Monday, May 8, 2017

A New Flavor of Mormon

When I was a young boy I used to love mixing random foods together. Sometimes I would mix things that ended up being really tasty, like putting brown sugar in the french toast egg mix. I also ate some things together that other people thought was kind of weird and even gross, like when I mixed green beans and applesauce. Some of the mixtures were pretty tasty but didn’t stick. But some did stick, like the sweet eggs for french toast. It became a new flavor that I got used to and it became normal after tasting it long enough. 

For 13 years, the spiritual side of me was all one flavor. 

That was who I was. And because I tasted it all the time, I never mixed that flavor with anything else. I had no reason to mix it. And whenever someone tried to mix in a new flavor into the already established flavor, I thought it tasted weird and I didn’t like it. So it didn’t stick.

Two years ago, a new flavor was introduced into the recipe of my spiritual self. My wife had a mental disconnect with reality through what is called psychosis. Psychosis comes with delusions that make what is real and what is not real become really hard to decipher. Many people have delusions about secret codes, the CIA or some grand conspiracy that will help save the world from terrorists (like John Nash in The Beautiful Mind). But Stacie’s delusions weren’t like that. They were spiritual. Talking to God, Jesus and other angels. Deeper significance into temple ordinances. Many things we held sacred became augmented and were given even deeper significance in Stacie’s mind. To her it was the most powerful spiritual experience of her life. But for me, it was the most traumatic experience of my life. 

Incorrect beliefs about what God wanted for my Stacie led her down a dangerous path which led me to the very difficult decision to admit her to the psychiatric unit of the hospital. She was there for nine days. At first she didn’t even recognize who I was. After a few days, she recognized me, but she was still struggling with reality. During one of our visits, she tried really hard to make me promise to bring divorce papers to the hospital because she was going to be marrying Jesus. I guess I didn’t have a chance against Jesus (LOL), but I knew that I just needed to buy more time and she would come back to reality. She did finally come back to reality and the reality was that her intense spiritual experience was all just a delusion. 

Her spirituality was hijacked by a brain that was misfiring. 

She was diagnosed with Bipolar I. The doctor told us that she would be on medication for the rest of her life and that we should be really careful when having children because the risk of relapse into psychosis is extremely high. Oh, and he also said: “I would avoid spiritual things for a while until she really stabilizes again.”  What? Avoid spiritual things? Wasn't that the only thing that could bring us peace when life was in chaos? None of this made any sense to me. It was the most complex paradox of my life.

This was a very different flavor. I had never tasted this before.

The flavor I was used to was the one where spiritual things made sense. A flavor where if I had enough faith, was a 100% tithe payer and was temple worthy, all things would work together and I would prosper in the land. I mean, I was the guy who started LDS blogs because I wanted to, who wrote a book for RMs and who spent seven years writing individual entries on every chapter of the Book of Mormon so that my posterity wouldn’t ever wonder what I thought about the scriptures. That was the flavor I was used to. It was predictable. It made sense. It was who I was. 

So what do I do with this different flavor?  

Why would God allow the part of Stacie’s mind that related to sacred things to be tampered with? And now how does she tell the difference between the fantastic spiritual experience she had while delusional and actual spiritual experiences? To her it actually felt the same. The very instrument through which we receive and perceive revelation (the mind) was no longer a safe place to seek revelation. How could God communicate with Stacie now? Isn’t the entire foundation of the gospel based on our ability to “receive the Holy Ghost”? 

For a while I became silently angry. This anger led me to open the door to many of the questions I had while studying psychology in my undergraduate education at BYU. These questions just didn’t mix with the flavor of spirituality that was such a foundational part of my identity.

After a general conference talk by Elder Ballard about helping those within our church who have questions, I decided to speak up. I posted on this blog about it. I wasn’t looking for a reason to abandon the Church. I was looking for a reason to believe. I wanted a reason for faith. It helped me quite a bit to get the support of literally hundreds of understanding friends. 

Around this same time, my step-sister unexpectedly passed away at a very young age. Melissa was my Ivy League sister who believed in my intellect, but who had lost her faith. Before she died, we had some enjoyable, yet intense debates about God’s existence and benevolence. I respected her arguments and she respected mine. We disagreed with each other. Her flavor of disbelief in God didn’t jive with my flavor of belief, but we loved each other all the same. When she passed away unexpectedly, I felt unresolved. And honestly, it almost felt like I wasn’t honoring her if I just disregarded all the questions she posited about my system of beliefs. I secretly wished that some future debate would prove productive and that I would win with love during a later chapter of our life. But it never happened.  

Fast forward six months. 

My temple recommend expiration date was coming soon. I didn’t want to have to figure it all out, but after listening to General Conference and some encouragement from my wife, I decided we should both talk to our new bishop about everything. I didn’t care how many times I had to meet with him. I just wanted to get it all out. So I did. I talked to him. I told him everything. I truly believe that this bishop somehow ended up in this ward at this time for a reason. And I was part of the reason. He just happened to be friends with one of my LDS blogger buddies and he was very open-minded. So much so that I didn’t feel like I had to put on any filters. He got it all. For almost a month I met with him.

I thought I was going to have to go back to my old flavor of spirituality. I thought that I would have to just get all the questions out and resolve all my doubts or I just couldn’t be myself in the Church. Not so. The truth is that I had tasted a different flavor of life that didn’t mix with my old flavor of spirituality. It seemed to me that either one or the other had to go, but neither of them could be ignored and both existed. 

In my last meeting with the bishop I remembered a Hope Works talk I had watched called Seeing Green. It reminded me that I needed to find a completely new flavor. Not the old flavor of spirituality alone. Not the frustrated and confused flavor about spiritual delusions alone.

A new flavor. A new me.

A me that doesn’t know the answers. A me that still has questions. A me that acknowledges the reality of miracles in my life, the goodness and beauty within LDS doctrine and the depth of pre-mortal identity, but a me that may not know the difference between revelation and delusion 100% of the time. A me that trusts God's love without understanding Him. A me that sees through glass darkly and doesn’t try to ask God to replace the dark glass of mortality with a sensational understanding of the afterlife. A me that doesn’t expect instant answers to fasting prayers, but who fasts and prays anyway. A me who has panic attacks after my wife gets anxious about powerful spiritual experiences. A me who can still “receive the Holy Ghost” without having to have a powerful spiritual manifestation. A me who may not speak up as much in Sunday School for a while. A me that will be full of love for the people within wards I reside in, but who doesn’t base any part of my testimony on unhealthy belief systems that exist within the culture of many wards. A me who seeks truth from all religions and science. A me who may not worship in the temple, even if I’m worthy to enter. A me who doesn’t isolate himself out of fear of being misunderstood. A me who feels a little more comfortable with the science of happiness than he does with powerful spiritual experiences. A me who doesn’t seek out powerful spiritual experiences, but who does seek to serve people with love, if I can. A me who may not seek for answers to prayers, but who fills my heart with gratitude in prayer because it feels good. A me who isn’t afraid to talk about being a Mormon again, but realizes that talking about being Mormon with non-Mormons won’t be how I used to talk about being a Mormon.

I now believe there is a way to more comfortably taste two conflicting flavors simultaneously. Mixing both together creates a new flavor of me. A new flavor of what it means to me to be Mormon. 

For most of my life, I thought the flavor of sushi was disgusting. Now I love sushi. 

This new flavor still doesn't taste too great, but I'm okay with that and maybe someday soon, I'll come to love it.        

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Finding The Third Stack of Straw

From Buridan's Donkey
There were three talks in General Conference about having doubts and questions. Two years ago, my wife Stacie had a traumatic episode of delusion that included spiritual visions and messages from heaven. Thankfully, she was kept safe through it and has been recovering since this time. It really rocked our faith (and our pocketbook) because if I didn't convince Stacie that these revelations were false, she would dive deeper into patterns of delusion. The doctor even told us it would be good to avoid spiritual things. Ever since then, I have had trouble sincerely believing and it has opened the door to many other doubts I didn’t previously have. I still actively participate in my LDS ward, have a fairly expansive knowledge of LDS doctrine, have witnessed what I believe to be miracles in my life and I still want to believe. But I haven’t ever found an answer that has really helped me. It has haunted me for over two years. To twist the knife even further, through the events of Stacie’s mental breakdown, I also learned that a man I looked to as one of my primary spiritual mentors for almost 10 years also had a mental illness and was clinically delusional.

In the Church, if you have ever had a question about the gospel, it can feel like you are a donkey in front of two stacks of straw but starving because you don’t know which one to eat.

One stack of straw is feeling like I can fully relate to people at church who say “I know without a shadow of a doubt,” the members who have a fail-proof testimony and a conversion that is solid and unshakable. They are such good people and serve and bless peoples’ lives and love sincerely. I just can’t relate to them fully because I don’t know and asking my questions makes this group of people feel really uncomfortable. Sometimes when I bring up doubts or questions, it seems like I am perceived instantly as an anti-Mormon or as someone who must have been delving into anti-Mormon literature. I feel like I am a threat who will taint the minds of their children with poisonous ideas.

The other stack of straw is trying to relate to the group of people who have stepped away from the Church out of apathy or who are adamantly against the Church. I am not against the Church. I’m also not in anyway apathetic about my devotion. It’s not like I’m looking for an excuse to drink coffee or to not feel guilty about not keeping some Church standard.

I can’t fully relate to either of these groups, but finding a group of people who is comfortable discussing questions but who isn’t somehow bitter against the Church has been a challenge. It’s also difficult to find those who say they have a "sure knowledge” who are able to open their minds to be open to anything but their sure knowledge. I just have sincere questions that I would like to explore with those who are believers and who aren’t afraid of the possibility of discovering the truth, even if the truth is not what they thought. A group of people who are the third stack of straw

I’m also a student of positive psychology and I actively strive for more authentic positivity. The subject of doubt has unfortunately been a source of negativity for me (and my marriage) for a while and I would like to change that. That’s why I’m finally just writing about this online. I’m reaching out because it is better to be authentic. Out of vulnerability comes great strength.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Melissa and The Road Not Taken

I wish Melissa hadn't died before we could discuss the true meaning of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, but now I’ll leave it up to Robert.

It was often stressful to have a relationship with Melissa. This has been the case for a while. In the last few years, Stacie and I have been fighting mental illness in our home. This has caused us to draw a boundary with those who may contribute to undue stress for either of us. 

Despite all this, Melissa inspired me. She was my Ivy League sister. And though I struggled to read even in high school, I applied to Penn (twice!) in part because she believed I could. She told me to go for it. And even though she thought that the program I was applying to at an Ivy League university was pretty weak-sauce in terms of academia [insert chuckle here], she cheered me on either way. In college I thought I would be more attractive to girls if I wore the Harvard hat she gave me. Maybe academic superiority is a myth, but she made the myth believable and I admittedly bought into her mythology. 

Melissa chose to leave the LDS Church a while ago and her silent presence in my head has contributed to the questions that I have in a positive way even though the "Stalwart but Stubborn" Mormons may not understand this. Currently I’m in a place spiritually where I’m more content but with many questions and desiring to find people who aren’t afraid to ask. Melissa was one of those people. And though her questioning took her outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she inspired me in my search for truth, despite the risk of uncertainty. There are a lot of things I don’t know for sure right now. But what I want to believe is that Melissa's spirit is happy. Like Dumbledore told Harry Potter after he had been killed by Voldemort and was in the quasi-heavenly King’s Crossing: “Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living. And above all those who live without love.” I really want to believe this.  

It’s hard not to regret having spent more time or given more love to a loved one who goes unexpectedly and before “their time". And I honestly regret not having spent more time investing in a relationship with the better angels of her nature. I love studying the greats like she did and I will never sit down to study them again without the hope that she might be there sitting with me, suggesting a richer [insert better word than richer] choice of vocabulary and encouraging further discovery.  

In this life, Melissa and I just happened to find ourselves in the same blended family. I would like to believe we find ourselves in specific orbits for a reason. Why were we placed in each others’ orbits in this life? A few reasons come to mind. 

We both had been divorced and our conversations about marriage after my divorce were a bit stark and hopeless, though they somehow brought us closer together. For a little while I lost my faith in marriage (and in females in general), but I regained my faith in marriage (and females) and this picture of her at my wedding to Stacie made me believe that she saw a glimmer of hope for the possibility of love after a traumatic and emotionally complex divorce.

Melissa watching Stacie and I dance our "first dance" at our reception

And even though the stake president who married Stacie and I said during our non-temple ceremony that we were "worthy to be sealed in the temple", every time we were asked “what temple were you married in?” I felt like Melissa understood how we felt and I was glad that she was at our non-temple wedding ceremony (which was truly beautiful). 

Another reason. Almost exactly two years ago, I was all alone after Stacie had been hospitalized for a traumatic episode of delusion and psychosis. I was still in shock and afraid that after I had regained my faith in marriage and love, what I hoped for had been taken from me. I felt alone and vulnerable. Melissa just happened to show up at my apartment in Pleasant Grove that first night. She just came for a quick hello, and we ended up talking for four hours until, as we tried to say goodbye next to her car, we talked for another hour and we were both freezing in the September night air.

We spoke of mental illness and religion, of faith and of belief. We spoke of luck VS providence. We spoke of determinism VS agency. She argued for determinism and I for agency. She argued using logic and philosophy. I argued using social psychology and love. In the end, we respectfully disagreed. But we were both able to put down our cultural weapons and glimpse into each others’ world for just a moment. In my moment of stark vulnerability, she gave me a glimpse of a world without Providence. A world where religion and faith might just be a grand delusion and where science should be pursued and philosophy worshipped. And in a moment where she felt valued and heard, I showed her a world where, regardless of God’s existence, people choose to be good. And where, despite the hopeless tragedies of our lives, loaves and fishes actually do miraculously multiply beyond reason and logic. She saw me and I saw her. We both stood in a bit of awe as we shared a sacred moment of respect for each other, though our chosen paths were different. 

Melissa’s argument has surreptitiously [at last a word with which Melissa would feel comfortable] haunted me ever since. I still don’t have an answer for the fact that our brains can synthesize a “heavenly" vision that is in fact, not real, as Stacie experienced firsthand.

I want to believe in a benevolent heaven, beyond this existence. A spirit world where clarity abounds and agency is respected forever and ever.

And I hope my argument of love, goodness and agency will haunt Melissa in that spirit world where she can still choose her eternal destiny. 

If that world does exist and I could have the wish of my heart today, it would be that the spirit of Robert Frost himself would at some point sit down with Melissa (like George MacDonald did with C.S. Lewis) and tell her that The Road Not Taken was not a treatise on determinism as she once told me, but that she is now in a heaven that still allows her to choose. And that even if the decision to go down one road was impulsive, a benevolent heaven can use that imperfect choice to turn you into something better than you were before, if you desire it.

I hoped that one day I would have had the chance to have this conversation with Melissa when we both were in a better chapter of life, but that day will not come in this life. And still I am glad we were placed in the same orbit for a little while. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Decisions in the Context of Eternity

I recently read this in an talk by Elder Maxwell. I am always amazed by his depth.

"Suppose, for instance, that we imagine a 'being' moving onto our earth whose entire life-span is only 1/100 of a second. Ten thousand 'years' for him, generation after generation, would be only one second of our time. Suppose this imaginary being comes up to a quiet pond in the forest where you are seated. You have just tossed in a rock and are watching the ripples. A leaf is fluttering from the sky and a bird is swooping over the water. He would find everything absolutely motionless. Looking at you, he would say: 'In all recorded history nothing has changed. My father and his father before him have seen that everything is absolutely still. This creature called man has never had a heartbeat and has never breathed. The water is standing in stationary waves as if someone had thrown a rock into it; it seems frozen. A leaf is suspended in the air, and a bird has stopped right over the middle of the pond. There is no movement. Gravity is suspended.' The concept of time in this imaginary being, so different from ours, would give him an entirely different perspective of what we call reality.

"On the other hand, picture another imaginary creature for whom one 'second' of his time is 10,000 years of our time. What would the pond be like to him? By the time he sat down beside it, taking 15,000 of our years to do so, the pond would have vanished. Individual human beings would be invisible, since our entire life-span would be only 1/100 of one of his 'seconds.' The surface of the earth would be undulating as mountains are built up and worn down. The forest would persist but a few minutes and then disappear. His concept of 'reality' would be much different than our own.

"That's the most clever way I have seen time and intimations of eternity dealt with. It is very important that we not assume the perspective of mortality in making the decisions that bear on eternity! We need the perspectives of the gospel to make decisions in the context of eternity. We need to understand we cannot do the Lord's work in the world's way."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:  
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,   
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,  
And not in utter nakedness,  
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:  
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
-William Wordsworth
I have always wanted to post more about my longing for my true home. I love anything that intimates at the fact that there is more. I used to love transformers when I was a kid and I often joke with myself saying that the real reason I loved them so much was the fact that the transformers' theme was "more than meets the eye."

There is so much more than meets the eye. And there is so much that we just don't remember in the day to day.

There are some amazing quotes that attempt to describe the feeling of "something more."

Here are some of my favorites:

C.S. Lewis' attempt:
A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, then; is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. (Mere Christianity from the chapter entitled "Hope")

Neal A. Maxwell's attempt:
Some of us have been momentarily wrenched by the sound of a train whistle spilling into the night air, and we have been inexplicably subdued by the mix of feelings that this evokes. Or perhaps we have been beckoned by a lighted cottage across a snow-covered meadow at dusk. Or we have heard the warm and drawing laughter of children at a nearby playground. Or we have been tugged at by the strains of congregational singing from a nearby church. Or we have encountered a particular fragrance which has awakened memories deep within us of things which once were. In such moments, we have felt a deep yearning, as if we were temporarily outside of something to which we actually belonged and of which we so much wanted again to be a part. 
There are spiritual equivalents of these moments. Such seem to occur most often when time touches eternity. In these moments we feel a longing closeness--but we are still separate. The partition which produces this paradox is something we call the veil--a partition the presence of which requires our patience. We define the veil as the border between mortality and eternity; it is also a film of forgetting which covers the memories of earlier experiences. This forgetfulness will be lifted one day, and on that day we will see forever--rather than "through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). 
There are poignant and frequent reminders of the veil, adding to our sense of being close but still outside. In our deepest prayers, when the agency of man encounters the omniscience of God, we sometimes sense, if only momentarily, how very provincial our petitions are; we perceive that there are more good answers than we have good questions; and we realize that we have been taught more than we can tell, for the language used is not that which the tongue can transmit.
Truman G. Madsen's attempt:
No amount of mortal abuse can quench the divine spark. If you only knew who you are and what you did and how you earned the privileges of mortality, and not just mortality but of this time, this place, this dispensation, and the associates that have been meant to cross and intertwine with your lives; if you knew now the vision you had then of what this trial, this probation of mortality could produce, would produce; if you knew the latent infinite power that is locked up and hidden for your own good now - if you knew these things you would never again yield to any of the putdowns that are a dime a dozen in our culture today.
My Attempt:
I just want to share some of my more personal examples of that closeness that I have experienced:

  • Music - Harmonizing: hitting a complex chord with a group of singers that just resonates within your soul. Hearing the Muslim call to prayer sung across an entire city. The amazing sound that comes from a symphony or even a single cello. 

  • Aha Moments - when learning, there are times when you experience an amazing connection. Joseph Smith described this when he spoke of certain revelations saying it was like having "pure intelligence flow into you."

  • Conversations with forever friends - sometimes God allows us to glimpse eternity through another person. Whether it be something they say that strikes a deep chord of truth within you or just being in their presence and connecting with what C.S. Lewis calls the "central self," there are moments when you are with another person and you just know that you knew each other for longer than just your lifetime. 

  • Macro Nature - riding your bike through a misty mountain trail or skiing in fresh powder and hearing the "whoosh! whoosh!" as you fly down the slope, seeing a mammoth wave, catching a glimpse of a huge lightning storm, listening to and watching an avalanche or a volcanic eruption; stopping on the side of the freeway in the middle of a desert and turning off the lights and looking up to see the Hale Bopp Comet's tail reach halfway across the sky; sitting and wondering about the majesty and incomprehensible enormity of the universe. Climbing to the top of Mt. Sinai or Mt. Timpanogos to watch the sunrise.

  • Micro Nature - discovering a rotifer for the first time under a microscope; learning about cells, molecules and atoms and forces at work inside of my own body. Realizing how amazing it is that my body has the ability to fix itself and witnessing it first hand after shattering my collar bone. Opening up an orange and looking at how absolutely perfect each packet/capsule of orange juice is. Pondering the miracle of photosynthesis.
  • Creativity - When a song just pops into my head or a set of lyrics that seemed to have come "out of nowhere" into my mind; winging it in almost anything; freestyle looping alone in my room on a looping device and wondering at the end "where did that come from?"

  • Babies - staring into their eyes and just looking at them in your arms or letting them sleep on your chest in complete trust. A warm little bundle of heaven with perfect miniature lips, fingernails, earlobes and toes.
  • Death - though it is often painful to see the mortal existence of a loved one come to an end; it has always caused me to look beyond to what else is out there. I love what Neal Maxwell says about death - that it is not a period, nor is it an exclamation point, but only a mere comma. 
  • Pursuit of learning and truth - this is related to the above aha moment, but I wanted to mention the pursuit of learning and truth because I have had some amazing experiences in many of my college courses where I am encounter truths that ring of eternity. In chemistry, biology, physics, anatomy, philosophy, cognition and psychology and in nearly all my classes, there are nuggets of truth that are highlighted that have taken me to a higher plane where I know there is something more. I love this quote from Einstein that expresses his pursuit of what he does not yet know: “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man." 
Einstein playing the violin

So many other things that I have experienced in addition to the ones above just blow my mind and cause me to wonder where I am from and what I really am doing here. When talking about this, there will always be more to say because there are things we just don't know how to express with words. That longing for something more will always exist inside of me and I believe that it exists inside of everyone. I believe it is a part of what I like to call our spiritual DNA.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 - the best of times

2011 was quite the year. There were a lot of things that may allow me to say "what a horrible year" or "why did I mess up so bad this year?" or "I want to blot 2011 out of my memory forever." However, I don't think this is the best way to look at it. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But it is better to look up. With that said, here are some of the good highlights from 2011. 
It was a Great year with The Advocates
Through all the craziness of this year, The A Cappella group (The Advocates) has been a constant blessing to my life. The challenge, the music, the amazing and extremely talented friends who have been there for me in really hard times, and the great opportunities. And we made another talent-exchange with Vocal Point. We lost a good one (Jake Tengelsen) and got a good one (Keith Evans):

6th in a national video contest:

My buddy Kendel and I created this video for a contest for the Ruth Institute. It was fun to make and we ended up getting some free stuff out of it. Good experience.

I learned about looping
I got one of these babies and hung out with a guy that has a solo show in Vegas with looping (Mister Tim is his stage name). I was able to perform at the Velour, at the University of Utah and a couple ward talent shows. More to come this year. 

Ran the SoCal Ragnar
200 mile relay with 11 other people. We ran more like 225 because we got lost. It was an adventure. Start on the beach and end on the beach. This was Ragnar #2 for me and I liked this one much better than the Vegas course.

Launched a website to go along with the manual that I will be finishing this year: Live My Gospel. Mainly it has been an informational static website that has served to collect data for the book. Good progress. Have collected some great data with the pilot study and will launch the real study this month to finish the job and get some great information for the book that will come out in 2012. 

Got a Job in SEO
After leaving Qualtrics, I found a job at a great SEO company called OrangeSoda. I like to joke with people that I deliver carbonated soda to retail locations when they ask me what I do. ha. What I really do now is what I have wanted to learn for a while: Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I finally landed the position I want there and am happily learning very marketable skills.  Thank you Google for providing me with a great job.

Book of Mormon: Edition 1

I went to D.C. in May and among other things, I went into the antiquities and special collections area of the Library of Congress and was able to hold and flip through a first edition copy of the Book of Mormon. I have a love of the history of book making as seen in a past post and I have a love for the Book of Mormon, so it was a nice combo.

Lived with my nonagenarian grandmother!

She is amazing and I always learn so much from her. You would never guess she was in her 90s when you see her making 3 meals a day from scratch, going to all the family events, heading up clubs, taking care of the elderly in her ward, doing full day shifts at the temple once a week, writing a book of her own personal history, and teaching primary kids. She even has an iPad2 and an active facebook account! I loved my time at her home. 

Started an LLC and co-created an iPhone app

Met the Future President of Mali
Okay so maybe saying that he is the future president is a little optimistic, but he is the frontrunner candidate and I sure hope he gets it. Yeah Samake is such a good man and it was amazing to meet him in person. He is so humble and is hungry to help the people of Mali rise to a higher level. I put it on here because it really impacted me to meet and talk with him about his plans to change the country. I believe people like him are raised up to become great leaders and this world needs more of those. He can do so much good. 

Mexican Cruise

Saved up. Blew a tire on the way. Went to Disneyland while there. Got drenched by one of the largest natural blowholes in the world at Ensenada. Spoke Spanish to some people in the open air market. There were a couple hickups along the way, but it made the list. 

I will not refer to the worst times of 2011. Why not remember the good that happened and move forward? It is better to look up. It is better to smile. I learned from mistakes. Some very painful ones. But like C.S. Lewis said in his book he wrote when his wife left him alone on earth: "pain is God's megaphone to a deaf world." I guess I was losing my hearing for a bit there. But there were some amazing times this year. Experiences that seemed to recompense that which may have been lost. I will think on these days and stay grateful for God's hand in my life, to bless me more than I can realize while in the moments of pain. 
"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals" (Goethe)
The becoming is a continuous project. But there is no "end-check-mark" that will appear with some mondo achievement or list of achievements. The process is the project. And no matter what I checked off my list for 2011, I know that I have become a better person. Mostly, I think I have been able to experience the reality of the power of the atonement, and learn first hand of the depth of love I know exists in the Savior. He is real. He is SO real. I don't deserve what He gave me. But He did it anyway.