Friday, December 24, 2010
I am not a fan of over-indulgence, commercialism, or materialism. Christmas time then, as with every other holiday, is often hard for me to swallow as I see it practiced in the media, department stores, and our culture. Always, it seems, the real reason we celebrate is pushed aside as we wake up early for Black Friday specials and max out our budgets spending for holiday gifts that are frequently spur-of-the-moment and, let's be honest, sometimes just stuff to put under the tree. But if Christmas is not in the gifts and the happy jingle bell music and the red and green colors and the "North Pole" display at the mall, where is it?
This is a question I ask myself each year, because to be honest, surveying the frenzied "celebrating" that goes on every December just makes me more and more desirous to NOT teach my children traditional Christmas traditions, and to pretty much hide my head the entire month. The memories that I always come back to, however, keep me from "Grinching" myself up, remind me of what the true spirit of Christmas is, and give me hope that, despite what we see going on around us, it is still possible to keep Christ in Christmas.
Let me share two memories I have with you that keep this hope burning.
The first is from when I was about five years old. We lived in a small, run-down house in a small community where we knew pretty much everyone and everyone knew us. My family didn't have a lot, and for Christmas this one particular year, two unknown benefactors had brought us some food. Though I'm sure we could have made use of it, instead of keeping everything for us my mom had an idea: she took one of the hams and packed it and us kids and my dad up in the car and we drove to a friends house. Roger was the name of the friend, and he was a man who lived near our neighborhood, divorced and alone. Roger was a long-haul truck driver who rode a Harley when he wasn't gone, and parked his 18 wheeler next to his house when he was home--the truck dwarfed the little white, two bedroom place he lived in. I remember being confused as to why we would be visiting him--he wore black leather and had a big, bushy beard and to me had always looked really scary--I didn't know him very well. My mom though, in her typical, big-hearted and friendly fashion, had thought of him when we had more than we needed, and we took the ham to his house and sat and visited with him awhile. He let me play with a kaleidoscope he had bought somewhere, and my sister and brother and I colored on his tiny kitchen table. I found out that he wasn't at all the big scary man I imagined him to be. In fact, a few years later when my dad was gone for some reason and my brother needed a substitute father for an activity at church, he called Roger who, flattered, dressed in his best black leather and picked my brother up on his motorcycle to take him.
When I think of the reason for Christmas, I often think of Roger, and the mysterious good Samaritan who gave to us so that we could give to him. I think of him in his black leather at church, beard trimmed, smiling and waving his fingers at my sister and me and singing the hymns loudly from the back row. I think of what I would have missed out on as a child if I hadn't know Roger. Since then, when I think of Christmas, I think of him and that one December night.
The other memories I have which help me enjoy rather than resent the season are of the traditions my family keeps each year. To us, the most important part of Christmas is the days leading up to it when we decorate the house, get a tree, listen to Christmas carols, and make treats to share with others. We usually go caroling, we ALWAYS do the 12 Days of Christmas, and on Christmas morning we have a blast eating our traditional breakfast together and reveling in the last moments of excitement and anticipation before we open gifts. As everyone has gotten older the pleasure of Christmas centered on the bright paper and gifts seems to be getting displaced by the joy of being together and sharing time with one another. Though I sometimes miss the innocent butterflies-in-stomach kind of sleeplessness from when I was little, waking-up during the night to check the tree, creeping to find my stocking in the darkness, I love better now seeing the smiles on my younger siblings faces and truly giving, rather than recieiving, heartfelt gifts. When I think of Christmas, I hear scratchy John Denver Christmas songs and smell Orange Rolls and see colorful shadows and reflections of Christmas tree branches and lights on a darkened living room wall while lying next to my little brother on the ground, watching the scene. I think of the exuberance of my siblings when we sing to elderly neighbors and how fast my brothers run after doorbell ditching a "12 Days" recipient. In our home, we all believe in Santa Claus--not as a man in a red suit who will bring us everything we ever wanted, but as a feeling we all accept into our hearts and a place we all fill when we reach out and give to others.
In the hustle and bustle of this season, when I'm feeling frustrated with endless consumerism and cheery pointy-toed elves and stories of reindeer, the glow comes back to me by remembering what Christmas really means--that love came down to the earth, and we are able to grow and learn and change and live because of it. Christmas means giving to others, like those who gave to us, us giving to Roger, and all of the fun and excitement that comes by being a Christmas angel is someone else's life. The holiday is a time to spend with family and those who are dear, and to more earnestly seek out the Christ child who was born so humbly in Bethlehem. It occurs to me that, while our culture and our neighbors may be out trying to find the best deals on last-minute minutia, it is perhaps infinitely better to be counted among those staying inside, seeking after the greatest gift of all--the Exaltation and Eternal Life which is promised to those who earnestly seek the Savior. This post is not to say that either myself or my family is perfect, but only to express how much I appreciate the time to step back out of mainstream Christmas and practice it in a way that brings more peace to me. As the wise men of old sought the baby Jesus not to ask for gifts or presents or healing or anything else they may have wanted, wise men and women still seek Him, bringing gifts of broken hearts and contrite spirits and lives worn out in His Service. I hope that as we keep Christmas this year, amidst everything else, we learn to keep it in our hearts, and truly keep it the whole year round. Merry Christmas.
Monday, December 20, 2010
All of my guy friends love A Christmas Story and The Muppet's Christmas Carol
Some are attached to Home Alone 1, 2, or 3
and others love Smoky Mountain Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut or While You Were Sleeping
Each year my family watches White Christmas and Holiday Inn and there are probably quite a few I'm forgetting.
I like all of those (bar a couple), but the two very best Christmas movies of all time, the ones I watch every year and pine after and am ALWAYS uplifted by and want my children and their children's children and their children's children's children to watch, are Mr. Kreuger's Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life. Always tear-jerking, always life changing. Try it. I promise you'll like it.
Yes, they both feature Jimmy Stewart. Very astute observation you. And yes, it's true, we are bosom friends. We're going to be neighbors in Heaven. But that's not why I love these. They're just amazing, that's why.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I've been thinking about this all day. This morning I went to Salt Lake to watch the Tabernacle Choir, David Archuleta, and Michael York perform for "Music and the Spoken Word," and also give a mini-concert after. It was beautiful. All the lights and music and the wonderful spirit, however, brought one question to my mind, that same one posed to you above, and the video I watched tonight made me ask myself again, "Kaj, what does the birth of Christ mean to you?" My answer? There are too many to write them all here, but as I've thought today, the following things came to mind:
- To me, the birth of Christ is a representation of God's love for us. Nephi once said, when asked if he knew/understood the condescension of God, that he didn't, but he knew that the Lord loves his children (1st Nephi 11:16-17). Because of the birth of the Savior, I know that the condescension of God means the same thing as the love of God. Because God loved us He sent His Son to earth to atone for our sins--John 3:16. Christ is love (Moroni 7:47).
- Because the Savior was born, He lived. Because He lived, I know how to live. Because He lived, He had to die. Because He died, we all can live
- When the Lord was born, Hope came to the earth.
- The birth of the Savior means to me that there are greater things than what I can see and understand.
- The birth of the Savior means that we have great reason to rejoice.
But now it's your turn to answer my question. What does the birth of the Savior mean to you? Comments would be appreciated. Thanks.
Monday, December 13, 2010
And click here to read more about the LDS church's views on marriage.
PS-Long-awaited pic of said roommies. Beautiful, no? This is us showing our personalities, taken especially to use on our Christmas Party invitation a couple of weeks ago, to personalize it. Did I mention that we had a Christmas party? It was pretty rockin' too--over 80 people came, and we had a blast! I am grateful for friends.
- "Goals are the “yeses” of the future that allow us to say “no” to the temptations of today." (see this link for more info).
- When Jesus Christ was born into the world, it wasn't as if He came with a worldwide newspaper headline announcing "Savior of the World--Born Today in Bethlehem." It was news the world had to discover. The world still has to discover the news of the Savior, and the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ [interesting side note: In Tongan the word for Gospel is "ongoongo lelei," which, literally translated, means "the Good News"]
- The Savior is the best friend we've ever had.
- We turn on lights at Christmas time to symbolize the light that came to the earth when the Savior was born. Plug 'um in people--there's a reason.
- Never judge anyone--God knows your whole story, and He still loves you.
- And finally, "Wise men [and women] still seek Him." More about this to come in a later post.
Friday, December 10, 2010
I have loads of plans for after graduation though, starting with figuring out a job for the summer. I need a job that will enable me to make enough to save for the future, while still providing the flexibility for me to take a few key road trips I've been planning. Don't tell me it doesn't exist or isn't possible. It will happen. Aside from a job, almost anything and everything else depends on what I hear back from the Fulbright committee come January. Their decision will determine whether I spend the whole of 2012 on Maui's fish in the southern Hemisphere, or whether I start chasing some new and other dreams.
Whatever comes, I excited. I am reminded, even in my uncertainty, that God has all power to make things turn out for our good. He can dream any dream infinitely better than I can, and He has the power to make them all come true too. I once asked Him to help me get into college, and He opened the doors of BYU to me. When I was a sophmore I asked Him to help me travel, and I haven't spent a full year in the country since. At this point in my life I'm asking Him to help me have patience, wisdom, and understanding even in uncertainty, and to bless me with dreams for my life and self which will fit His will for me. In pursuing whatever those things are then, I know that I will be doing what I'm meant to do, which is what I want to do.
Until April then, I guess I will just keep chugging along here. Doing my best here. Trying hard here to live each day to its fullest and not let any opportunities to learn, grow, serve, and change pass by unrealized. In the place of my brain that plans for my future I'll keep dreaming about Tonga and Deutschland and Nashville and New Zealand and the Bitterroot Mountains and Hawaii and Alaska and South America and all the other possibilities that are tucked in there. Someday I'll do them all. Maybe next year. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Just curious, what are you planning for?
Friday, December 3, 2010
Second best thing about Thanksgiving week--I finished my thesis! Of course, at this point, I don't mean finished, finished, but first final draft finished. Revisions will be happening in the next few weeks for sure, but the most challenging, most difficult (hopefully) part is now over. Oh, and did I mention that it is currently 61 pages? Gasp, I know. I never thought I'd write that much about anything, let alone a research topic (they're usually boring, don't you know?) But it's truly sitting next to me in all it's real, printed glory. With lots of red marks on it, of course, having already been through it's first trip to my professor. But I'm not discouraged. With a little work, it will be the best thesis ever written! (I'll accept checks for personal orders! :) )
So anyway, life lately has been good. It's always good, of course, but lately I've just felt so happy. I have so much to be happy about! Even challenges, when they come, can't take my peace away. Like tonight, for example. It's almost midnight and I've still got a lot to do. So much to do, in fact, that for only about the eighth time this year, I would classify my internal feelings as ones of stress. Definitive statement then: I am stressed. BUT, feeling stressed doesn't mean it's time for me to crumble. I am capable of doing hard things. I know it. Sometimes events in life require that we climb harder, faster, and be stronger, and stretch ourselves more that we thought we could. We may have to sleep less, wear the same socks two days in a row, and forgo a hoped for event in order to achieve what we most desire. But even in sacrificing, we gain.
Sorry that this is so train of thought and therefore, may seem jumpy to you, but at this point in my monologue I am going to introduce one of my favorite analogies to you--that of weight lifting. In case you did not know this about me, consider yourself informed: I love to lift weights. I'm not a die-hard gym goer, but I look forward to twice a week weights classes when it's just me and the bench and the weights and my body and I get to push myself and think and clear my mind and work on physicality instead of intellectuality for a little while. And then, the next day, I get a kind of secret, personal joy when I feel the results of my efforts in regular movement--sore shoulders, tender abdominal muscles, achy calves. Oh, the joy.
But that's not the point. My point is, life is like a gym. We don't get anywhere, indeed, there's no point in even being there (the gym)/here (alive), unless we're willing to work and try and push ourselves and sweat. And when we do, the results are sweet. Things that were once difficult gradually get easier. Areas of ourselves that we might have been self-conscious of or even ashamed of, with time and concentrated work, may actually become areas of confidence for us. To me, that is what I see when I think about my life. There are many things that I am not very good at, but the scriptures (Ether 12:27) teach us that God can make our weaknesses become our strengths. In my life, I have seen how when I am humble and teachable and both seek to improve my weaknesses and have faith that they can be improved, with time and effort, viola! they are.
Yay for weight room analogies and for true life principles! We can change. We can get better. I'm not going to let feeling stressed rob me of the wonderful expectations I have for tomorrow, this weekend, next week, the rest of this year, and the rest of my life. Though distraction it may be, it will not sidetrack me from what I really know--that our lives are more than our to-do lists, and our worth more than the things we can quantify. God will still love me if I get a B- or a C in my Statistics class, and it's okay if I don't do my hair perfectly tomorrow. Life will go on. And it will be great.
Thanks for reading.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Today's note includes yesterday's gratitude mention, und zwar: I am grateful for Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol, which is in my #1 favorite Christmas book of all time. If you haven't read this book, you NEED to. Tell me who you are and I'll buy you a copy for Christmas. It's that important to me that you read it. I promise you will be changed for the better.
As for today's measure of thankfulness, I am grateful for protection from weather--housing, clothing, heated automobiles. I can't imagine conquering snowy mountain passes in a covered wagon or on frozen feet. I am thankful for the comforts of my life.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I am grateful, so grateful, for country music. You can laugh if you want to, but I'm serious. I. LOVE. COUNTRY. MUSIC. end of story.
Monday, 22 Nov. 2010
I am SO grateful for my truck, which finally got fixed yesterday. It helps me move people and things and go grocery shopping and to the temple and to visit people and on both short and long road trips. It makes me smile and turns bad days good, just by driving it because it's so fun. Yes, it's older than me. No, it can't fit more than two and a half people. And Yes, it does sometimes make embarrassing noises while stopped at red lights. But hey, it will probably last another fifteen years, and for that, it's all worth it. In addition to having my truck, I'm grateful for my grandma Cindy, for selling it to me. Thanks Cindy!
Monday, November 22, 2010
"All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15
"[Those who murmur] know not the dealings of that God who [has] created them." 1 Nephi 2:12
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Today, as always, I am so grateful for the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. He is known by many names: Redeemer, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Son of God, Son of Man, Mighty God, Holy One, etc. The name I love Him most by, though, is Savior, Brother, and Friend. I have a testimony that Jesus Christ is the living Son of the living God. He came to earth to fulfill a plan set by our Heavenly Father to atone for our sins and overcome death. He suffered unimaginably in the garden of Gethsemane, suffering which caused him, "even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup and shrink" (D&C 19:18). He did that because He loves us, and by so doing, He prepared the way that "we might not suffer if [we] would repent" (D&C 19:16). I am so thankful for His atoning sacrifice that makes it possible for me to change, so that I don't have to be the same person tomorrow that I am today. I can be better. I want to be better. I am grateful for my Savior whose association (sought through scripture study, prayer, and pondering) helps me to be better. I love Him.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
I am grateful for a big, wonderful, eternal family to share food and laughter and movie nights and sob stories and embarrassing moments and embarrassing questions and memories and holidays with. Sometimes they drive me crazy, but my life would be so empty without them.
Friday, 19th Nov.
I am grateful for my job, which keeps me from thinking school is all there is in the world, and helps me pay my bills.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
I am grateful for Temples, and the peace that fills their walls. This morning I took an early morning trip to the Provo Temple. Best morning ever.
Wednesday, 17 Nov. 2010
I am grateful for roommates who inspire me. I love coming home, because I know when I do, the time will be filled with laughter and uplifting conversation and deep talks and prayers and bpoyd's. Wish I had a picture to show you how beautiful my roommates are. Soon though.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
"Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love."
"When you walk with gratitude, you do not walk with arrogance and conceit and egotism, you walk with a spirit of thanksgiving that is becoming to you and will bless your lives." (actually quoting Pres. Hinckley)
"Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much for which to be grateful if we will but pause and contemplate our blessings.
"This is a wonderful time to be on earth. While there is much that is wrong in the world today, there are many things that are right and good. There are marriages that make it, parents who love their children and sacrifice for them, friends who care about us and help us, teachers who teach. Our lives are blessed in countless ways.
"We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues."
"How careful we should be to cultivate, through the medium of a prayerful life, a thankful attitude toward God and man!" (Joseph F. Smith) "A prayerful life is the key to possessing gratitude."
"To express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven."
And my personal favorite:
"As I close this morning, it is my prayer that in addition to all else for which we are grateful, we may ever reflect our gratitude for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His glorious gospel provides answers to life’s greatest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do our spirits go when we die? That gospel brings to those who live in darkness the light of divine truth.
"He taught us how to pray. He taught us how to live. He taught us how to die. His life is a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved.
"Ultimately, He stood alone. Some Apostles doubted; one betrayed Him. The Roman soldiers pierced His side. The angry mob took His life. There yet rings from Golgotha’s hill His compassionate words: 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.'
"Who was this 'man of sorrows, . . . acquainted with grief'? 'Who is this King of glory,' this Lord of lords? He is our Master. He is our Savior. He is the Son of God. He is the Author of Our Salvation. He beckons, 'Follow me.' He instructs, 'Go, and do thou likewise.' He pleads, 'Keep my commandments.'
"Let us follow Him. Let us emulate His example. Let us obey His words. By so doing, we give to Him the divine gift of gratitude."
Today, though it's still early in the day, I am grateful for living prophets, called and ordained of God, on the earth to lead and guide those who will listen to their words. Like Adam, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul of old, I know that there is today a prophet--President Thomas S. Monson--on the earth who holds the keys to commune with God and tell us what we need to do to make it through the challenges and trials we are faced with, to get back to the presence of God. I know that we were there before (Jeremiah 1:5) and we can return to live with Him again.
To see President Monson's whole talk, click here. To read what he says, click here.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
On the fourth Thursday of this month we will (hopefully) all gather with family and friends and get the opportunity to express thanks for some of the things we're grateful for. Recent events in my life have caused me to question though, why this list must be held back until Thanksgiving itself occurs. Why not start making our list now? After talking to several friends, I have realized that there is a whole slew of people who feel the same way I do--facebook and blogs all over the internet are filled with Gratitude-countdowns, where the author lists something they are grateful for each day of November. Well, I'm late; November is already almost half-way gone, and there are only a couple weeks left till Thanksgiving. Until then though, I am going to take a shot a posting at least once, each day, about something that I am grateful for in my life. As I do so, I hope you take a second to ask yourself what you're grateful for that day, and then, if you would be so kind, please comment and let me know what it is you're thinking of. Gratitude is the best attitude, and my experience says it can change your life. So are you ready for this experiment or what? I am! Ready, get set, go-->
Today I am grateful for prayers and scriptures. Specifically some scriptures that answered my prayers today. This is what happened: Remember when Peter felt horrible after he denied Christ three times and the Cock crowed? Luke 22:62 tells us he "wept bitterly." Today I was reading that and empathizing with Peter. I know what it feels like to feel bad after making some dumb mistake you knew better than to make in the first place. After reading about how bad Peter felt today though, I asked myself, okay, so what did he do after that? Obviously he didn't dwell on his mistake and feel that he could never "make it up" to Jesus. He didn't just write himself off as a failure disciple and miserable sinner. He didn't go home and dwell on his mistakes or choose only to rhapsodize about the "good old days" with the Savior before he forsook and denied him three times. No! Fast forward to 1st Peter in the New Testament. He became a great prophet and advocate of the Savior Jesus Christ--he used his past mistakes to keep him humble and bore a powerful testimony of repentance and the power of the atonement to change and make weak things strong. So, this is what I'm grateful for today. The example of a prophet who learned to trust in God and change. I know I can do the same.
Now, what were you grateful for?
Friday, November 5, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
- At least one good thing happens every day. Focusing on it before falling asleep turns whatever mood you're in to one of memory, gratitude, happiness, and hope.
- Even if the best part of your day is going home and ending it--you can still rejoice in that.
- b.p.y.o.d has helped me go from sad to ecstatic, every day. I am happy to be alive and rejoice that the Lord sees fit to bless me with 24 hours of continued living, learning, and growing everyday.
- Almost without exception, our b.p.o.y.d's have something to do with service someone unexpectedly rendered to us, a moment we were able to help someone else in a meaningful way, the realization of some goal, or something beautiful that touched our lives. This has helped us realize what is really important--gifts, money, new clothes, etc. have never been the b.p.o.y.d.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Governor, Utah Territory, 1850-1858
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1847-1877
Monday, October 18, 2010
The Lord knows it though. In my memory He walks with me in Dorfgastein and on the streets of a Vienna twilight. We've hiked together through the Rocky Mountains and sat side-by-side on her highest precipices. He stood quietly behind me smiling as I took in the view of Neiafu harbor for the first time, with the smell of smoke and the sound of the wind in the air. He knows my heart, and He knows it's not easy. But He has great plans. He gave me this love. I can't be three places at once, but His spirit is, and it's with me when I go to each of them. How thankful I am for memory. Sometimes it can be a burden, but it's often my best friend. That and imagination. One captures the beauty of the past, and one dreams of the future. Together they comprise a life. A beautiful life.
"... I know my God is listenin'...."
One of the greatest reasons I have to rejoice is the fact that I am a student at Brigham Young University. I cannot accurately describe how thankful I am for this blessing in my life--the opportunity to study ALL truth in a setting that is home to such a GREAT academic heritage. Forget Harvard. Forget UC-whatev. This is the Lord's university, and here I can learn about Horace and Shakespeare and Evolution and Homosexuality hand in hand with REAL truth. Standford can't offer that, and neither can Purdue. This is MY university.
Today I was walking down the hall of the Jesse Knight Building heading to discuss Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Imagination. I was 1.38 minutes late for class. As I rounded the corner a piano started playing the first bars to "Praise to the Man." 200 voices began singing in the Statistics auditorium. My heart sang with them.
Outside I see hills alive with red and yellow aspens and hear the resounding of the Carillon bell tower in harmony with the soft sidewalk padding of Airwalk-clad coeds. The temple sits in those hills. The hills themselves are a temple. And this campus too. HERE is where we learn. Then we go out to serve. Serve the Lord. Serve the World. Stand as beacons of light. In April I'm leaving Provo. I have six months left to soak the Spirit of this place in--to stuff every corner of my soul full of the beauty of God and learning and miracles and laughter and yellow aspen leaves and hope and dreams for the future and service and memories of friends who have changed my life--been a witness to the most important time of my life so far. But I know more is coming. So much good is coming. It might be:
or something else,
but it's going to be good. Great. MIRACULOUS. WONDERFUL.
I. CAN'T. WAIT.
But then again, I can. At least until April.