Pining for Opinions?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about opinions. Everybody’s got them, some more, some less. Some strong, some mild. But to varying extents, we all take a stance on the issues surrounding us. Far too many people are quick to cement judgements lacking both complete information and proper perspective.

Pondering about the nature of opinions has led me to the following conclusion: before I used to see opinions as fixed possessions – either you have one or you don’t, but recently I realized that opinions are actually more like gradients of certainty. On any one particular issue I fall somewhere along a continuum. There are some things I am quite certain about: my faith in God, the invaluable worth of every human soul, the sanctity of the family, just to name a few. There are many, many more things where I might have an inclination one way or another, but I recognize that I am far too uninformed to claim a decisive opinion: health care problems in the United States, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the best way to reform education, and so many others. As evidenced by these examples, I am certain of my values, and less certain how these values can be applied to solve the messy and controversial circumstances of real life and real world problems.

If you ask me, the first way to develop an informed opinion is to recognize that you will not and cannot ever be fully informed. And then immerse yourself in that very quest.

Fill in the Cracks with Faith

Three days ago I arrived in the Holy Land for a 4 month study abroad. Yesterday evening we had the opportunity to welcome in the Sabbath with the Jews at the Western Wall. A brief background: the Western Wall is the last remnant of the retaining wall of the ancient temple, and is considered a place of great holiness. Many Jews go there to place a written prayer in one of the many cracks of the depleted wall. They believe that those are the prayers that God answers first. From far away it just looks like a really big wall, but as you approach you find prayers recorded on different sizes, colors, and types of paper squeezed into every available crevice of the wall. On the ground next to the wall are hundreds of slips of paper that have fallen out over the last couple months.

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As I was standing at the wall, I was awe-struck by all the slips of paper representing thousands of individuals’ faith. I see it as a metaphor for life. I am kind of like a giant, ancient wall. I have experiences that build me up and also experiences that take a piece out of me. There are times when I feel sturdy and formidable. There are other times when I feel like I’m falling apart and crumbling down. But regardless of how I’m feeling about my life, it is critical that I fill in the cracks with my faith. Not everything is going to make sense to me, and perfection simply is not within reach during mortality, but as I fill the cracks in my understanding and in my weaknesses with faith, I can withstand whatever blows come at me.

Conversations with Life Transitions

I must say I’m surprised to see you again so recently. Though I’ve seen your name on my calendar for weeks, you still manage to catch me by surprise! I admit, I don’t feel ready for your arrival, there is still so much left undone and unsaid. But perhaps that’s why you’re coming. Maybe it’s better left untouched and unspoken.

You are merciless in your forward propulsion. I know, I get it, you see above the hazy cloud of present comfort; you want to help me travel into those brighter futures I’m always raving on about. But don’t you see, I’m just not ready yet!

Okay, fine! If you insist, I’ll get my bags and grab my coat. Just give me one last moment to relish in blissful memories and wallow in the sad nostalgia of saying goodbye….If you look at your watch one more time, so help me! I know we’re late! Some things just can’t be rushed!

Why is travel with you always so uncomfortable? Could you upgrade us to first class next time please? It’s awful crowded here with all of my insecurities and wishes for days of yore pressing on me from every side. I wouldn’t mind something a bit more spacious.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten settled I can see that you want me to say I told you so, but I refuse. If I indulge you now, it will make you insufferable the next time you come to visit. Now that doesn’t mean you weren’t right. That being said, and I mean no offense, I wouldn’t mind if you stayed away for awhile. Have you ever considered taking a sabbatical? I’ve heard Paris is nice.

Kindred Spirits


the chase is thrilling,
the search unending,
compensation compelling,
desire always building.
What’s the treasure I’m pursuing?
What’s the prize in earnest sought?
Not just a pal, a bud, a chum–
I’m searching for a kindred spirit!

Kindred is a funny word,
with roots back to the family.
But in lieu of sharing genes and noses,
we share souls
sowed in like-minded rows.
The kindred friend comes naturally;
Never forced, coerced, contrived.

Life events don’t form this kin-tight bond,
It’s something far far deeper.
What it is, that’s hard to say,
Much easier to feel.

Forget flustered stammerings
of poorly-articulated feelings.
No no. No no – no need,
cause you get me so precisely,
so perfectly, so thoroughly,
words become a waste
except when used to say
“I’m glad I’m not the only one!”
Or to revel in this friendship dear.
Cause I get you and you get me,
we are true kindred spirits.

Reasons Why Finnish is the Coolest Language

Most people have no idea that Finnish is a fascinating, intricate, logical, beautiful language. Okay, most people have no idea that Finnish is even a language. So to promote public awareness of the awesomeness of Finnish, I’ve compiled a short list, detailing just a few reasons why it is so stinking cool.

  1. It sounds like the language baby of Japanese, Hawaiian, Swedish, and Parseltongue…look it up and tell me I’m wrong.
  2. It is completely, one hundred percent, all the time, always phonetic. Unlike some other stupid languages that make absolutely no sense and break phonics rules more than they adhere to them. (I’m talking to you, English…though, tough, through…).
  3. It is concise (sometimes). A phrase that spans 6 English words can be communicated in single Finnish word. Example: “In order for us to speak…” = “puhuaksemme”
  4. They have a participle for every occasion! Now I know you’re probably thinking, what in the Scandinavia is a participle? Don’t sweat it, just appreciate that it has the same approximate functionality as duct tape. You can make a verb work in any situation! The possibilities are limitless!
  5. Everything is literal. Example conversation: “I am singing.” “Why hello, literal embodiment of singing! It is delightful to meet you! Do tell, do you like yourself best soprano or alto?”

As many of the finer things in life, Finnish is woefully unappreciated and underutilized on the global scale. But for the few precious souls intimate with its beauty, it is a beast to be revered.

Joyful Sorrow

I love learning life lessons through movies made for children, and I’m talking lessons bigger than just “be yourself” and “live your dreams.” I’ve learned to hold tight to family bonds (Anastasia), to be a loyal friend (Toy Story), to seek enduring, meaningful, adventurous love (Up), just to name a few.

Recently I watched Inside Out, and I was moved by this profound emotional truth: sadness is good. Let that sink in.

Isn’t it amazing that we, such complex and confusing creatures, can experience joyful sorrow. Think of the wide range of emotions that fall under the sadness umbrella: there’s disappointment, depression, frustration, grief, longing, loneliness…each of those distinct and powerful. They interact with each other to create a unique sadness experience for each individual. But it is sorrow, deeply felt grief over the loss of something profoundly meaningful, that I find particularly fascinating. 

I served an eighteen month mission in Finland for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I moved all around Finland; the most I ever lived in one area was six months. It is the nature of missionary service that you grow close to people and then you are asked to move, leaving behind your dear friends. That was hard. In my first area, we met regularly with an endearing old woman, who would make us dinner once a week, always followed by us singing her hymns and sharing a spiritual message. Because I was new to the country, my Finnish was rocky, and that’s a generous description. I was lucky if I understood ten percent of what she said. This sweet woman knew probably a total of ten English phrases, and I was stumbling along with poorly pieced together and grammatically incorrect bursts of Finnish. But despite the communication barrier, we both expressed love through service. The result was a relationship closer than anything I could have imagined developing with an elderly woman on the other side of the world whose language I definitely didn’t speak. One of the hardest moments of my mission was telling my dear friend that I couldn’t come to visit any longer because I was going away. She responded with one of the precious few English phrases left in her vocabulary after years of disuse, “I have sorrow.” And it pierced me to the core.

Try to describe where you feel sorrow. I can’t pinpoint an anatomical place, but I’d bet money it’s the same place you feel love. Sorrow wouldn’t exist without love, because sorrow is love, combined with the knowledge that something cherished must come to an end. It isn’t the love that comes to an end – that’s called apathy. It is when the object of love is separated from you that you feel sorrow.

But before you go disparaging sorrow, think of the greater purpose it serves. Sorrow adds a richness and depth to life. It teaches us to recognize goodness. It motivates us to strengthen relationships as we seek support. And the real miracle is, we can experience joy through out the entire process.

So consider this my thank you letter to sorrow. I don’t know that I can say I hope to see you soon, but when you come, I hope for the wisdom to remember your blessing.

Creative Juices

 

Where are my creative juices?
Should I press them like grapes,
desperately hoping that one more solid stomp
will finally leak out my lost originality?
Or should they be squeezed as an orange,
my fist forcing every precious piece of poetic pulp
be emptied into my newfound word well.
I think I’d like them best from the grapefruit,
sweet, tart, tangy pink, with just a hint of bitter.
Maybe it’s the vegetable, the carrot, that we want,
Surprising, thick, nourishing.

They say they’re supposed to flow, you know.
But where’s the sacred source?
my heart, my hands, my brain, my mouth,
or deep within my lungs?
Oh to chemically exchange my
inhaled oxygen for creativity!
To produce the breath of worded life–
for words move and scream and hurt
and heal–with just a simple gasp!

I wonder, is the flow more like a river,
a smooth stream molding the formation
of phrases, words, sentences and lines
to carry you on the raft built of pages,
to new lands with old friends,
friends like love, pain, passion,
The friends that swirl through your veins
pumping feelings throughout your body,
White water rapids of ecstasy and hurt,
followed by the tame and trepid waters of
dull aching and peaceful dreaming.

Express Delivery to Heaven

What is your soul composed of? That’s a lifetime of searching kind of question, but here’s a one-sentence sum-up of my scratch-the-surface thoughts. A soul is a collection of desires, burdens, choices, successes, failures, sorrows, and joys—an intriguing subject indeed!

Now in that context, consider this scripture from the Book of Mormon, “I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.” Omni 1:26. Does that mean that Christ wants us to give Him our desires, burdens, choices, successes, failures, sorrows, and joys? Well, I think so! Now we could elaborate on what that means for each of those topics individually, but for now let’s just focus on the desires part. What does it mean to offer your desires to God?

Lately I have been grappling with an unresolved desire. Let’s say that my desire was to build a tree house. Ohhhh I wanted that tree house so bad. I envisioned the fulfillment I could find through the tree house—I saw myself tucked in its cozy corner reading, I pictured sunny days spent imagining divine possibilities from my oasis of happiness, I wanted lazy Saturday naps floating above the world, I even envisioned seeking shelter under its protected roof during the storms. And don’t think that I just wanted my tree house prefabricated and delivered to me on a big tree platter—no no, I was ready, hammer and nail, to build that bad boy myself! Investing in the building of the tree house is part of what would bring me so much joy! And yet, my tree house dreams were awakened by an abrupt change of events…let’s just say, I didn’t have a tree or a single sheet of wood. For whatever reason, it wasn’t my time to build the tree house. But my tree house desire didn’t just evaporate. Nope, it was just as big as the grand oak I would have built it in. And that was hard.treehouse

My held-out hope for my tree house was interfering with my ability to build other houses, but I was scared to let that desire go. I didn’t want to release it to an empty void to be absorbed by a dark, hazy cloud of unfulfilled wishes—my tree house was too special for that! In the middle of this internal struggle, I read that verse in Omni and realized that God was talking to me. He told me that I could deliver that desire to Him, to offer it up to Him as a sacrifice, and He would take good care of it for me. He told me that I couldn’t keep holding on to it, because it was keeping me from progressing, but He would hold on to it for me.

If one day I need it back, if I am blessed with the right kind of wood, and a tree in solid ground, He’ll give it back to me. But for right now, I need to learn what desires He wants me to have. And if I am willing to make that sacrifice, He can take me places greater than anything I’ve ever dreamed of…we’re talking celestial tree houses!

So how do we do that? How do we cross the threshold from lovely ideas to real practices? Goodness knows I don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I’ve done. Every time the tree house desire creeps back into my mind and heart, I visualize myself packaging it into a box, addressing it to God, and mailing it off. It is my way of letting go of my plan and embracing God’s higher ways. I consider it my express delivery to Heaven.