Connections between scripture and my life

Mark 6:48 tells the first part of a story most of us are familiar with. Matthew 14:26-31 continues and finishes that story. 

Mark 6:48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.

26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.

27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

28 And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.

29 And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.

30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.

31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Three important points stick out here. Jesus saw his disciples toiling in rowing. He came to them. He came in the fourth watch. 

The fourth watch is the last watch before dawn. It comes after everything else that might happen at night. 

I worship a God that sees me toiling as Jesus saw His disciples. I worship a God who comes in the fourth watch. Through three watches I may feel abandoned, but He sends peace and relief in the fourth watch. 

I worship a God who sends relief at the end of a long, dark night of struggle–a God who loves me. He will come when His time time has passed. He will invite me, as Peter, to join Him on the waves before He enters my boat. 

It is ok if I doubt, as did Peter, after I step onto the water outside of my boat with nothing under me: Christ will save and support me, but I should not be afraid to step out of the boat. 

The winds and the waters may be boisterous, my boat may be tossed, water may be entering it, water may be sinking it. But I cannot be so engaged in bailing out the water that I do not see Jesus coming to me, walking on water, in the fourth watch, waiting for me to see Him, so He can tell me to “be of good cheer” and bring safety, peace, and salvation in my times of great trials. 

Praying honestly

I read a BYU devotional recently that mentioned something I’ve come to learn is very important. Praying openly and honestly is critical to bring change in my life.

I seek healing. I seek peace. I seek understanding of the situations I experience every day.

For me, prayer is a critical part of that. I have to be actively engaged in my healing, and I have to be completely honest with Father in my prayers.

Prayers often reflect my mental state. They are happy when I’m happy, they are dejected when I am dejected, but I always try to maintain a strong portion of gratitude. This is likely helpful, but not the subject of this post.

When I’m most depressed, when the world has piled itself on top of me (or when I’ve dug a hole, jumped in, and decided to fill it from the inside), my prayers often lack honesty. Only when my problems become so insurmountable that I cannot escape them alone (when I recognize how little control I have) do I elaborate the exact difficulties I have to God.

The is also true when things are going well. When I’m doing well, when life is full of blessings, I maintain gratitude, but my prayers are usually less specific than when I’m very troubled.

These things should not be.

Prayer is a method of engaging in honest, specific self-reflection. It has divine implications if you allow it to, but I believe the words of Jonathan Sandberg are accurate for me:

In your prayers, be sure to speak openly, sincerely, and directly to Him who is your loving Father. Sometimes I fear our prayers are too vague and too passive to bring about the spiritual support we need.

God requires us to know ourselves. He knows us perfectly. We must grow to that same knowledge. Even if we don’t like the things we discover and learn, acknowledging them specifically in prayer can be the first step to healing and overcoming them.

Specificity in prayer is important. It’s far more important to say, “Father, help me have the strength to fight through my apathy today” than to say “Uh, please help me to get some feelings.”

“I’m really unmotivated right now. All I do muster the desire to do and execute was say this prayer. Please grant me a little more strength to move forward with __[collecting tax documents, opening the mail, packing my clothes, writing more code]__.”

Praying honestly brings out honesty that is critical to my progress. By acknowledging my shortcomings to myself and to God in prayer, I fulfill the scriptural injunction in Ether:

If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness

and I learn more about me. I learn to identify the source of my challenges. From there I can make progress and grow. From there I learn God

[gives] unto men weakness that they may be humble [don’t I know it?]; and [he says] and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

My weakness isn’t yet strength. My weakness might change from prayer to prayer.

But praying honestly, admitting areas of weakness, asking for help, asking specifically, and asking for strength to move forward is necessary to my personal growth.

Why you should take up an endurance sport

I’m a sprinter. I’ve probably referenced this before. When I play volleyball, the only thing that matters is how fast I can get to a place on the floor within the gym. 

When I do things in life, I want similar results. I want immediate feedback. As a scientist, I like to perform controlled experiments that usually have predictable outcomes. 

But that’s not life. That’s not reality. Reality is so full of confounding variables that it’s very often difficult to tease out the things that most impact our success. 

Thus endurance sports are important to experience and understand. Nevermind the evolutionary argument that our bodies were primed over thousands of years to do endurance things. (It was a method of hunting for millennia; look it up.) Start running, swimming, cycling, or something that takes hours to accomplish so you can better understand the things you experience in life. (I suggest cycling. You go fast and see lots of things.)

Life is a multi-stage cycling race. Some people like to say marathons, but marathons are too short. Life is far more comparable to the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a EspaƱa, or the Tour de France. 

Everyday we get on our bikes and ride to reach and accomplish goals. Every trial is a stage or series of stages. We have battles we fight every day and they drag on and on and on. A marathon is over in five hours. One cycling stage might be, but then the cyclists have to recover and prepare to to the same thing again the next day. 

So take up and endurance sport. Do something you enjoy, but do something that requires a significant time commitment. And take time as you run, hike, swim (boring), cycle, whatever to ponder how the things you do and are learning affect your life and your future. 

Ode to cycling

Our world is really beautiful. Yeah, inversion during the winter isn’t great (and it’s actually called pollution, btw), but the world is beautiful. 

In 2011, I spent most of the summer cycling 20+ hours per week. I’d start where I lived in Provo and go. One day I ended up in the podunk town of Kamas, about 40 miles away. Another day I ended up at the summit of the Nebo Loop. 

I saw more of Utah on my bike than I ever saw in a car. 

You contradict that and say, “Lee J, you’ve driven 30,000+ miles in utah in your car, and rode only 1,000 miles on your bike!”

That’s true, but on my bike I could see. I saw the places I was going. I saw the things around me as I passed them. I saw more of the state on my bike than I’ve seen in my car. 

I miss that a lot. It was tough training that often. Twenty hours each week is equivalent to a job, and eating enough food to maintain my mass was really hard. But I gained a ton of perspective from viewing God’s creations and landscapes on my bike. 

I grew because I took time for myself. Time in quantities I haven’t taken since. Perhaps time that I might need to return to doing. 

Cycling is great. Wave at me when I pass you on the road. 

The difficulties of being a gentleman

This post could also be titled:

“The biggest dating mistake Lee J ever made” or “Why won’t he hold my hand?”

———-

I really like touch. I think it’s the greatest sensation. If you’re a love languages person, you’d say, “Lee J, touch is your primary love language.” And you’d be 100% right. 

Here’s the difficulty: I rarely initiate touch when I want to deepen a relationship. So when I’m most interested in a girl, I’m less likely to make the first move toward holding her hand or putting my arm around her. (There have been a few exceptions to this, but only due to incredible ignorance (I’ll get there soon) or strong inspirational influence.)

This has left several women I’ve dated quite confused early in the relationship and has been the reason I never dated several others. 

The way I mentally see it is 

The more interested I am, the more I need to respect her, and my past experiences (mostly one) taught me I need to be a gentleman and only do what the girl wants me to. 

So that leads to a lot of difficulty, especially early when women often want “romance,” “surprise,” and whatever else. I’ve got not problem with those things after I’m comfortable with her, but I’m scared to repeating past mistakes. 

A girl kissed me kind of out of the blue (looking back I should have seen it coming) when I was 16. I liked it a lot. A lot more than I expected to and a lot more than I liked her. It was a good learning experience. 

A few weeks later, I was asked to a dance by a friend of a girl I went to seminary with. Her parents were extremely conservative and only allowed her to go to the dance because they knew I was LDS and similarly conservative. 

Things went pretty well as far as I thought and (in typical fashion) I could only assume other guys at the dance were in a similar situation I was (catholic girls school dance). So I misread the social cues when all the guys and girls started kissing after the dance. 

Major error. Like in my worst top ten of all time. I realized as things played out I had basically brought shame upon me, my parents, my ancestors, my church, my pets, my cows, and anything else I might have been able to bring shame upon. 

So I resolved never to make that mistake again. 

I haven’t. 

I’ve had some less than natural first kisses (girls don’t always want you to ask if it’s ok, btw), and I’ve had more than my fair share of missed handholding or cuddling opportunities, but I’ve never made that mistake again. 

I doubt any of you will end up being the one this matters most to, but if I haven’t held your hand after a few dates, and you wonder why, this is it. So if that’s something you want, say it with words or actions. We’ll both be thankful you did.

I’m afraid, really afraid

I moved this week. As this posts I will be sitting in church with people who have known me for several years, and whom I feel comfortable around.

The familiarity and sociality of these people is the main reason I chose to move. A week ago Friday it wasn’t on the radar, but when I was offered a contract on Saturday, I spent the next 36 hours considering it and chose to make the move.

The things I’ve dealt with the last several months are real. I have yet to really understand the breadth or depth of how I am affected by them, but I know I’ve faced the darkest most difficult times of my life.

I did it alone, and as I felt some of that depression returning to my life, I felt that moving to where I have social support would be a positive choice.

But the thought hit me today:

What if this divine door to a more supportive area/ward was opened because I’m not even close to coming out of the darkness I’ve been in and it will get worse for a long time before it gets better? What if this move is meant to provide me support as times get only more difficult?

That scared me shitless. All I could think was, “Dear God, Please No. I don’t need that.”

I couldn’t do anything but cry and pray and beg that wouldn’t be the case. I want some relief. I want to be myself again. I want to be able to talk and laugh and not have thoughts of incompetence plague my brain.

As those thoughts went through my mind, it was hard to believe the incredible blessings that were being pronounced as I participated in temple initiatory.

One day my shoulders may be able to support the burdens I am given. One day perhaps I will have a testimony of being able to endure and overcome this.

For now, I have only a belief that I will not be given more than I can overcome. And if things do get harder, I’ll know I have people around me who know and love me. I hope things get better, and eventually they will; but I’m tired of struggling being the current purpose of my existence.

Accepting and giving love

I’ve had a lot happen this week. It may turn into several posts.

I like to consider myself a fairly normal person. The people who know m best know how accurate that may or may not be. But I hope things I experience are things you can relate to.

I have a need to be loved. Coexisting with that is a need for validation. I come across a bit conceited because I don’t really like the fact I have those needs and because I greatly dislike false validation.

However, I experience fear every day that my efforts are not enough, that what I’ve accomplished in life severely lacks, that I may never accomplish what I believe I can or should.

Heavenly Father knows my needs. He knows my fears and concerns. He knows what I need to grow, and what I can endure. When I receive priesthood blessings, He always tells me He loves me and is pleased with me. That is a great comfort and always needed.

We are aware that we often only accept the love we feel we deserve. I know that is very true for me. I have difficulty accepting love during my darkest times. I have difficulty having hope for future blessings and experiences when those times happen.

Believing others when they show me love is important. It’s something I can improve and something that will make a difference for me. When I have hard times, I can ask friends to speak with me and listen to what they say and how to see their love and Father’s reflected in them.

I was able to be that person for a friend a few weeks ago. She’s had a rougher past year than I have, and as she told me about it, I sat, listened, let her cry, cried with her, and did everything I could to show I cared and to reflect the love Father has for her.

It was apparent she’d been having trouble accepting how much someone could care about her. It was good to be the person she needed then.

Some day, I want to be with someone who sees me for who I believe I am, who loves me in spite of my faults and fears, and who I believe when she says I honestly deserve all the love she and my Father give me.

Until then, I get to learn from friends, and I get to rely only on my Father to learn to accept love in my life. The reality is we deserve more than we accept, so it is up to us to open our minds more and be wonderfully accepting of the love and kindness we actually deserve.

The person behind the most obvious characteristic

I’ve been pondering how I can better love those around me. I have friends with all sorts of mental, physical, emotional, and religious challenges. From depression to anxiety to eating disorders, fibromyalgia, homosexuality, autism, substance addiction, to pornography addiction.

These things–especially depending on how often my friends mention or focus on it–often become the basis for how I perceive them.

“Jeff is a really good guy, even though he’s addicted to pornography.”

“Amy is super-productive for someone with depression.”

“Emily is really cool for a lesbian.”

“Alfred is the best divorced guy I know.”

And perceiving them this way is wrong.

Heavenly Father loves each of us because of who we are, not what challenges us. When we consider the eternal perspective, we must realize that what people many struggle with the most are not eternal aspects of their character.

The fact I spent the last six months incredibly depressed are not an eternal aspect of who I am. However, it taught me critical lessons about myself and empathizing with others and impacts my return to Father’s waiting arms.

My friends may experience pain and trials. They may be depressed, divorced, missing limbs, chemically imbalanced, same-sex attracted, or all of those.

They are children of a Loving God. They may or may not accept that fact. But I can. I can love them for who they are. I can love them for their eternal characteristics–characteristics that may be strengthened by their challenges.

So the way I perceive them, the way I love them must be informed that these trials are temporary. After mortality ends, none of these things will be challenges they face. Anxiety, depression, amputation, same-sex attraction, divorce, eating disorders, addiction, and so many other things won’t affect us any more.

Those then won’t be the things that define my perceptions of my friends. Nor should they be now. If I can change my above perceptions to:

“Jeff is a really good guy.”

“Amy is quite productive.”

“Emily is really cool.”

“Alfred is one of the best guys I know.”

Then I show the love Father does and I focus on their whole worth as God intended.

The people I meet are not defined only by their most obvious characteristic(s). Those characteristics and experiences might end up making them better people, but they are temporary. They will not last beyond mortality. And if I do not recognize that, I do myself and them a disservice.

Momentum changes and initiating such

A few weeks ago, I had the following thought stick strongly in my mind:

The way forward begins with me taking one step.

It struck me so strongly that in the middle of sacrament meeting, I loaded up the Cloudpebble IDE online and wrote a app for my watch that displays the quote.

The way forward begins with me taking one step. Inertia is a real thing. It’s obviously a principle of physics. It is also true regarding non-physical things. Making decisions, accepting circumstances, learning from emotions, and so much more begins with making a single decision and beginning to act.

I found this true when I became convinced of my need for help last October. I didn’t want to call and make an appointment with the therapist–I didn’t need help that badly–but I made the call and set the appointment. And that started my momentum down the path to being more healthy.

This was true when I started going on dates again. Asking was never something I was good at. But I was worse at it–and didn’t want to fix it–until late 2014. But taking a step forward and starting to ask, even if I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, put me on the path toward dating again.

There are many applications for this: you can think of far more than I can name. but the principle is true. If you take a step, the second step will be easier.

My current struggle is with home teaching. I believe the program is inspired. I’ve benefitted so much from home teachers. They’ve rarely come, but I’ve always know who mine were and always tried to ask them for blessings before anyone else.

However, I haven’t done well as a home teacher. I’ve known who I home teach for several months, but I haven’t reached out to them yet. I have reasons, but they don’t much matter.

All the matters is the way forward begins with me taking one step. And today is the day I can take that step.

Thank you, my incredible students

Before I left the high school, I was very upfront with my students about what I was experiencing and why I chose to leave them. I cited many reasons that you read in my post from two weeks ago (On life, unmet expectations, and the impact of depression), as well as a several professional needs that finally solidified my decision.

At the end of that lesson, I asked them to choose a teacher who had the most influence on them while they had been at the school and write to the teacher describing that influence and saying thank you.

The students signed their names to the notes, and I delivered them to the teachers’ boxes before I left.

Surprisingly (perhaps not), many of my students wrote to me. I’d like to use the remainder of the post to thank them.

My dear student:

I wish I could respond personally to your note to me. Alas I am now locked out of any district servers that had access to personal student data.

However, you are the reason I feel I was somewhat successful as a teacher. Thursday night, after the semester ended, I went home and waffled for two hours about whether I should read the note you wrote me.

I finally decided to. As I read your kind, heartfelt words and added them to those of your several peers who also wrote me, I could barely contain my emotions and more than once I had to wipe the tears that blurred your words.

I had a difficult time this semester. You did, too. I’m grateful to have recognized that and said and did things that helped you through it. We helped one another. When I struggled to get out of bed, I knew I had to because you needed me there. You you similarly struggled, I’m glad I provided an environment where you wanted to be.

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with me. Your stories, your scriptures, your vulnerability are things I will treasure and hold to when times get rough in my future.

Because of what you did for me this semester, and because of what you shared with me in your note, I currently have written on my bathroom mirror: “Do my students proud.” You remain a motivation to me as I go forward to conquer the world before me.

I wish you the best. Please stay in touch. You’re one of only 150. I know who you are, and will remember you when you email me. You made a difference to me: you kept my head above the crashing waves of self-doubt and depression.

Thank you.