Friday, December 24, 2010

Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him

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

my 2 absolute favorite Christmas movies

My little bro would say his are Jingle all the Way and How the Grinch Stole Christmas
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

What does the birth of the Savior mean to YOU?

Hi Friend. I have something for you. I really need you to watch this video.  Then I need you to think about it, and write back to me to answer this one question: What does the birth of the Savior mean to you?

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. 
Also, isn't it interesting that the words in English for the Sun and for a son/the Son are homophones?  And not only do they share the same sound, their meanings are also related. They are both glorious, powerful things that bring great light into the world, beyond the mortal understanding, comprehension, or ability to be harnessed by the sons of men. I wonder what the entomology of these words is. Wouldn't it be interesting if we named the Sun after the Son because of the great light it gave to the world? Just a thought.

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

This is Important

Important news from Washington, D.C. last week: Leaders from Diverse Faiths Express Committment to Protect Marriage

And click here to read more about the LDS church's views on marriage.

Hotttttest Dates Ev.

Last night my roommies and I went to SLC to see the lights. We ate at the Pie Pizzeria and ordered a huge-o pizza that even the four of us couldn't even eat half of (and trust me, we were hungry). After our delicious dinner we oohed and aahed over the beautiful trees and magical decorations on Temple Square. Have you ever seen downtown Salt Lake City at Christmas time? B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. We sang carols (my idea) while people around us looked on, and took pictures by the reflection pool. We told stories and laughed our guts out and had fun catching the eyes of random strangers while sitting in traffic on the way home. Best Date Ever. Oh, and did I mention that my roommates bought me a new coat for Christmas? Funnest shopping experience of my life, and also the most touching. They are amazing, and I will be eternally grateful I got stuck with them this year. Love love.

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.

Just some thoughts...

Just some thoughts from my mind today, inspired by church lessons, conversations with neighbors, and my conscience:

  • "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. 
Merry Christmas everyone. Frohe Weinachten, and Kalisimasi Fiefia (I'm actually not sure how to say 'Merry Christmas' in Tongan, I just made that last one up). I hope you're having a wonderful season already. 

Friday, December 10, 2010


Today was the last day of classes, and it was awesome. I did well on an oral final I had tonight, and thoroughly enjoyed the gym this afternoon. As the semester comes to an end I've been thinking about the fact that after next friday is over, I only have one more finals week left at BYU. Next April that finals week will be immediately followed by a short walk in a shapeless blue gown and hat to receive a piece of paper signifying my competence in critical academic areas as outlined by the College of Humanities. And what about when I get my diplomas? and take off my hat? and wake up the next morning? Then this part of my life will be gone, just like that. What I've lived and loved for five years will be as done as Rocky after his last ring fight in movie #7. Unlike the Italian Stallion though, I will never make a comeback to this time in my life. Overnight, I will go from being a degree-pursuing college undergrad to a full-fledged, real-life Graduate and member of society. Does that mean I will have anything figured out? Who knows? It's another four months from now, so maybe, but if my personal history is any indication, chances are that that time will arrive before I am ready for it, and I will be a little shocked at the suddenness with which I see my story change.

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

Things that Matter Most

"Brothers and sisters, indeed we have great reason to rejoice. If life and its rushed pace and many stresses have made it difficult for you to feel like rejoicing, then perhaps now is a good time to refocus on what matters most. 

"Strength comes not from frantic activity but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light. It comes from placing our attention and efforts on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most."

Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Ensign, Nov. 2010

finding joy in the journey

Hi friend. Sorry I dropped off for a bit. Thanksgiving and all, you know? I have much to be grateful for though, and it wasn't for lack of moments of rejoicing that I didn't report back on here. The best part of my Thanksgiving week was, of course, being able to spend it with family. Delicious food, delicious world, and delicious people to be cooped up and snowed in with. Thanks fam for being awesome.

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.