Friday, October 3, 2014

Life Nowadays

I haven't blogged in a long time. Many things have changed in the past couple months. If you don't have time to read the rest of this blog, here's a brief summary. I'm happier than I have been in years. In fact, I don't remember the last time I felt less stress and more at peace with life. Life is good. Read on for some details. 

At the end of the summer, I interviewed with UVU to be an adjunct faculty member in their ESL program. I went to the interview and did very well, but I was initially informed that they did not have a position for me. I felt somewhat disappointed, but something told me to just wait. The day after the director indicated that he didn't have a position for me, he emailed me desperate for teachers in one of three courses. I decided to take their highest level listening and speaking class. It's been a great experience to teach these six upper-level students. Along with experimenting with various techniques and procedures in the classroom, I feel like I have honed my teaching skills in many ways. Teachers become better by teaching. It's not without its issues, but I have enjoyed getting to know students from all of the world in such an intimate setting. The pay is excellent and I look forward to continuing to work with these students throughout the semester.

I am also a TA for my professor on campus. He's a great professor to work for and I have the opportunity to work on my thesis with him as well. I help him with his two classes. One is an introduction to human language. This class has provided me with lots of opportunities to informally teach writing. It's always surprising to see how people don't proofread their writing carefully. The other class is a course about teaching reading, writing, and vocabulary. I love being able to sit in on this class for the second time. I have had a variety of this course twice, but this time I am able to focus on the content and assist others in learning the content. I love vocabulary research, but I'm also falling in love with research issues surrounding L2 literacy. 

I am also a tutor at the ELC and I run the English for Lunch program. I love being able to work in such a great English language learning context! It has taught me what makes a good intensive English program. 

I think many people saw how I was struggling early in the summer. I posted cryptic statuses on Facebook. I wasn't acting like myself. A couple of weeks before life became really difficult in April, I posted about revelation and dew, "When we find dew on the grass in the morning, we rarely think about how it appeared. It has simply appeared overnight, making the grass and flowers slightly damp. Likewise, revelation has appeared to me in the most obscure ways. I have felt that God is guiding my path to make difficult decisions." I struggled for quite some time before things started to look up again. The revelation continues to appear like dew. Over the past several weeks, I have reflected on my difficult times. I remember feeling empty inside and like something was missing from my life. I cried almost daily, longing for peace and comfort that I thought I would never have.

Why was I led down a path that was so painful? I honestly believe that some of the greatest beauty in this life comes from the greatest pain. The scars have had months to heal and I feel at peace once again. I wouldn't trade my experiences. I needed those experiences to know what I wanted and to know how I can be happy. I demonstrated bravery and authenticity. From these trying times, I learned that anything worthwhile in life must be sought out and (typically) fought for. I believe that through my pain and trials, I am in a place now that I can truly say I am happy. Forgiveness is a powerful force that can change everything. I hold no grudges and I am excited to continue to move forward, happy and satisfied. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fresh Courage Take

The summer after my junior year I began taking piano lessons with a well-known piano teacher in our community. She had completed a master's and PHd in choral conducting and was highly regarded for training many of the finest pianists in the state. Every time I went to my lessons with her, I was greeted with her warm smile and a hearty laugh. Bonnie inspired me in so many ways. She was dedicated to her faith. She frequently quoted her favorite scriptures, including 2nd Nephi 31:20. She would always remind me that we needed to just press forward with steadfast faith in Christ. Beyond her love for the gospel and the scriptures, she loved the spiritual beauty found in music.

After studying with her for some time, I told her that I wanted to learn a piece to play in sacrament meeting. I brought several pieces that I thought I would like to work on, but none of them seemed exactly right. After playing one piece that she was not particularly thrilled with, she told me to wait while she went to find a piece of music that she thought might be a good choice. When she came back to the piano, she brought back several large sheets of worn paper. I read the title, "Come, Come Ye Saints: Favorite Mormon Hymn."

What was the story behind this hand-written piece of music? When Bonnie was a little girl growing up in Star Valley, Wyoming, she had a piano teacher come into the valley every so often to teach students. Bonnie's family couldn't afford to pay for lessons, but her mother would always cook him a big meal to make it worth his time. This teacher saw great talent in Bonnie, his star pupil. When she was a 10 years old, he arranged this piece for her.

I spent several weeks working on the piece. The technical difficulty was compounded by the difficulty of reading a hand-written piece of music. Bonnie coached me to feel the emotional impact of the piece and to make others feel it as well. She asked me to remember the suffering of those courageous pioneers who crossed the plains, leaving behind so much. Some left behind the comforts of home. Others left behind beloved family and friends. I thought of the story of one of my ancestors who, upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, began to cry and told her mother that she wanted to return to Philadelphia.

Today I have been reflecting on the announcement that John Dehlin, a prominent Mormon LGBT ally and founder of Mormon Stories, along with Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women, have both been summoned for possible disciplinary action. My friend texted me the news. After I read the article in the New York Times, I sat in my car and held back tears. How could my Church be pushing out people that are trying to make it more comfortable for people like me? John Dehlin asks tough questions about Mormon history and culture. Kate Kelly has asked questions about the nature of the priesthood and women's roles in the Church. I think of them, and all my other less-traditional Mormon friends, as my brothers and sisters in the gospel. These are people that I need in the Church. I need people who ask the questions that others fear to ask. I need the people who dare to stand up for what they believe in.

Many of us feel hurt. Many of us feel betrayed. Some of us even feel angry. As I have reflected on what to say in light of this particular circumstance, my mind continues to return to the words of that "Favorite Mormon Hymn" that I have played on many occasions.

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

Kate and John have done courageous things. They left behind the comforts of a traditional Mormon existence to ask difficult questions. Like our Mormon forebears, they left behind their "Philadelphia" and embraced a dangerous journey. As they have began to sojourn through the wilderness, they have encountered difficulties. Their actions have not always been approved by all the members of our faith. I believe, however, that they have attempted to follow the Spirit and the will of Our Heavenly Parents for them as they have worked to encourage positive changes and open dialogue. No matter the outcome, I think that both John and Kate would encourage us to "Gird up our loins; fresh courage take." Their vision of an inclusive Mormonism does not die if they are excommunicated. Their hopes for a more welcoming place for those who doubt or fear are not in vain if they are no longer members of record. There are those among us who hope for the Church that we love. There are those of us who will fight for our Church. And while I hope and pray that they are allowed to stay in the Church, if that is what they desire, I also know that their vision cannot and, indeed, will not be forgotten.

I cannot say what it means to "gird up our loins" or "fresh courage take." For some people who have heard this news, they might be led out of the Church. For others, they might distance themselves from the Church. I respect the journeys of those individuals and realize that they are "girding up their loins" and showing courage. Their respective journeys are to be respected and validated. I hope that these individuals find the peace that they seek.

As an adult, the Church has never been easy for me. As I have struggled to reconcile my personal beliefs and testimony with the framework of the Church, I have felt a great deal of pain. And just when I think that the pain will end, more pain seems to follow. This painful event, along with several other happenings in the past week, have made me reflect on my relationship with Mormonism. What can I do to follow the advice in this beloved Mormon hymn? Why do Our Heavenly Parents keep telling me to forgive and have patience? While I cannot speak for others (and I will not attempt to do so), I know what I must do to do what Our Heavenly Parents want.  I can't give up on my faith because of the imperfections of our leaders who have decided to take these actions. I can't retreat because it hurts right now.  This is the place where I can build love. Beyond this calling I feel that I have received, I have a deep testimony of Our Heavenly Parents and of Their plan for us. I have faith in the power of our Mormon community to help and heal one another. John and Kate have a vision for Mormonism. I am not about to let their vision for Mormonism die. And so, like my Mormon pioneer ancestors, I am going to gird up my loins and take that fresh courage and press forward, with steadfast faith in Our Heavenly Parents.

So, John and Kate and all those hurt, angered, or devastated by this news, remember what our ancestors said. Fresh courage take, our God will never us forsake. And neither will I.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My People were Mormon Pioneers

I have been thinking for the past two weeks what I should blog about. I have had several ideas for a blog. At first, I thought of talking about the time when I seriously bruised my fingernail when a brick fell on my finger. I thought of talking about tenebrism. I also toyed with the idea of talking about pain or suffering or some other issue that I have confronted in my life recently. And even as I write this post, I am not sure what this post will end up being about. 

A couple weeks ago when I was going through some intense emotional conflict, I listened to a Mormon Stories podcast by Carol Lynn Pearson. The same week, I devoured No More Goodbyes. As Carol Lynn was talking about her experiences in the Church with John Dehlin, she read a poem that she wrote about her Mormon heritage. 

"My people were Mormon pioneers.
Is the blood still good?
They stood in awe as truth
Flew by like a dove
And dropped a feather in the West.
Where truth flies you follow
If you are a pioneer.

I have searched the skies
And now and then
Another feather has fallen.
I have packed the handcart again
Packed it with the precious things
And thrown away the rest.

I will sing by the fires at night
Out there on uncharted ground
Where I am my own captain of tens
Where I blow the bugle
Bring myself to morning prayer
Map out the miles
And never know when or where
Or if at all I will finally say,
“This is the place,”

I face the plains
On a good day for walking.
The sun rises
And the mist clears.
I will be all right:
My people were Mormon Pioneers."

As the past month has brought so many changes, I find myself returning to this poem. What does it mean that I will be all right? 

I think of my own pioneer ancestors. I think of the little girl who told her mother that she wanted to return to Philadelphia. I can imagine myself saying the same thing if I had come from the East to the barren Salt Lake Valley. I think of my father's ancestors who came after their conversion in Germany. Per the family lore, my great-grandmother was at the grave of one of her children that she had recently buried. The missionaries approached her and taught her that she could see her child again. I don't know how true this story is, but I do know that they were converted and that they traveled to Utah, leaving behind their home to gather with the other Mormon pioneers in the valley. 

My ancestors were tough. They didn't give up in the face of adversity because they followed their hearts. I imagine that many of them felt frustrated or confused. I think a lot of them were probably stubborn and impatient. Some of them may have gotten too emotionally involved in the issues of those around them. Others may have loved too deeply. I imagine some saw their hearts broken by harsh words of fellow Saints and by others that they love. As I describe my ancestors, I realize that I am just like them. I'm stubborn and brokenhearted. I get very emotionally involved in the issues of those around me. And I think we all get frustrated or confused. Somehow my ancestors inspire me to keep trying. As they kept trying, everything worked out okay for them. Maybe everything will work out all right for me. 

"I have searched the skies/ And now and then / Another feather has fallen" What feather has fallen? What am I seeking? The feather that has fallen is perhaps much like the dew from heaven that I have mentioned in several posts. It seems like nowadays I am seeking a feather just like how my ancestors sought one in the West. Where will my feather fall? I don't know if I feel ready to pack a handcart or to travel on uncharted ground. Being a pioneer is a scary proposition. I don't know if I like charting new destinations or traveling in terrain that is full of the unknown. In the past four years at BYU, I have experienced many periods of heartache and sadness, but I feel like it is in all in search of that feather. As I have tried to search for that feather (perhaps my identity or sense of belonging?), many experiences have scarred me and shaped me. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Our experiences are valuable. And as we search for that feather, we will discover more about ourselves than we could ever imagine. 

And as I continue to search for that feather, I can rest assured because, "My people were Mormon pioneers." 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Thomas

A few weeks ago, I wrote about revelation, likening it to the appearance of dew on the grass. Dew appears gradually, almost imperceptibly. During the past few painful weeks, I have continued to receive revelation in various forms and from various sources, feeling the dew of revelation slowly form on my soul. I have felt spiritually wounded for various reasons; I followed several promptings from our Heavenly Parents that led me to what I thought would be good decisions. These decisions, however, did not work out the way that I had anticipated. My expectations did not meet the reality of the situation. Even though I have felt incredibly hurt and confused, I have tried to press forward with faith in our Heavenly Parents and Their plan. 

As I have felt so spiritually wounded, I have sought comfort in the typical manner. I have read the scriptures, attended Church services, prayed, read literature, and turned to a myriad of other sources. In my attempts to find comfort during these difficult moments, I have tried to examine my spiritual relationships. After attending my LDS services on Easter Sunday, I went to a small Episcopalian church, St. Mary's. As I sat in the services, I felt incredibly spiritually uplifted. It reminded me of my spiritual awakening that I experienced while I was in Europe that caused me to reevaluate my spirituality and my relationship with our Heavenly Parents.

I started to feel better this past week, but I still felt some spiritual wounds in my soul.  After moving back to Salt Lake this week, I decided that I would attend another Episcopal service at St. Paul's. St. Paul's was crowded; today a young man was baptized. During the sermon, I was reminded me of the healing that our Heavenly Parents can offer. 

The sermon discussed the story of Thomas. Thomas has fascinated me for quite some time. As I was trying to decide on a title for my blog many years ago, I thought of my own faith journey. As I have traversed the landscape of Mormonism, I have discovered that my faith is complex. I went from a doubter, a "doubting Thomas" as some would say, to someone who underwent a series of profound spiritual experiences and became converted to the gospel. I have now found myself at a crossroads. 

The man who gave the sermon discussed how we see Thomas. Thomas was a doubter. Thomas was the one who was too skeptical, too prone to intellectualizing the situation at hand. It is ironic, however, that the title "Doubting Thomas" is never used in the scriptures. In fact, the only title for Thomas that is used is Didymus (the twin). During the sermon, the man drew the connection between all of us and Thomas. We are Thomas's twins. We all experience human failings: doubts, fears, concerns, heartaches, and confusion. We are flawed, imperfect, but also beloved children of our Heavenly Parents. 

He also mentioned how Thomas needed to find a way to encounter the risen Christ. Thomas's desire to see Christ was a desire to encounter Christ personally. We all desire to find ways to encounter the risen Christ for us personally. We are called to bring our doubts and uncertainty. Christ and our Heavenly Parents will take us as we are. They do not expect us to abandon our humanity because our humanity is what makes us beautiful and it is our humanity that makes us divine. The flaws and the doubts that we all have prepare us to be sanctified and to triumph over all the difficulties of this world. It is in our flawed state that our Heavenly Parents call us to encounter the risen Christ and to come to know Them. One person's answer to meet the risen Christ is not the answer for all, however. We cannot discount the answers of others because these answers do not resonate with us. We must learn to discover our own way to the Divine. We all need the reassurance that Thomas desired, the assurance that we can come to know the risen Christ. 

In my own religious community, we tend to look down on the doubts that others experience. But aren't we all a bit like Thomas? Don't we all experience doubt and heartache? Confusion and sorrow? Disbelief and faith? I believe that as I have accepted myself as a Thomas, I have come to see how my Heavenly Parents see me. They know that I am flawed and that I experience doubt, heartache, confusion, sorrow, disbelief, and faith. But in the end, I cannot abandon my identity as a twin of Thomas. I am a Thomas. And my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother love me for me, a Thomas. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What is love?

Today was the last day of my world religion class with Dr. Alonzo Gaskill. He has some quirks that have bugged me occasionally, but I have mostly enjoyed his class. His class has been focused on cultivating religious understanding and helping us to appreciate the diversity in the world of the belief. As he concluded the semester with a summary of his own belief, he read us a scriptural passage, 1st John 4:20, that I am sure I have read before. 

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"

As Dr. Gaskill read these words, I pondered on how we react to those who are different. How do we treat the Other? How would I want to be treated as the Other? 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts for me. I finished my thesis, I became involved in I'm A Mormon Feminist, I changed several habits in the my life, I introduced new habits, and I met up with my friend from freshman year to take her to the OW action. Even though this semester has been incredibly stressful and emotionally draining, it has given me time to reflect on the path that my life has taken. Through my involvement in Mormon feminism and LGBT advocacy, I have come to see how God wants us to treat the Other. 

This realization, however, is not my first moment of understanding. When I was in my hardest area on my mission, ธนบุรี (Thonburi), I remember feeling emotionally exhausted. My time in the area had been difficult. To add to the difficulties that I was already experiencing, we never had any serious investigators.  Without any serious investigators, I felt confused: Why had I been sent to this area? Why was I being entrusted with a young missionary to train? 

Near the beginning of that move (transfer), we bought a map of Bangkok from a local bookstore. It showed the major road, จรัญสนิทวงศ์, that cut through the ธนบุรี side of the river. It showed the countless side streets (ซอย), the major Buddhist temples, and other historic landmarks. When I came to ธนบุรี, I was told that it was a struggling ward that had never recovered since a series of unfortunate boundary changes. My mission president sent us to boost the number of Elders to four in the ward. I was told that God had inspired this call and that I should work hard to do the best that I could. When I looked at this map, initially, I saw potential. I saw the opportunity to find new people to teach. 

As the move progressed, however, I became frustrated. The people there were uninterested in our message. No matter how hard I tried, people would not investigate the Church. They would compliment me on my Thai, saying how clearly I spoke, but they would always give the traditional response of "Every religion teaches us to be good." My spirit languished. Why was God not blessing us with success? Why was I not finding people to teach about my cherished faith? One day, when we were planning for the next week, I looked at the map in a new light. I remember looking at the map and seeing what our Heavenly Parents saw. Not just street numbers or names of temples and landmarks. The map showed  the homes of my siblings. Siblings born halfway across the world. Siblings who knew nothing about Them, but could still be happy. Some of them denied Them or felt angry at Them. Others embraced Them and cultivated relationships with the Divine. I thought, however, of the heartache that They feel when their children reject them. Perhaps my rejection by these wonderful people, who didn't see the need for Deity, was a portion of how our Heavenly Parents felt when They experienced rejection.

I don't believe that we all need to be Mormon to experience happiness. That was not the point of the story above. The point is, however, that I have come to realize what rejection is. There are parts of me that I fear will be rejected by others if they knew the "real" me. I fear that people's love is conditional or that their love will be taken away if I should do something that does not please them. 

And now we return to the scripture mentioned above. If people does not love their siblings, they cannot say that they love God. I struggle to love perfectly. I find myself becoming frustrated with people and with their shortcomings, but I always try to return to that foundation of love. That foundation of love teaches me that the people around me are my siblings. Children of our Heavenly Parents. I do not want others to experience the pain that comes from rejection or isolation. When we truly love God, we will love our siblings. And that is love. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Revelation and Dew

A few semesters ago, I took a class from Dr. Rachel Cope in the religion department. Professor Cope encourages her students to think about the gospel in new ways.One of these new ways was her constant  focus on the theme of "sanctification" as the goal of the entire gospel. But what is sanctification? Sanctification is the process of becoming more holy.  Holiness is a matter that is frequently discussed in hymns, scriptures, literary texts, and a multitude of other sources, but Professor Cope's particular approach to it deeply impressed me.

One day in American Christianity we were discussing revelation as described my contemporaries of Joseph Smith. These contemporaries often described revelation as knowledge that they received as the "dews from heaven." In the past few weeks, as I have been pondering the nature of revelation and the revelatory experiences in my life, I would similarly describe it as "dew from heaven." A few days ago I was discussing my spiritual journey with a friend, and I mentioned how God seems to give me spiritual impressions. As I was describing my spiritual impressions, I surprised myself by the number of revelatory experiences that I had experienced in the past (almost) seven years. It seems like yesterday I was in high school debating the weighty truth claims that Mormonism claims to be the gospel truth. I went to BYU, received my endowment, and served an honorable mission in Thailand. Now I find myself trying to navigate the waters of Mormonism. I am not a traditional Mormon and, to some, I may not be the best Mormon. But I have realized one important lesson throughout my years of experience: God sends revelation for me like the dew from heaven.

When we find dew on the grass in the morning, we rarely think about how it appeared. It has simply appeared overnight, making the grass and flowers slightly damp. Likewise, revelation has appeared to me in the most obscure ways. I have felt that God is guiding my path to make difficult decisions. I do believe that God does communicate with me, but God's methods, however, remain somewhat of a mystery to me. I have never heard a voice, but I have had strong feelings and impressions that have guided my decision process. Sometimes these promptings are hard to follow, but as I have followed what I believe to be right, I have seen how God has helped me to be successful and happy.

Recently, I had a prompting that I needed to follow, but I was not happy about it. After almost eight months of questioning and wondering, I felt that I should do something that I had feared. It was extremely painful for me to see how God was asking me to do something that I did not understand. I still feel some pain from this decision, but I know that I made the right decision for this point in my life. It is only by making the hard decisions that I can learn how to see the right decisions. Also, time is a great teacher. Again, this revelatory experience was not a single event, but rather was a process. Like the dew mentioned earlier, my thoughts and impressions gathered to this point. I must not regret my decision to follow the impressions that came upon me. I believe that God has led me to a new place where I can learn and grow in new ways.

To new beginnings!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A B.A. in English

As graduation approaches, I have been reflecting on my years at BYU. What experiences have shaped me and changed my perceptions? How does my BYU experience compare to the experiences of others? I have had a lot of positive experiences at BYU. I have also had many negative experiences. Overall, however, I would say that BYU has been the ideal place for me. I'll be graduating with  honors with a B.A. in English language and linguistics with minors in TESOL and Spanish. I've had a great educational experience here. I know people complain about BYU. Academically, however, I have received a top-notch education.

In ten years, what will I remember about BYU? I'll remember Civilization with Dr. Griggs, dine and discuss with Catherine, lunch and dinners with Rachel, the moldy milk that was left in the fridge over Christmas break my sophomore year, meeting one of my best friends that same year (Jason), inane EQ lessons, the times my car got booted, teaching at the ELC twice, great professors who really cared about me, all of my classes with Dr. Gardner, intense Spanish projects, 8 a.m. classes that I never wanted to go to, history of the English language with Dr. Hallen, the study abroad, meeting Matthew (another bestie!), moving in the middle of the semester from one apartment to another, the hurtful comments in Sunday School, living in the FLSR, teaching Sunday School in Spanish, cooking my first meal at the FLSR (everything went wrong), late nights with friends, meeting Kostya, living with Christian, enduring some difficult circumstances, taking religion classes that ranged from inane (BOM 2nd semester freshman year) to excellent (Dr. Cope), nights at El Azteca, lunches at the Slab, the best phở in town, Thai food with friends, birthdays, nights of frustration and tears, spiritual experiences, realizing the intensity of my faith, my mission call to Thailand, Thai classes, papers, oral presentations, take-home midterms and finals, my thesis, working with Dr. Anderson, getting my job at the ELC, my brief stint at the MTC, helping with tutoring at the ELC, engaging with others in discussions about Mormon feminism and gender roles in the Church, unfortunate statements by members about LGBT members/ non-members, seeing non-native speakers' faces light up with understanding when they get the grammar principle I am teaching them, making cookies for my Foundations Prep students, and so many more memories.

I don't know why I feel nostalgic. I have another two years here. I am excited to be able to continue my education here. It might be associated with the occasional negative memory, but I am glad to think that I can continue to make positive memories here.  BYU has made me who I am today. I hope to be able to continue to enjoy my experiences here and roll with the crazy!