Just Call Me Cripple…

Piano

I’m a musician. A pianist, to be more specific. It’s what I love and it’s what I study in school – my degree is my hobby. Almost every day, I get to sit at one of those beautiful instruments and practice for four or more hours. If I didn’t have other classes to worry about doing homework in, I’d probably practice closer to eight hours on a daily basis. When I touch those keys…. something just clicks. I get lost in the music and there’s been more than one time I’ve caught myself laughing out loud with just the joy of playing and the satisfaction of conquering another line of complicated and intricate notes. Or it could just be that I find something funny in what the composer wrote. 😉 I might have to work a little harder at enjoying performing in front of people instead of just practicing by myself, but there’s actually nothing I enjoy more than sharing my joy and love of music (see my previous post about why I play here).

Towards the end of last semester, I had one of the biggest struggles I’ve ever experienced. Long story short: I decided to change my major to piano performance. Most people probably are thinking “Wait… I thought that’s what you were studying already?” or “Well duh… How come you didn’t do that in the first place?” Well, because I didn’t realize it’s what I wanted to do until now. I never saw my potential until a couple months ago. It might be shocking for you to know that I honestly didn’t think I was good enough or outgoing enough because I get so nervous when I play in front of people. It really was quite a struggle to make this decision and I only made it because 1) the Lord definitely was guiding me to this decision and 2) I have one of the best professors out there – one who cares about me personally, who cares enough to help me see my abilities and potential outside of my own point of view. As I sought advice from many different people but especially the Lord and my piano professor, I got the answer I wanted, but one I never would have expected – “Switch to piano performance. You’re good enough. You’re strong enough. You will love it.”

So I’ve jumped into this decision with both feet, excited and joyful. Sometimes it’s a little scary because it means learning and memorizing 50 minutes of music in 4-5 months for a recital that will also be my audition into the program. I sometimes wonder if I can do it successfully in so little time. But then other days, I get so happy that I practically skip everywhere I go and sing at the top of my voice because I can’t contain my excitement!

And then, only about a month or so after making the decision to switch came something that could have been (and could still be) devastating to my newfound dream…

Photo on 2016-01-31 at 13.11 #2There’s the possibility of having carpal tunnel. My muscles, tendons and bones started aching to the point where I was so afraid I would make it worse if I played the piano anymore. It got bad enough that  closing car doors, pulling open the doors to buildings or lifting a heavy book was painful. I prayed earnestly, pleading that they would heal, asking for another confirmation that piano performance was right for me. I didn’t even want to think about what I would do if I was told I couldn’t play the piano again in the way that I would need to for that major. Despite my worries and fears, I decided to trust in my answer from the beginning: Playing the piano is what I love. And sharing that talent is what I need to do because it will bless me, my family, my friends and so many others in ways I can’t imagine right now.

Oh and there’s one other thing that could make me stumble in another way: I have pretty bad anxiety when it comes to performing in front of people. Kind of a problem when I’ve decided to make my whole degree about performing, eh?

There are some times that I doubt the answer I got – I wonder if I have enough time to learn everything. I wonder if I have the strength to go on. I wonder if I can get past my anxiety and keep my hands from shaking, my heart from feeling like it’s going to explode and my brain from shutting down to where I pass out. I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by all of these things that I start to doubt that I’m even good enough to do what I want to do.

You might as well just call me cripple – I have problems physically (my wrists), mentally (my anxiety) and emotionally and spiritually (doubts).

And then I remember: I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:13).

How many of us are completely and perfectly whole either physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually? If you’re out there, I want to meet you and find out what you’re doing to achieve that perfection. Otherwise, I want you to know this: we are all cripples in some way or another. Even though your body might be whole and healthy, you might suffer from depression. Even though your mind might be strong and stable, your legs might not work and you have to be in a wheelchair. And even if your mind and body are complete, your spirit might be doubting, floundering and wondering how you could ever move forward in life.

There are so many instances in the New Testament when Jesus Christ healed people. He gave people a new life – to the blind, He gave back their sight and a new life of seeing everything around them where previously it had been dark (John 9:6-7). To the lame, He gave them their ability to walk again, to explore the streets they’d lived near their entire lives and never seen (Matthew 21:14). To the deaf, He gave their hearing, allowing them to experience the laughter of children, the sound of water and their own voice for the first time (Mark 7:32-35). Even to the dead, He gave them their lives again (Matthew 9:18, 24-25). And to the faithful doubters, He gave comfort, strength and light (Mark 9:23-24). (Matthew 11:5)

So why am I telling you all this? Do I have a miraculous story where I received a Priesthood blessing and immediately my wrists and my anxiety were healed? No. Not even close. I’m telling you all this to share with you my testimony of the way God works.

Heavenly Father is a loving Father who allows us to experience things that cripple us in many different ways to teach us. Sometimes that includes not being healed right away or maybe not even ever. I don’t know what your personal lesson is, but mine? As far is this piano part of my life goes: Perseverance, trust, hope and faith. My wrists started giving me problems soon after I’d made the inspired decision to change my major to piano performance. I KNOW that answer came from the Lord, and so I’m choosing to trust in Him that I can continue. I do everything I can to rest my hands and wrists so I don’t overuse them because I know God doesn’t want to fix all my problems for me – He wants me to learn to solve problems at least partly on my own. He wants me to use my agency, to use the knowledge I’ve been given. If I don’t know what to do, He wants me to turn to Him and ask. He just doesn’t want to hear me ask “Can you get me out of this? Can you fix this problem for me?” Because I know who God is, I also choose to have faith and hope in His promise that I will be able to use my musical talents to bless the lives of others and I’m trusting that playing the piano is included in that promise. Even if it turns out I can’t play, then so be it. I’ll learn whatever lesson I’m supposed to learn from it, apply it, and move on to whatever else there is for me to do.

I may be a cripple in a few different ways, but I am still a Daughter of God. I still have talent, I still have worth and I can still change the world. Whether I end up in the worst case scenario and am never able to play the piano again or not, I don’t know. But I do know that whatever happens, I have a loving Heavenly Father to guide me, strengthen me and heal me if it be according to His will. No matter what happens, no matter how crippled I become physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, I choose to follow the Lord.

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Understanding the Atonement

The Atonement is something most of us have all heard about, read about, or studied about at some point in our lives. Atonement is the word that refers to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the entire purpose of His coming to Earth. It’s something we will probably never fully understand in this life, but we will come to understand at least some of the parts that we personally need to access. The Atonement of Jesus Christ covers so many different things, not just sins – pains, afflictions, sicknesses, death, and even temptations (Alma 7:11-12). That means that Christ, your Savior, knows exactly what it’s like when someone tries to get you to swear or drink alcohol or do drugs or even temptations that might not seem so serious like “I’ll just watch one more episode of this show even though I’ve been watching it for seven hours already” or “I don’t really need to go to that service project. Plenty of people will already go and they don’t really need my help.” Christ’s Atonement covers that and any pain you’ve ever had – pain of a broken heart, a broken arm, arthritis, migraines… Whatever it is He has felt it in the same exact way YOU have felt it. neweralp.nfo-o-97d

Sister Chieko Okazaki, a former member of the General Relief Society Presidency (1990-1997) said this when speaking to women (though it applies to every single one of us):

“We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.

Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion.

His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.

So do you really think you’re shielding Him by keeping the door closed? Do you really think He doesn’t know? Doesn’t understand? The door to Him is always open, but the door to you can be closed and stay closed, if you choose to close it.”

While I was at institute on Thursday night, there was a lengthy but extremely enlightening discussion concerning this topic of the Atonement. We mostly focused on what it was like for Christ to go through so much pain and suffering that He would be able to know our own pain and sufferings PERFECTLY. Luke recounts what the Savior experienced in Gethsemane saying in chapter 22 verse 42-44:

“…Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

The Savior Himself wasn’t sure He was ready or even that He wanted to do what was about to happen. But because He exercised faith in His Father and continued on with the Atonement, He received help directly from heaven to give Him the strength He needed to complete His purpose for coming to Earth. Instead of giving up at the beginning, He pressed forward. Instead of giving up after experiencing a few minutes of pain, He pressed forward. Instead of giving up towards the end, He continued onward in faith and was able to endure the pain – pain so great that no human being would ever be able to survive even just a part of it – and continue on to finish His Father’s will. When Jesus Christ was experiencing YOUR life in the Garden of Gethsemane, He didn’t give up on you. He continued on so that He would know exactly how you feel, what you’re experiencing and why you make the choices you make. Why? Because He loves the Father and knew that in completing the Atonement, it would make it possible for you to be brought back into the presence of God, for no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God (Psalm 24:3-4, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Nephi 10:21, Alma 11:37, Moses 6:57). But it wasn’t just because He loves His Father that He didn’t give up on you. It’s because He loves YOU.

The other night at institute, we were discussing the suffering that Christ went through in Gethsemane. At one point, we brought up the scripture Doctrine and Covenants 122:8 which says “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” This section of the Doctrine and Covenants came to Joseph Smith when he was in Liberty Jail in Missouri. For those who don’t know, Liberty Jail was nothing more than a root cellar where the men with Joseph couldn’t even stand up straight. They were there from December 1838-April 1839 – a period of about five months in the dead of winter. Food was brought to them by the “guards”. And it wasn’t food fit for a dog to eat, let alone six grown men. Not to mention that those guards were members of the mob wanting to kill Joseph Smith and every Mormon there ever was. D&C 122 was given to Joseph Smith at a time when he wondered where God was in all of this – hadn’t he done everything the Lord asked? Why did he deserve to suffer so much pain and sickness? Why did he deserve to be torn from his family in the middle of winter? Was God punishing him for something?

The Lord’s answer was more than just verse 8, but the conversation that followed us reading that particular verse in class was quite profound. Many different thoughts came but there were two that really touched me:

First: “When we try to get through our trials and afflictions on our own, we’re rejecting Christ’s Atonement. Do you think you’re stronger than Him, that you can go through this life on your own?”

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Sometimes, the pain we go through comes because of our choices. We’re human. So that means we’ll make mistakes, and we’re going to sin because we’re weak. But that’s what the Atonement can be used for – to overcome our human weaknesses. It takes time, it takes pain, it takes endurance. But it is possible and we don’t HAVE to suffer as much as choosing NOT to use the Atonement would cause us to suffer. Those are the times that we can feel unworthy to ask for Christ’s help or feel that “I got myself into this mess, I have to get my own self out of it.” But no. Those are the times that the Atonement was meant for.

There are other times when our pain isn’t because of our own choices. It’s sometimes because of the choices of others around us – we care so deeply for them that their pain causes us pain. Their decisions that take them away from God cause us to suffer in a way similar to Christ – all we want to do is help, but we can’t if they don’t choose to let us. That’s when we turn to the Lord, give Him our burden and continue to do everything we can for that person without having to experience the pain of it in its fulness.

Second: “Christ has gone through the worst imaginable pain and suffering – He PLEADS for us to not have to go through that as well because He knows what it’s like and He desperately does NOT want any of us to have to go through it, too.”

One other way that was pointed out in my class was that pain comes despite us choosing the right and doing everything God has asked of us to the best of our ability is simply because it just comes. In Matthew 27:46, as Christ was hanging on the cross, He cried out: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles describes what happened and why in his talk None Were With Him. He says:

“Now I speak very carefully, even reverently, of what may have been the most difficult moment in all of this solitary journey to Atonement. I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 16

The loss of mortal support He had anticipated, but apparently He had not comprehended this. Had He not said to His disciples, “Behold, the hour … is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” and “The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him”? 17

With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering. Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.”

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……..

We might be keeping the commandments, praying daily, reading and studying the scriptures and trying to apply what we learn in our own lives daily, attending church meetings and activities, magnifying our callings, etc etc. We might be doing all of those things and still, we don’t always feel happy or enlightened. Then we get frustrated because we feel like we should always be happy, and why aren’t we happy if we’re doing everything right?!?

…But our eternal progression, our eternal well-being is DEPENDENT on those times of unhappiness, trials and tribulations! Just as Christ’s fulfillment of the Atonement was dependent on the time that Heavenly Father withdrew from Him on the cross. God knows exactly what we need and sometimes that need requires Him to let us be in darkness for a time, to test our faith, to test our love for Him, to test who we really are.

But joy always comes after sorrow…

“But Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. The trust He lived by told Him in spite of His feelings that divine compassion is never absent, that God is always faithful, that He never flees nor fails us.”

As we progress through our lives and encounter times of darkness, we can turn to the Savior’s example of faith, diligence and love and ask Him for strength to endure. No matter the circumstance, no matter the reason, the Savior is always there for us, willing to hold us and walk with us because He has experienced everything that you have experienced, are experiencing and will experience in your life.

And guess what? He. Still. Loves. You. I believe that it’s because He knows and understands exactly your individual life – the good and the bad. And He believes that the good outweighs the bad. He believes that you can still become a perfect being like Him, like God. He believes that you can inherit all that He has (Matthew 5:3-12, Romans 8:17, Romans 21:7). He believes in YOU.

So believe in and love Him. Have faith in Him. Allow the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be a part of your life on a daily basis. Allow Him to calm your fears, carry your sorrows and wipe away the tears.

Let Him be a part of you because YOU are a part of Him.

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He is with you, always.

“Abide With Me”

Because I shared my thoughts earlier this week in this post here, today’s post will be somewhat short. Sometimes it’s fairly easy for us to get caught up in the world. When that happens, we forget to keep up those important things that bring us closer to Christ and guide us through the dark times that are inevitable in this mortal life. We sometimes even forget that we need to make time to be strengthened physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The demands of life occasionally keep us so busy that the things that should be most important to us fall off the back of our wagons and lay forgotten along the side of a dusty dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Abide With Me is one of my favorite Mormon Messages. It reminds me of two things. First, that my quiet example can impact someone’s life in a very strong way, just exactly when they need it. And second, it shows me that at the times when I am most overwhelmed with work, school, being social, and so forth are the times when I need to remember the basics the most – prayer, scripture study and attending church to partake of the sacrament and be spiritually fed by others’ testimonies. If I forget those things, I get upset, angry, frustrated, annoyed, impatient and flustered. The Spirit of the Lord isn’t able to be with us when we become that way.

All the Lord wants is to be with us always, so that He may teach us and help us grow so that we can become like Him and live with Him again. Isn’t that basically what any parent wants? For their children to become like them, or better, and to always be with them? John 17:3 states: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” In this verse, we’re taught how to gain eternal life. How are we to come to know God and Jesus Christ if we neglect to do the simple things we’ve been taught and given? The scriptures teach us about our Savior. They teach us how to be like Him. They teach us to turn to Him in times of darkness and trials. They teach us how He loves us. When we pray, we’re opening a line of communication to acknowledge that we at least want to know our Father in Heaven. Prayer teaches us on a very personal level who God is. It teaches us that He is aware of us and knows us perfectly. It teaches us that He gives us guidance if we just take the time to talk with Him and ask for it. Prayer teaches us that we are never alone, and it teaches us WHY He loves us. Attending church, particularly for the reason of partaking the sacrament, teaches us more abundantly of His love for us. It teaches us that there is hope to be had in the future because of what the Savior has done for us. It teaches us that we have others in our lives to lift us up and strengthen us when we have difficulty remembering to keep our faces looking towards the Savior.

 

The more I remember to make those three things a priority in my life, the more strongly I feel the guidance and companionship of the Holy Ghost. I know these things to be true because I have done them and continue to do them. Once I start to become irritated, frustrated or annoyed, I evaluate how my relationship with the Lord is at that particular moment. If it’s not where it needs to be, I go back to the basics and strengthen my habits of prayer, scripture study and church attendance.

My promise to you is that if you choose to make Prayer, Scripture Study and Church attendance a priority in your life, whether you’re Mormon or not, you WILL come to know who your Savior and Heavenly Father are on a much deeper level than you have ever known them previously. I promise that by choosing to have a deeper relationship with Them, you will be guided step by step in every aspect of your life.

Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me!
I need thy presence ev’ry passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Thru cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me!

You’ve Never Gone Too Far

The topic of repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ has come up many times in my studies lately and in my institute class last night. Then, this morning as I was studying for my D&C class, I had the EFY 2014 soundtrack going. This particular song, Listen came on as I was writing about D&C 16:6. It says “And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.” It got me thinking about my own repentance and how I personally use the Atonement my Savior freely gave. I don’t use it nearly as often as I should. I don’t even THINK about it near as much as I need to. Repentance is a tool we need to use every day of our lives. It comes BECAUSE of the Atonement, which is not just there for when we make mistakes and commit sin. It’s there for when we’re stressed, in physical, emotional, mental or spiritual pain. It’s there for when we just want to give up and not have to be strong anymore. Christ suffered so that we may be saved from our sins, but also that we may be exalted and live with God again (1 Peter 3:18). Repentance and the Atonement is something I need to incorporate more in my every day life so that I can experience the joy, love, peace and upliftment that only comes from God and His Spirit on a daily basis. I need to think about it more than just once a week when I take the sacrament.

Matthew 26:40-41 is when the Savior is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He finds his disciples asleep and asks “What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

When I read that last night, I realized something. This happens three times – He asks them to stay awake with Him THREE times and every time, they still fall asleep. And three times, He shakes them awake to ask “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” I don’t think that the Apostles were trying to defy the Savior’s request. Nor do I think was He particularly upset with them for falling asleep. They were simply so exhausted, Jesus conquers greg olsen_thumb[2]considering it being the middle of the night (or rather, very early in the morning). They were mortal humans. He merely took the opportunity to teach them that sometimes we ARE too exhausted to stay awake and keep going, but when that happens, He will still be awake. He will watch for us – He will be with us when we’re not strong enough on our own. And after a little while, He’ll shake us awake again to remind us He’s still there if we want to choose to rely on His strength. And He will suffer for us during those times when we try to stay awake and when we choose to be with Him so that we don’t have to, so that we can rest and gain strength to try again.

Listen to this song again(same as above). Think about how you use the gift of Repentance, the gift of the Atonement in your life. Do you ever feel lost, alone, non-progressive? Do you sometimes forget that you DO belong, that you have great potential? Do you get caught up in the stresses, pains, distractions and craziness of life? Do you take time often throughout each day to just stop and listen/look for His love, His Spirit, His comfort? Is He at the center of your life so that when the winds come and the storms of life threaten to knock you down, you’re able to take His hand and get through it? If you sometimes forget it, how quick are you to remember Him? Have you remembered Him today?

Sometimes we fall. Sometimes we get lost and off the path that leads us towards Him. Sometimes we turn our backs on Him, whether on purpose or simply because we’re tired. But that’s just how life is. We’re human. We make mistakes. We sin (Mosiah 3:19). But the amazing thing? We do have someone who is ALWAYS there waiting for us to recognize that we walked away from Him. He is our safety. He is our peace and calm in the storms of the world. He is our protector and guide for when those storms knock us off course. He’s constantly calling for us to come back and reaching to grab our hands 993c437cea31d948396b22e31948c13f to bring us back to where we need to be. He even will walk towards us to get us out of the deepest, darkest holes of despair you can’t even imagine getting into. There is no place that He can’t reach you.

Always remember that no matter what you’ve done in your life, you still matter. You still have worth. You still are loved. You still are a Child of a loving, merciful and kind Father in Heaven. Always remember that no matter how far you’ve gone off the path of righteousness and light, He’s only a step away, waiting for that time you call out to Him and ask Him to help you make your way back. It won’t be an easy or short journey – you still have to walk back the way you came, but as long as you’re choosing to walk back to the Light, to turn your back on the darkness, He will be holding your hand, even carrying you, as you take step after step to get back to where He needs and wants you to be in order to live with Him again.

 

The Blessing and Gift of Music: Why I Play

 

I’ve believed for quite a while now that music is at least one of the languages of God. Have you ever had an overwhelming feeling of love or compassion or truth or just that something was right and you had no doubt about it? Have you ever tried to express that feeling through words? It’s difficult, isn’t it? I think that’s why people in history have invented instruments, dances, songs, paint, sculptures… ART to try and express the way they feel. That’s the reason why art of any kind is so important for all of us to have in our lives. It’s how others express the feelings of their heart and soul in a way that words just can’t do any justice for. It’s like when you see a sunset or sunrise or the majesty of something in nature and you try to take a picture of it. The picture does absolutely NOTHING to represent what it actually looks like. The same goes for music and words. Without music, words don’t always mean as much. Music takes feelings, sounds and words and amplifies the meaning you’re trying to get across. Simply saying something doesn’t usually do much.

Music has changed my life every single day that I use it because of the way it brings the Spirit of the Lord to me. Today, I would like to share an assignment I wrote for my Psychology of Music Performance class (with a few tweaks to fit this better). It’s about my best and worst performances ever in my life, as I remember them. While you read it, I want you to think about the difference in these two performances (it’s kind of really obvious).

“It was my sophomore year at BYU during my fourth semester. I had been struggling with memorizing one of my pieces because it was a different style than what I was used to – more jazzy, broken up and nonsensical. Despite this struggle, I decided I needed to try performing it at master class one week anyway, mostly for the sake of my grade since I hadn’t yet performed more than once or twice throughout the semester. I tried to prepare myself mentally by focusing on positive thoughts, but the thoughts of how unsure I was of the memorization thus far kept zipping through my mind. The exact spots of where I was sure to make a mistake were clear to me, and I almost dreaded when I would come to them.

After nervously waiting for my turn that night for about half the class period, my professor called me up to play. Again, I tried to think positively, but my hands kept shaking and my heart kept pounding. Then the most horrifying thought crept in: “Do I even remember the first notes?!?” That would be about the time when my breathing turned shallow and the room almost started closing in on me before I could get up and start.

Thankfully, I did remember those first notes, but there were so many holes in my memory that it was a huge struggle to get to the end. I don’t even think I actually finished it. I just gave up and told my professor I couldn’t remember. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this is when the worst part of the performance came: Dr. A made me play again. I almost started crying I felt so humiliated – I knew I wasn’t going to remember it the second time around either. 

Sure enough, I came to the same spot and couldn’t remember the music for the life of me. By now, I have no doubt my face was flaming red and tears were welling up in my eyes. It took every ounce of will-power in me to keep them from spilling over. I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t remember, but even more so I was embarrassed that it was happening in front of everyone. And not just anyone, but people who had been accepted to the piano performance program. These were people who, in my opinion, had more talent than I ever did and who had worked harder than me. That last point seemed rather clear to me that night. I felt stupid, untalented and extremely small, not to mention I was beginning to be very angry at my professor for making me be the center of attention in such a degrading way. I have never enjoyed being in the spotlight, but this was the worst night of my life.

My professor made me try a third time, but it was absolutely pointless because my mind was so focused on what a terrible job I was doing that I didn’t even come close to getting as far as I did the first two times. He finally allowed me to sit back down in my seat, but only after telling me I had too many memory problems and mistakes and that I really needed to work on them. My only thought was a very sarcastic “Well, thank you so much for notifying me of that. I had no idea I did so horribly.”

To this day, I still hate that piece of music, mostly out of the frustration it caused during that entire semester. I only played it because it was assigned to me. I knew it would probably be good for me to learn something I wasn’t familiar with or even something I wasn’t very fond of in the first place, but there was absolutely no connection for me whatsoever…

My best performance was on June 14, 2013. I remember that day like it was yesterday, not because of how I performed but WHY I performed. It was June 5, 2013 that I had entered the MTC to serve my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New Hampshire Manchester Mission for 18 months, and it was eight hours later on that same day that I had received the news that my older brother, Tyler had passed away. Nine days later on June 14, I was scheduled to perform “Tribute” by Jon Schmidt at Tyler’s funeral. I was still set apart as a missionary (I would return to the MTC on the 19th of June), and so I have no doubt that I had extra help as I performed one of the most meaningful songs I’ve ever played.

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A few days before the funeral, we had been discussing with our stake president and bishop how it would be set up and what musical numbers to put in. It was strange, but just a few months before, I had had the thought that if something ever happened to my brother, I definitely wanted to play at his funeral. When I voiced that thought to my family and leaders, everyone looked shocked and wondered, I’m sure, if I would be emotionally strong enough to play at my own brother’s funeral. But this was something I had no doubt that I had to do. I felt it would be something I would regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t.

The morning of the funeral, I played through the piece a few times, not sure how well I would do when the time came to perform, but nevertheless trusting that it would indeed be a tribute to my brother – someone I had looked up to all my life. I had chosen to play “Tribute” by Jon Schmidt because Jon was one of Tyler’s favorite composers to play and because it was one Jon had written for his own sister’s funeral when he was young. In the moments leading up to when I would play in front of literally hundreds of people who had come to remember Tyler, I didn’t feel scared or nervous. I may not have prepared myself as well as I had wanted, but I felt that because I was playing for Tyler, everything would be okay. The walk up to the piano wasn’t nerve-racking as it usually was. It wasn’t something I dreaded. Instead, it filled me with peace and calm and, oddly enough, excitement. And when I sat down to play and placed my fingers on the keys, I thought “This one’s for you, big brother.”

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While I played, I put all the feeling and emotion into it that I could think of. It was my way of saying thank you and of bringing back memories of when Tyler and I would play together, accompany each other on various instruments, laugh together at the mistakes and silly things we would do or say whenever we hung out. It was a way for me to express my love and appreciation for all he had taught me and the advice he had given. Most of all, it was a way for me to say good-bye for now.

As those thoughts passed through my mind, I felt a lot of joy, and I felt my brother standing beside me. My gratitude and love for my brother reflected the gratitude and love I have for my Savior, and I couldn’t help but smile while I played. When I finished, I couldn’t remember making more than one tiny mistake throughout the whole song. I have no doubt it was my best performance because I was playing for someone I love. Heavenly Father gave me this musical talent to express myself, to bring the Spirit, and to bless the lives of others, and I achieved every one of those things that day. Because those were my reasons, pure and simple, any doubts or fears I usually have before I perform were gone that day. And because of that, I was able to convey the love I have for my brother, the love he has for me, the love of God and the love of  our Savior through an almost perfect performance that extended through both sides of that sacred veil that separates us from the spiritual world.”

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Alright. So tell me. What was the difference between those two performances? Was it the song choice and difficulty level? Was it my preparation? Was it the audience? While those all may have played a role, it wasn’t any of those that really made the difference. The difference was the reason for which I was playing and in whom I was trusting.

Heavenly Father teaches us to trust in Him and we will be strengthened, especially if we are trying to do His will (the example here being developing and sharing our talents). (See Isaiah 41:10, Proverbs 3:5) When I played for my class, I was doing it because I felt pressure. I did it when I hadn’t prepared myself. And I didn’t trust in God, mostly because I knew I hadn’t done my part to prepare and felt I had no reason to ask for His help. When I played to convey my love for my brother and gratitude for my Savior in allowing Tyler to be a part of my life, I played almost perfectly because I was using my talent for good and to bless other people through the Spirit. I felt I could trust in the Lord to let me play well because I knew it would provide the peace and comfort everyone needed as they tried to come to terms with Tyler’s unexpected and tragic passing.

Heavenly Father has taught us to develop and share our talents. Why? For the benefit of others – to bring them closer to Christ, to bring them joy, and to help them also progress in their mortal journey to finding eternal life (D&C 46:12, Moroni 10:8, Matthew 25:14-30).

President James E. Faust of the First Presidency said: “We must recognize that our natural gifts and abilities are limited, but when augmented by inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost, our potential increases manyfold. You need help from a power beyond your own to do something extraordinarily useful. You young [people] can have opportunities and receive blessings beyond your wildest dreams and expectations. Your future may not hold fame or fortune, but it can be something far more lasting and fulfilling. Remember that what we do in life echoes in eternity.”

I love that… “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” That doesn’t just mean the way we develop ourselves, but the service we render and the way we use the opportunities we have to change other people through our talents, testimonies and gifts from God.

So how can your talents and gifts change your life and the lives of others?What will you do this week to develop your talents and share them?  You don’t have to proficient at it. Just pick something you love, work on it and share it so that others can see the joy it brings you and to bring them joy as well.

This post is already pretty long, but I have one more thing to say real quick: I do so much better when I am focused on doing things to help other people and to bring the Spirit to them. And I do it best through music. THAT is why I continue to play and why I love it so much. I have no doubt that what I do and what I will do with this wonderful God-given talent can change people’s lives. I know that because it’s changed my own life and changed who I am, which in turn changes other people, too. So how could I possibly bear to hide that?

Piano Senior

 

New Year, New Beginning: Selflessness and Service

Well, it’s the beginning of a new year which generally, for many people, means a time of reflection and setting goals and plans to accomplish those goals. I just so happen to be one of those people. In 2016, I’ve set a theme for what I want to accomplish – Selflessness and Service.

As I’ve looked back on the past year I’ve been able to recognize that the times when I was happiest and most successful was when I was more focused on other people and their needs instead of myself and the things I’ve needed to get done. Sometimes, I seem to forget that what makes me the happiest is making other people smile. It’s easy to take for granted those things we see and do and have every day – food, clothes, technology, etc. But it’s almost always the simple things that lift people’s spirits – an unexpected inspirational note, a letter, a meaningful gift, time spent together. Anything that really just shows genuine love and kindness.

Why do you think it is that we’re asked to serve others? Why are we taught to stop judging others for their looks, circumstances or families? Really now. Think about it. Why do we ever do anything in the Gospel?

….Think some more….

…………………………….

Alright, I’ll tell you:

Love.

Yup. It’s that simple. Love is at the center of everything.

At first, the reason I choose to serve others is because I love God. But because I choose to serve others, the reason soon becomes because I love them.

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Helping shovel a deck in the middle of a snow storm, 2014.

Service teaches me to be like God because it strengthens my understanding, my faith, my love and my hope in everything I’ve ever believed in. It teaches me more about who God is and what He’s like. How can we become like something we don’t understand or know? If we don’t know who God is, how can we ever expect to be like Him? How does He expect that of us?

In order for me to progress and accomplish the goal of becoming like God, I’ve decided to have an entire year where I learn to focus on others more than myself so that it won’t just be something I do for a year, but something I do for the rest of my life. That’s kind of the point of any goal – to make us better than we were before, to change the world for the better by changing us and the lives of those around us.

So this year, I challenge you to make at least one goal that will change the world (by changing even just one person’s life). But don’t make the goal and give up after a few weeks. Make the goal and then set plans and checkpoints to work towards accomplishing it. It takes time to achieve a goal, and patience and faith and hope. Don’t give up on something just because you haven’t immediately accomplished it. Don’t give up on your goals because you’ve ended up taking a few steps in the opposite direction. Life is meant to have trials and setbacks – so we can learn from them, set goals and become stronger than we were in the beginning. Think of your own career or educational goals: Did you give up after not getting into one school? Did you decide to be done after someone told you that you didn’t have enough knowledge or talent to get to your dream career? Of course not! You took the steps of learning and developing the skills required to achieve that goal or dream. It works the same way with New Year’s Resolutions.

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Helping prepare for Thanksgiving 2014

I have one more thing for today: In order for us to accomplish our goals, we have to have some help. So don’t give up on someone just because they’ve had a few setbacks themselves. They’re struggling and trying just as much as you are. None of us are strong enough to go on alone. So today, notice someone’s needs and do what you can to help them accomplish their own goals. I promise that will, in turn, help you accomplish yours.