Thursday, October 25, 2012

Moments of Growth

There are moments in life that you wonder what you did to become such a vessel of wrath. These times come and cause you to quiver, to ache, to see the very gaping mouth of Hell before you, which causes you to cower and to shrink. Moments such as these cause you to stretch forth your arm and question the very God of Heaven and Earth, to call out in anguish for answers, demanding that He hear you and give you vindication. There are moments in life when you see this Hell coming, and you blanch with dismay at the coming sorrow.

But then there are moments when nothing at all happens in your life and you don't even realize that such a Hell exists. There are moments when you look up over the din of your life and see that you have grown from those times. Although we don't like going through hell, it nevertheless makes us gain something we did not have before. These moments help us realize that having nothing happen at all isn't so bad.

And then there are moments when you do nothing at all, yet you ultimately grow as if put through a dozen crucibles. It is my belief that the majority of growth we receive does not come until after we have pondered on an experience we have had. My life here in Provo has seen its ups and its downs, and I have certainly gone through moments of Hell where I sat shivering in the dark loneliness of despair one experiences at such times. But I have also had moments where nothing happens and I just live my life.

Yet despite what moment I am having in my life, I am always perplexed by the idea that we must grow so we can survive ever greater trials. What is the point in growing if it just to allow us to fight an even bigger Hell ahead? I have never fully given credence to the idea that we suffer so we can grow.

Let me tell you of an experience of real growth that I have had just recently. This moment was truly a growing moment, and yet it is my strong belief that it was not meant to prepare me for some future event. Indeed, it is my strong belief that this moment occurred to make me understand an aspect of growth I did not understand: the capacity to live a joyful life.

To begin, let me give a little background. Recently I have been interviewing for jobs that will help launch my career after I graduate next April. From this search I have landed an interim job with a company named Axciom that could turn into a full-time career after graduation . Though I am not sure that I intend to stay with Axciom long term, I am definitely interested in working for them in the near future on some exciting new projects. This fact is crucial in leading me to the moment I am about to relate.

The particular moment I wish to describe played out much like a Hollywood nostalgia scene, where the main character arrives upon a place to perform an act when suddenly he enters a trance and the world around him changes. In this trance he sees himself, but many years younger and much more anxious and excited about his endeavor. Much like in those movie settings, our character watches as his younger self bumbles through the learning curve of life, striving to understand how to accomplish this pivotal moment that will set him on a path that leads he knows not where. He is filled with such hope, such brightness, and such conviction that what is ahead will be wonderful.

This moment, this scene from a movie that I so vividly lived, occurred the other day when I went to the library to print off and send in some papers for my new job with Axciom. I decided to go to the main floor's computer lab because it has a nifty machine that allows for sending scanned documents directly via-email. Because I don't go into this room often nor have I spent much if any time in this room during my time at BYU, I was not expecting to have waves of nostalgia rush over me. Nevertheless, what I experienced was nothing short of trip down memory lane.

As I signed and scanned my papers into the machine (all 32 pages, which is a whole other topic of discussion) I looked up over the computer aisles filled with students. While viewing these desks, each with a student, each busy with the matters of their lives, I suddenly saw before my eyes the unfolding of the aforementioned movie scene, complete with slow-motion editing and blur effects to add tear-jerking sobriety. It was altogether beautiful, and yet somehow wistful, almost sad.

What I saw in this film scene was the first day that Paul and I came to live in Utah after our missions. I remember quite vividly the feeling I had at the time. Neither of us had any idea what lay ahead, having just left behind our family home for what was probably the last time of claiming it as our residence. We were fresh and anxious to move on, and I know Paul was excited to get past an incident with one of his recent converts (a story for another time). In this particular scene we had come down to BYU to begin searching for jobs wherever we could find them. Having had little success, but undeterred, we made for the BYU library.

It was this moment that I saw in my mind's eye, that day when we came into the library to search the internet for jobs. Paul was sitting next to me and was searching for jobs around Provo; I was looking at the job listings on the online BYU jobs board . I remember the warm ray of sunlight coming through the window, being mid-afternoon in August, and thanking God for the invention of air conditioning. I remember that I clicked on a link to apply for a position in the Admissions Office at BYU; and I remember thinking that the 50 cents above minimum wage was a pretty sweet deal.

But what I remember more than anything is the feeling, that inexplicable, wonderful feeling of hope, of joy, of knowing that I was here with my best friend and that we were going to have a multitude of awesome adventures. I remember looking at Paul and laughing because he was having no success finding a job, and I laughed because he was just so frustrated. He had applied to so many jobs, and so many of them had been duds, or scams, or just downright insulting in their compensation. The sounds of others around me seemed so dull as we sat there, encapsulated in our little world, laughing as Paul and I talked and joked while we searched for jobs in the computer lab of the BYU library. We were so free, so lighthearted, and we looked forward to what may come.

As I sat there, scanning my documents and reminiscing about the bygone era, my mind started to wander past that scene. Suddenly the setting turned into one scene after another, as though a video montage was being viewed in my head.

I saw Paul coming home and telling me about a job he got at some Google ad-word agency. Later he came in and told me about how much he hated working there, how they were crooked, and how he wish he didn't work there. Then came the next scene where he walked in to tell me about this girl he had met at this job whose name was Amanda, and he told me how he sat and talked with her for hours. From there I saw the time when I first met this girl and thought "she is too good for Paul, what on earth did he say to trick her to come here?" I remember seeing me, looking incredulous, and thinking that it wouldn't last.

Then I saw my brother Dan, sleeping on his bed in the apartment next to ours. I remember going into his room to wake him up so he could go job hunting. I saw him turn around and give me a dumb smile, playing the fool because he was too tired and didn't want to go. Then the scene flashed forward several months to a new apartment, a new scene. I see Daniel sitting on the couch bathed in a soft glow of green from the rope lights lined above our apartment. He is sitting there, cuddled next to a little girl under our dingy-blue comforter. I remember thinking how cute it was that Dan was talking with this girl, and that I hoped something would come of it. From there I skipped forward to a scene that occurred in Manti, where Dan and that same little girl knelt facing each other across an alter. I recalled the feelings of joy I felt that Dan was happy, and that he had finally decided to get out of bed.

Suddenly a dark cloud came over my vision, and John walked into my apartment... No, just kidding, it wasn't dark. But I did see before me a vision of walking into John's room and finding him with his roommates playing video games. I saw multiple times where John and I were sitting and discussing things, him at his computer and me standing next to him. I saw the times when John and I sat there and discussed the state of the ward, of the family, and just about anything else. I saw that John and I actually had a relationship now, something we did not have before.

And that is about when the visions of my life in Provo stopped. I sat there for a minute and pondered on the things that had been laid before. I noticed that they were not filled with the sorrow, the pain, the utter disappointment I had felt over the years here. There was no mention of the awful hell I had at times felt. I noticed that I did not see any of the times I spent studying, or the times I spent programming, or complaining to my classmates about the ridiculousness of the workload we were given. I noticed that none of the jobs I had been given were even mentioned in my vision. Indeed, the only thing I even noticed about my life is the last vision I saw before I woke from my revelry.

To take a step back a minute, I want to say a few things about the self-wroth of a man. Every man wants to think that what he is doing is important, that there is some underlying purpose behind the design of his actions. What man wakes in the morning and says "I'm going to be utterly conspicuous today in both word and deed!"?

What I saw at the end of my vision was probably among the most poignant of all my visions, for it was not just about me. What I saw was me, surrounded by my family, holding some documents in my hand. These documents were similar to the documents I had come to scan, for they were an acceptance letter for my career. I saw in my hand what my time in Provo had done for me, the culmination of my efforts and struggles here in Provo; the capstone of the investment of my talents. Next to me stood my brothers, holding what their time had given them. That girl Paul told me about, Amanda, was now standing next to him, and in her arms was my beautiful niece Lily. Amanda then walked over and handed her to me, and I gladly took her and began to throw her up into the air as she gleefully quacked with joy. All my family laughed as we watched the wonderful blessing God had given us here in Provo; and as she laughed and smiled she filled the room with the merriment of innocent love.

I handed Lily back to Amanda and turned to face my family. I looked at my paper and saw the significant difference in the number for my pay from that first job I was so happy to get those years ago. I looked, and I saw the growth that I had achieved. My grasp around my paper tightened as I looked back up again to my family, and I saw tears in their eyes as they waved to me while I turned and walked away.

Then the scene faded, and I pondered about what I had seen. Though I had not achieved my goal of finding a wife; and though the path I thought I was going to take that day in August was vastly different than the path I have ultimately walked; and though I did not end up where I thought I would or ought to be, I nevertheless have ended up where I need to be. I look back at that closing scene and I realize that what I had accomplished was establishing a stepping stone to something greater. What I achieved was realizing that I needed to be here to appreciate what I have moving forward.

I look at that closing scene, and all the scenes leading to it, and realize that my time here in Provo was for two reasons only - to get a degree, and to learn to love my family. All my life I had figured my main purpose was to get married and raise a family, and that the degree was simply meant to support that family. But my time here has taught me differently, it has taught me that my degree is meant for me to do good, and that my family is there to be my support.

When Amanda handed me Lily in that final scene my heart was filled with joy, joy so inexplicable that only those who have experienced it understand. Lily has been the capstone to my learning here in Provo, and it has given me more reason to look forward to the future than anything other thing in my life. She has brought a happiness to my world that I didn't even know existed. Her existence has made my relationships with all my family even sweeter. And now that she has arrived, I know that I am ready to go face the world with my family ever there to have my back, regardless of whether I stay or go.

And that is a real moment of growth, that moment when you realize that come hell or high water, everything will be alright. That moment is where true growth occurs, when you realize you are not alone, that you are not ever alone, and that hell has not the fury you supposed. These moments of growth teach you to enjoy life, to love what you have, and to never let go.

Then, one day, when the innocuous events of life occur and you find yourself wandering into a library to scan some trivial documents, you will realize that, indeed, hell hath come; and it was not very frightening after all.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Real Learning Moment

I had a class today that could possibly go down as one of the most poignant and meaningful classes I have ever had in my life of schooling. It happened, in all places, during my Management Strategy class taught by Professor Robert J. Jensen. To be clear, this is not a place that I would have expected to achieve any spiritual instruction or level of clarity concerning my own existence, especially considering that I, on this particular day, was running late and had just barely scraping together an assignment I had forgotten to do. My mind was not prepared to receive any sort of instruction spiritually, and my soul certainly didn't seem to request any enlightenment.

But isn't that always the case with these sublime moments? Had it not been for the fact that my brother John had been walking up the stairs at the exact moment that I was about to walk to school, I would have shown up late and not heard this story. Had it not been for the few minutes it took to hand in today's assignment, I would have missed the opening of his story. Had it not been for the class I missed this morning, I probably would have slept during this hour because I would have not had the energy to attend.

As fate would have it, I did attend, and the lecture has impacted me greatly.

What did he speak about? Nothing to do with strategy (at least not initially), but rather on something much more personal and delicate. So often I hear personal stories and think nothing of it, but this time it really struck home. Professor Jensen is chronically fatigued, and not just that, but it is risking his life. Anyone who has had a class with him would agree that he does not look or act like he is sick, but that is part of the magic of this man's life.

When I arrived in class today I was expecting to start off with a discussion about Apple and market share and strategy. What happened instead was my professor sitting on a chair, breathing heavily and looking most somber as he worked up the courage to describe the painful reality of his life. Those who know him understand that he does not appear weak, nor does he give off any hint of wanting to show weakness (a fact he readily admits about himself). So for him, outlining his story required energy and discomfort as he spoke on his own life.

At the age of 20 Professor Jensen had an episode while on his mission in Finland where his adrenaline glands shut down. I don't remember the name of this, but it usually kills a man. After this occurred, his body started to spiral out of control, until this slender man lost over 20% of his body mass. His condition deteriorated to the point where he was sleeping 20 hours a day and only had the energy to eat some food before his body collapsed on him again.

Doctors of the day had no idea what was wrong with him. The church provided the best medical treatment available as he was still on his mission, and they even sent him to a psychologist to see if there was a mental disorder. Nobody ever found something wrong with him.

Eventually he was released from service and he attempted to live life the best he could. Most of his functionality returned, but he never fully recovered from the adrenaline shut down. His energy was still severely limited and he could not gain weight no matter how much he ate. This has been his condition for the past 21 years, a perpetual repression of his abilities, kept there by his ailing body.

For the most part a story like this would make me feel some sort of pity for the man, or at least make me thankful for the fact that I am not him. But somehow, in some inexplicable way, I found myself almost envious of him. I am not saying that I wish to have his struggles, or to experience the soul-crushing disappoint of limited physical capacities to the point where I can't even read after a few hours of work. No, instead I found myself envious of the man he has become.

Professor Jensen's talk was more than just a story about his hardships. He went on to explain how, because of this condition, our class will end come Thanksgiving and he will go into disability to prevent the heart attack he will have if he keeps working. He explained to us that he cares nothing more than to be here and to teach us, to help others to learn the valuable things which he has learned. For good reason was he made a professor at BYU, and it shows in his incredible teaching style and quick wit, and passion to the point of risking death to teach.

He added at the end of his explanation a little lesson that touched me deeply. Perhaps it is because his story was so personal, or perhaps it was because of the genuine sense of love and caring he has for his students, but the lesson he taught next was so filled with the Spirit that I could not help but apply it to my own life.

For Professor Jensen, the story of 1 Nephi has a particularly strong meaning to him. Rarely if ever do I hear a lesson from this book that uses Laman as the figure of empathy, but it was masterfully done with the comparison of Professor Jensen's life to that of Lehi's family. Jensen feels as though he can relate to Laman, he who was in line to inherit all the good fortune's of his father, who probably expected to marry into a wealthy family, and who would hold influence and prestige in his community. Laman had great potential that was unceremoniously ripped out from underneath him. All his days were then spent wandering through hardships, passing through a wilderness he did not wish to traverse. In the end, his anger and outrage led him to sever the relationship with his family, the Lord, and happiness.

In the same way, Professor Jensen had much to expect in his life. He was the valedictorian of his school, a leader his marching band, and had been offered several scholarships to attend college. Sports were never really his thing, but he exceled in many different ways and his future looked very promising. The mission he always wanted to serve was finally happening in the beautiful country of Finland, and he couldn't have had a brighter future. Then he was handed the trial of his life, and was drug into his own wilderness, to trudge through sorrow and anger as he worked his way to the promised land.

What he said after this made me reflect heavily on my own life. He said that he felt angry, angry that his future was now gone, angry that he had to live through this condition, angry that he, like Laman, had lost what he assumed to be his future. But then he had a shift in his attitude and started to think like Nephi. No longer was he angry about what could have been, but now he was searching for what he was to do. Nephi, unlike Laman, did not murmur about the gaping hole of his future, but rather set about building a ship to ferry him across the sea of disappointment. What he found on the other side was the promised land - a literal and figurative place of joy and happiness.

So it made me realize that I, too, have been like Laman. I can't tell you how many times last year I walked home from school so mad at life that my hands would start to hurt because I was squeezing my bag handle too hard. Every day for a long time I would shake my head at the pathetic wreck I saw as my future. What anger filled my soul as I considered what I thought I would have in my life and what there actually was.

Today made me realize that I was looking at a feast and calling it scraps. How ungrateful I am for the blessings I have been given. I realized today that no matter my circumstance - literally, no matter what is happening - my life is wonderful. My life could change more drastically than it has, all my family could die, I could lose my legs, my car could break down, and I lose all my money, and yet life would still be a blessing.

Why? For the very simple reason that life, in all of its glory and potential, is only what we make it to be. Yes, that sounds cheesy and extremely existential, but it is nevertheless true. We can all go about as ants striving to build this gilded tapestry of society we have, with all its glam and glitz, and have accomplished nothing at the end of it all because none of it really shows substance. True substance comes not in the things we build, or the stories we write, or the people we meet, but rather in the shelter we provide, the lessons we impart, and the people we love. Character comes not from accomplishing a goal, but from accomplishing it for the right reasons.

I realized today that I have struggled so much this past year because I did not want it to be the way it was. I wanted life to fit into my definition, into my personal desires and goals. But what good does that ultimately do me? What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul? Why did I want my life to be the way it is not? I don't know, it doesn't have any intrinsic value beyond the fact that I seemed to have wanted it that way. My value proposition was out of alignment with true value.

Professor Jensen spoke so tenderly about a part of his life that others may learn from him. I do not think it was his intention to share this experience to make me realize that I had a problem that needs to be fixed today. I do not think he shared this story to enact in me a desire to live a life more full of integrity and charity. But I know he shared it because he knew someone would benefit from his story, and I know at least one man has been affected.

And that was ultimately the most real learning moment I have had this semester.

Do I Have the Time?

I have been really busy as of late, but not necessarily because I have been doing "responsible" things with my time. For this reason has my blog writing been very lacking, and it explains why I have not finished discussing the art of Internet Explorer Automation. But this is not a post about that either; no, this is a post about something that has been on my mind as of late: the allocation of time.

My thoughts have turned to the subject of time more as of late since many people insist on reminding me that I always have time to do this or that when I tell them "I don't have time to do this." Really? Why do you feel it necessary to remind me that we all live in the same fabric of spacetime and are constrained by the same physical reality? Apparently these people think that I am unaware that my time is no more or less than the time that they are allotted. It is as though they feel it necessary to point out my fallacious semantics.

Well here are my thoughts relative to my "having time" to do those things I say I don't. First and foremost, when I say the idiomatic expression "I don't have time," do you really suppose that I believe somehow the laws of physics have been bent such that I no longer have access to a chunk of time that allows me to complete the task? Or do you suppose I am referring to a sudden acceleration in my frame of reference that will propel me into the future, thus depriving me of anytime to complete your trivial demands?

Or perhaps the offender supposes that I am not capable of comprehending the notion that my schedule can change. Perhaps these people suppose that their tasks are of more importance than mine, that somehow because they want me to commit time to their cause automatically makes all other things on my schedule trivial. I can even imagine that perhaps, when we are doing something in a group, they suppose that this is the only group whose assignments are of importance to me.

Perhaps they feel like I don't understand what the words "I don't have time" actually mean and they decide to show me the errors of my semantic ways. Suppose for a second that I didn't have above a third grade education, and let's pretend that I haven't lived in an English speaking country my entire life and do not in fact speak any other language but English, providing the chance to possibly misunderstand the context of this phrase; would trying to correct me still make a difference?

What if I had been forthright in my declarative statement by simply saying "this task is of no importance to me and I have no plans to alter my schedule to accomplish it?" This declaration makes me sound stubborn, arrogant, and altogether disagreeable. But is this not what we really mean when we say "I don't have time?" The answer is a resounding YES! Of course I know there is time in between now and a week from today. Do you really think I am so stupid that I can't understand how time works?

So what is someone really saying when they tell you there is always time to do something? In essence, they are challenging your intelligence, your motives, and your integrity. The only reason someone would tell you that you have time when you say you don't is to challenge your reasons for why you won't take the time to do what they want you to do.

Well guess what? If you really feel like I am wasting my time, perhaps you can take some time to show me how to live better. You can go to work for me, then go and fulfill my calling for me by sitting in an office for several hours making sure people are coming to see the Bishop, then do my hours of reading I need to catch up on, then drive up to Sandy to get my car fixed from the deer I hit this past weekend, then you can do my homework for me that is due in a few days, then you can do my laundry. Oh, and then you can spend the next several hours on the phone trying to figure out why investment companies can't seem to handle your money correctly ever. This will give me the time to do this trivial task you asked me to do. Wait, don't you have the time?