Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Experiment Six-to-Six

No, that's not a typo up there. That's what I call an idea Mom had about keeping track of time and how we use it. Basically, from Six O'Clock in the morning to Six O'Clock in the evening, I'm going to keep an hour-by-hour record of what I do today, and probably for the next several days. Why 6am-to-6pm? Because 6am is when I wake up and 6pm is about the time everyone gets home. Plus, it allowed me to use a silly, copyright infringing pun for the name of the idea. And come to think about it, there's a pretty good reason Mom came up with this idea now.

Last Sunday was our Ward Conference, in which our Bishop gave a talk. As part of his talk, he shared this quote from Elder Dalin H. Oaks' talk, Good, Better, Best:
Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it.
Bishop Adair placed emphasis on the phrase "the portion of our life we give to obtain it." There are only so many hours in a day, and we only have so many days and years to live. Time is a precious and finite resource. We don't seem to have a whole lot of it, and our supply is always being depleted, like water draining out of a sourceless lake. Eventually, the lake will run dry and our lives will be over, and we'll have to give an account for how we spent our short time here. Did we put a paddlewheel in it and put it to good use, or did we just watch it all flow downstream?

Watching TV, playing games, and surfing the internet are great ways to let time slip by by the hour. Sometimes, you get a little bit back from the time you spent on it. You might learn something new, and you'll almost certainly have a little fun, but is that really worth the portion of your life that you gave to obtain it? Aren't there more efficient ways to learn new things and have fun in less time, or while doing other things? I just sang a few songs as I washed dishes. I got something done and had a little bit of fun while I was at it. Productivity for the win, and it only took me about half an hour.

So, today, I'm going to keep track of my time. I'm going to try to do some more productive things than usual, and that is the ultimate goal of this experiment, but mostly I first want to just see where my time is already going. I'm curious. I know I waste too much time on the internet, but exactly how much time do I waste? Today won't be such a good measure of that, since I have plans to do stuff today, but what about tomorrow? Or Friday? I've got to admit, I wasn't too excited about this idea at first, mostly because I knew I wouldn't like what I knew the record would show, but in this experiment, I'm allowed to change my numbers simply by changing how I spend my time. If I want to write down that I did loads of productive stuff on a given day, I can do that - All I have to do is do loads of productive stuff first. That, in fact, is the whole point of the experiment, and I think it's going to be a success.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Practice Makes Possible

Concerning my ability to play the piano, I typically say that I can't read sheet music and that I can only play one note at a time. That is becoming inaccurate. While I still can't read sheet music, I can decipher it. I can tell how many lines one note is above or below another one, and I know that if a note has a sharp or flat symbol next to it, it means to hit a black key rather than a white one. I can even figure out which key a piece is meant to be played in by looking at the sharp and/or flat symbols at the beginning of the piece and determining by ear which scale sounds right using those sharps or flats. I'm sure that at least one or two pianists just cringed at my methods, and I'll probably take a piano class to learn how you're actually supposed to figure out which notes you're supposed to hit, but my point is that even using my limited knowledge and skill, I'm able to figure things out if I try hard enough.

As for hitting multiple notes, that;s still a challenge for me, but I've been practicing playing two notes at a time instead of only one. Baby steps. I'm still only playing the Alto and Soprano parts of the songs, and I know I'm using the wrong hand to play them (I'm a lefty, so using my left hand is easier for me, so long as I only need one), but it still sounds better than one note did on its own (assuming I'm hitting the right ones. I still make plenty of mistakes while learning and practicing songs).

I suppose what I'm getting at is that I'm not as limited as I thought I was. People with disabilities or simply just a lack of ability sometimes see themselves as being more limited than they actually are. While it's true that I don't have the ability of many of my family members, it's not like I can't find or play the right notes. I can - it just takes me longer than it takes some people and I make more mistakes than they do. Even people with physical limitations may be less limited than they realize. Nick Vujicic, a man who has no arms or legs, has managed to learn how to swim. If he can do that, I can do anything. In fact, that's one of the ideas he hopes people take away from his motivational speeches, so good job, Nick.

Sometimes, there are things that we literally, physically cannot do. I can't fly. Nick can't do jumping jacks. And my dad can't feel anything with his right foot, because it's made out of metal and plastic. But there's still lots of stuff that we can do, and somewhere in the middle, there are things that we think we can't do, but may be surprised to learn that we can. So, if you think you can't do something, you might try to do it anyway. You may fail at first, as expected, but with time to study and practice, you might surprise yourself. You may have, or be able to gain, more skills and abilities than you think you have now.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Preparing to Practice

I went to bed last night thinking that I had a pretty good idea what I was going to blog about, but the idea doesn't sound nearly as good now as it did last night. In fact, by now I can barely remember what the idea was. So I'll blog about playing the piano instead.

I enjoy piano music. I know many excellent pianists - some personally, and their music inspires me. We play the piano at church to accompany sacred hymns. We've had a piano in our house as long as I can remember, and I play it from time to time. The trouble is that I'm not very good at it. I can't read sheet music. My fingers aren't quick enough or accurate enough to reach the keys I need to hit by the time I need to hit them. My nieces are much better pianists than I am. Then again, they have some great teachers, and they definitely spend more time practicing than I do.

That's my problem. I don't practice enough. I'm sure that if I set my mind to it and set aside time to practice, I could gain some skill at it, but practicing playing the piano isn't very enjoyable because I feel like I'm not good enough at it. I'm embarrassed that, at 25 years old, I'm trying to gain a skill that my teenage-or-younger nieces already excel at. I don't practice playing the piano because I have little skill at it.

Of course, I see the error in my logic. I have to practice in order to improve my skill. If I want to become better at playing the piano, I have to try to play it now, even though I'm not very good at it, even though my prospects aren't very promising. I need to look at where my skill level is right now honestly, and figure out how to move forward from here. In essence, I'll never get better at playing the piano until I accept the fact that I'm not good at it now and become okay with that.

Though it's embarrassing to let others hear me play when I'm so bad at it and it's discouraging to make so many mistakes as I try to make progress, being able to play even basic songs on the piano is a skill I'd like to have, mostly because I love the music and I'd like to be able to make it myself. It's foolish of me not to practice playing the piano for the reason of needing practice at playing the piano. I'll get better, in time. It may take me a disappointingly long time to learn the basics, and I'd prefer to practice on my own so others don't have to hear me fail, but I can learn to play the piano. I just need to humbly accept my need to practice first.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Secret to Effective Disassembly

I have choir practice this morning, so once again, I'll be leaving earlier than usual. I suppose I should get used to that, in case I ever get a real job. When that happens, I'll probably have to switch to blogging in the evening, or whenever I'm not working.

Speaking of working, it took pretty much all day on Thursday to set up the technical equipment for the Sacramento North Stake Youth Conference Roadshow last night, but it only took us about two hours to take it all down afterward. Now, I could turn that into a blog post about how it's easier to tear something down than it is to build it up, but I want to be positive this morning, so instead I'll blog about using your resources, including your talents, wisely.

On Thursday, we were setting up the stage lights by climbing up an A-Frame ladder. It was precarious, it gave us only a small amount of working are at a time, and it essentially just took a long period of time to put the lights up via the ladder. To take the lights down, another part of the technical crew let us use their scissor-lift (at least, that's what they called it), a platform that could be raised and lowered by hydraulics. Using that tool, they were able to take down all the lights at once, without having to move a ladder from light to light.

Since I wasn't on the platform, I was free to help the others with the on-the-ground work. One of the tasks was folding up the projector screens and storing them in bins. Normally, folding the screens is a two-person job, but with my experience folding up tents, I was able to fold up one of the screens on my own, once I had been shown the proper way to fold it. Ryan and I then worked together to get the screens and frames into their bins, after which we worked on taking down and coiling wires. Ryan was more comfortable on a ladder than I was, so he did the actual taking down of the wires, but since I had been taught by my dad the proper way to coil wires, and since I had gain some practice working with ropes recently, I was able to coil all of Ryan's wires correctly as quickly as he could get them down to me.

I may not be good with heights, but I have other talents and abilities that I could bring to the table, and once we were putting them to good use rather than sticking them up a ladder, I was able to help the technical crew more effectively. The moral of the story is that when everyone one the team does the jobs that their best suited for, the whole team works more effectively. Now, this isn't truly a fair comparison, since I think we had more people helping take down than we had when we were setting up, and once again, it's easier to take things down than it is to set things up, but still. I know that without the scissor-lift, taking the lights down would have taken MUCH longer, and that once I was free to do less intimidating work, I was able to get it done quickly. We did pretty darn well last night. But now, I'm kind of looking forward to enjoying a day of rest.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Affliction - Tried and True

Because last night there was a change in plans, and because I accidentally slept in this morning, I now have very little time for blogging. Fortunately, I already know what I'd like to blog about.

Yesterday, I saw a man with a shirt that read "Affliction - Tried and True" and it reminded me of part of the purpose of life. We're here to be tested, or tried, to prove whether we'll be true. Part of this test is to see how we act when things go badly. Do we get frustrated and angry? Do we get discouraged? Do we muscle through our problems and soldier on? Do we try to keep a positive attitude? Do we remember to ask for God's help? How we act in the face of adversity and affliction can say a lot about our character, which is partly why we face it so often in life. Affliction is part of the test.

This life is our opportunity to show God that we'll follow Him, no matter what. Unfortunately, the "no matter what" part involves a lot of hardship and adversity, but the struggle is necessary. Through our afflictions, we are tried so that we may prove that we will be true. They're not just obstacles; they're opportunities to show our true colors, to show off how awesome we really are, and that we truly will stay true to God's teachings and commandments, no matter what.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Little Giant, Little Courage

Yesterday, I had the "opportunity" to climb to the top of a Little Giant ladder, reaching up to the ceiling of one of our church building's Cultural Halls (AKA Basketball Court) to hang up about a half-dozen spotlights for a production some of the youth are doing this Saturday. It wasn't a whole lot of fun. For one thing, those ceilings are very high up. Our Cultural Halls are easily as tall as two normal-height rooms stacked on top of each other with the ceiling/floor between them cut out. And the ladder I was climbing, while entirely stable and trustworthy, was... flexible. A little bit more flexible than I was comfortable with while I was two stories up.

On top of that, the lights were heavy, fragile, and expensive. The angles were difficult. The bolts that I had to loosen to adjust the lights were stuck tight, and even though I was strong enough to turn the bolts, I didn't want to apply too much force to the bolts in case they suddenly came loose causing me to lose my balance. I was not having a good time. Nor was I making very quick progress.

Noticing my plight, some brave, Christian people stood up to help. One of them, a young man by the name of Ryan, taught me an important lesson about courage. He confided to me that he was afraid of heights as well. Yet, he was able to ascend the ladder more quickly than I did, work more effectively up there than I could, and generally seem a lot more comfortable up there than I was. He taught me a few of his tricks: to look at specific things such as the lights, the ceiling, or people, rather than letting your eyes wander into looking down; and to really trust your ladder - and remind yourself that you trust it.

What I learned about courage from Ryan's example is that it's okay to be afraid. Even people who seem completely fearless are probably afraid. They've simply learned ways to deal with their fears and to act with courage despite them. Mostly, I think he just tried to keep his mind off of the thing that he was afraid of, and since he was able to control his mind to the point where he could focus on what needed to be done rather than on how high up he was, he was also able to get the job done quickly and make it look easy. It wasn't that he wasn't afraid of heights. It was that he didn't let his fear of heights slow him down.

Paladins, theoretically, are fearless. In D&D, Paladins of 3rd level or higher are "immune to fear (magical or otherwise)." They are never shaken when an enormous dragon flies overhead, they are unaffected by magical spells that normally cause fear, and they cannot be intimidated by other people. I had always thought that this meant that they were never afraid, but now I don't think that's true. What I think now is that Paladins have such discipline that even when they have fear pounding in their hearts, they have the courage to ignore their fears and act the same way they always do - with honor.

I'm obviously not quite there yet. While I aspire to be a Paladin in the same sense that we all aspire to be like Jesus Christ, that doesn't mean that I'm anywhere close to my goal, nor will I be any time soon. If I can be called a Paladin, I'm certainly a low-level one that has not yet gained immunity to my fear of heights. But maybe that's okay. Maybe I don't need to be totally immune to fear. Maybe I just need to pull myself together, focus my mind, and do what's required of me no matter how strongly my fears try to distract me. Maybe, as will every other challenge in life, we're not supposed to overcome the challenge by having it removed from us, but by developing the strength to get through it. I may never lose my fear of heights, and I'm okay with that. I just need to learn to be able to tell my fears to shut up when I need them to, so I can do what needs to be done.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

You Can Wonder and Worry, or You Can Ask

Remember everything I was stressing out about yesterday? We don't have to worry about any of it. God knows what we're capable of and how much He expects from each of us. If we listen to the Spirit, He will tell us what God wants us to do. So, the question becomes, how do we get the Spirit? How do we learn to recognize and understand its promptings? Getting the Spirit is easy. There are lots of good, uplifting things we can do to get the Spirit. We can pray and read the scriptures. We can observe and appreciate nature. We can sing/play/listen to reverent music. And those ideas are just a few of my favorites. I'm sure you could come up with a list of your own. Anything that brings you spiritually closer to God will help you to have His Spirit with you.

Once you've got the Spirit, learning to recognize its presence and promptings requires sensitivity and practice. Even more sensitivity and practice are required to help us understand and heed its promptings. For beginners (if there are any reading this), a good way to get started is to do something that you know will bring you closer to God. For example, you could go into a church, sing a hymn, and then pray to God, asking Him to bless you with the presence of His Spirit. Once you've done that, I can almost guarantee that you'll have a really good feeling inside you. If not, there's probably something that you need to repent of, and you'll probably know in your heart what the problem is. If that's the case, pray to God, apologizing for what you've done, and promise not to do it again. Ask for His help, especially if this is a temptation you think you're going to struggle with. Once you've repented and asked God for His help, you should have a good feeling inside of you.

Once you've got that good feeling, you can ask God what He wants you to do. You can ask Him for general directions, for ideas of what kinds of things you should do, or you could even ask Him for specific directions, asking Him what you should do about a given situation, like "What should I do to improve my relationship with my spouse?" or "What should I do to help me find work?" You can even ask Him questions, preferably yes or no questions like "Are you really there?" "Do you love me?" "Is the Book of Mormon true?" If the good feeling you have swells, the answer is yes. If it dims, the answer is no. If it's too subtle to tell whether it swelled or dimmed or remained the same, keep asking, or ask again later.

If you were praying for direction, you should have some thoughts come into your mind. These are not necessarily what God wants you to do, even if they seem to be good ideas. Always ask for confirmation. Ask something to the effect of "I got the feeling that Is should do [such and such]. Is that what you want me to do?" Again, the good feeling should either swell, dim, or stagnate. If the feeling dims or stagnates and you've got other ideas, ask about some of those. Once you've asked God "should I do this?" and you get a good feeling inside about it, you've got your directions, but don't leave the chapel just yet! There may be more than one right answer, so if you had more than one idea, feel free to pray about the others as well.

Once you're done praying, take the time to thank God for blessing you with the presence of His Spirit, answers to your questions, and directions for what you should do. It's polite. Plus, it makes God more likely to continue blessing you as you continue to come to Him. Also, it's important to act on the answers and guidance you receive. If you ignore the guidance and answers He gives you, He might not give you guidance and answers again so easily as He did the first time. You have to really be listening, and you have to be willing to obey.

For experienced God-worshippers, the program is pretty much the same, except that you didn't need me to explain it to you, since you already knew by your own experience and by what you learned at church. Going to church, by the way, is another good way to attract God's spirit into your life.

I love that guidance from God is available to everyone who seeks it. I love that God can tell me specifically what He wants me to do in any given moment (I have a special thing called the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means I can have God's Spirit with me all the time. If that sounds good to you, ask the missionaries about it. You can get in touch with them through mormon.org). It really is such a blessing that I can ask God what He wants me to do instead of trying to figure it out on my own. Don't get me wrong, sometimes, He still lets me try to figure it out on my own, but that's only when I forget to ask or when I should already know the answer. God gives us opportunities to use what we've learned. But when we honestly don't know what God wants us to do, and we're willing to do what God tells us when He answers us, He's usually willing to tell us what He wants to do. As long as we keep asking, we don't have to wonder. God will let us know.