Saturday, 12 August 2017

A Wonderful Collaboration

I’m engaged to be married! Plans are in effect and we are making all the necessary arrangements. What I like best is the friendship of someone who loves me so very much. We can laugh together, be serious, and experience spiritual moments side by side.

I attended a meeting out of interest a while ago about the importance of the family. The family is the basic unit of the church and something we care greatly about. One thing I got out of it that really stuck with me is the phrase “marriage is a collaboration".

I always tended to get stuck on the compromise part. Often people that are like me are afraid of married life because it requires compromise. They worry it will change them and their life goals and truth be told it probably will. But something many people don’t realize is it’s the giving birth of a new creation. You are no longer, one and one, but two working together. The beauty in compromise is we grow closer together as we make those decisions. We acknowledge our faults and recognizing the virtue in others as we strengthen the relationship. The great thing about collaboration is it’s the coming together of soul, heart, and mind.

By already living a Gospel centered life we are used to changing. The whole purpose of the atonement and Christ’s mission in life was to give us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and start over with a fresh slate. Christ is making us into something new.

There is a story of a marble statue that is beautiful and people come from miles around to admire it. The marble floor, however, goes unnoticed and starts to resent the statue. One night, once everyone is gone, the floor says “It’s unfair that you get all this attention and I don’t! We are made from the same material”. The statue wisely responds “that is true my friend, but I was carved and shaped this way while you resisted the Makers touch".

Life to me is like that. We are made to grow and change and be different. We can go through hard times happily or resentfully but either way, we will go through them. I feel like with Curtis I have found someone who will make the journey an adventure. We are just starting out and have lots to learn, but it is fun. A phrase we often hear in the church is “heaven is a continuation of the ideal home”. As two people come together as one, and husbands and wives love each other and care for one another, we can feel that joy throughout our lives.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Intrinsic Goodness

When a young lady was asked what it was that drew her to the man she married she replied: “It was his intrinsic goodness.”

It struck me that goodness is an often overlooked quality trait. Often we chase things that don’t exist or don't matter. We search for happiness in the wrong places and ask ourselves why we can’t ever find it. On the flip side, if we start with the things that really do matter we find we have created the life of happiness that we were seeking.

To be good is more than to be kind. People may be politely respectful to others without emotionally connecting. This type of kindness creates a façade of civility but in fact isolates them emotionally. Goodness is more than just tolerating things that don't create pain, embarrassment or discomfort in others. True goodness is the ability to have integrity under all circumstances. It is something that is long-lasting and all encompassing.

Have you ever met someone who was really good?

They radiate a type of warmth and light that makes you want to draw nearer and spend more time with them. Goodness is a soft power that can change hearts and minds. Goodness is created step by step. We add those things that make life beautiful and throw away those things that make life bitter, mean and petty. This refining process takes the original “you” and makes you into something better. The greatest part is that we are all fundamentally good.

Nelson Mandela wisely said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite" (Long Walk to Freedom, 1994).

By seeking out those that are intrinsically good and being that type of person. We are adding to the strength of our society and creating the foundation for more tolerance and understanding. This is not a major leap, though it may feel that way, but a decision that grows in small increments until its impact is felt far and wide.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Heart That Could

“As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7)

As I was preparing for a talk I gave a few weeks ago I came across a quote that struck me. It is by Wendy L. Watson April 1998 many years before she married and became Elder M. Russell Ballard’s wife.  In it, she simply states “Ancient Hebrew tradition held that the heart could think.” I love that because I believe it's true. In the classical Chinese worldview, the mind and heart cannot be separated. Sinologists (those who make an academic study of China through the language) translate the word heart "Xin"[ ] as “mind”. I feel it is an accurate description and one worth focusing on. If we give credit to our feelings as making rational choices, and not just emotional fluxes, we can understand more about ourselves and we can make meaningful and worthwhile decisions.

Religiously the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost which testifies of God the Father and Jesus Christ also communicates with us through our thoughts, feelings, and impressions making it a bridge to the divine. Because of the great power we hold, mainly to act and not be acted upon we are also bombarded by ways to desensitize and stifle our emotions and feelings so that that link is effectively cut. A way to combat the many distractions we face is to live a virtuous life. Virtue is the fruit of self-mastery. When we make it a point to control the way we act, think and do we create strength of character. I’ve always found being careful of what I do to be easy enough, I don’t often uncontrollably hit people beside me or fly into a rage. Also using words that uplift those around me and don’t demean them is also not extremely difficult especially when I surround myself with people I respect and admire. Yet I find controlling my thoughts to be hard because as most people would say its unconscious so you do it without realizing it. The link between what we feel, say and do can come down to our basic core values. Our values are what filters the everyday world and interpret it in a way we can understand. If I believe everyone is out to get me, then I will be cautious and second-guess others motives. If I have been raised to see myself as a victim of circumstance then I will often complain and see others as being unjust and unfair. If our heart and mind are so closely linked then really all we need to do is have a change of heart. By intentionally choosing to control what we can, we can by its merits influence control over that which we cannot.

Experience and wisdom dictate that strength comes from opposition. When exercising ‘resistance’ is used to make workouts feel harder. It boosts muscle growth and endurance. Similarly, if we want to change the way we think we must encounter some resistance from outside sources or within ourselves, as we create new channels for our mind to act on. An example of this comes from the book “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. He talks about how women are twice as likely to suffer from depression men because on average they think about problems in a way that amplify depression. “Men tend to act rather than reflect, but women tend to contemplate their depression, mulling it over and over, trying to analyze it and determine its source.” This is called rumination a word that means “chewing the cud”, doing something over and over again. Ruminant animals chew cud which is regurgitated food, over and over again. As humans, we do the same thing but with our negative thoughts which might not be an appealing example but a very true one. A way to combat that vicious cycle is to relearn our ABC’s. We need to understand the connection between Adversity, Beliefs, and Consequences.

 Simply put whenever we encounter Adversity, injustice, rejection, or opposition we react by thinking about it. Thinking is not static but turns into our beliefs which are so habitual we are unconscious of them unless we take the time to pin them down. By acting on our beliefs that can inspire us to try again or throw in the towel and go home, we will have our consequences. At times our beliefs about our own self-worth are so habitual we don’t realize them for what they are. A person might think they have high confidence and a good self-image but often times their thoughts and actions will counteract what they espouse. It’s fascinating to make the correlation and see how we react, for better or worse when difficulties occur like not getting a job, breaking up or losing our phone. We often allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity and then pick ourselves up again. But what if we just skipped that part? Think of how much faster we would overcome and begin again. 

There are many instances that prove our mental state of mind needs to be stronger than our physical one. As a gymnast, my coach would always tell me “It's 90% mental and 10% physical, you need to not be so hard on yourself.” This advice can be applied to many situations. In order to come to an understanding of who we are we need to acknowledge and face our weaknesses but not be immobilized by them. So even though in the beginning I was scared to death of doing back handsprings on a beam only 10cm wide and would at times have restless nights of sleep about it, I was striving for something greater so I faced my doubts and practiced until I could do them with confidence. 

If everyone took the time to recognize that our heart can think and influence our choices the results would ricochet across society. As they stand now, the laws of a country are never concerned about a person’s thoughts or desires in isolation. When they do cross that personal boundary it is mainly to assist in determining what consequence should be assigned to an action that was perpetrated. This is a bandage instead of a cure for systemic problems. By the time a decision is made whether to put someone in jail or not, the opportunity for reformation is often passed. If instead we are taught to live a virtuous life at a young age when our minds are more predisposed to it,  the likelihood of a change in nature is far better. It’s similar to the Chinese phrase that if you steal a needle when you’re small; you’ll still gold when you’re older. ( 小时偷针,长大偷金). Individual responsibility will be a blanket of security for the communities we live in. Even though our laws aren’t concerned with what people think we should be.

Adam Smith, Father of modern economics used virtue to determine how in the economic sphere, self-interest allows men to operate on levels of virtue and attain the greatest benefits for society as a whole. “According to Smith, the four principal virtues in a person's life are justice, prudence, benevolence, and self-command. It is through the exercise of self-command, Smith's cardinal virtue, that a man can rein in his selfish impulses, regulate his conduct, and indulge benevolence. Self-command involves the ability to control one's feelings, to restrain one's passion for his own interests, and to enhance his feelings for others (Champions of a Free Society, Edward Younkins).” 
By analyzing our own motives and changing those thoughts that do us harm, we will be happier and do more good in the world around us. As we strive to be true to the best within us, we can follow our heart and reason together. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year Miracles

I have had a great start to the New Year though things didn’t go as I initially planned.

I decided on the spur of the moment to go to Calgary to celebrate the festivities since my hometown is a bit small and most of the people I knew where gone. I was blessed to have wonderful cousins who were in town and took me with them as we planned out what to do for the next week. The feeling is similar to living in a bachelorette house since my Uncle and Aunt are gone but we three girls are manning the house.

Calgary still has a familiar feel to it and I’ve enjoyed my time here. I was set on going to a dance and getting that part over and done with since I’ve been told it’s the hardest to switch back in to. Maybe it was beginners luck but I had a great time at the dance. I liked the music, I liked the people and it felt really comfortable. I re-connected with those I haven’t seen in ages and I like the independence of it, dancing when you want to and sitting down to rest when your feet get sore.
I found out that night there was a baptism the next day of a Chinese girl and was invited to go and see. Being in the south of Calgary I had to carefully calculate how to get up north for 10:30am.This is when the beginning of the miracles started. As I was planning on how to do this I decided to leave with an hour time and walk to the nearest c-train station (like a sky-train) since I don’t have a car to drive.

As I left the house in minus something weather I headed in the general direction hoping my phone battery wouldn’t die and cutting me off from all access to my handy GPS. After only walking 3 minutes or so a friendly bus driver pulled over, not even at a stop, and told me I could get on. We started talking and turns out she is Indian, Shia (Muslim), and had been in Canada for a number of years. I told her I was a returned missionary from Vancouver and heading to a baptism. She asked what that was, and I described simply that it was a covenant we make with God and represents a new start to life in the same way we celebrate a New Year with new beginnings and a change of our habits and nature. She then went on to say she respected that and a way she keeps her mind on a higher power is by praying throughout the day. She said that she loves her job because she can say prayers in her head and it makes her feel calm and peaceful.  I noted it also influenced the people she picked up and dropped off since her attitude was open and kind. It was a short but good discussion and then she dropped me off and I took the c-train to my next stop. On the way there I saw a girl sit down in front of me that I was 99.9% sure that she was Chinese. As I was going to a place where there would be Chinese speakers, I thought I might give it a try to see if she had plans for the day. I then subtly - in my mind, anyways - pulled out my Chinese Book of Mormon and started talking with her. Turns out she was on her way to work and never heard about scriptures before. I showed her some pictures in the beginning of the Book and described how it is like a family story and how they followed the inspiration of heaven. She was really excited and said she had never read the Bible before and never heard of this book. I then testified that it was God’s word and that something I like about it is that it answers the questions we have in daily life, like faith to find a job, my current challenge, and courage to move to a new country, like Lehi and his family. I then shared with her Ether 12:6 and she explained the meaning to me! It reads as follows: And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
She told me how so many things you can’t see with your eyes but by first trying, you then learn through experience that it is true. I felt the spirit strongly and really liked her explanation. I told her I could give her a copy so she could read it on her own but she chose instead to download the app. The next stop she had to get off before me so we exchanged numbers and said goodbye. I thought it was an amazing since talking on the train can be difficult at times but with her it felt quite natural.

I then found my way to the baptism and made it just in time. I had a few moments so I introduced myself to some people and then took my spot. It was a beautiful feeling to hear talks and prayers in Chinese. I felt right at home and though I couldn’t sing very well since I’m recovering from a cold, I felt like I participated though I didn’t even know the girl. Afterwards while we had refreshments I met a man from Ethiopia that was having lessons with the Elders. He had a Canadian wife and child and invited me to come over with the missionaries to talk more about the gospel. Then there was a women I said Hi to from Iran that seemed especially happy to meet someone wearing a headscarf too! Then there was a man from Uganda that had a lot of questions that couldn’t be answered to his satisfaction and he was a bit disappointed. My friend who introduced me to this man started out by saying, “ Hey, she can answer your question!” and then promptly left. I wouldn’t say it was throwing someone under the bus but it was a narrow escape. It ended up well since my friend came back to join the discussion and after a time we left so I could catch a ride home.

Overall it was a fun and good day. I felt like so many great things happened because I was willing to leave my comfort zone and it showed me that revelation can come just as easily outside of a mission as on it. I am excited for 2017 and the new experiences it will bring. I also should mention the birth of my newest niece, Clara Grace Northcott, born January 2nd at 4:47pm! I am so thrilled and can’t wait to hold her. I know that with every new day is a chance to draw closer to the Saviour and the peace he brings.

Much Love!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Post-Mission Life

“Clear as the moon, and fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.” 
(Doctrine & Covenants 5:14, March 1829)

It has been an adventure! I’ve been home almost 2 weeks but it has felt a lot longer. Coming home from serving in the Canada Vancouver Mission has been a highlight of the Christmas season along with much commotion. It would be impossible to describe every feeling but a mini biopsy of life as we know it would go like this;

  • First thing I did after being released was take a nap
  • I wore jeans, instead of mid-length skirts, for the first time yesterday
  • I held my new nephew and kissed him on the cheek
  • I spent Christmas with my family and attended my sister’s wedding in DC

The thing that strikes me the most is I’ve forgotten what my hobbies are. When my sister wrote to say I would get along well with her fiancée because he has a love of books it rekindled some faint memory of reading Dostoyevsky and Pearl S. Buck. When others ask if I will take up dancing again I see the floor to roof mirrors but don’t see my reflection. Simply put it’s a transition into remembering who you are.

The great thing is I know what I stand for. If we liken life to a roast beef dinner, the roast is well-done and of high grade, it’s just the trimmings now that we are concerned with.  A mission shows you that life can be beautiful and simple. So many distractions from day to day living are factored out and you feel peace of conscience and satisfaction at the end of the day. The advice that resonates with me the most comes from a talk by Bruce L. Olsen[i]. He says missing the Mantle, mantle being a term for an important role or responsibility you once had that has been passed to another, can cause spiritual things that had come with ease suddenly require more exertion on your part. I see that with waking up in the mornings and scripture reading. In preparing for a mission one of my fears was I wasn’t going to be able to wake up at 6:20am for 18 months every day. What I found in fact was that after being set-apart that never became an issue and my nature changed so that I became a morning person and revelled in brisk morning runs. Coming back I find that not so easy to do and have adjusted to a morning time that is still early but not as rigid. Scripture reading is something I’ve always loved but now I read to meet my needs and those of my family rather than to prepare for the lessons to be taught that day. It is a different experience and one I am getting used to.

At the end of the day I am still the same person that left. My imperfections and quirks can still be seen but overriding it all is a love of God and mankind. It has been an adventure! It would be impossible to say what the future will bring but I’m confident it will be glorious. I’ve collected a few pearls along the way to help guide and direct the course. A few of these pearls would be;
  • Speak kindly to yourself and others
  • Humour is essential
  • Admit your faults and work to overcome shortcomings and challenges
  • Trust in the Lord
  • Humility precedes true success
  • Follow the Spirit   
Have a wonderful Christmas season and a Happy New Year!

[i]  Home From a Mission, Bruce L. Olsen, June 1991

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Life’s Expanses

I’m a graduate! My time at the University of Calgary, which has encompassed my studying at National Taiwan Normal University and Beijing Language and Culture University, has come to an end in a ceremonious fashion. Even though I’ll not be attending my official convocation due to life’s next big step which is serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Vancouver BC, official it feels nonetheless. 

The jolt of adrenaline that ran through my veins when I read that my application for graduation had been approved is hard to describe; it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

Now I’ve never feigned to put education on a pedal stool, as a means to bolster my status or worth as a person, but the reason it resonates so much within me is because it’s recognition that you CAN accomplish what you set out to do.

The real prize I believe is not in the attainment of the goal but the striving for, and success in reaching that achievement. I’m not one to arbitrarily romanticize so bear with me when I use the adage 'goals are just dreams with a plan and a deadline'. 

In this sense I am a dreamer. 
In this sense I have high hopes and idealistic views.  

There were two things when I started University that I endeavored to keep; my faith in God and my faith in humanity. They're mutually reinforcing in my mind and I was quite aware that education would try to knock the one down, and life would knock the other out, if I didn’t make them a priority. It’s been a struggle but I’m glad to say that I’m not jaded. I still believe in doing good and that we each have potential for remarkable things.

The best lesson I’ve learned from my Father is to enjoy working. University was my "job" so I had to work hard. Whenever I got tired of the repetition or paper citations I just remembered what I had to be grateful for. Once the laptop was shut, there was always food nearby and a house to return to. Whether that food was sticky rice and dumplings or steak and potatoes it really didn’t matter. If the house I returned to was a basement suit or a dormitory falling apart at the hinges it was still a place to call my own and for that I was happy.

Education as a right is a privilege of my generation. 

It’s akin to a physical pain when I’ m around those who treat school lightly, especially if they’re gifted. I have my own qualms about higher education but if you’re in the race then do your best. Just yesterday I had lunch with an elderly couple born in 1939, raised in Alberta. Neither had the chance to go to college and for the one, an eighth grade education was the highest they ever attained. Life is satisfying to them but the question remains what might have been if they were given the opportunity to pursue a vocation they had an interest in? The answer is we don’t know, and for countries with a burgeoning young population there are thousands of boys and girls who will never find out due to civil unrest and lack of access. This can then quite easily lead to disillusionment and even more violence.

If we feel that education is an important tool for social development then we first must use it in our own lives. Learning doesn't only develop our intellect but is proven to assist in day to day life, take for example the correlation between female education and reduced infant mortality. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding but it’s the gateway to it, and it's understanding ultimately that equates to a change in behavior.   

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

April 8th

For a healthy person I sure get my butt kicked when I’m sick.

I turn from a powerful 5’2 nothing woman into a pile of crawling mush. Suddenly everything becomes impossible to do and still images of children with whooping cough and measles from 18th century England sweep my brain.

In Anne of Green Gables, a favorite book which is now a movie, it has a part were a child is bowed over a giant bowl of steaming water with a towel over his head. The idea is to cause the steam to go into his lungs and clear his chest. A fire is burning on the hearth and the room is stuffy and filled with whimpering sounds. That’s what I think of whenever I get the slightest bit nauseous. A doctor then comes in and smothers the fire, throws open the windows and loudly declares “this child needs fresh air!”

 Even though that’s what’s best in most cases of non-severe illness it’s the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. Why go run outside when you can groan in comfort within your own home? It’s also always best if there’s someone around to pity you and answer to every whim, but unfortunately I've already moved out of the house and have no younger siblings to inconvenience.

This does give me an opportune moment to write though, which I have been slacking on. 

April 8th is similar to doomsday in my head since it’s when my massive paper on Ethiopian Pottery is due. Since a class I needed to graduate wasn't offered this semester I decided to be creative and make one up. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I've learned a lot, but the pressure is intense. Every time I meet with the Professor she just smiles sweetly never knowing I am internally freaking out. Not having much of a yardstick to measure my work against others I've just written my best and prayed for salvation.

It is interesting to note however that I have the capability to write a 28 page paper. The thought of failing frightened me so much ahead of time that I started “early” and ended up accomplishing the task a day before it was due. This might not seem spectacular in your mind but understand that I'm a person prone to procrastination. I also haven’t had to pull any all-nighters or have had any writer’s block leading to breakdowns this semester making it a step above last year.

Overall this semester has gone by so fast. I've been incredible fortunate to have good things come my way and I cherish the moments. Graduating seems more and more like a possibility but I’m still not completely convinced. In order to do that it would require a culmination of 5 years of schooling, 2 years of China, and one tiny body that’s supposed to hold all that knowledge and use it for some greater purpose in society.

Comfort wise, I have everything I need and more which makes complaining hard but still possibly if I’m dead-set on it. Even having time to write is a luxury since I usually feel a tinge of guilt as soon as I start which seems to say " you should be spending your time more wisely on other papers since a blogpost isn't worth 20% of your term grade". But if the majority of people all relinquished what made them happy for secular advantage you’d have… pretty much what the world is today.  

Regardless I’ll continue writing since youth breeds contempt. By beginning of May all my classes and exams will be over.  Once again I will be packing up to move, and then start in earnest the next chapter of my life leaving school and all of it’s troubles and successes behind.

Getting older is great isn't it