Tuesday, December 30, 2014

just some pinterest words of wisdom

Because sometimes it's surprisingly right on:

It's kind of hard to read, so here is what it says:

"Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things."

I think that is beautiful. And although I think it's possible for women to know how to do their hair and do hard and holy things, doing hard and holy things needs to come first.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Share the Gift, Receive the Gift

I would be remiss if I did not post this lovely video.

It is a beautiful reminder of why we celebrate Christmas.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

But we can only share this gift if we receive Him into our lives.

С Рождеством христовым.

Merry Christmas!

From our home to yours.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas wishlist

I'm not a picky person when it comes to presents. I'm usually happy--or will act happy--with anything that someone gets me.

But. If Santa's watching/listening, I found this gorgeous dress from Anthro:

Um, it's perfect. Stunning.

Ah well. A girl can dream, can't she?

Curse you, refined sense of style. Making me want things I can't have.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Finals Week, part 2

So, I only have one more final left (yayyyyyyyy). It's my American Religious History final . . . which has been an incredible class, by the way. Life-changing. Paradigm-shifting. Intellectually challenging. The professor--he's just phenomenal and I want to be like him when I grow up.

Anyway, I've been cracking up as I've been reading my marginal comments for the class--my observations about my classmates, random Russian phrases, and the non sequitur comments from my professor. Because sometimes, professors are hilarious.

Just take a look:

(Talking about how he hates the phrase that Mormons like to attribute to Jesus): "I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it." Who came up with this? Where did it come from? First of all, Jesus never said this. And second of all, He did say it would be easy! He said, "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." I want to change it. "I never said it would be easy . . . except I did."

(Talking about the differences in American religious culture during the Enlightenment vs. the 2nd Great Awakening): There's a reason Moroni didn't appear to Jefferson. Jefferson would have hanged himself.

(Talking about a historian whose book we read): Isn't she fabulous? She is so bright. She has a JD from Yale and PhD from Penn. I hate her. And she lives in a mansion outside Philly. And to top it all off, she runs marathons. Yep. Hate her.

-"If you can't have love, go for academic excellence."

(Impersonating Brigham Young): Brigham's in heaven going, "Why am I the only one people take it out on? No one ever takes it out on Spencer W. Kimball! --too short, too lovable--but me?! Just level with me, people, is it the beard or the 52 wives?"

(Talking about macaroons after coming back from a conference in Paris): Why did no one tell me about these? They are so light, refined, and delicious!"

"Ain't no one just tells it like it was."

American Religious History. History and politics. Faith, belief, and bloodshed. Good times, people, good times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


. . . is a beast. 

That's all there is to it. 

And this semester has been a beast, too. 

Do you realize that I have written over 20 papers this semester? TWENTY. 

My brain is fried. Gone. Checked out forever.

I feel like I don't have an original thought left in my head. 

Hopefully some come back before my last final this Thursday. Because I'll have to impress. 

Sooooo, since my brain is dead, I've resorted to watching dumb YouTube videos. Because, hellllloooooo, that's what you do during Finals Week so that you don't go completely crazy. 

Laughing is always better than crying. 

This is probably the best thing I've found this week: 

I. can.not.stop.laughing. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

And in His name all oppression shall cease

Nativity, Brian Kershisnik 
(love this painting. so, so much.) 

I love Christmas. Sometimes it's in a "Buddy the Elf" kind of way, where I just want to deck the halls and make snow angels for two hours, go ice skating, eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie Dough as fast as I can, and spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear.

It's fun. Christmas is--and should be--really fun. And I love spending time with family, making Christmas treats, going to (and hosting) parties, caroling, seeing Christmas lights, and singing Christmas music.

Oh, how I love the music.

It's hard to think of Christmas without music.

The music reminds me of the reason why we celebrate. Why we rejoice. Why we sing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to a Christmas concert at BYU. It was absolutely stunning. All of the arrangements were just beautiful. The last song they sang was "Carol of Joy," by Dan Forrest. I was introduced to this song while on my mission, and the lyrics combined with the haunting music are transcendent:

Listen to it. No, really. I promise that your life will be better because of it.

Here are the lyrics:

Green leaves are fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky. 
Lengthening shadows, Dark closing in . . . 
Then, through the stillness, carols begin! 

Oh fallen world, to you is the song--
Death holds you fast and night tarries long. 
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy! 
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy! 

Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow; 
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow; 
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night; 
Hear angel music--hopeful and bright! 

Oh fearful world, to you is the song--
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong! 
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound--
A carol of joy! A Saviour is found! 

Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes! 
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted--witness God's love!
Join in the carol swelling above!

Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven's joy to you may belong!
You who are lonely, laden, forlorn--
Oh fallen world! Oh friendless world!
To you, a Saviour is born!

Isn't that beautiful? I love the juxtaposition of light and dark, sorrow and joy. The tapestry that makes up life. And I love that Christ came to heal. We live in a fallen world. We are all broken. But He was "bruised, broken, torn for us." And He knows how to heal us and save our souls, because He's been there. I believe that. He is the God who weeps. He left glory, comfort, and praise--His own kind of Eden--to overcome the effects of the Fall and to heal our broken world. "Ris'n with healing in His wings."

He did not come to a world or to a people who had everything going well for them. He came to the "lonely, laden, forlorn." He came to the friendless. He came to a world that is bent on self-destruction. A world that so desperately needs the peace He offers. He entered this world of blood, death, and loneliness so that He could be "filled with mercy" and know perfectly how to heal our broken hearts. 

We live in a fallen world. The more I live, the more I realize how often there is no answer, or at least no answers I can understand. There are moments when I despair because "there is no peace on earth. [. . .] For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men." No one gets out of this world without breaking in some way or another. But He offers the way for "the healing of nations" (Revelation 22:2). He is the healer of nations, and the lover of our souls. 

One song which I feel captures the essence of the beauty of the Savior's role and the wonder of His grace is "What Child is This?" This song has meant so much to me since Ukraine, for many, many reasons. One of these reasons is because there is something absolutely beautiful about singing hymns in Russian. I don't know what it is, but there is something haunting and rich in the words that, combined with the melodies, makes the experience more meaningful. "Russian is a very rich language," as people would always say to me on the streets. There are some Russian words that just mean more. And there are some Russian hymns which just touch your soul in ways that English cannot. 

I always enjoyed the fact that the Russian hymnbook includes "What Child is This?" in its Christmas hymns. Maybe I like it just because it's different. But there is something deeper. The song in Russian becomes a plaintive plea; a holy, hushed hallelujah: 

"But why does he lie in a manger 
Where lambs are given their feed? 
So that every one of us 
Can lay down our sorrows at his feet." 

Call me elitist, but I just cannot find an English rendition which matches the feeling of the Russian translation. It is the one song that is missing from my personal Christmas playlist because I cannot find one which captures the feeling I want. For me, that song is a perfect memory. I remember as my companion and I sang Christmas carols in a dirty red bedroom in a dilapidated apartment in eastern Ukraine. I sang in a clear soprano, and she sang in her rich alto--we sang in blissful harmony. We sang about the condescension of God--about the beauty and necessity of His Atonement. We sang about love in a lonely, forsaken place. A place where the darkness could be suffocating--both literally and figuratively. But my companion and I found peace as we sang about the perfect love which "veiled the Lord in flesh." And about the love which allowed us to lay down our sorrows at His feet. Fall on our knees at the feet of the manger King. 

I have not found an English rendition to match our Ukrainian duet. The closest I have found is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's version from the 2012 Christmas Devotional. 

The dips. It is the dips in the music which make it rich. Which make it full of life, meaning, and longing. 

Longing for healing.  

How can we understand the meaning of all things? How can we understand the hurt, the anguish, and the condition of the soul in this fallen world? How can healing take place? 

There is no clean, shiny answer. Life isn't a bedtime story. Life doesn't allow itself for clean answers, and even miracles can turn into nightmares. Still, we are commanded to have hope. Without hope, faith withers and dies, and without hope, we cannot have charity. 

We trust in the hope of His light and love. And believe in Christ. Christ overcame death and hell. He "marched into hell for a heavenly cause," but not so that we don't have to. Rather so that we would know where to turn for help and healing when we do enter our own Gethsemanes and carry our crosses. 

"For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." 

We rejoice because a Savior was born to heal us. 
To heal our broken hearts. 
To comfort our wounded souls. 
To strengthen our weary shoulders and lift our sad heads. 
To wipe away all tears from our eyes. 
To mend the rift between death and life. 
To heal the split. 

O fallen, fearful, friendless world, to you a Savior is born. I think that is absolutely beautiful. We fall to our knees because we are overwhelmed with love. We are not only overwhelmed with love for Him, but we are overwhelmed by His love for us. All hearts, nations, and people can find peace in Him. And that is beautiful and wonderful to me. A miracle. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

so comes love.

I've been on an e.e. cummings kick recently. There's not really an explanation--there are just times when different poets and different poems touch you your life in ways they hadn't before.

Because poetry is life.

The spontaneous overflow of emotion. Of life.

let it go - the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise - let it go it
was sworn to

let them go - the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers - you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go - the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things - let all go

so comes love.

Just something in the way he writes. Those breaths in between the words and the echoes of stillness.

"the boths and the neithers - you must let them go they
were born
to go"

Letting go. And learning to breathe again.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The middle of the novel

Just a laundry list of thoughts and feelings. I don't have a lot to say. I just need to write.

-Shakes from JCW's are preeettttty good. Just one of those facts of life.

-Spell check wants me to change "JCW's" to "Jaw's." Not gonna happen, spell check.

-It's really warm for December. 50 degrees? Crazy.

-Sara Barellies knows my life. It's a little scary.

-If you're looking to buy me a Christmas gift, I need a new notebook. Mine's almost full and I'll certainly need a new one by New Year's. Just fyi. Because I know you were wondering.

-Someday, there will be room to breathe again. Just not during finals week. But someday. I hope so, anyway.

-Russian literature is good for the soul.

-I mean, just look at this beautiful line:

It's Dostoevsky. From the Brothers Karamazov. Beautiful. Someday, I'll need to write more about this concept. About the rise and fall of breaking, healing, and coming home. It's a process. A process of life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

i come with a dream in my eyes tonight

It's that time of year again when final papers and exams hit you with the force of a semi.

Sometimes, you just need to breathe.

And then, then you find a beautiful poem, and for a moment, everything else is forgotten in the magic of the words.

You are tired, 
(I think) 
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I. 

Come with me, then, 
And we'll leave it far and far away--
(Only you and I, understand!)

You have played, 
(I think) 
And broke the toys you were fondest of, 
And are a little tired now; 
Tired of things that break, and--
Just tired. 
So am I. 

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight, 
And I knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart--
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows, 
And, if you like, 
The perfect places of Sleep. 

Thank you, e.e. cummings for that much-needed literary escape.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Only the beginning of the journey

Three years ago, I received my mission call to the Ukraine Donetsk Mission.

Well, that's not entirely true. I didn't get my mission call on November 26th, 2011. I got it on November 23rd, 2011. But, I always remember that I got my mission call the day before Thanksgiving. I remember the mixture of emotions and memories associated with Thanksgiving more clearly than the actual date--being home for the break surrounded by family and a couple of close friends, a perfectly crisp and clear November day, my sister posting my call on Facebook before I got a chance to, never running out of things to talk about that Thanksgiving, and knowing that I would be very, very far away from home the next Thanksgiving--my mission is now inseparably connected with Thanksgiving.

This is probably my favorite picture from the day. :) 

[Also, just an aside--I always seem to have major life events happen on holidays--I was baptized on Halloween, got my mission call the day before Thanksgiving, went through the temple for the first time on Russian Christmas Day, was set apart as a missionary on Valentine's Day . . . there's a pattern going on here . . .]

Three years is a long time. There is so much that has changed over that time.

For one, my mission doesn't exist anymore. Which is heartbreaking to me and I pray every day that there will be peace in Ukraine.

Also, I changed have over three years. Oh, how I've changed. For the better. Not that I was a bad person before. But there was more that I could become.

Look at what I wrote the day before I got my mission call: "And . . . I feel like I'm on the threshold of a new era of my life. Here I am, mission-call-less, unsure of what the next 1 and 1/2-2 years will bring: where I'll go, who I'll meet, what I'll say, who I'll become. There's a better Megan waiting on the other side. A more refined person. A more loving person."

That, my friends, was prophecy. Because there was a better person who came out on the other side. And it was because my 21-year-old self decided to take that step of faith into the darkness and into the pain of the refiner's fire. And I'm grateful that she was brave enough to do that. For herself, for the Ukrainian people, and for God.

People. People are what it's all about. Our relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves. That is what we take with us. That is what shapes us.

Three years ago, I didn't know what I was getting into. It didn't feel real to me. I didn't know the joys and the sorrows I would experience--the experience that would make me wise.

It's been interesting to read my thoughts from that day. They are raw, but I don't mind sharing a few of them, because I think they are what most people feel when they step into the unknown--whether accepting a mission call, starting a new job, or beginning anything new:

"I am scared. Scared out of my mind. I'll be gone for practically 2 years. So much can happen in 2 years. Am I doing the right thing?

"But I definitely did feel an overwhelming sense of God's love when I read, 'The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life. Greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children.

"I cried when I read that. [. . .]

"But Ukraine . . . it doesn't seem real; I can't see myself there. But, I need to place my trust in the Lord. And I will."

And I did decide to accept the call. Because there's a choice. There's always a choice. And once I made that decision, the Lord confirmed it. A lifetime's worth of preparation, worrying, fasting, praying, doubting, believing, and deciding were summed up in these simple words:

"And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him." (Mark 1:18)

And I knew. I knew that's what I had to do, too. Not only for my mission, but my entire life.

And I didn't look back.

Straightway. And straight ahead.

How grateful I am for that decision.

It changed me forever.

I can't imagine my life without a mission. And I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was the hardest thing I've ever done--but also the best thing I have ever done.

A change in me. That is the best way I have ever been able to describe it.

"There's been a change in me. A kind of moving on. Though what I used to be, I still depend upon."

[. . .]

"For in my dark despair, I slowly understood my perfect world out there had disappeared for good.
But in its place I feel a truer life begin and it's so good and real, it must come from within."

[. . .]

"And I never thought I'd leave behind my childhood dreams. But I don't mind--I'm where and who I want to be. No change of heart, a change in me."

[forgive the cheesiness of the video/if it feels out of place with pictures of Ukraine--but it really does describe the change I experienced on my mission.]

I am grateful for that mission call. I am grateful that I accepted that call. And I am grateful that God allows us to serve--imperfect and weak as we are. Losing ourselves, we find Him. And by finding Him, we find ourselves.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My theory of devolution

 . . .  or on why I was never called to be a sister missionary on Temple Square.*

I have a theory that the further down the rabbit hole of the semester you go, the less you care about how you look. You know how at the beginning of the semester, everyone** is all bright and happy and wearing their shiny first-day-of-school faces? You wear your new shoes and jeans, curl your hair, make sure your makeup is perfect . . . it's like you have a date with success and expectation.

By Thanksgiving Break, you are ready to break-up with school. For good. Forever. El fin.

And so you just stop caring about what you wear.

I've noticed that for most people, the devolution starts around week 3 of school. I know that for me, it starts when I stop wearing my contacts and just put on my glasses. That doesn't mean that I'm dressed like a complete slob, but if I wake up later than I should and don't want to put on a lot of makeup, I'll just put my glasses on and call it good, claiming the favorite "Marian Librarian look." Classy, yet practical.

By midterms, it's practically over. There might be some days where people try--maybe there's that cute boy/girl in class that you are still trying to impress, maybe you are someone who believes in looking classy every single day of your life, but for most of us, we're just too tired to care anymore.

And by Thanksgiving Break, oh honey, it's game over. It's long gone and you are just waiting for finals to be over so you can spend all day in your pajamas and eat chocolate oranges.

First day of school. Notice the bright eyes filled with hopes and expectations of good things to come and the carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfits. Also note the curled hair, bright colors, and sheepish grins.


This just screams: Help me. I am drowning in papers and tests and not even awesome fishtail braids or BYU hoodies can save me. I have given up trying. I don't even care what other people think. 

It's a thing, people. It's a thing. The struggle is real.

*There is a reason I was never called to be a sister missionary on Temple Square, if you couldn't already tell. Because there are some days when I don't want to care what I look like. I am perfectly fine being a Frumpy-McFrumpster when I want to be. I remember in the MTC the MTC presidency telling sister missionaries to remember to put on makeup and a "belt or scarf around it" to complete your outfit. But believe me. When you're freezing in Ukraine and wrapped up in thermals, leggings, two pairs of woolen stockings, two pairs of gloves, sweaters, a heavy coat, scarf, and hat--you don't care what you look like. You are just trying not to freeze. 

**And by everyone, I mean almost everyone. Because there are always the people who never care. Ever. And who can blame them? 

In which I have another epic fail moment

First of all, you know those Pinterest Fail websites? I think they are the funniest things in the world. Because, my friends, schadenfreude. It is a real thing. Enjoyment from watching the failures of others. Ahh, I am a terrible person. But at least there's a term for it.

But really. I think they are just hilarious. I mean, just take a look at some of these epic fails:

This is what would happen if I tried to make it. 
via funnyuse.com

Those are just frightening. 
via funnyonlinepictures.com

Anyway. Pinterest fails are a favorite pastime of mine . . . both laughing at others' Pinterest fails and my own. (And if you want to see more epic Pinterest fails, go here, here, or here.) 

I've decided that I could start a  fail blog based on all the awkward things I've done. Because, if you know me at all, you know that I am both awkward and endearing. The queen of awkward. But I own it. Which makes it okay . . .? I don't know. In any case, I'm awkward. And I'm cool with that. 

This week, I had another FAIL blog moment. Here's how it went down. 

I was walking to the campus forum and I was climbing the stairs to the Marriott Center, when I saw a friend who I hadn't seen in about a year. We've been friends since sophomore year of high school, so you know, we're good friends. And we have seen each other's awkwardness. He's certainly used to mine. 

Anyway, I saw him and I decided to give him a big hug--because, you know, friendship. And then, out of nowhere, this girl appears next to him . . . a girl who he was waiting for and going to listen to the forum with. And she didn't look happy to see me there at all.  

Me (thinking): This looks really bad. 

So we did quick awkward introductions and I backed off as quickly as possible. 

"Oh heyyyyyyyy. How do you know each other? Oh, that's great! That's just great. Yeah, nice to meet you. I'm leaving now. Enjoy listening to Mitt. I'm just going to go run away now. Okay, byeeeeeeeeeee." 

And I made a quick exit and disappeared in the crowd. Go me. 

Nailed it. 

I promise I do more than write papers.

But sometimes it doesn't feel like it.

Especially when I have a rough draft of an 18-paper paper due on Tuesday (helllloooooooo, History 490), plus two other term papers I haven't even thought about yet because, well, because of my history term paper (which kinda takes precedence this weekend).

But I just finished my fake rough draft of the paper. Read: I haven't put in any quotes yet/synthesized information, but I have put information down on the page . . . basically, it's like an extended outline. With gems like this:

"Note to self: More quotes from letters about how sad everyone was."

"Example: That couple Louisa talks about that got kidnapped in Austria during that one war and who were almost killed. SCARY."

"However, most Americans don't side with the French (primary source?). They side with the Prussians because they think that Napoleon III is an idiot (which is true . . .)"

And, my personal favorite:

"This is really cheesy and will be changed but right now I don't even know how. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

Oh, you know, just a day in the life of your favorite English major/history minor.

But. I did finish a big project for the day. Which means STUDY BREAK! Like, a real one that is more than just quick Facebook-ing or Pinterest-ing. Which, don't get me wrong. I love those study breaks, too. Especially when you find gems like this on Pinterest:

[yes. yes. all the yes.] 

[this one really shouldn't be that funny to me . . . but I can't stop laughing.]

Um, it's amazing that I get anything done.

Monday, November 17, 2014

You can't always see when you're right

This semester. Oh, this semester. It's been a tough one. Just really busy, with no time to breathe. A semester that is in-between. Neither here-nor-there. Where I'm moving forward and hoping and praying that dreams come true. But without knowing if they will. Or if they will turn out quite in the way I'm expecting. 

After a while, it starts to wear on a soul. 

But there are the glimpses. The glimpses of glory. And the reminders of how far I have already come. 

And a realization that things seem to work out the way they're supposed to, even if a few of my perfectly-constructed popsicle stick dream homes are destroyed in the process of reality. Because I didn't really want them, did I? When it comes down to it, they are not what I truly want. 

Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true. 

When will you realize . . . Vienna waits for you? 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Down to the pueblo huts of New Mexico

Last week I went down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the American Folklore Society Conference. I, along with other research assistants, presented on the research we've been doing on fairy tales in television. Pretty fun stuff. I just wanted to post some pictures of the trip because Santa Fe is beautiful and charming. Everything Jack Kelly thought it would be. 

Love the Gothic architecture next to the adobe. 

This is the center of town. Yup. 

Alley art. 

And this. Because, I mean, I have to share it. It's Santa Fe. And it was stuck in my head all weekend long. 

Sing it, Jack. I mean, Batman. Or Christian. Whoever you are. 

Is it Thanksgiving Break yet?

In the past 48 hours, I have been twelve kinds of awkward.

-Accidentally walking into the men's bathroom? Check.

-Literally running into someone as I turned the corner in the JFSB? Also check.

-Forgetting to put the milk I just bought in the fridge? You betcha.

I probably have bright red lipstick on my teeth. It would be my luck.

All of the awkward. All of the time. I just can't help it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

This is just cruel.

I'm down in New Mexico for a conference, and we stopped at Albertson's tonight to get some food for tomorrow. Normal, right? Grab some bagels and juice boxes.

But then. Then, I saw this in the frozen foods aisle:

Blue Bell ice cream. The best ice cream in America. And I can't get any because we don't have any way of getting it back Utah.

This, my friends, is cruel and unusual punishment.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Seeking vs. Assuming

Last summer I had the wonderful opportunity of interning at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. In addition to working in the archives and getting to learn and write about the lives of incredible Mormon women, I also enjoyed time to ponder to-and-from work on the Front Runner and during lunch on Temple Square. Another perk of the Church History Library is that they have good Mormon artwork on all of their walls--the kind of artwork that you wish your chapel had. [Now, I know a lot of people would disagree with me. I know that what makes "good" art is an entirely different debate and not one I want to enter right now. I also know that Church art serves its purpose . . . but for this blog post, just know that my favorite Mormon artists are Walter Rane and Minerva Teichert. And that the Church History Library has a lot of paintings by Walter Rane and Minerva Teichert, so it made me happy.]

Anyway, one of my favorite things was when I first got to work. I would climb up the back stairs of the Church History Library, reach the third floor, open the door, and turn left.

And there, on the far left wall, was one of my favorite paintings of the First Vision.

by Walter Rane 

I love this picture for many reasons. I think what I love the most is the look in Joseph's face. That look of surprise, relief, and awe that is evident in his eyes. He had no idea what his question would bring. But I love how he looks straight up and is bathed in light--an answer after months and years of seeking. He looks up in wonder, never expecting that the greatest theophany since the New Testament would happen to him. He had faith that God would answer him, but Joseph did not know that Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, would appear to him to answer his heartfelt question and soothe his fears. 

In Ukraine, there was a dear investigator who also loved this painting of the First Vision. "That's how I feel," he said. "I feel like that boy. Looking up, asking, but confused. Not sure what's going to happen next. But asking." 

I think that's beautiful. Because when it comes down to it, the story and experience of the First Vision is our own. I'm not saying that each of us will--or that we even need to--see the Father and the Son in this lifetime. But I do believe that we have to find out for ourselves that God lives and that He loves us. We have to seek His face, because if we do not comprehend God, we cannot comprehend ourselves. 

And in order to gain that light and knowledge, we have to seek. We have to seek, ask, and knock, and be willing to receive. 

As a student of history, and especially as a student of Church history, I think a lot about the connections between faith and history. Some people think that it's not possible to combine faith, reason, and history--that no true historian can bring faith into her studies, and that history is godless and undermining to faith and testimony. 

I disagree. 

My study of history has strengthened my faith. Not because I blindly believe what I am taught or that I refuse to accept historical facts. Because it is important to be thoughtful when learning by study and by faith. But in all areas of study, it is important that we do not come from a place of assumption. To assume from a place of belief or disbelief is dangerous because the assumption of  "Oh, I already know that," or, "There's no way that could have happened--it just doesn't work that way," leads to intellectual and spiritual pitfalls. 

The body and spirit, heart and mind need to go together. To place one over the other leads to neglect and makes it so we miss out on beautiful insights. Assuming closes us off to finding truth, and it closes our hearts to empathy and understanding. 

In matters of faith, reason, and history, it is important to seek rather to assume. Seeking requires action. It requires humility and going outside of your intellectual and spiritual comfort zone to ask questions . . . and to realize that there are some things that you might not ever understand. Not because the answers aren't there, but because our understanding or tools we have at the moment are inadequate. But we keep looking and keep seeking. Someday the answers will come. 

A willing, seeking mind is the first step to receiving revelation from God. It is also the first step in learning--whether academically or spiritually.  Just as Joseph Smith would not have received increased light and knowledge if he had not prepared himself  to seek answers to his questions, we close ourselves off to more light, knowledge, and truth if we choose not to seek. 

Seeking and faith go hand-in-hand. And something I have learned as I have tried to be a seeker of truth is the power of mercy and redemption. History is messy. It just is. It's not pretty. Church history is not pristine, either. Because history--any kind of history--deals with people. Imperfect, vain, clueless, scared, trying people. But, just because history is messy does not take away from those things that I have learned for myself to be true. Most importantly, I have learned about the absolute need for a Savior. We all need saving. We are a people in need of a Savior. His Atonement is real, and His work will go forth. 

But we have to find that out for ourselves. It is an individual journey into the Sacred Grove. But the answers are there. 

The question is whether or not we will choose to seek them. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

This is Halloween

Sooooo, I had a really clever blog post idea which included lots of cute pictures from when I was very young.

So I scanned pictures of some of my best Halloween costumes. But when I was ready to make this blog post, the pictures wouldn't download properly.

And so it goes.

I won't lie, Halloween isn't my favorite holiday. I mean, it's fun when you're little and get candy and all that, and I love seeing little kids get all dressed up, but by the time you're my age, Halloween means two things: scary and skanky. And that's not how I roll.

But I just want to say that I had some wonderful Halloween costumes growing up.

Like the classic "Ballerina Fairy Princess" of '95.

And my Joan of Arc costume. That still is one of my absolute favorites.

[I realized that I have pretty much only dressed up as a princess or historical figure. Yup.]

I rarely dress up nowadays. But if I do, it has to be creative.

This year, I convinced my friend that we should be suffragettes.

This was the result:

Happy Halloween!

My birthday gift to me.

Last weekend I celebrated my birthday.

And what I gave myself was solitude.

I went to a favorite place on campus, sat in silence, and then wrote letters to myself. My younger self, my future self, and my self. Right now. Today.

And it was good for the soul.

Refreshing and (almost) better than chocolate cake.

Almost. But not quite.

I was born for October days.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Class Act

Today a handful of my students told me that I looked like a model out of a J. Crew catalog.

My life is now complete.

Please put that on my tombstone.

I have reached the epitome of classy dressing.

J. Crew is always a good idea.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Sky

How can I get anything done when it is twelve kinds of beautiful outside?

I live in a beautiful place. 

And October. It is the best month. I will always stand by that. 

Ukrainian patchwork

This week I have had flashback after flashback about Ukraine.

There are days like that. When a smell, a breeze, a taste will bring back a memory, and suddenly I am walking down the street to Тамара's, or I am standing at a bus stop in Mariupol, or in the church building in Kharkov, talking with Саша about the Plan of Salvation.

There is only so much I feel I can say about my time there. It is so personal to me. And those moments--those flashbacks which bring me away from Provo, Utah, to Donetsk, Ukraine, are very real. They remind me that I am here . . . but I left my heart there. And at the same time, I have brought Ukraine with me to Provo. A part of the Ukrainian soul will always be with me.

Not long ago, my Russian professor was talking about his experiences in Eastern Europe. And how . . . how being there makes him whole. Like how he never knew how much he needed Eastern Europe until he was there.

In many respects, that is how I feel.

Even though Ukrainian culture is so different from American culture and even though I had experiences there that broke me, those experiences brought me closer to God and helped me come to an understanding of my true self. I was reborn in Ukraine. I became a new person; there was a transformation.

My new self is a conglomeration of bits from my old self, with pieces from Ukraine--the language, the people, the mindset, the lessons I learned, the people who touched my life and gave pieces of their heart to me. A Ukrainian patchwork quilt.

And these pieces have made me whole. Whole and new.

I never knew I needed Ukraine until I was there. And she didn't know she needed me until I was there.

It's amazing the impact 18 months can have on a soul.

When third place is better than first

Remember when this happened last year?

Yeah, it was a pretty neat experience. 

This year I decided to enter the Brimhall Essay Contest again, because--why not? 

This year's theme was "Take Flight," and I wrote about Janie Thompson, who was the founder of BYU's Young Ambassadors and Living Legends programs. She was an incredible woman who magnified her talents and learned to replace faith with fear. Spunky Mormon women never cease to amaze and inspire me. 

Anyway. I didn't win this year. And that was perfectly fine with me. (Honestly, I think it would have been a little weird if I had won again . . . it would have been like, "Oh hai, guys. It's me again.") 

But I did get 3rd place. Which was perfect. Because it meant that I could watch the Homecoming Opening ceremonies with my dad and I didn't have to worry about speaking in front of the entire school. Instead, I got to enjoy listening to the winning essay and remember all of the emotion from last year. 

 Remember that time I can't take selfies? I'm still learning, people. Also, Dad for the win with his BYU-themed tie. 

Also, I got a free lunch and got to meet President Worthen. So, you know. Life is good. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's been a long week.

You know those weeks where you just know it will be a miracle if you get through it all?

It's not that there are bad things going on. Just a lot of things.

And so sometimes you wonder. You wonder if you'll suffocate or rise above the chaos.

Yep. It's been one of those weeks.

Started Monday by accidentally sleeping in and then waking up twenty minutes before my first class started. That was fun. You forget how fast you can move when you have to. And the rest of the week followed the helter-skelter of Monday morning.

Dentist appointment, numb mouth, mint cookies, meeting the Mormons (still my favorite way to say that I saw the film: "I met the Mormons yesterday." Still funny.), three big essays, luncheons, cupcakes, dictators, getting emails from Georgetown telling me to apply for their grad school (!), and becoming best friends with random guys in the library (Cambridge. It sparks conversation.).

Yep, it's been a long week. But a good one. And bad. And everything in between. A regular week in the middle of the semester.

One week at a time.

One day at a time.

Give me time. I'll be fine. More than fine.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

That awkward moment

when you get frustrated at the person who has the book you need checked out from the library . . . and then you remember that that person is you.

finding myself in a burst for the sky

Also. This.

And this.

I feel like these pictures epitomize us. Em with her face towards the sun and glorying in its light. Me, with my wind-blown hair, ready to take off into a dream, yet grounded in autumn.

это мы.

Of mountain sound.

There are some days when you just need to go up to the mountains and cleanse your soul.

Wind-swept hair, hippie songs blasting with the windows rolled down. Rivers and roads. Touch of gold on the leaves, nip of autumn in the air. 

Because there is still the mother-daughter bond. After almost two years. (Has it really been that long? And yet, I feel like we've known each other for much longer than that, too.) And sometimes soul sister just knows when I need to run away and leave this earth-bound town. If only for an hour or two.

Because mountains are my sacred place. Grounded. Reaching toward heaven. And filled with soul-healing air. Fresh air. Clear air. Air to clear the head and strengthen the heart.