Friday, April 21, 2017

What is a Journal?

In November 2016, I wrote an entry in my journal which I titled "What is a journal?" I don't usually title my journal entries, but the entry seemed "meta" (a journal entry about journaling), so I started with a title.

I have actively written in a journal for a few decades now and I have often thought about why I write. Why am I keeping this journal? Below is my list of many types of journaling. I don't limit my journal to just one use; for example, it can serve as a dream journal and a history. It can be a health diary and a workbook. Don't just journal for journaling's sake—there are many benefits to journaling and the ideas below can help you make your journal something that helps you or others.

What is a journal? 
  1. A history, collection of memories (daily, deliberate writing of a memoir while life is happening)
  2. An archive/scrapbook (for tickets, programs, etc.)
  3. A book of wisdom with lessons to remember and learn from
  4. Something written for the next generation
  5. Tool to use for quotidian life: for grocery lists, quotes, quick notes, etc.
  6. Workbook to work through thoughts, issues, frameworks to improve one’s life
  7. Notebook to write thoughts/learnings from events (in church, work, school, life, talks)
  8. Sketchbook
  9. Ideation tool: new ventures, business ideas, ideas for projects, creative endeavors
  10. Calendar/date book
  11. Doodle book: drawing, for boredom, something to do while watching TV, random thoughts
  12. Book of lists: tallying, counting, recording (finances/budgets/spending, attendance, gifts that need thank you, etc.)
  13. Therapeutic: stream of consciousness: introspective writing out of feelings 
  14. Health diary: track food/diet, exercise, etc.
  15. Shared journal: family journal, guest book for visitors to write messages, etc.
  16. Harriet the Spy journal: observations of others’ lives (friends, family members) and learning from their successes/failures
  17. Storytelling: fiction based on experiences, good bedtime stories to tell children
  18. Visionary: goals, hopes, dreams
  19. Gratitude/miracle journal: each day, three things I am thankful for or miracles that happened today
  20. Dream journal
  21. Letters to future self: reminders to review (e.g., when I'm a parent, I will...)
  22. Planning book: table setup or room setup diagrams, a list of who to invite to the wedding, wireframe of website, etc.
  23. Family history: collection of family memories, stories told by grandma, details you want preserved, sketch of four-generation family tree, etc. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

God Reaches Out to Adam, to Us

A section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling that Michelangelo painted portrays God and Adam. We have a large canvas print of this above our desk. The print we have is a detail of just their hands (see both images here).

You will notice that God is reaching out, his finger extended as far as it will go, with his gaze intent on making a connection with Adam. Adam sits, arm resting on his knee, with this hand relaxed. The bodies of Adam and God are aligned parallel to each other: Adam's body angled away from God, and God's body angled toward Adam. Even the angels thrust their weight to push God closer to his son. The brushstrokes Michelangelo has chosen for God's hair, beard, clothing, and blue textile show the speed at which God has arrived at even the most lackluster effort from one of his children.

If Adam would reach out with this finger, just a little more, literally just lift his finger a tiny bit, he would touch God. As God's gaze is directed straight at Adam, Adam's glance may be interpreted as just off the mark; he does not know how close he is. It is as if a veil hides the reality of God's presence from Adam, and Adam is unaware of how close he is to his Father in Heaven.

I don't believe Adam had this attitude; I believe Michelangelo uses a portrayal of Adam to depict us as humanity in our attitude toward a loving God. If we would exert just a little faithful effort! In our minds do we imagine that God is distant? Are our prayers like a limp hand, bending in slight effort to make a connection with our Father in Heaven?

"But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Romans 10:21).

Our loving father, God, reaches out in earnest, but we must choose to pierce the veil with our faithful prayers and efforts.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Growing LDS Church in New England

Lowell Memorial Auditorium (exterior)

Today I attended a multi-stake (multi-congregation) conference hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church). We met at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, Massachusetts. In attendance were members of the church from the Cambridge, Nashua, and Exeter Stakes (which each represent several congregations). The entire Cambridge Stake attended, but I think that only members from the wards of the other two stakes that would be affected by the changes were in attendance at the meeting.

I sat on the balcony to the side, so I could see over to the other side's balcony and floor seating. I counted all the individuals (adults and children) on the side opposite to where I was sitting, and it amounted to 661 people. This means that over 1,300 people attended the meeting. Nathan Kennedy, a newly called stake presidency member (see below) remarked that the meeting feels like General Conference because of the number of people present.

I have a feeling that many more attended because there were "cry rooms" for parents to take upset children as well as several others walking the halls with children who needed to get their wiggles out mid-meeting. (Side note: I love that our church loves to have children in the meetings with us. I don't mind the noise as it represents families united in faith attending their church meetings.)

Creation and Reorganization

The Cambridge Stake has grown so much over the past few years that it comprised 16 wards, the maximum amount allowed within a stake. Therefore, the First Presidency of the Church (who lead at a global level) requested that Elder Perkins and Elder Bennett create a new stake from wards in the Cambridge Stake as well as from wards in the Exeter and Nashua Stakes.

Elder Anthony D. Perkins (Quorum of the Seventy) and Elder Grant C. Bennett (Area Seventy) both presided at the meeting to adjust the boundaries of the Cambridge, Nashua, and Exeter Stakes and create a fourth, the North Shore Stake.

The Mormon population is growing rapidly in the New England area, necessitating the creation of a new stake. The three existing stakes had grown substantially, so they each offered wards to the new stake.

The North Shore Stake now comprises the following wards:
  • From the Cambridge Stake: Lynnfield Ward, Lynn Branch, Revere 1st and 2nd Wards
  • From the Exeter Stake: Methuen Ward, Lawrence Ward
  • From the Nashua Stake: Billerica Ward
Elder Grant Bennett mentioned in his talk later in the meeting that Methuen is numerically the strongest ward in the Exeter Stake and the stake presidency of that stake offered it to the new North Shore Stake to help its growth. I can imagine that as a difficult decision to make, but it gives to the Exeter Stake (as to all members of the Church worldwide) the opportunity to preach the gospel and bring more believers into the fold of Christ.

The Cambridge Stake's former leadership was: President Gordon K. Low with counselors David Lazenby and Brad MacDonald. Cambridge Stake's new leadership is: President Matthew Q. Christensen with counselors Collin Beecroft and James Johnston.

The leadership in the Exeter and Nashua Stakes did not change.

The leadership of the new North Shore Stake is: President Michael J. Kruckenberg, Nathan Kennedy, and Scott Malstrom.

Cambridge Stake

Remarks by President Low

Cambridge Stake Executive Secretary Cameron Parker provided President Low with some statistics of the last 9 years over which President Low served as stake president. 500 births, 750 confirmations, 2,500-3,000 temple recommend interviews, 150 ordinations to elder, 100 ordinations to high priest, 200 temple marriages, and 150 missionaries that have gone out to teach the world from the stake (which is about the size of an entire mission).

When President Low was twelve years old, his ward was split and his best friend was assigned to the other ward. "I thought it was the end of the world," he said. As he empathized with the members about the difficulties of re-arranging boundaries, he also told of the blessings.

His advice to the stake is to read the Book of Mormon every day. Great advice!

Remarks by President Christensen 

The new Cambridge Stake president Matthew Christensen shared his beliefs with the congregation. He said, "as someone who understands big shoes, I have big shoes to fill." He also shared that living righteously is difficult, but it is worth it.

North Shore Stake

Each member of the new stake presidency spoke. One talk that stood out to me was that of Nathan Kennedy, who admitted that he had met the new stake president, President Kruckenberg, only three days prior to today's meeting. While it may seem a small detail, I received the inspiring thought that leaders are called by revelation, not by networking or ties of friendship, or being in the "in crowd." When a stake president calls a counselor he has never met, it's a sign that a revelatory process has been going on. Don't misunderstand me, though: it is also possible to receive revelatory answers to call our dearest friends. I just thought that this particular instance was interesting.

Brother Kennedy also gave some remarks in spanish, saying to the members of the newly formed North Shore Stake, "Es un dia muy importante. Ustedes tienen una responsabilidad y lo saben. Es muy importante." He also noted that half of the new stake is spanish-speaking, saying "Casi la mitad de la estaca habla español."

Sister Kruckenberg, President Kruckenberg's wife, also gave some remarks. She spoke about miracles and the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She told the story of miracle of the fishes and loaves, which appears in all four gospels. She told of how we often feel at the end of a day that "the day is beginning to wear away," as it was that day for the ancient saints. The twelve disciples went to Jesus asking him to send the multitude away to find lodging and get food. However, instead, he performed the miracle. "What has the Lord asked you to do that seems impossible or insurmountable?" Sister Kruckenberg asked. "Give the loaves and fishes you have and his power will multiply it."

Remarks by President Kruckenberg

Some of what the new stake president said told me that goodbyes also mean hellos, and uncertainty also means adventure. He reminded the members that are affected by the boundary changes that "stake boundaries don't block emails and text messages." He also read Acts 1:10-11 with his summation, "I deepened my belief that Jesus Christ will come again. He will come again."

Elders Bennett and Perkins

Elder Grant Bennett explained that "the tent of Zion has been expanded today," quoting the scripture, "lengthen thy cords and strengthen thy stakes."

Elder Anthony Perkins confirmed that the same spirit of revelation that came upon him and Elder Bennett to call the stake presidents came upon those stake presidents to call their counselors. He shared more truths with the congregation: "We are beings of great light."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Understanding and Overcoming Pride: Context and Perception

The author Ryan Holiday tells the following story about Benjamin Franklin in his book Ego is the Enemy

"At 18, a rather triumphant Benjamin Franklin returned to visit Boston, the city he’d run away from. Full of pride, he had a new suit, a watch and a pocketful of coins that he showed to everyone he ran into. All posturing by a boy who was not much more than an employee in a print shop in Philadelphia.

"In a meeting with Cotton Mather, one of the town’s most respected figures, Franklin quickly illustrated just how ridiculously inflated his young ego had become. As they walked down a hallway, Mather suddenly admonished him, “Stoop! Stoop!” Too caught up in his performance, Franklin walked right into a low ceiling beam.

"Mather’s response was perfect: 'Let this be a caution to you not always to hold your head so high,” he said wryly. “Stoop, young man, stoop—as you go through this world—and you’ll miss many hard thumps.'"

Holiday continues, "The problem with pride is that it blunts the instrument we need to succeed—our mind. Our ability to learn, to adapt, to be flexible, to build relationships, all of this is dulled by pride.” 

What is pride?

Sister Sandra Rogers has said, "Pride creates a hardened crust that doesn’t allow the influence of the Holy Ghost to penetrate our hearts or minds.” 

Emily Brontë writes, “Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.” 

And to quote President Ezra Taft Benson from his timeless talk Beware of Pride, “Pride is essentially competitive in nature." 

"Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, […] All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing. The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means 'hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.'” 

Benson also said, “The proud wish God would agree with them. They are not interested in changing their opinions to agree with God's.” 

Naaman’s pride

Naaman was a Syrian captain who was successful at war (Old Testament; 2 Kings 5). He worked for the king of Syria. His issue at the time was that he was a leper. His boss, the king of Syria, heard that a prophet in Samaria could heal Naaman, so the king of Syria said, you go, and I’ll send a letter with you. So Naaman shows up at the king of Israel’s door with a letter of recommendation from the king of Syria. Elisha, the prophet in Israel at the time, hears about it and tells the king of Israel, send him my way. So Naaman goes to Elisha’s house and knocks on the door and Elisha sends a messenger out to tell Naaman to go wash in the river Jordan seven times. Naaman is angry. Don’t I deserve the prophet to come out and do it himself to “strike his hand over the place and recover the leper?” Then Naaman thought, the rivers in Syria are better than any river in Israel. Couldn’t I have washed in them? 

Naaman is used to being a captain who enters another country only because he’s about to conquer it. However, this is a new context for Naaman where he’s coming as a patient, not as a captain. Also, remember that the king of Syria, his boss, went out of his way to ask a favor of the king of Israel. 

This happens in contemporary life all the time: "Naaman" the successful businesswoman or PhD or mother or father feels like a conqueror in his or her domain; "I’ve got this." But then something breaks, something you can’t fix on your own, some sort of health problem, and you sit in a waiting room with everyone else no matter how important you think you are. When the doctor can’t be scheduled, you accept her messenger in the form of a physician’s assistant or nurse. 

Overcoming pride: honesty

The first step in the Church’s addiction recovery program (which is based on Alcoholic Anonymous’ 12 steps) is honesty. The key principle of this step is to “admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.” Or, as Moses put it, “I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10). 

The truth is, you can’t do anything without Jesus Christ. You’ve fallen into the hole of sin, and if you think you can pull yourself out with your own strength, you’re lying to yourself. 

So, how can you resist being proud without encouraging insecurity or discouragement? When Moses supposes man is nothing, does he mean he’s worthless? 

Fooled by context

It turns out that pride is what can leave us feeling worthless. When we pride ourselves on our achievements or who we are in a certain context, we are susceptible to a gaping hole of insecurity and discouragement when anything goes wrong. Pride is an illusion that fools us with context.

When I’m in Utah with my parents or grandparents and their friends, they’re always saying such nice things to me, like "you’re so smart," "I can’t believe you’re doing this and now that,” and “play the piano for us.” It makes me feel great! 

Then, when I go to a college reunion, I bump into a ton of former classmates and when I ask what they’re up to, they respond with something like “well, I was doing some research on the Galapagos islands for my PhD, then I sold my business for a few billion dollars, which took longer than I expected because my children are all prodigies and so I’m spending more time at home teaching them Japanese. Plus, we’ve been volunteering in soup kitchens, feeding thousands of people.”  

When I was a missionary in some really remote parts of South America, people were blown away by the fact that I attended college. And they were amazed that I had “blonde” hair (if you have medium brown hair in the area where I served, you’ve got lighter hair than anyone else). 

So does that mean when I’m at a college reunion I should perceive myself as a failure, and when I’m in Utah I should sign autographs for all the neighbors? I’m not a different person in one network of people than another, but I could feel totally differently about myself. Should I? Should your self-esteem be determined by the context? Maybe you’re sitting here feeling pretty smart. Maybe you’re sitting here feeling pretty dumb. Maybe you feel like a bad parent or a darn good one. 

Pride makes sure that your context makes you feel the way you feel. Pride is comparative. 

My dad is a lawyer and whenever he gets cocky, I remind him that if there’s some natural disaster or we’re stranded on an island and have to choose who survives, lawyers are going to be the first to go. Haha. It’s all about context. 

From world-famous to ignored

Here’s another story. In 2007, the world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell could easily fill Boston’s Symphony Hall and people would pay $100 for a seat to hear him play. Three days after a performance, he put on some casual clothes and stood in a subway station and played the songs people had payed a lot to hear him play three days before. No one stopped to listen, people rushing past on their commute. He said of the experience, “It was a strange feeling, that people were actually ah… ignoring me.” Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post says, “The awkward times, it’s what happens right after each piece ends: nothing. The music stops. The same people who hadn’t noticed him playing don’t notice that he has finished. No applause, no acknowledgement.” 

All of a sudden a simple change of context reminds you that you’re an equal in the world. Not the same as everyone, but an equal. 

The prideful will think: that means everyone else is as important as me.
The discouraged will think I’m finally as important as everyone else. 
The humble will think: isn’t it great that we’re all equals? 

Love yourself

You have to love yourself for who you ARE, not what you have achieved. Pride isn’t the opposite of discouragement and hopelessness and a feeling that you’re a failure. Pride is the cause of all that. It’s like a drug that lifts you up really high, then drops you. If you have success, you think about all the hard work you put in, even over several years. What you forget is all the luck, the help from God, the people who supported you, the country you live in that made it possible, the value of the currency you were using at the time, the lack of natural disasters or health problems that could have stood in your way, the lack of better competition, whatever it was. If you fool yourself into thinking that you are your achievements, failure will bring you down really hard.

But what if you were just YOU? Achievement and failure just part of what you do, and are expected to do? And you see everyone else with their achievements and failures and think, hey friends we’re living life together, full of good and bad stuff, this is life! And we all have worth, no matter which way the waves turn. 

The Relief Society declaration states, “We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction.”

If you have meaning, achievements and failures both provide more meaning. If you have purpose, you know you are an important contributor to your context without comparative value. And if you have direction, you know that the road may wind this way and that, but you know where you’ll end up because you’re following all the right road signs. 

Jesus Christ was the son of a carpenter. At twelve he sat among doctors and discussed the doctrine of the kingdom. And in his thirties, he hung on a cross to be mocked by a sinful people. His worth, his purpose remained the same throughout it all. His life has meaning because he knew all the glory went to God, and the grace needed would be provided.