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.)