noticed that I was the only one who had gotten to that stage in the experiment. Everyone else still had a few minutes to go before they could sit back and relax like me.

I rock at chemistry, I thought to myself. I pretty much rock at life itself. At everything!

Then one of the Teacher’s Assistants walked by and said, “You know, you should really move that mixture to a bigger beaker. The one you have is kind of small.”

In the next five minutes, while trying to move my mixture over to a bigger beaker, I spilled it all over the workbench (including two types of acid), burnt my hand on a hot piece of aluminum, and broke an important piece of glassware. I spent the rest of class period scrambling to catch up with the rest of the class and finish the experiment on time. But I still think I rock at life.

If you want a way to boost your self-confidence, I have the perfect formula for you. But this formula has a story.

Freshmen year, I decided to start out my BYU experience right by taking social dance, Dance 180. I loved it, and decided to take 280 the next semester. Apart from three hours of class, I usually put in another two hours of practice a week. I got pretty good.

Then I went on a mission and forgot how to dance. (And calculus. And English.) I tried taking Dance 380 right after I got back home, but the steps were incredibly complicated and I really couldn’t remember anything from my freshman year. This semester, I decided that the best way to regain my dancing skillz would be to retake Dance 280. I think it’s going to work, but I hadn’t considered that I might remember everything rather quickly. I usually do; after practicing a move for just a few moments all the practice time I put in freshman year seems to click in to place, and I can do the move. Maybe not perfectly, but very well.

So, here is my recipe for increased self-confidence: Retake a dance class! Almost every time I change dance partners, I get a compliment. “You danced that so well!” “Nice lead, that was easy to follow.” “Can you keep a secret? I think you’re the best guy I’ve danced with so far today.”

Or this one: “You move your hips well.”

“Thanks!” I replied. “You see, freshman year, my dance partner (she was from China and a really great dancer, she’s actually on one of the dance teams now), but anyway, she and I were getting ready to compete in DanceSport [a dance competition BYU puts on twice a year], and we were practicing cha-cha. She stopped me in the middle of practice one day and said that we couldn’t keep going until I learned how to move my hips. Before that moment I didn’t actually know I had hips, but after about 45 minutes I was moving like Shakira. And really sore. And that’s why I can move my hips”

“Um… yeah. Good hips!” 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

El Libro de Mormón: 2013

OK, estoy intentando algo Nuevo hoy. Hace algunos años empecé un blog, un lugar para compartir mis pensamientos y sentimientos. Hoy, por primera vez, voy a traducir un artículo al español. Tal vez siga haciéndolo, allí vemos. ¡Aquí está!

Mientras viajaba a casa por las vacaciones de navidad, fijé la meta de terminar de leer el Libro de Mormón antes del fin del año. Una vez que llegué y empecé a divertirme y distraerme con la familia, mi determinación se fue debilitando, y decidí que seguiría leyéndolo como ya lo hacía, más o menos un capítulo por día.

Me fue restaurado el entusiasmo por esto (traducción: terminé el Libro de Mormón antes del fin del año. Soy un capo), y decidí volver a mi plan. Ahora que está empezando 2014, con la oportunidad de empezar mi libro favorito desde la primera página, quería compartir un poco de lo que aprendí mientras lo leí en la segunda mitad de 2013.

Esta vez, leí el Libro de Mormón con un enfoque en la fe. Quería aprender todo lo que pudiera de la fe, con la meta final de fortalecerme la mía. Mi gran observación es que sí, el Libro de Mormón habla mucho de la fe. Hasta diría que no hay otro libro en el mundo que a uno le ayudaría a aprender de la fe, y a desarrollarla, como el Libro de Mormón lo hace.

Una observación menos general es que, muchas veces, los héroes del Libro de Mormón ganaron la fe que necesitaban al recordar—recordar sus propias experiencias con Dios, y recordar las cosas que Él había hecho por sus antepasados.
He pensado bastante últimamente en cuán frágil la memoria es, cuan fugaz; me fui solo dos años a la misión, pero en ese tiempo me olvidé de todos los bailes que trabajé tanto para aprender el año antes que me fuera. También me olvidé del cálculo, y tuve que re-enseñarme a mi miso todo Cálculo I antes que pudiera entender Cálculo II. Y eso sin decir cuan a menudo me olvido del nombre de alguien pocos segundos después que me lo dice.
El punto es, soy bien olvidadizo, y aunque Dios se ha manifestado a mí, a mi familia, y al mundo muchas veces, me olvidaré de todo eso si no hago un esfuerzo consciente por recordar.
Sabiendo esto, supongo que tiene razón el que una razón por tomar la Santa Cena cada semana es para recordarlo.

La observación más importante (para mí) de esta lectura del Libro de Mormón llegó unas pocas semanas después de empezarlo, en 1 Nefi capítulo 9. El versículo 6 dice, “Pero el Señor sabe todas las cosas desde el principio; por tanto, él prepara la vía para realizar todas sus obras entre los hijos de los hombres; porque, he aquí, él tiene todo poder para el cumplimiento de todas sus palabras. Y así es. Amén.”
Me puse a pensar en lo que significa que Dios prepara la vía para realizar todas sus obras. Realmente, significa que cuando Él me manda hacer algo, antes que de el mandamiento—antes que yo empiece el esfuerzo interno por ver si le seré fiel—Él ya ha preparado la vía para que yo lo haga. A veces yo pienso que, si tomo un paso de fe del lado de una montaña, Dios descenderá como una águila para agarrarme, para que yo no caiga. Tal vez una mejor analogía es que Él ya ha construido un camino, y cuando tomo ese paso mi pie llegará allí y podré seguirlo. Todavía no puedo ver el camino hasta que de el primer paso, pero está allí. Tal vez haya estado allí por más tiempo que yo he estado vivo. ¡Tal vez Dios empezó a construirme el camino a la vez que construyó este mundo!
¿Cómo no puedo confiar en Él si es tan sólido y confiable? ¿Cómo no voy a seguirlo si el camino ya está preparado?

Para terminar, me gustaría compartir un pequeño versículo de mi libro preferido del Libro de Mormón, Alma. En el capítulo 5, el versículo 12 dice, “Y según su fe, se realizó un gran cambio en su corazón.” En este versículo Alma, Hijo está hablando de la conversión de su padre, pero este principio es verdad para cada hijo de Adán e hija de Eva en esta tierra: La fe cambia el corazón. Lo he visto suceder en las vidas de muchos alrededor de mí, y en mi propio corazón.

Quisiera extender una pequeña invitación al que esté leyendo esto hoy. Lea este libro. Yo lo he hecho, yo sé que es verdadero, y he visto como mi fe se fortalece mientras lo hago. Si ya lo ha leído muchas veces, o si ésta es la primera vez que ha escuchado de él, ¿por qué no intentarlo? ¿Por qué no fijarse una meta de leerlo conmigo en 2014?

(Y lo puede encontrar aquí. Qué lo disfrute.)

The Book of Mormon: 2013

While on the plane home for Christmas break, I decided that one of my goals for these two weeks was to finish the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. Once I actually got here and the fun started, however, my resolve weakened, and I decided I would just keep reading it as I had been, about a chapter per day.

Then this restored my enthusiasm, and I decided to buckle down and stick to my plan. Now that 2014 is here (bringing a chance to start my favorite book once again from page i), I wanted to share a bit of what I learned reading it in the second half of 2013.

This time through, I read the Book of Mormon with a focus on faith. I wanted to learn everything I could about faith, the end goal being strengthening my own. My big overall observation is that yep, the Book of Mormon talks a lot about faith. I’d even say that no other book in the world will help learn about and develop faith like this one.

A slightly less general observation was that, many times, my Book of Mormon heroes gained the faith that they needed by remembering—remembering their own past experiences with God and remembering the things that He had done for their ancestors.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how fragile memory is, how fleeting; I was only gone for two short years on my mission, yet in that time I completely forgot all of the dances that I worked so hard to learn the year before I left. I also forgot basically all of calculus, and had to re-teach myself all of Calc I before I started getting the hang of Calc II. That’s not to mention how often I forget somebody’s name only a few seconds after they tell it to me.
The point is, I’m really forgetful, and even though God has manifested Himself to me, my family, and the world many, many times, I’m probably going to forget that they have happened unless I make a conscious effort to remember.
Knowing this, I guess it makes sense that one reason we take the sacrament every week is to remember Him.

The most important (for me) observation from this read-through actually came in the first few weeks of reading, in 1 Nephi chapter 9. Verse 6 reads, “But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.”
I started to think a little bit about what it means that God prepareth a way to accomplish His works. Really, it means that whenever He commands me to do something, before He gives the commandment—before I begin the internal struggle of faith to see if I will be faithful to Him—He has already prepared the way for me to do it. I sometimes think that, if I take a leap of faith off of a cliff, God will swoop down like an eagle to keep me from falling. Maybe a better analogy is actually that He already built a road for me to land on and walk along. I still can’t see the road until I take the first step, but it’s there. Perhaps it’s been there for longer than I have been alive. Perhaps God began building that road for me at the same time He created this world!
How can I not trust Him if He really is that solid and dependable? How can I not follow Him if the way is already prepared?

Lastly, I’d like to share a small verse from my favorite book in the Book of Mormon, Alma. Chapter 5, verse 12, says, “And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart.”
In this particular verse Alma the Younger is talking about the conversion of his father, but this is a true principle for every son of Adam and daughter of Eve on this earth: Faith changes your heart. I’ve seen this in the lives of countless people around me, and also in my own.

I’d like to extend a little invitation to whoever is reading this today. Read this book. I have, I know it’s true, and I have seen and felt my faith grow stronger as I have done so. Whether you have read it before, or whether this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it, why not give it a shot? Why not set a goal to read it with me in 2014?

(Oh, and you can find it here. Enjoy.)