Friday, October 18, 2013

Small Choices

In the Church, we often talk about "small and simple thing" can cause miraculous things to happen in our lives. I have thought a lot about the past two years in my life. Since coming back from Thailand, life is quite a bit different than I expected. This statement is not intended to be a negative reflection; it is a real reflection of how life works out. There have been some positive outcomes and some negative outcomes. In the end, however, a series of positive choices have led me to a specific point in my life where I can look back now and see how little choices in my life have influenced positive outcomes in a tremendous way. Let's talk about the pattern that I've seen.

1. Winter Semester 2012, I began work at the English Language Center at the UPC building on BYU campus. I had never heard of the ELC before. I was pretty fresh back from my mission when I was interviewed for the job. I thought it would be a good enviornment I remember that I was sure that I was going to minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, but my major was undecided. I felt drawn to American Studies, but for some reason it didn't feel right. During my time at the ELC, I met many faculty members that are involved in the TESOL program here at BYU, including Dr. Evans and Dr. Anderson.

2. After taking ELANG 223 and spending some time at the ELC, I decided that I wanted to major in English Language and Linguistics. It felt like the right decision. A lot of people asked me why I didn't do linguistics. I think I'll get to that in the course of this post, but (in part) I feel that my preparation in English linguistics specifically has made me a more effective English teacher (in my personal opinion) than a linguistics major would have. The in-depth study of English linguistics provides a unique perspective for potential English teachers. Despite one of my roommates claiming that my major wasn't academically rigorous enough, I feel like I have been prepared to teach English to non-native speakers.

3. The ELC has opened many opportunities that I hadn't anticipated. The TESOL minor requires an internship of 150 hours. I decided to do this internship at the ELC. Last winter semester, they allowed me to use some of my secretarial duties for the ELC internship. I started by teaching the Foundations Prep Vocabulary class two days a week and also doing various other projects. I also met Dr. Anderson and started to work with him on an Honors thesis about Self-Regulated Vocabulary learning. I intend to graduate with Honors in April! I have also been interning this last semester, teaching vocabulary for the foundations prep class again! At the ELC, I have had countless tutoring opportunities and teaching opportunities. Also, due to my interaction with Dr. Anderson, I was invited to take a graduate-level TESOL class this semester. This class is taught by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Gardner. This decisions are helping me prepare for grad school. As of right now, I am hesitant to make certain statements, but I feel directed to stay at BYU, even though it can be quite trying at times. 

4. My brother who graduated from BYU regretted not being able to go abroad while he was at BYU. Most of the other siblings in my family did not have a chance to do so. Even though I had served in Thailand, I felt like I should go abroad. In my ELANG 223 class, I had heard about the English Language in the UK study abroad program. It piqued my interest then, but the timing didn't feel right. I decided to wait and bide my time. I decided to go this past summer. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Dr. Evans was one of the faculty adviser who would be leading the study abroad! I had talked to another professor about doing this study abroad, and she suggested that I plan my courses so I could take two required courses while abroad. She also suggested that I ask about being the teacher assistant. When I was interviewed by Dr. Evans and Dr. Elzinga, I asked about being the teaching assistant. Dr. Elzinga indicated that he had not planned on having a teaching assistant for the study abroad. I was disappointed, but determined to still go abroad. One day, while working at the ELC, however, Dr. Evans called me into his office. He told me that they had decided to pick me as the teaching assistant. They needed some help with the planning and the execution of the study abroad. This was a paid position. It didn't pay for the entire study abroad, but it did help with some costs and gave me extremely valuable experience. I did things that I never thought I would have to do. I became a navigator, tour guide, and teacher. I learned how to deal with stressful situations and how to be more flexible.
The Matthew and I!

5. On the study abroad, I had some pretty amazing experiences. I think one of the most impressive experiences, however, was the cultivation of a friendship with the only other guy on the study abroad with me. Matthew and I knew of each other before the study abroad. We were in the same major. We had a class together the winter before the study abroad (phonetics), and we had the prep class together as well. We didn't really talk though. When we were in the UK, though, things began to change. We started to talk. I really opened up to Matthew about some of the issues in my life. Matthew is a compassionate, understanding, insightful man. We would spend hours talking at night in London when we lived in our own private flat. We talked about everything under the sun. It is very rare for me to find someone that I connect with so well. The girls in the group would make fun of our bromance! They were all just jealous of us! We spent all of our time together and we had some really memorable experiences together. I remember the night before we left Scotland, we realized how much we were going to miss each other. When I went to Spain, we actually ended up talking almost daily through Facebook messages. It reminded me how close we had become.

We came back from the study abroad, and we grew even closer. He helped me get out of a bad housing situation, and I ended up moving into his ward. This was a wise choice on my part. The new place I am living in is wonderful in so many ways (despite a few challenges) and it's been so amazing to have one of my very best friend steps away. We are already talking about how we want to be roommates together in Provo this next year. Matthew has restored my faith in humanity in many ways. He is an amazing listener. He doesn't judge me for who I am. Matthew has a capacity to see people the way God sees them. I really admire that about him. We are extremely open with one another. It's been great to be able to have a friend like him. It feels like the answer to years of prayer! I am grateful for him and his wonderful influence!

And thus we see, little choices lead to bigger outcomes. Pretty incredible to think about!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mental Illness and the Church

About a year ago, I read about George Albert Smith's battle with mental illness.  I mentioned this in an earlier post.  Bedridden for nearly three years, George Albert Smith struggled with bouts of depression coupled with serious physical maladies. The Church made no mention of this in its curriculum this last year in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. In fact, the Church doesn't have much dialogue when it comes to mental illness.

This past Saturday, however, things started to change. Elder Holland got up to give his talk this conference. He usually tackles difficult issues. What came next, however, was something that I hadn't expected:

"Let me leave the extraordinary illnesses I have mentioned to concentrate on MDD—“major depressive disorder”—or, more commonly, 'depression.' When I speak of this, I am not speaking of bad hair days, tax deadlines, or other discouraging moments we all have. Everyone is going to be anxious or downhearted on occasion. The Book of Mormon says Ammon and his brethren were depressed at a very difficult time, and so can the rest of us be. But today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!"

Elder Holland continued to discuss the problem of mental illness. I have heard so many times within the Church that "wickedness never was happiness." Many members, however, despite years of trying to "square their shoulders," cannot and will not overcome MDD. They aren't wicked. They are doing their home and visiting teaching, reading their scriptures, attending the temple, serving in their callings, and praying with all their might. But no matter what they try to do, the depression won't go away. Often in Church culture members judge others for their depression. Maybe if these members prayed harder or tried to attend the temple more often, then their depression would go away. But it doesn't. It never will by simply doing the religious activities that bring peace to other people's bad hair days. 

I have struggled with these issues for years. These issues don't go away with more prayer. They don't go away with more fasting. Going to the temple more often will also not relieve the pains of depression. . I find comfort in the teachings of the Book of Mormon.
"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." 

 Like most issues in our mortal sojourn, however, I may struggle with this for the remainder of my mortal life despite having the power of the atonement available.  But Elder Holland's talk gives me hope that we can have a more positive dialogue about mental illness in the Church. There shouldn't be any shame. We have to face these issues together. I want others to know that it's okay to admit that you struggle. It's okay to admit that life is difficult.

As Mormons, we have a community of believers. The point of having a community is to have that support and power that only community can bring. Let us reach out to help others. Let us not be afraid to reveal our weaknesses and struggles in this life. Only when we are open and honest can the healing begin. I have seen that in my life. While I still struggle on some days more than others, I know that there are people who do understand and will not judge. And most of all, we have a Savior who never judges, one who understands our situation perfectly.

And that's the best news of all.