Friday, February 16, 2018

Mostly books

My last post may have been a bit misleading. I haven't just been sitting around worrying about my life being stagnant. Really. Aside from trying to figure out my future, I've been pretty busy. Several trips to visit family members, a couple of road trips, trying to work on my publications, doing freelance writing work, working on my mom's house--taking care of the lawn, repainting the downstairs, taking apart a deck, planting a flower garden, pulling out carpet, putting in a fence, building some raised garden boxes, planting a vegetable garden, deep cleaning a swimming pool, putting up some drywall, staining a huge cabinet--serving at church, volunteering in the community--life has been full, and good. Also, I've tried to read. As you'll see from the following list of some of the books I've read, I was on a bit of a Jeff Benedict kick for awhile--I really admire his straightforward writing style and his research. Sadly, my library record reflects a lot more books checked out than I have actually finished. Oh well--one day I'll actually read all the books I intend to. :) 

QB: My Life Behind the Spiral by Steve Young and Jeff Benedict. 
Really enjoyed this book. I’ve been interested in Steve Young as a person since I wrote to him on a writing assignment in the eighth grade and he wrote back—I was touched that he would take the time. I learned more about football in this book than I have ever known, but most especially, I was touched by the life experiences Steve shared, particularly that of his struggle with anxiety and an inferiority complex, his friends and family who have shaped and supported him, and his deep commitment to his faith and being a disciple of Jesus Christ (especially throughout his singlehood and all the temptations and pressures that came with his high profile). Highly recommend.

How to Build a Business Warren Buffett Would Buy by Jeff Benedict. 
This book documents the history of the creation and growth of RC Willey—the huge furniture and home furnishings retailer that was begun and owned by Bill Child until it was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway in 1995. I was given a signed copy in a class at BYU—I can’t remember when or which one—but it has sat on my shelf for years. I finally picked it up this summer. I really enjoyed it. It was an easy read, and I learned quite a bit about the big business acquisitions process. Also, was very impressed with the high level of service and integrity that one can maintain in business, when fully committed to it. Recommend.

The Mormon Way of Doing Business by Jeff Benedict. 
I really enjoy this book. Have read it a few times before. Always impressed by the examples of high-profile businessmen dedicated to their family, to God, and to integrity in their business practices. Highly recommend.

The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict. 
To be fair, I didn’t actually finish this whole book. I read about 2/3rds of it though. It looks at several different US Universities with big football programs and goes through each step of the process of creating the University Football System. I found many things to be fairly interesting, especially when it came to BYU—my alma mater—but also found it very difficult to read some of the corrupt and ethically questionable practices that seem to be commonplace or common happenstance across the board. But then again, that was the point of the book. 😊

My Name Used to Be Muhammad: The True Story of a Muslim who Became a Christian by Jeff Benedict with Tito Momen. 
So interesting. I have a lot of Muslim friends, although none of them are from Nigeria—the homeland of Tito Momen, the man whose biography this is. The book documents Tito’s life growing up in a strict, very conservative Muslim community as a child, his move to Palestine (if I remember correctly) for University, and his faith journey away from Islam and toward Jesus Christ. Tito ended up being baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was imprisoned for fifteen years in Egypt for leaving his faith. He was also disowned by his father and family. But I promise—the ending is great. This was a super book and I highly recommend it.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. 
Oh my. So interesting, and also so difficult to read. I spent a lot of time in deep thought during and after reading this book. Prior to reading it, the only things I knew about China and Chinese history were from The Good Earth and Disney’s Mulan. This book is a biography and autobiography in one. It is the story of three generations of Chinese women—a granddaughter writing about her grandmother’s life, her mother’s, and hers. Learning about the Chinese civil war, and Communism, Mao ZeDong, and the Cultural Revolution was terrifying. It is disturbing to think that people can be so blinded by misplaced loyalty to do so much wrong and enact so much pain on so many. I was shocked to learn that more than seventy million people died during the cultural revolution in China. SEVENTY MILLION PEOPLE. Seventy million souls. Seventy million children of God with thoughts and hopes and dreams and feelings. I thought a lot about loyalty to a “supreme leader,” and how dangerous it is for that supreme leader to be anyone but God. Highly recommend this book.

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. 
Also so hard to read. It’s the story of one man and his life in China before the civil war—his experiences going from being the poorest of poor people to a very rich man at the end of his life. At first, I really liked him. I could relate to his life struggles and the things he wanted. He found a wife and initially, loved her and appreciated his family. With the growth of his wealth, however, came pride that led him to make terrible decisions that ultimately took from him, in my opinion, any goodness he once had. Particularly sickening was learning about the treatment of women in China. I was reminded of the power of virtue and the inherent value and power incumbent in women. Where women are not valued as they ought to be, societies suffer. This is clear in this book.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. 
Story of Alex—a headstrong boy who goes to Alaska to live in the wilderness by himself. He dies there, and this book is the result of Jon Krakauer’s research and putting Alex’s story together after the fact. I really liked most of this book. I could relate to the sense of wanderlust and love for simple things—the sky, nature, simple food, traveling and really living (as opposed to sitting in a box or in front of a screen all day). Recommend.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. 
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages. To be honest here, I still haven’t made it all the way through. I own the unabridged version, and this summer I finally read the first half—about the first 500 pages, up to when Jean Valjean becomes the mayor, is found by Javier, and escapes again to rescue Cosette and moves with her to Paris. This book is so beautiful. In fact, I feel it is the best fictional story ever, ever written. It teaches so much about forgiveness, mercy, and justice. The way Hugo writes it, it’s as if an older man has invited me into his parlor to sit by the fire and listen to a story for the evening. It’s written so intimately and so beautifully. The prose is fantastic. Two of my favorite parts were learning more about the priest (such a beautiful example of true charity), and about the struggle Valjean went through before he turned himself in to the police. So relatable. Highly recommend.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 
I love this book. I read it every year. My favorite is sharing it with others by reading it aloud. This past Christmas, I wanted to share it with my little sisters, so I got one of them to read it to me as I drove us around in California on a sister’s trip we were on. They didn’t appreciate it very much, sadly, but I still love it. I also got to watch the new film about how Dickens wrote the book called “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” Really good. Such an inspired story. Could not recommend more highly.

A Girl and Five Brave Horses by Sonora Carver. 
Loved this. This is the story of Sonora Carver, the girl who used to dive horses from high towers into swimming pools at fairs and carnivals around the United States from the 1930s on. She was eventually blinded but continued to dive for many years after. I have always enjoyed the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” which is loosely based on her life. The real story is vastly different, however, and vastly interesting. Included in it is a side history of carnivals and fairs in the United States, and an account of adjusting from being a sighted person to being blind.

I Got There: How I Overcame Racism, Poverty, and Abuse to Achieve the American Dream by JT McCormick. 
The autobiography of a man who went from living in the slums of Dayton, Ohio to being the CEO of a major corporation. I enjoyed this book and related to a lot of it. Recommend.

Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life by Jim Kristofic. 
So interesting. The autobiography of Jim Kristofic, a white kid from Pittsburgh who moved with his mom and little brother to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. He became fully integrated into the culture and community there and is able to explain things from the inside out. I really enjoyed reading this and related to some of it because of my experiences being immersed in cultures and communities that are not my own.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. 
I always love a good medical book, that isn’t too technical or heavy on the terminology. This one was a neurological book about how the brain works. I found it easy to read and interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading about how to maximize the efficiency of my brain and also the inherent differences in male and female brains—it’s real! I have a great love for the human body as a creation of God and felt in even greater awe at His handiwork as I learned more about how the human mind functions.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.
Really, really enjoyed this book. Living in New Zealand, there are a lot of South Africans, and I have read and learned little bits about Apartheid here and there for a few years. This book was awesome because it gives the not-so-frequently-talked-about Black side of Apartheid. I didn’t know who Trevor Noah was prior to reading this, but I did really enjoy his book. I liked that it was more of a history of South Africa during his lifetime than it was a play-by-play of becoming Trevor Noah.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 
I’m not much of a fiction reader. This one had very important reviews though, so I took a chance. It was a well written story of a blind girl in France during WWII (plus several other major characters), but overall I didn’t enjoy it that much.

The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason. 
Essentially a money-management book. Probably the best ever written. Highly recommend.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

All the Symbolism in a Broken Phone

Hola friends,
I know I haven't written on here in awhile, but I'm still alive.

The point of this post, however, is that my phone is not:

And that, my friends, is a perfect illustration of what my life has looked and felt like lately.

When I moved back to the US after finishing my studies last year, I needed a new phone. However, I also had plans to serve a mission for my church. This was the direction I felt from God, and although it was not an easy decision to make (read: among other things, I would much rather be focusing on finding and loving my husband and raising my own babies than praying for love for a 19-year old companion and for patience for someone else's 18-year old babies), I trusted God and knew that He knows what is best for me better than I do. If He wanted me to serve a mission at this stage of my life, who am I to question His plans?

My aunt and uncle, who are some of the most generous people I know, told me they wanted to give me a graduation gift, and offered to buy me a nice new phone. I was grateful but declined--if I were going to be leaving soon for an 18-month mission, what did I need a new phone for? Thus, in lieu of that, my generous aunt and uncle let me use an old family phone they had. That is what I have been using, and it was the pattern my choices took--to save money for my mission (and also just out of practicality), I didn't buy anything new. I didn't make plans past January. I've politely let every guy who approached me about dating know that I wouldn't be available long-term at this point. The direction to serve a mission was so strong, and I was so willing, that I expected everything to be smooth sailing, with God's blessing, from there.

It hasn't been though. Although I technically only needed to finish up a few publications before I could submit my mission papers--and, although I'm usually the kind of person who gets things done as soon as I put my mind to it--those publications are still unfinished. I try and I try and I write and I write, but it's been like I'm pushing up against a brick wall. Aside from other things that made moving home difficult, lately, the hardest thing has been watching time slip past, with nothing changing in my circumstances. I have found myself looking up at heaven, asking God what is going on and why He is not helping me, especially since I've been trying to do what I felt He wanted me to do.

Well friends, one thing I know about God is that He is much smarter than I am. Whereas I only see a small piece of the picture, He sees the whole thing. And sometimes I have felt Him take me down a path, only to lead me somewhere else--the place He wanted me to go in the first place, but which was only accessible by traveling the first road for a while before.

That's what I've experienced in my life lately.

Because of this: Around Christmastime, all of my feelings of frustration and confusion were coming to a head. It had been almost eight months since I had moved home, and I felt that all I had experienced was wasted time. I was feeling terrible about myself, my situation, and even starting to wonder if God had a plan at all, or if this was really all He wanted for me. I was feeling very dark and very much in need of some help.

*Enter the broken phone*

On New Year's Eve, with all of these questions and confusion and frustration running around my mind and heart, I was getting out of the car in the garage in the dark and my phone, which I had placed in my lap and forgotten about, fell out of the car and flat onto the cement floor. As I heard it fall, I knew the screen was shattered. I picked it up and in that moment, immediately recognizing that I now really did need a new phone, it was as if God gave me a sign I could finally understand: I was not going on a mission anytime soon.

Oh the confusion. And the frustration. And the tears. And the darkness. Starting New Year's Day, my shattered phone (representing my shattered plans), sparked a spiritual wrestle that led me through rethinking every major life decision I had ever made and every spiritual prompting I had ever received. I found myself questioning their value if they only served to lead me here: living in my mother's house at almost thirty years old, with an education I wasn't using and with no real answer to why in the world I was supposed to do all of the things I had felt I was supposed to do in my life.

I have since developed a renewed love for spiritual wrestles, and the light that comes from the prayer, study, and temple attendance that went with mine. This invitation, from a man I esteem, was my first step toward the new right road:

In evaluating all my life choices, I realized that there is nothing I would do differently. To change something would be to deny the direction and spiritual guidance and all the blessings I had received in the meantime, which would be to deny God working in my life. And I could never do that.

As I sat with rebuilding that foundation of trust in God--of putting ALL of my trust in Him--things started to happen, and my life started to change. Instead of serving a mission, I was asked to take on a commissioned research project for the next year. The thing about the project is that I will be doing exactly what I feel I have been prepared to do. And the other thing is that now is the perfect timing for it. It could not wait until after an 18-month mission; it has to be now. In fact, every life decision that I have been questioning in recent weeks is somehow miraculously answered in this project. And somehow, because God is good and amazing like that, all my "waiting" in the past few months has ironically served to give me a perfectly clear schedule, ready and open to accept this project as it has come.

It's been awesome (in the real sense of that word), to process everything that has come and to see and consider what God was really doing in the past sixteen months of my life. Somehow He was leading me here, instead of where I thought I was headed.

And I'm grateful.

Because with this new road, a whole slew of other dreams can come back up to the surface again, instead of having to remain buried like they were before.

1. Marriage. By accepting this "mission" and not the standard one I was thinking I'd be undertaking, I'll be able to date and *hopefully* progress toward getting married sooner rather than later (I know I have a PhD, but the people I care most about affecting by that are my future children and family--I want to teach them to love God and love people and to serve both with all that they have and are given).

2.  Idaho. As much as being home has had it's challenges, living in Idaho again has been a great, much-longed for gift (remember my poem?). 

There is a big part of me that never wants to live anywhere else ever, ever again. I want to stay tucked up in the hills in a home far from a city or any suburbs, surrounded by God's creations, in a place I can breathe clean air and raise hardworking, fun-loving kids, close enough to an airport to go serve the world too :)

3. Being myself. With the new job has come a new opportunity to move out on my own again. As much as I have loved being near family and especially, having my little brother close, I need the independence of living my own life to feel truly, authentically me. I am going to stay in Idaho, but out of the blue, clear sky, I feel a lot of light and direction from God about moving soon to a town about an hour from where I currently live. Joy of joys, this place is still within my Temple district (so I can continue serving there and attending as often as I can), still close enough to family and the wonderful friends I've made in the past eight months to see them often and be there for important events, is a University town with potential for teaching or other academic opportunities, is surrounded by beautiful hills I can run and hike in, and is an hour closer to an international airport. God is good. 

So, to sum up: my life plans for the next year have changed. 

These were mine

And these are Gods.

I think I'll take His.

Thank you, dear friends, for caring about me and about my life. Here's to a new future. New experiences. New hopes and dreams. Here's to my hand in God's.

Love love,

Sunday, April 9, 2017

But I'm going to make it

This video clip from the Pirates of the Caribbean describes how I feel about my life right now more accurately than words:

It's going to be close, but I'm going to make it.
I will step off the boat next Tuesday.
My PhD and life in New Zealand and friends and everything that has sustained me here for this journey at sea will be gone. There will be a new path--a new country, a new life. I hope it goes better than Captain Jack's experiences in Port Royal.

<3 p="">

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Glaube und Hoffnung

I have officially passed my PhD!

with my main supervisor (EmProf James Bade) outside the graduate centre after passing my defence

My life as I've known it for the past 3.6 years is over. It's time to start a new chapter.

There are so many things I am looking forward to about moving back home:

Proximity to family
Betos and Cafe Rio
Old friends <3 div="">
Summer roadtrips, hiking, and camping
Country music on the radio
Moving on with my life!!!!!!!!!!!
Getting a smart phone, and then being able to text my siblings/cousins (see #1)
Being at family events (again, see #1)
Spending time with my grandpa

There are also many, many things I am going to miss about New Zealand. This beautiful country is my country--it has been my home for the past several years, and I can't imagine parting from it. I will miss:

The humidity (but actually, my hair won't miss it)
The green
The Waikato
Bacon and Egg pies
Hoary accents
All my friends and family
Kai moana (seafood)
My independence
Temple trips--the Hamilton Temple itself
Running into people I know everywhere--Pak'nSave, markets, in the city, firesides, etc
Proximity to the islands (fie foki ki Tonga)
Struggling and growing
The rain (only sometimes)
The culture (pasifika, maori)
My young women and youth--seeing what they become, running into them in the Temple, being there for their endowments
Pokeno ice cream stops
Driving on the left side of the road (it's the true side)
Stubbies with gum boots
Carrots and apples
The peace, calm, and serenity
Maori names, words, language
Number 1 pancake
Snowman mango dessert
And so much more.

I have a love/hate relationship with my emotions. On one hand, I'm glad I feel so much--it is easy for me to love people and places, and I think people see my sincerity because my emotions are all right out there on my sleeve and rolling down my face. But sometimes, my feelings are too much. Farewells are some of those times. Right now I am on a roller coaster. Life has been so stressful for so many months that sometimes I just can't wait to leave everything behind and get away. But then there are the moments of peace, when my mind reflects on precious people and memories and experiences and tender moments. It is then that I can't help crying, and I cry a little bit for sadness at everyone and everything I'll miss, but more so with gratitude at all I've been given, and how much it means to me.

I am so grateful I had the opportunity to do a PhD, and to do it in New Zealand. I am so grateful for all the hard things, because the work of my Father in Heaven in my life during those times is now precious to me. I'm so grateful for all those who have reached out to me over the years--who have been my friend, believed in me, supported me, shared with me, invited me, welcomed me, taught me, hugged me, prayed for me, picked me up, blessed me, and otherwise been a beautiful part of my life.

I didn't expect that this is where I would be at 28 years old, or that these would be the experiences I would have. There's a lot I had hoped for that hasn't happened, and so much I never imagined that has. It has been a great ride.

Today in Sacrament meeting we sang Hymn #97: "Lead, Kindly Light." Coincidence? I don't think so.

The lyrics give voice to my current personal pleadings with the Lord:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th'encircling gloom; Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene--one step enough for me. 

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that thou Shouldst lead me on. 
I loved to choose and see my path; but now, Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears, Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years. 

So long thy pow'r hath blest me, sure it still Will lead me on
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile, Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

The good news is that there is much good to come--mexican food and Zion's park hikes and cross-country roadtrips and jobs (I hope!) and new dreams and family time and a new world of navigating life back in my home country. I'm excited. I'm grateful. I'm humbled. I'm happy. I thank God.

LIFE is a great reason to rejoice.