Monday, July 26, 2010

Reflections and Blessings

At institute last week, we talked about blogging and how being open can help others. I usually don't get too personal on this blog (or in general), but I'm going to give it a little test.

My mission was really hard. I'm not talking about South Africa mission in general. I'm talking about my particular circumstances. Sometimes when I hear others say it was the best two years of their life, I get really jealous. As far as I am concerned, it was the hardest, most isolating, and damaging year and a half of mine. I was severely abused. After a particular incident, I went about three weeks without speaking more than probably five sentences (unless I was teaching) because every other time I opened my mouth I would immediately start to cry (and I was never a crier before - and am not now, either). Because of the things that happened to me while there, I was in terrible shape physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. I retreated into this invisible, practically impenetrable shell and there I stayed. There were times when I thought I would never be able to be the same carefree, fun-loving person again. But I stuck it out until the end, though sometimes I wonder if I should have.

I felt completely stripped of self-worth. I wouldn't hug anyone apart from my immediate family for months after I first came home (thanks for breaking my bubble, Brittany) and was overly leery and skeptical of people in general. I used to believe that people were generally good and if they did anything bad it was just a simple mistake. After mission and to this day, people have to prove they are good over a long period of time before I trust them.

I was bitter about it for several years, but I've had some recent breakthroughs.

A. God won't control the agency of others. People are free to treat others how they choose. When someone is taken advantage of or abused, it is not that God is trying to punish them. It's not God's fault, and it is also not the fault of the abused. God can and does use others to bless our lives, but He never uses others to hurt us. Samuel the Lamanite was obediently doing God's work, yet God didn't interfere with the Nephites' agency when they tried to kill him with stones and arrows. That was the Nephite's choice.

B. Death is part of life. And, as I was teaching the people but not always applying the concept, it is not the end. Sometimes it is hard to feel that, and easy to shout "unfair!" But it is the truth.

C. Forgiveness heals. Without forgiveness, the load will only get heavier the further we carry it with us. Forgiveness is the only way to drop it and leave it behind as we continue on our path. As I have forgiven, I've felt peace within myself.

D. I am a lot stronger now than I would otherwise be.

I feel that, miraculously, I have been made whole over the almost five years since I've been back in the states. I don't struggle with any type of clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental condition. I'm physically in very good shape and very healthy. I suppose that sometimes we have to go through hell before we can be refined. Maybe there was no other way for me to get to where I am today.

There have been a few other experiences that I have had recently that have helped me as well.

When serving in South Africa, my companion and I started teaching a beautiful Afrikaner family. They were all baptized. Natalie, who was 15 at the time, is now engaged and getting married in the temple.

Just last week, I was thinking about a particular woman that I love named Jenny Motsomi that Sister Carvalho and I started teaching in Botswana toward the end of my mission. Sister Carvolho was transferred and I got a new companion, and then I was transferred to a new area in Botswana. The companion I was leaving said she would no longer teach anyone I started teaching, especially Jenny. I made a detailed page for Jenny in the area book, hoping someone down the road would find her. Just last week, I sent out some messages to a bunch of missionaries who served around the same time period as me, asking if anyone knew how to get a hold of her.

My current roommate also served in my same mission, a year and a half after me (in Botswana because all sisters had been permanently evacuated from South Africa by then). I was driving in the car with her just a few days after sending out the messages, when she suddenly and randomly turned to me and asked, "Did you teach a woman named Jenny in Botswana?"

I was completely floored, and wondered why I hadn't thought to ask her. I was disappointed when I found out it wasn't Jenny Motsomi, but a Jenny with a different last name, that she'd taught and baptized. Then I looked through her photo album. Same Jenny! Someone had found the record I'd left in the area book and started teaching her again. She'd gotten married to the man she had been living with and had gotten baptized! My roommate had seen both her marriage and her baptism. She told me about it and showed me pictures.

It is so comforting for me to see, even years down the road, how the big picture comes together. The sadness and after-effects of those traumatic years are nearly gone for me. Just hearing the stories about Natalie and Jenny this week have made me realize that it was worth it, and that the joy that is being and will continue to be created from that year and a half will overshadow the hard times in the long run.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Goal Update

I have been trying to implement what I discovered and blogged about in my Divine Discontent post. It has not been easy. In fact, I have experienced profound loneliness this past week and a half. I've still interacted with many others each evening, but I cut it down a lot. Not being social is really hard for me.

Week number one: Apart from institute and FHE, the only big group activity I went to was a tri-ward outdoor movie night in the park. However, I took precautions before heading to movie night and invited some friends from a ward I was in a few years back. The purpose of this was to avoid professional mingling with my current ward, and to rekindle deeper friendships from the past.

I also opted out of two parties in order to spend more one-on-one time with people. I hung out with a girl from the ward while we explored Photoshop, went four-wheeling with a good guy friend, went to Cocoa Bean with three girls from the ward I have never had more than a 'hey how you doing' conversation with before, and reserved all of Saturday afternoon and night for my mother. Turns out it was a good thing because I ended up on pain killers and laying on ice due to whiplash all Saturday.

The best was Friday night. I opted out of the "Black and White Bash" to go to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing. Not only was the choir amazing (I gave four standing ovations-which I'm usually pretty stingy with), but I was able to spend time with my old roommate Brittany and my good friend Josh. We delved into more meaningful and serious conversations on the drive to Salt Lake. It was good.

Week Number Two:
Sunday I caved. I held choir practice in the morning, then went to church, then I went to ward prayer. That was good. But it didn't stop there. After ward prayer, I went to a birthday party with lots and lots of people, then the game night. I'm ashamed. I wasn't the last one to leave game night this time, though.

Last night I spent some time with three people in the ward I have never done anything with outside of the ward before.

Tonight I refused an invitation to go country dancing in a big group (which I am usually the instigator of). I went to dinner with my current roommates and then watched Hairspray with them. The three of us talked for at least an hour after it was finished. Then I stayed up with one of them talking until right now (3:30am).

The fact that I still participated in all these activities may not sound like a roaring accomplishment when considering that my goal is to be less social. I'm obviously not giving up social activities entirely. I still plan plenty of events because I feel like I have a knack for it, and it helps everybody get to know everybody else and have a good time, especially people who may have a harder time getting to know new people.

But for me right now, I think I need to learn to be more comfortable with one-on-ones, deeper friendships, and letting my real self out. I am also trying to force myself to be happy with periods of being alone. It's hard. But I think it will be good.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Secret to Happiness

I say this in jest, but there is an element of truth to it. I am going to write a book called The REAL Secret. It will sell millions of copies and this is what it will say inside:

Empty Inbox = Happy Life

Simple and easy to comprehend. Harder to implement. Actually, I have not had an empty inbox in a very long time, as I have work emails from three different companies forwarding to my personal email. But today I am down to 32 messages (and all of them are read, wohoo!!!). I like it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Adventure Race for Africa

On the right is my partner and old roommie, Veronica.

On Saturday, some friends and I competed in the Adventure Race for Africa. The event was a 1-mile canoe, 12-mile bike, and 3-mile run along with various other challenges in between (making school kits for kids in Africa, obstacle course through a playground, hauling buckets of water while reading statistics on water-related diseases in developing countries, etc). This is done in teams of 2-3 people and everyone on the team must do all three legs. It was a fundraiser for Inside Out Learning, an awesome nonprofit that I will be traveling to Kenya with in October.

I must admit I have never done worse in a race in my entire life, and I have done a lot of races. But, I have also never had as much fun doing a race in my entire life! It was my first time doing a team race, so my old roommate and I competed together.

We began on the bike leg (each team has a choice of where they want to start and the legs can be done in any order). My partner kept looking around and saying things like, "Ah... a beautiful day for a bike ride" and "I feel like we're on a leisurely bike through the park" to which I would turn my head and shout back, "yes, it is nice, but we are COMPETING in a RACE here!!!" In all fairness, she warned me that races don't motivate her before we signed up together.

There was some misunderstanding and the volunteers on the bike leg didn't know the point at which we were supposed to turn around and go back to start the canoe or run, so we kept biking... and biking... and biking. All the teams who did the bike leg first ended up getting an extra 10-20 minutes on their time.

The biking wasn't even the worst of it. The canoe leg sealed our doom and any hopes of placing were scattered to the winds. We had a bit of a fiasco getting into the canoe, and we had different ideas about which way we were supposed to head down the river (the volunteers weren't particularly clear on this point either). My partner was right.

We finally got situated and started heading down the river the right way, but steering was a major issue and my partner was in the back. She'd only canoed twice in her life. So we'd thump against one river bank, extract ourselves from the trees, and head straight for the opposite bank where we would crash into the trees again. We probably went three miles in the canoe instead of one because of how much we were zigzagging.

We nearly capsized on several occasions because whenever we were getting close to branches she'd lie down in the canoe in a funny sideways position and the canoe would tip and start rocking like crazy! We traded places so that I was steering - I didn't do any better and she felt justified. When I accidentally steered us straight into a tree and we nearly capsized, she accidentally dropped her oar into the river. I thought, "we don't have time for this!" I offered to jump in and swim back to it, but my partner said it wasn't necessary and we should just turn around and get it. It took us a good five minutes to maneuver around, pick it up, turn again, and get back on course. This is the point where I determined we were no longer competition to anybody. The result was the two of us singing "Just Around the Riverbend" from Pocahontas and Toto's "Africa" at the top of our lungs and having the time of our lives while we paddled. Our abs hurt by the end of this leg because we were laughing SO hard. I would never give up that experience for all the first-place wins in the world. Thanks for making it awesome, Ved. :-)

Nothing to report on the run. We ran the whole time at a swift pace but were already so far behind that we didn't see anybody else on the trail. We had a nice chat with the volunteers at the Gatorade station and made some friends, then ran back the last mile and a half and sprinted through the finish with our heads held high.

If I'm still in Utah, I'm definitely going to do it next year. It was hilarious and awesome once I let go of the element of competition. Maybe I should do that in my half marathons and marathons instead of being all intense. Hmmm...

Winter 2009, Late in Coming

I just realized I never posted any winter fun on this blog, so I copied what I posted on my family blog.

Last winter was fun with downhill skiing, XC Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, climbing to the top of Y-Mountain, sledding etc. with really great friends.

Here are some pictures.

Stewart Falls.

It was a good workout because the snow was fresh, and several feet high.

Pretty, huh?

The skiing dudes.

I took that somewhere between the Y and the top.

Chilling at the top.

At the Y at 5:30am.

We saw a snowbow in the sky!!!

Me and Nate at the very top of Y Mountain.

Scott, while we were snowboarding.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Depressed Idealist

Let's be honest. Sometimes it is hard being an idealist.

Positives: Idealists are visionaries and usually fairly creative. We're persistent, energetic, and confident when it comes to projects we're excited about. We're good at mobilizing people (however annoying it may be to them) to bring about change. We can identify problems and come up with solutions while working on multiple projects simultaneously. We are always searching for personal growth. We want to change injustices at the root of the problem and do things that have never been done before until the problems are gone.

Negatives: The solutions don't always work. Sometimes we make things worse. We can encourage dependency without even being aware of it. It is easy to turn our aspirations for social good into a personal quest for glory. And the big reality check: We CAN'T singlehandedly fix all the problems in the world no matter how hard we try.

Here is where the depression comes in. Being an idealist comes with a certain degree of perfectionism, as well as an overwhelming sense of responsibility. With the responsibility aspect, at least for me, guilt is a major player in my life. I get emotionally involved with other people's/community's/nation's problems until I feel completely powerless to stop it - and to some degree responsible for not doing more to alleviate it. What if the solution I am working towards doesn't work perfectly (and it NEVER does - if there was a perfect solution we'd all be working on it, right?) What if I just see the problem over and over, see people dying of malaria and AIDS, and hear about people being raped, etc. What if nearly every organization I have been involved with ends up going into 'glory' mode or 'survival' mode, and I spend all my time building up an image instead of creating change? What if it is a waste of time and isn't really helping anyone? Do we give up? Is it better to not to think about these things and live our happy little lives, or think about them and not take action and be apathetic and too overwhelmed to try, or take action and not see the results we hope for and be disillusioned.

I'm disillusioned, but still an idealist and I don't think that is going to change. Maybe we just have to come to terms with the fact that our best is good enough, and that even if we don't make a change on the scale we've hoped for, at least we will have touched someone's life in some capacity, and that matters.