Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Week 5: Frisco


Good afternoon everybody! This past week was, as always, crazy. Not too much time to write today except to send out these pictures and remind everybody how much I love them! 

The first picture is of me and Elder Nelson, another Elder in our district. We went on an exchange a few weeks ago and apparently we look exactly alike? That's what everybody we met while on the exchange told us (an exchange is a 24 hour swap with a companionship. I went with Elder Nelson and Elder Seager went with Elder Hurd). So we took a picture to prove it. And it's sort of true I guess? I don't know. Who knows anything anymore??

The rest of the pictures are pretty self-explanatory. Elder Seager is in there. There are a few of me as I'm embarking from the mission office. 

It's been a super busy week though, but all in all satisfactory. It's hot but not unbearable. And I'm well fed, as usual. 

I love you all lots. Sorry for the short email!

Love love love
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Week Four: If you could Hie to YOLOb
1 message

Hello all!
I love you! This email will be short because. um. No time? How is there never any time?
Anyways, this week has been amazing.
Bullet list:
-We unwittingly helped a woman come back to church for the first time in 25 years. We knocked into her this week and didn't even realize it until we found out that she had called our bishop and requested us to come back. And she came to church on Sunday! It was. Amazing. One of the most tender and beautiful things I've seen.
-We helped two English ladies from Australia break into their car with a hanger
-We ate tri-tip
-I petted the Herrera's cats again!!!
-In church the ward choir sang "Where Can I Turn For Peace" on top of "Be Still My Soul". It was beautiful!
Oh man, that's sort of the highlight only not really? So much happens in a week, it's tough to fully explain it all. But rest assured that the work continues on. This area is very difficult as far as knocking doors or getting people to teach. Other areas you might have 20 lessons in a week. I'd say we might have had 20 lessons in the past 4 weeks, cumulative. It's tough. But the thing is we still get out every single day and knock as many doors and talk to as many people as we possibly can. And because we're working hard, Heavenly Father blesses us with miracles. Like people coming in to church while we're playing basketball and asking to be taught (that happened this week). Or people coming back to church for the first time in 25 years. Or petting cats. Miracles. All miracles. So, all you missionaries out there reading this: if you work hard, even when it feels like you aren't getting anywhere, the Lord will bless you for your efforts.
I love you all. I want to invite each and every one of you to church this sunday! You can go on and type in your address and find out what's closest to you. If you are wondering why I'm out here or what I do or talk about all day, that's the best and easiest way to find out.
I promise pictures next week.
I love you all. I've only got two weeks left in Frisco! OMG.
Love love love,
Elder Christman

Monday, July 9, 2012

Week 3 - Frisco Texas

alexander christman
1:29 PM (1 hour ago)

to Eric, me, Emily, Nate, Alicia, Irene, anne.fuller, asplundingrid, Taylor, marni, Barbara, tkchrstmn, djolauson, Eliza, Daniel, Taylor, Bill, Brian, natalie.raines, brittany.evans
I will say this every week but how is it Monday already again? Geez, time flies out here. I am halfway through my first transfer! What??
Time is limited so I'll keep it short but I wanted to share a story. The day we got into Frisco three weeks ago, we met with a member of the bishopric for the 3rd ward (every ward has a bishop and two counselors who help him). We got a referral to go back and check on a less active member named David that this brother had met a few weeks earlier and had just been thinking about a lot since then. We went over that night and talked with David for a few minutes. He was interested in seeing us the next day, so we set up an appointment. When we showed up, we got to talking. David's girlfriend Lisa was there as well. David's been less active in the church for about 12 years or so. He has been going through some nasty legal issues with his divorce and the custody of his children for the past few years. Lisa has also been going through the same sorts of things and both were really distraught. As we talked to them, they grew less and less nervous and anxious about all their legal troubles and the stresses they face. We talked a bit about Jesus Christ and how he can encourage and bear us up in times of trial. Turns out Lisa has read from the Book of Mormon and has completely read through the Doctrine and Covenants (a collection of modern revelation). She was really enthusiastic about learning more. So we set up an appointment for lunch the next Friday. That Friday came around and when we showed up, David said he was surprised to see us because he thought Lisa had cancelled. David was moving out of his house and had people working on things so we couldn't talk much but he said to keep calling Lisa. He was going back to Utah the next day but encouraged us to keep in touch. A few days passed where we couldn't seem to get ahold of Lisa but we kept trying. Finally we got in touch and set up a teaching appointment at the church. We met up and went over the first lesson about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. We had a great conversation and, at the end, she said, "Do y'all have any more questions or anything?" When we said no, she said, "Ok well good because I know it's true. And I want to get baptized." We were blown away! Unfortunately for us, Lisa lives 9 miles outside of our mission, up in Aubrey, Texas. She's technically part of the Fort Worth Mission. So we talked her through that and explained the process to getting her transferred over to her ward and the Fort Worth Elders. It took a LOT of faith on her part and ours to trust in the organization of the mission and the church. It felt like we were sending her out without any help; we had no contact with the Fort Worth Elders or her future bishop. She also seemed uncomfortable and uneasy about leaving the relationship we had already established. For me, it was trying because it was such a huge blessing to meet with her and to have her be so confident and receptive. I felt like I couldn't wait for others to step in and take over; I wanted to get it done myself! But I prayed hard and just relied on the Lord. We didn't hear much from Lisa for the past two weeks, until Saturday evening. She called to tell us that she and her two children are getting baptized on the 28th of July. It was such a miracle. She said that the night before we knocked on David's door, he was telling her that he kept feeling like he needed to go back to church but couldn't figure out why. She said that he was questioning whether or not he even believed in God. David is now back at church and preparing to take part in the baptism of Lisa and her family.
It's a testament to me that God knows His children. He knows each and every one of us so well. And all we have to do to bless and help others is to do our duties. To reach out to others and to be there for them. To lift where we stand as President Uchtdorf says.
Anyways, that's a HUGE blessing for us and for Lisa and her family. It's an incredible thing to see happen. Miracles do happen in our area.
No pictures this week, sorry friends and loved ones. I haven't seen anymore cats, that's the main reason.
I'm well-fed and happy. Very very busy. But the weather has chilled out.
Today I'm buying a can opener!
I love you all so much. Write me letters!!!!
Love love love,
Elder Christman

Week 2: Frisco Texas

alexander christman
Jul 2 (7 days ago)

to me, Emily, Nate, Alicia, Irene, anne.fuller, asplundingrid, Taylor, marni, Barbara, tkchrstmn, djolauson, Eliza, Daniel, Taylor, Bill, Brian, natalie.raines, brittany.evans
Whew. How is it Monday again? I'm starting week three in the field. That means that my time in Frisco is almost half way up! WEIRD.
So much has happened this week but it's tough to condense and report it all so I'll bullet point it:
-Frisco has a reputation for being a difficult area because it's wealthy, lots of southern baptists, lots of anti-mormon stuff, nobody home cause they all work, etc. But it's been an incredible experience being here. I'm learning how to work with the ward members to get to know them and see to their concerns. I love it here so much. It's amazing.
-All the people we've taught and got to know all belonged to either a different mission entirely or a different ward. We have to stick to teaching the people who go to the Frisco YSA Branch and the Frisco 3rd ward because of lots of reasons but the most success we've had with having good discussions with people and teaching lessons haven't even gone to our ward. It's both amazing and really frustrating at times. ha ha ha.
-No heat exhaustion this week!
-Went on a day exchange to Plano. Because Elder Seager is a district leader (meaning he is responsible for all the missionaries in a geographic area), he goes out visiting with different companionships and I either tag along or am placed with another missionary for a period of time (no longer than 24 hours). This happened last week, and I was in Plano. Boy howdy the people of Plano are crazy. There were FAR more people willing to talk to me though so that was nice. But this guy had us at his door for about 10 minutes describing in depth how Ross Perot got the EDS people out of Iran in the 70's. He kept saying over and over, "Ross Perot is a demi-god". Then he thanked us and we walked off dazed.
-I almost ingested some bird shot in a piece of duck an investigator (that's the term we use for someone who is investigating the church) gave me. TEXAS.
-Marni, Amelia, and Thomas Campbell: Do you remember an elder who served in Seattle 3rd back between 2006 and 2008 or so named Elder Abegg? He came to one of our wards on Sunday and we talked about you all. He remembers you!
-I finally have to concede the nearest and dearest point of my heart: butter tastes better than margarine. The truth is out. There. (X-Files)
I love you all! No more time, but I'm sending pictures. I love you I love you I love you!!! This week has been amazing. Know that I'm praying for y'all.
As the texans say, "'Preciate ya!"
Love love love,
Elder Christman
P.S. The pictures of me and the biggest fattest cats I've ever seen and who I love. I'll have more pictures next week!
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Week One
Greetings from Frisco Texas!
So much has happened in the past week, so let me get the preliminaries out of the way.
I am in Frisco, Texas! My address for the next 6 weeks (only) is:
Elder Christman
710 Rose Hill Ln
Frisco, TX 75034
Until I get my call at the end of these three months, I will be emailing from this gmail account.
The apartment I live in is NICE. It is HOT. We got HEAT EXHAUSTION earlier this week. But we are HEALTHY. I am EXERCISING every day. I ride a bike two miles in the morning and run a quarter of a mile. I lift weights. I also eat at least two meals a day at the homes of members in the two congregations we cover. So I am SUPER well fed. Probably gaining weight, at that.
Here is some fun basic information. My mission president is named President Durrant and he is AMAZING. He is very in tune to the needs of the missionaries. I.E.: my trainer is Elder Seager! He's from Las Vegas and served for the last 8 months as an assistant to the mission president (the mission president gets a companionship of missionaries who assist him in all of the things. Basically it's a VERY difficult and busy job, because it's a ton of administrative tasks, as well as tending to all of the 155 missionaries in the mission,  as well as proselyting and teaching). We both got double transfered in to our area, which is unusual. Normally, a missionary will transfer in to an area to a companion who has previously been serving in that area so that the work isn't interrupted. The new elder gets adjusted to the area while the elder who was already in the area helps them continue meeting with investigators and members and all of that fun stuff. Elder Seager and I didn't have that luxury. We are both brand new to the area which means we're both clueless about the work that's gone on before us and the needs of the congregations we cover. The mission is set up so that each area has an "area book" which is a binder of information, such as the boundaries of the area and previous investigators and teaching records and ward member lists and things like that. But our predecessors weren't super diligent in their record keeping so we had very little to go on once arriving. However, that gave us the opportunity to work that much harder at getting started and staying busy. It's been incredible being here. I know right now that this was the best decision I've ever made (besides getting baptized). I am truly happy. I am so excited and concentrated and I just feel my mind and heart growing. The members here are an inspiration. Elder Seager is a rock. He is so solid and obedient to the calling of disciple of Jesus Christ. He is the perfect companion for me. We work hard, stay positive and reverant (that's a hard one for some 19 year olds to do), keep a good attitude, and don't waste time. It's WONDERFUL. Elder Seager's testimony is clearly hard won. He's been a member all of his life but he's had some great experiences which have transformed his understanding of the gospel and Jesus Christ. He's so strong and helpful. It's tough to believe I'm almost two years older than him. Ha ha ha.
So in addition to being double transfered, Elder Seager is also training me and is a district leader. Our responsibilities cover a family ward, the Frisco 3rd, and the stake YSA branch. That means that we spend over 8 hours at church every sunday, in between the three hour meetings and hour long ward councils (planning meetings for the auxiliaries of the ward). Yesterday was our first Sunday and we were asked to give our testimonies. It was a great experience because as a missionary I've realized that all that matters right now about who I am is my testimony of Jesus Christ and his Atonement. All that matters is how much I desire to serve others. All that matters is how much I love and care for everyone, including myself. As a missionary, as I get to share my testimony, I am sharing the parts of me that I'm most proud of. The parts of me that I can hold out and say, "This is who I truly am, this is how I understand myself." It's a powerful, intimate thing and I'm so grateful for having the opportunity to do it day after day.
In short: I love it here. I love the work. I love the people. I'm guaranteed to leave this area at the end of this transfer (6 weeks), which means leaving Elder Seager as well and, even though I have 5 weeks left I'm already sad about it.
So, recap: you have my address so send me letters! Family can email me at my gmail account! No pictures to send home yet, but that'll change next week, I promise. No time to take pictures this past week! Just too busy.
I love you all. Your support and love means the world to me. If you're ever wondering why I'm out here and what I'm doing here, if you ever wonder why I love this work and why I'm happy and proud to respresent it, I invite you to go to a church meeting. You can find times and meeting houses at It'll give you a better understanding of who you are, of how you are loved, and how you can be happier. I promise you those blessings.
Everything is great. Even having people slam the door in your face. Even that is bearable when you know why you're doing it.
Love love love to you all,
Elder Christman

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Farewell Talk Transcript: Confusion and Reality

Today I was blessed and honored to give a farewell talk at my local chapel in the Dallas 1st Ward. Everybody there is incredible and have all been such an inspiration to me. I got the opportunity to thank the members of the ward for their service to me, as well as bear my testimony of my understanding and belief in the gospel of Christ.

I felt it might be helpful and a matter of good faith to post the rough transcript of my talk online here as it is, essentially, part of my missionary experience. I wrote the talk out fully to flesh out my ideas and then sort of stuck to this draft while speaking so this is as close as one can get to being there I guess:

Farewell Talk given 6/3/2012 at Dallas 1st Ward, Midway Chapel

I am honored and excited to be here today and extremely blessed and excited to announce that this will be my last Sunday in the ward. I'll be reporting to the mission field on June 18th and before then I'll be headed home to visit family in Kentucky. I've been called to serve for three months in the Dallas Mission here in Texas and, pending my ability to handle the rigors of the mission, I'll be sent out to another mission and the MTC shortly following my time here in Dallas. I'd like to clarify, for a moment, why I'll be serving in two missions. I've got some mental health issues I live with that have made getting this far in the missionary application process difficult. I live with CDO, which is OCD only in alphabetical order like it's supposed to be. I've also got severe, at times clinical, depression. Those things combined have made me feel as though I'd never get to serve. And the brethren in Salt Lake have decided that the easiest way to see if this work is right for me is to immerse me in it for three months. I'm so pleased to get this call and excited to move on to my other call following my time here. I'm comfortable sharing this with you all because I want it to be known that if you have any doubts whatsoever if the Lord will provide for you opportunities to live your life fully, complete with the opportunity and blessing to serve others, you need not worry. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep and He knows you, knows what you need, and never leaves you wanting.

Today I've centered my talk around two quotes. The first is from e.e. cummings and is something I wrote down a long time ago in preparation for my farewell talk. In fact, it was so long ago that I don't even remember why I wrote the particular quote down. I had a document on my computer titled "mission farewell" and when I realized that I actually had to concentrate on writing this last night, I excitedly thought to myself, "I must have done some work already. There's the file!" And when I opened it up, there was only one line of text and it was this quote, "the departure of everything real is the arrival of everything true".

Great. Talk written.

I don't know why I wrote that down when I did but it actually synced up perfectly with another quote which has stuck firmly in place ever since I read it during scripture study the other morning.

From D&C 63:24 - "And now, behold, this is the will of the Lord your God concerning his saints, that they should assemble themselves together unto the land of Zion, not in haste, lest there should be confusion, which bringeth pestilence."

These two quotes jive so well for me because, I think, they are both essential parts of the same process. For one, in order to even begin to be happy with ourselves and this life on earth, we must cede our firm grasp on what we understand to be "real". Classically, and not illogically, we understand what is 'real' to be that which we can touch, smell, taste, etc. Our empirical faculties define what the 'real' world is. In addition to that, we define things like society, cultural expectations, social norms and pressures - all very real things to be sure - by our experiences which are comprised of our empirical faculties. Basically, what we experience first-hand we understand to be real. That's the story of western philosophy. What's delightfully crazy is that at the end of experience and experienced 'real'ness is a gap, a broad open nothing wherein lies intangible truths. Like human consciousness. Like ethics and morals. Like miracles. Like perceived communication with a higher power. It's like staring wide-eyed into a pitch black room; our eyes begin to play tricks on us and we begin to see shapes and figures emerge from the gloom where we cannot even see the hand in front of our face.

How do we reconcile the limits of our human experiences with the constant reassurance that there is something beyond us? Again; we must cede our hold on what we understand to be 'real'. And after that? The departure of everything real is the arrival of everything true.

Things in this world are not as they should be! We are ill. We are sad. We hurt others. We hurt ourselves. We try hard and do not succeed. We try very little and do succeed. Innocent people die without an explanation world round. There's a wealth disparity that seemingly can't be solved without the breakdown of civil discourse or moral fiber. And the message that one hears over and over again to explain all of this is that this is simply how the world "is". That this is the real world. That this is the truth of the matter. How then to battle our disgust with this reality when we know that it doesn't ring true? We must release our grasp on it. Admit that it isn't true. That there is a better, more ecumenical and loving way that things are set up and ordered. The departure of everything real is the arrival of everything true.

The second quote comes into play here. If we are to give up everything real, as so many early Latter-day Saints did, and to welcome the arrival of the truth, then how do we combat "confusion, which bringeth pestilence"?

This line is so tiny in this gigantic chapter. In fact, this line is so tiny in the entirety of scripture. I don't think that this sentiment is shared anywhere else, although if I'm wrong please manifest with the right hand. Those who think that joke was lame, with the same sign. This is crucial to me though. This idea that confusion is pestilence. It's such a great insight. In our lives, we experience situations of woe or misery where we hold full or partial accountability for how things turned out. This is an unavoidable fact of agency. And in these situations, these mini-tragedies, we have a pain that runs two ways. There is the initial pain of the transgression, either one committed against us by another or against ourselves by ourselves, and then the pain of confusion. Confusion as to how to proceed, how to process the pain we're feeling, confusion as to how to reconcile this event with our normal lives. The list runs on and on and, in the end, confusion might end up eating us from the inside out. Pestilence is synonymous with the bubonic plague, an infection which causes necrosis of living tissue within your body. It is an illness which eats you from the inside out.

Confusion brings pestilence. Notably, the quote isn't "confusion IS pestilence". We have normal confusions as well. It is a part of being alive. However, as someone with an illness which thrives exuberantly on confusion, I can tell you that even sometimes seemingly small confusions can lead to full-blown crises.

How do we escape this confusion in the pursuit of the arrival of truth then? God has given us instruction in this very chapter!

1. Take your time with things. He orders the saints to assemble but NOT IN HASTE because haste in things brings confusion. Don't rush yourself. Do things correctly. Festina lente, as St. Augustine would say.

2. Be committed. Earlier in the chapter, He says that He will make the mysteries of His kingdom known to those who keep His commandments. The reasoning for this is because if He gave the mysteries of Heaven by commandment, they wouldn't be heeded. This means that we will be given, in return for following His wisdom, a piece of His wisdom. We won't know the full reasoning behind all that we do until we do it. In order to fully go along with this, one must be committed.

3. Seek after the truth. Our faith would mean nothing if it couldn't be tested. It's tested on our end by living life righteously. It's tested on God's end by the power of prayer and the Holy Ghost. If you wish to seek after the truth, turn to the source of all knowledge and truth: God. Ask in humility and out of real longing and you will have your heart and mind enlightened.

Do not act in haste. Be committed. Seek after the truth. These small things will help slow and the stultifying effects of confusion in your life.

As a final thought, I'd like to address something which often gets me in trouble. I like to think I've got an inquiring mind. As a result, I sometimes think, or used to think, that believing in something was the same as denying all other things. It's a weird sort of black and white thinking that I've had to break myself of over the past few years, but I know I'm not alone in making this assumption. A good friend of mine in high school was one of the first people who had really gotten me into the habit of discussing my faith openly. He was the one who encouraged me to find a church to go to and we'd often talk at length about the particulars of God and Christ in our lives. When I found the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and began learning the gospel of Christ, I was so excited to share this knowledge with my friend. There were answers to questions we'd long been asking each other in vain. He politely turned away my excitement for him to check out the church though, and made it clear that to him, faith was founded in a nebulous cloud of uncertainty. It was foolish and vain in his eyes to assume that God had anything so tangible upon the earth as a central church. Over time, I saw this attitude transform our discussions of our faith. Whereas my friend used to speak excitedly of Christs' role in his life, I soon saw him talk about how distant and removed Christ was from him. It was like, in order to avoid defining a higher power too much, he had to turn his faith into a metaphor. The abstraction was too much, and the last time we talked my friend said he was taking a break from religion for awhile. Which isn't something to bemoan and rent our garments over. It's something, in fact, that I've said in the past. But it's the natural progression of a line of thinking that says, "If we forsake the real for the true, then we must retain our confusion because it must be in the confusion that the divine is held." That is, it's a belief that confusion is essential to spirituality. This is not true. God would never leave us to confusion. Confusion is not the same as open-mindedness or humility. It's not the same as admitting that there is more truth out there to be found. It is not the same as suspending disbelief. There is such a thing as not knowing the wholeness of the truth and still knowing the truth.

I would like to finish by bearing my testimony of this church and, more importantly, this gospel. The church leads us to an understanding of the gospel of Christ. The gospel of Christ leads us to an understanding of our true selves, in the eyes of a loving Heavenly Father. We are so blessed by our Heavenly Father. God loves us. Christ lives and is active in our lives today. I invite all of you up to bear your testimonies. Speaking truth feels good. Share that part of yourselves of which you're most proud; the part of yourselves that most fully shows what a divine and precious being you are in the eyes of God. Thank you so  much. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Diet Dr. Mission Pepper

OK! So. BIG DAY TODAY. Got called by my bishop and told, at 10 AM, that there was "good news" about my mission call that we needed to "talk about" at 7 tonight. I didn't have a white envelope in my hands with a picture of a white guy slapping Saddam Hussein on the back of the head

(yes, this picture is featured prominently on the fabled packet of information about your mission which you receive in your "call"), so I figured out that everything, ever, was wrong and proceeded to worry for about 9 hours.

Come to find out that I am an idiot and should not have worried! AT ALL.

Sisters and brethren, I am pleased to announce that I am being assigned to the Dallas Texas Mission for two transfers beginning June 18th! I will be set apart (that is, specially designated; literally "set apart" from the world - a nice blessing that separates me with a mustache from the mustache-less me with a nametag!) as a full-time "short term" missionary for the duration of three months. I'll be serving under President Devin Durant. As in, retired NBA small forward, All-American (and French expat) Devin Durant. As in, the guy who is a dead lock for David Byrne:

Following my completion of said transfers, I'll receive a formal mission call from Salt Lake and will be shipped off to the MTC to begin the rest of my mission.

"OK," you're wondering. "What's this guy's DEAL?"

My deal. Ahem. Friends it's no secret that I suffer from an array of ailments. I can't grow a full beard, I'm obsessed with cats, and I have an unfortunate affinity for barley sodas (Malta India! Vita Malt!). I also deal with chronic (at times clinical) depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. That's also not that big of a secret, too, I guess. I mean, you don't have to be particularly observant to see how dizzyingly anxious I can get.

And so the careful, caring minds in Salt Lake decided to play it safe before sending me off onto a full-time mission. My time spent in the Dallas mission will be a sort of proving ground to make sure I can handle the rigors of mission life. If I can hack it for the two transfers here, then I will receive my official mission call. If it proves too difficult, then I am at least prepared to return to a stable life.

It might seem kind of scary to admit openly here that I've got these issues. It also might seem to occlude the central point of this blog, which is about missionary work. But I include all this to solve any questions about my assignment and to stress that the Lord and His servants truly love us all. By some accounts I'm sure my missionary application looked like a disaster and a half; medications and letters from therapists and explanation after explanation that I am really not THAT messed up. I don't think I believed, truly, that I was actually going to be allowed an opportunity to tell people about how much the Lord loves us in this capacity until the bishop told me the plan today. I truly half expected to never, ever receive a letter or anything from Salt Lake. To just quietly live out the rest of my life waiting. Very dramatic, I know.

But until today I didn't realize to what lengths the Church will go to make sure that A) their members and  missionaries are safe and, B) that everyone gets an opportunity to serve. It's a major source of validation, to be honest. I know I can do this. The Church knows I can too. Here is the opportunity. What a wonderful feeling of trust and responsibility! What a wonderful feeling of loving encouragement.

This is an amazing and overwhelming honor. I can't express my gratitude enough for everyone who has provided comfort and support. My family, Eliza's family, my friends, my ward members, former bishops, cats, and coworkers who, admittedly, think I'm a pretty weird dude.

God bless y'all. The gospel of Christ and the Lord is here to make our lives make sense, to make us happy, to make us comfortable and loving and all around better people. If you want, I could mail you a Book of Mormon? Let me know? Call me, maybe?


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ain't Nothing But a God Thing Baby

Here we are again! It has been a VERY LONG TIME this time.

Whence we last left off, I was waiting on a letter from my long time therapist back in Utah. When that letter came in, I was then informed we needed more current documentation of my ability to go out and do good work(s), so I met with a counselor for LDS Family Services. He completed the necessary paper work and my papers were submitted on April 3rd!

Oh but here it is May 20th, one month and 17 days later and, alas alack, no call yet. Concerned, my stake president called church headquarters near the beginning of this month only to learn that they were still "processing" my papers. Insider knowledge from various well-connected Utahns (as Eliza said, "They know everything about this stuff!") lists the various reasons for my delayed assignment as being:

1. Salt Lake is opening up a new mission and needs to post-pone assignments until enough elders and sisters are called to said new mission so an adequately sized group enters the MTC together.
2. I'm getting sent somewhere that is difficult  to get a visa to.
3. Got lost in the mail.
4. Got lost in Salt Lake.
5. The people assigning my call don't have a good spiritual vibe on where to send me yet.

HM. I'm actually doing much better than I anticipated. I've sort of stopped worrying about it constantly? Which is how, somehow, nearly two months has passed by! Wow! Crazy!

One reason that it's been easy to kind of stop worrying and let things take their course is because of something I've been thinking about a lot lately: the whys and the hows of faith and the gospel of Jesus Christ. President Uchtdorf (one of the assistants to the Prophet!) talks about it in this video below:

(This is an amazing talk, so if you've got some time check it out.)

Someone at Stake Conference today (which is like a big gathering of all of the local meeting houses in a given area, come together to get updated on information concerning the Church within that geographic area and to share spiritual messages) talked about the whys and hows of faith and the gospel today too. It's really struck a chord in me.

I've been able to focus on making each day count, being happy, and being a blessing to myself and others in these past few weeks by unhooking my mind from the constant concern of HOW I'm going to live out my faith. In exchange, I've been able to focus on WHY my faith matters. Instead of getting upset because I'm not putting on a name tag and a suit and going to bed at 10 PM, I've been able to center myself in growing an understanding of what, exactly, my faith brings to me. The How of the gospel is how we worship, how we live our days, how we dedicate ourselves to God - the technical stuff that this blog has mostly been about. The Why is much, much more important. I've been able to think about where my faith in God and Jesus Christ has brought me over the past years. Why I am recovering from severe depression:  medication, loving environs (thanks Nate, Alicia, and kitties!), and, biggest of all, a continual understanding of who I am and how I am loved by my Heavenly Father and His Son. Why I live my life in accordance to the commandments of God: because these commandments bring me peace, stability, and a healthy sense of self; because I have not lived these commandments before and felt only pain and confusion; because these work for me. Why I believe in this gospel: because I have felt in my heart a confirmation of its truth; because, to me, it is confusingly incontrovertible; because it brings me joy and peace and growth. Why I am dedicating two years of my life to telling people about this gospel: because it has brought me joy and because it can bring joy to others; because it is a part of me that I am proud to share. Why I am ok with waiting two months for my call: because I know that it will come; because I know that God is taking care of me; because there are opportunities in all situations for growth and for beautiful blessings, even in times of waiting (scratch that - ESPECIALLY in times of waiting).

And so I'm tided over. I can concentrate on working hard, saving money, reading books, petting cats, and enjoying myself and my life. I'll let you all know when the news comes. Thank you all for your support and interest. You're all a big, fat blessing to me and help me in ways you can't even understand.


P.S.: here's a picture me getting ready for church today

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Called to Get My Swerve On

It has been such a long time hasn't it? YES IT HAS. Let's do an update then!

Last week I met with the Stake President; the local guy in charge of taking care of all of the bright young missionaries and all of the families and bishops in this particular area. This was important because it was the last thing I could personally do to put in my papers. At least, that's what I thought. The meeting was really good; he asked me about my background, if I had a testimony of the Church, and a series of questions about my personal conduct and integrity. It's kind of an intimidating interview! It makes one think very seriously about the implications and realities of going on a mission. Missionaries are held to a VERY high standard; even by Mormon standards. So instead of just, like, not drinking or smoking, missionaries are expected to... SUPER not drink and smoke.

Ha ha ha. At the end of the meeting, the stake president said he felt comfortable putting my papers in but said first we needed some paperwork from my therapist. Specifically, a letter of recommendation stating I was alright to serve a mission. The Church is very thorough in making sure that its missionaries are physically and mentally capable to serve. Since I take medications and am effected by a few different mental ailments, the Church is going to want to make sure that I've been properly treated and that I am fully taken care of. So, before I send in the papers, I need a letter from my therapist. Problem is, my last therapist is in Utah. I called her and left her a message and then sat on my haunches until yesterday.

Real talk time: the expectations of the missionary are super intense, as I've mentioned. Not only in terms of living the commandments and guidelines of the Church to a tee, but also in terms of how much responsibility and work rests on the shoulders of a missionary. Working 7 days a week from sun up to sun down, walking and biking all day, the emotional work of living up to yourself fully, of being stretched to your limits in terms of hope and faith and your ability to love. To love yourself and others without exception, without thought. I walked out of my meeting with the stake president feeling... slightly deflated, to say the least. Would I be adequate for the work? Here I had tried so hard for so long to get myself prepared, to get the papers in, to work hard and be strong and to invest myself in this task. And here I was forced to wait yet another week, to stare at yet another hurdle. To sit with my thoughts quietly, reviewing over and over the fact that I am not perfect and have never been perfect and, yet, perfection seemed to be expected of me. I felt, very heavily, the weight of this task. I felt so very responsible for my actions, for my mind, for my past and my future. For the way I treat others. For the way I treat myself. I felt kind of dragged through the mud.

It took me a minute to realize that all of that worry really means nothing in the face of why I'm going. I went home from the meeting, feeling like a failure and I prayed. Hard. I prayed for guidance and I prayed for clarity and I prayed for peace. And it blossomed into my mind that the reason I was even praying in the first place was reminder enough of why not one thing but my desire to serve matters. I have faith in this Church and in this gospel and I want to share that with others because I know it bring good things to their lives. I believe to the depth of my heart that Jesus Christ is my savior and that God loves each and every one of us and knows each and every one of us and that, through the teachings of the church, we can live up to His lofty vision of us.

Heavenly Father truly answers our prayers. He knows the desires and pleadings of our hearts and all we need is to ask Him, in faith, to comfort us and to explain the world to us. And it comes.

Sorry, heavy stuff man. But true stuff. True to me, at least. So true that no matter the obstacles, no matter the self-conscious feelings of inadequacy, despite anything else, I need to give of myself to the fulfillment of God's much better plans. I wouldn't have this beautiful thing in my life, this sustaining and solid testimony and faith, without the two young men who served their missions in 2008. I am really grateful to those two boys and it makes me realize that there are other people out there waiting for what they brought to me.

So. In conclusionnnnnn: I got a call from my therapist yesterday. She's going to write the letter and send it before the weekend. She'll mail it to the stake president. By next week, he'll submit the papers to Salt Lake City. They'll look them over, figure out where and when I'm going to serve, and then send me back the mission call packet.

SO. In theory, I'll have my assignment in mid-to-late March.

Every time I realize this, my heart starts to thump and my throat constricts and I'm like "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHH YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"




Saturday, February 4, 2012

What To Do After Your Recommend Is Complete

A great question, thanks missionary recommendation site!

I have completed my recommendation - aka The Papers. What does that look like? Something like this:

My advice? Eat gumbo and relax on your day off from work and church. Read a book. You worked over 40 hours this week! Take a little "time for yourself". Also, go to bed early because you have kids to pick up at 8:30 tomorrow morning for church.

The Church has their own advice.

"After you have submitted your Recommendation Form to your bishop, do the following:

If you have not already done so, begin the hepatitis A and B immunizations immediately. You will receive additional immunization information with your assignment.
You are expected to be physically and emotionally capable of working several hours a day and walking several miles a day six days a week. If there are reasons why this might not be possible, please discuss them with your bishop.
Before entering the MTC, correct any problems such as plantar warts, flat feet, chronic headaches, inguinal hernias, and so on. Stabilize and understand the treatment for chronic problems such as asthma, diabetes, seizures, emotional disorders, irritable bowel, endometriosis, and so on.
If you are taking prescribed medication for any chronic problem, medical or emotional, do not stop taking it unless your physician advises you to do so.
Your bishop will meet with you to review your recommendation form and to interview you for worthiness to serve a mission. He may make changes and adjustments to the information on your form as he deems necessary. The bishop will then submit the recommendation form with his recommendation remarks to your stake president.
The stake president will likewise meet with you to review your recommendation form and to interview you for worthiness. He may also make changes and adjustments to your form. When the stake president is satisfied that you have met all requirements, he will submit your form with his recommendation remarks to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
At Church headquarters, your recommendation form will be reviewed by the Quorum of the Twelve, who will assign you to a mission. Thereafter a call letter from the President of the Church, accompanied by a call packet with information about what you will need to do to prepare to begin your mission, will be sent to the address you specified in your recommendation form."

So that's that I guess. Better advice than mine. In any case: I'll have a meeting with my bishop hopefully tomorrow or in the next few days. Then my Stake President. Then. DONE. WOAH BUDDY!

Is it appropriate to guess where I'm going yet? GUESS WHERE I'M GOING!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

And you must wait yet a little while, for ye are not yet ordained

Hello dearest readers and loved ones. Some of you may be wondering what the status of everything is right now and if I had been writing this on Saturday, I would have written something like, "Oh I sill don't know what's happening! My papers STILL aren't started! Waaaahhhh!!!"

BUT, after two weeks of learning what it means to be patient (hahaha, "learning". More like stumbling through that experience) and weird unexplainable online confusions (for some reason I wasn't allowed to sign into the missionary online recommendation system which made me crey buckets of tears), I HAVE BEGUN AND ALMOST FINISHED MY PAPERS!!!

In layman's terms: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a very specific process when it comes to deciding where (and if) to send a prospective missionary. First off, I talk to my bishop (the leader of my local church that I attend). I did that and he asked me all sorts of questions, like if I'd read the Book of Mormon and if I had a testimony of its truth (I have! I do! It's wonderful and I would suggest it to anyone looking for peace or truth in their life), if I live up to the commandments of the Gospel, how I can pay for it all, etc. That talk went well and my bishop and I, here two weeks later, have begun the part of the process known as "The Papers".

Which is a funny thing to call them because they're all online now. Basically what happens is when I got approved by my bishop to do missionary work, I was signed up to access a website called the "Online Missionary Recommendation System" which is fancy talk for a big checklist of TO-DO items. When I sign in there, I have several TO-DO tasks, like filling out my personal history (DOB, place of birth, etc.), my educational history (Have I ever learned a language? Yes! Would I be interested in learning a language on the mission? By golly gumdrops, I do believe so!), and my personal health history (I have allergies but I'm not going to mention that on the form, don't tell anybody shhhh). In addition to those fun little questionnaires, there is also a place to upload a current picture of me, as well as several forms to print out.

These forms are for my dentist and my doctor and basically say, "I have looked at this person; they will be healthy for the next two years". These forms necessitate a physical, blood tests, immunizations, urine tests, and dental work. I had my dentist's appointment today. Only two fillings needed! I was really nervous I would need a root canal for some reason. I don't need a root canal. Thank you Jebus. Tomorrow I have my doctor's appointment and since I had a physical last October, I feel very confident that nothing will be totally messed up with me!

Once these appointments are completed (my doctor's appointment tomorrow and my tooth fillins on Monday), I will have officially completed my mission papers! After that they will be sent to my stake president who I will have an interview with. Depending on that interview, I will progress forward with the mission process or I'll, I don't know, hang out some more. But I have a good feeling about the interview. I have a good feeling about the whole process! After the interview with the stake president, the papers will be sent to the missionary department of the Church in Salt Lake City. They will look over my papers and process them. They'll get put into a system which will go to a general authority of the Church. A note on this: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is lead by a prophet (akin to the Catholic Pope, but without the bling/grillz). However, he has under him a quorum of twelve apostles (sound familiar? If you've read the New Testament it might) who are known as the General Authorities. These twelve men are charged with serving the general Church will pretty much all matters for the entire world. It's pretty crazy. One of the biggest tasks they have (besides the Church Education and Welfare systems) is assigning missionaries to certain missions in the world. When my papers get sent away to Salt Lake and they get processed, a general authority will sit down at a computer and go through several hundred missionary applications one-by-one and choose, by prayer and following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, where each and every person should serve. After that intensely spiritual moment, I will be assigned to labor in a specific place at a specific time. The information is printed out and put into a package and then shipped to me. This whole process, from the time I finish my papers and have my interview with my stake president to the day I get my mission call (that's what the assignment is called, a "mission call" - because I am called to serve somewhere, get it?) takes anywhere from two to four weeks.

How exciting RIGHT? I AM EXCITED. I hope you all are too!

Write below in the comments if you have any questions or thoughts on all of this. I'll let you all know soon enough whether or not I have a urinary tract disorder and what my blood type is! Because one I get all of my proper appointments done with, I'll have my interview with my bishop wrapped up soon after and then we'll be sending the papers in. So the next time I write will be to tell you all, "IT'S DONE. PRAY FOR A PLACE WITH GOOD FOOD FOR THE NEXT TWO WEEKS."

Love and some garbage to you all,


Friday, January 6, 2012

On Patience and Not Having Any

So! Here we are a few days after my super successful meeting with my bishop; you know, the one where he said, "You're going to serve a mission!" and I laughed really loudly with glee. The normal order of things is that I would have begun my papers immediately following that interview. The problem is that the papers are all done through an online system. So the bishop and I went into the little office with the computer in it that sits next to his office in the chapel. And I was actually kind of bouncing on my chair in excitement because, hey! Here we go! We're starting the papers! And he gets to the log in page for the online missionary recommendation site and says, "Uh oh". And then tries for ten minutes to remember his password and username. To no avail. So, we've got a slight delay. It's been two days or so and he's still having trouble logging in (that or he's just super busy and doesn't have time to get around to it, which is understandable seeing as how he's a lawyer for AT&T).

I have been sitting at home, typing my information into the website log in a few times every hour just hoping, on the off-chance that he's done it without telling me. I've been waiting very impatiently. I feel like God is teasing me. It's really funny to me that after everything, the one thing that stands between me and the papes is a forgotten password. Ohhhhh bishop.

This brings me to think about patience and peace. Can I have peace and assurance if I am really, really impatient? Because I am really impatient. I keep having these moments where I kind of half yell "Bishop!!!!" to myself. Like Shatner yelling, "Khannnn!!!" I've been super pushy about getting my papers in for like half a year now and, well, maybe the reason it's taken so long (or part of the reason) is because God is telling me to slowwwwww dowwwwnnnn and just take my time and get things in order. Because in the mean time He's doing things for me anyway. Like getting me two awesome jobs. In the course of the past two days. While I was sweating over this taking a tiny bit of time I was blessed to get hired into a company that helps people on government assistance get secure, well-maintained housing. I also got hired at a great mom and pop bookstore. I feel like the angels are like "Hush" to me banging my fists against the table.

Patience. What is it? What does it meannnnn? Shouldn't being faithful automatically endow you with patience? Isn't one of the lines in the scripture about being "long suffering"? I know the end goal of all of this: I will serve a mission. I will be able to go out into the world and teach about the love of Christ and blessings that the Lord showers us with daily. How can I do that well if I can't see or properly appreciate the blessings as they come?

I've been quite rankled by this waiting over the past two days. I won't be anymore. I'll just trust it's all going to come to pass in due time and that I need to just do my best in my current capacity. That's what patience is. And that comes from knowing that the Lord is truly watching over me and taking me forward each step at a time. It comes from trust in the plan; it's a practice of beliefs.

So, alright. I can do that. I can dig it. I'll let you all know when the code is cracked and the doors swing open and Nicolas Cage (me) can steal the Declaration of Independence (start my mission papers).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mission Statement (LOL)

First and foremost, welcome to this blog. You may be wondering what this blog is. Well, it is a blog dedicated to tracking my progress and eventual entry into two year service as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That's right, I'm LDS (or Mormon). And eventually I'll be one of these guys.


This is a really important thing for me. For years I struggled with whether or not I would serve a mission. I had a testimony of Jesus Christ and the Church, but I figured I would never measure up to the expectations that missionaries are held to. This past summer, however, I began to pray about whether or not I could do this, could give myself over for two years, live the gospel to its fullest, and offer to other people what the Church has given to me. The answer was a distinct, exciting, and strong yes.

So here I am! It's been something like over six months since I first talked to my church leader (so-called a "bishop") in my ward (my local church; the overall worldwide church is divided into geographic units, the smallest of which is a ward which often covers neighborhoods or towns). I've had to wait and experience a LOT in order to get to where I am today. And where am I today? Oh, since you happened to ask, I just had my interview with my bishop today about starting my missionary papers.

What does this entail, this missionary stuff?

First off, a mission is a two year commitment to talk pretty much only about Jesus and God to anyone and everyone. During that two years, a missionary spends six to seven days a week walking around with a companion (of the same sex) (AKA, a new BEST FRIEND), knocking on doors, teaching lessons, meeting with members of the church, doing community service, studying the scriptures, and trying to talk to anyone who will listen. The missionary gets one day per week to do normal things like laundry, shopping, playing street hockey, eating at a homestyle buffet, etc. They also get to write home/email once a week. Calls home (sometime Skype depending on where you serve!) happen twice a year, one on Christmas and one on Mother's Day. The missionary lives in church-owned or church-rented housing and gets a monthly allowance from the Church for food and whatnot. The missionary is not, however, paid to go on the mission. As a missionary, I am responsible for paying for my mission. Every missionary in the world pays the same amount of money to go on a mission: somewhere around $10,000. Do I have this money? No, no I do not. But kind and gracious souls in the Church have decided to help me out and families have anonymously donated to my mission fund.

So that's a mission. But how does it all happen? What's the process of becoming a missionary? It's a multi-step process. The first step is deciding to go on a mission. I have done that. Check! Here are some other steps!

2. Meet with bishop to discuss whether or not serving a mission is possible. Check!
3. Begin the missionary papers. I will get more in depth with the papers here in the future, but the general overview is that I fill out relevant personal information, go to the doctor to get a thorough physical, go to the dentist to get my teeth scraped real clean and any holes gapped up.
4. Have an interview with the stake president (the church, if you'll recall, is divided up into wards, which are responsible for small geographic areas. A stake, then, is a collection of wards. And the person who is in charge of that collection of wards is called a "stake president").
5. Submit the papers!
6. Wait. 2-3 weeks probs.
7. Your call arrives.

A pause here. Up until that last one, number 7, a prospective missionary has no clue where they will be serving. They also have no clue when they will be leaving. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints relies heavily on personal prayer and deep introspection to make some big decisions. Each missionary, every single one, is assigned and approved to serve in a specific mission at a specific time by one of the leaders of the Church, who make the decision based on prayer and ponderous meditation. The Prophet, our rough approximation of the Pope (but without the glitter), personally signs every mission call. It's pretty awesome. So, don't be alarmed or confused if when I say I'm going on a mission I also say I have no clue where or when. The whole point is that our church is heavy on the personal relationship with Jesus and God part. Even to the point where the leadership of our church personally prays over every prospective, dopey, smiling missionary picture. That'll be me some day soon! Smilin' up at Thomas S. Monson (our prophet). Anyways, more on the mission call in the future.

8. Report to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) on the assigned date that comes in your mission call.
9. Study in the MTC for a period of time. This time fluctuates depending on if you're learning a language, etc.
10. Go out into the field!

There you have it! A Campbell's Condensed version of what the next two years or so looks like. The next month is crucial for me; I'll be running around doing doctor's visits, double-checking my legal status as a citizen of the United States, not to mention working two jobs to help save up for the mission. As I progress further and further, I'll be updating this blog with information about the process. I figured that a lot of my friends and family have no clue what it is I'm doing right now and, well, maybe they'd like to know some? So it's not such a big confusing mystery? If you have any questions, please comment them and I'll be sure to answer.

I'm REALLY EXCITED about this WHOLE THING. It's such an honor and privilege to get to be a representative of my religion. I just have such a strong testimony of this church and of God's existence, His love for us. How could I not want to share that? It's like getting a sick BOGO for Papa Murphy's or something.

Anyways. Walk in this journey with me bros and sis-s. You might find at the end of it all, there was only one set of footprints in the sand. Because I carried you. Or because I left to get a snow cone. Or because the tide came in and washed my foot prints away. Either way, it should be AWESOME.


P.S. It was really hard not to make the title of my blog something like "Jesus Crust" or "Mission Possible" or "Latter-day Paints" or something awesome like that. I chose simplicity over glamor. Such a hard decision.

For more information see also: