Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tips for Withstanding Whirlwinds

The person who will be teaching in Elder's Quorum today asked me if I would share a brief message about how I prepare to withstand spiritual whirlwinds. The term "spiritual whirlwinds" refers to Elder Neil L. Andresen's talk, Spiritual Whirlwinds, in which he said,
More concerning than the prophesied earthquakes and wars are the spiritual whirlwinds that can uproot you from your spiritual foundations... 
The worst whirlwinds are the temptations of the adversary.
Thinking of spiritual whirlwinds this way, it seems to me that the best way to withstand such whirlwinds is to be firmly rooted on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
Helaman 5:12
But that's just a generic, Sunday-school answer. If the teacher wants to hear specifically how I keep myself rooted on the gospel of Christ and withstand spiritual whirlwinds, I'll tell them that I do it mostly by praying for God's help to be able to do it.

Satan's temptations are subtle, sometimes too subtle to detect, and they're strong, sometimes seeming to be too strong to resist. For the wisdom to recognize the devil's temptations and for the moral strength to resist them, I often need God's help, and to get God's help, you often need to pray for it.

Another thing I do to keep myself firmly anchored to the gospel of Jesus Christ is to occasionally review the basics of the gospel. I ask myself questions like "Why is faith important?" "How does faith lead to obedience and repentance?" "What makes repentance and forgiveness so awesome?" and "How do these basic steps help me progress toward my ultimate goal of moral perfection?" It's funny how small and simple questions can lead to big, important answers. And it's funny how having a strong testimony in the basics of the gospel can help a person more than having a vague understanding of the deeper points of doctrine. Perhaps I should devote more of my study time to revisiting the basics instead of looking for new insightful quotes to share or reporting on how my piano practice is going.

Basically, that request I got to share my thoughts on how to firmly root yourself to the gospel has reminded me of how important it is for me to make sure I'm firmly rooted. I haven't reviewed the basics in a while. Maybe it's time to revisit them.

Less Belief in Luck, More Belief in God

(This is yesterday's blog post. How did this not get posted yesterday?)

Blogging about piano tips Teresa taught me reminded me of another insight she shared with me that day. I hope she'll forgive me for sharing it without getting her permission first. The basic idea is that the word "lucky" could, in almost every instance I can think of, be fittingly replace with the word "blessed."

There are some people who don't believe in luck. Such people may believe in fate - that some things are just destined to happen no matter what. Others say that there is no luck because everything that happens is a result of someone's choices, be they ours or God's. I'm leaning more toward that way of thinking right now. Some, including some of those who believe in neither God nor luck ascribe every seemingly random event to the laws of physics which are perfectly predictable, if you know all the factors. Personally, I think that one of the factors is that God tends to pull strings when He needs to.

Not believing in luck can have many benefits, such as an increased sense of personal responsibility and a greater belief in a higher power. These things can be of great benefit when things are going well, but when things are going poorly, you may need a deeper perspective. When bad things happen and you can no longer blame it on a random streak of bad luck, you have little choice but to blame yourself, other people, or God for what has happened. This will require you to own up to your own mistakes, forgive other people for theirs, and understand that God knows what He's doing. But even these "downsides" to a lack of belief in bad luck can have long-term spiritual benefits, even though it's harder to deal with in the short-term.

Personally, I still kind of believe in luck, mostly because there are many times when the laws of physics have too many factors to make the outcome predictable and God doesn't care enough to pull any strings. For example, I could flip a coin right now and the result of the coin toss would be entirely dependent on what I would call luck. Though, theoretically, a person could practice flipping coins in just the right way to determine which side it lands on. Of course, that would take a level of skill that no living person has, but still, it's theoretically possible for a coin toss to not be random at all, so I guess there really is no such thing as luck.

The greatest benefit, I think, to not believing in luck comes in knowing that God is pulling the strings. When fortunate things happen to us, we can be reasonably certain that God had a hand in it. When unfortunate thing happen, we can be pretty sure that God had a good reason to allow it to happen. If we have enough trust in God, we can know that all of our experiences are designed for our benefit, and not just the results of random chance. This can encourage us to try to get on God's good side and remind us to thank Him for the many blessings in our lives. Essentially, we'll probably have more "good luck" if we give proper thanks to the source of it and remember to keep His commandments.

Friday, July 25, 2014

As Plain as the Notes on Your F.A.C.E.

Having read a few of my recent blog posts (I think she reads all of my blog posts, actually), my sister-in-law, Teresa, one of the great pianists I'm fortunate to be related to, taught me a few tricks to help me be able to read sheet music - and they work!

They most eye-opening thing she taught me is that the notes don't move up and down the staff. All this time, I thought that the key of a piece determined which lines of the staff represented which notes, so I had to count up and down the lines to find out which lines represented which keys on the piano, but that isn't true! The lines and the notes they represent are constant. For example, if you look at a hymn book, you'll see that there are five horizontal lines above the words to your favorite hymn. If there's a black dot on the middlemost of those five lines, that dot represents a B above Middle C. Always. Now, it might be a B Flat above Middle C sometimes - you'll have to look out for special symbols to be sure, but it'll never be an F or a C. That means that I can start memorizing which lines on the page go along with which keys on the piano, so I can tell which key a note is just by looking at where it is on the staff!

And there's a trick for that, too! Looking at those same five lines from earlier, you can see that there are four gaps between those lines. The notes that those gaps represent are, in ascending order, F, A, C, and E. So if you see a dot between the two bottom lines in the staff above the words, that's an F. If you see a note between the middle line and the line second from the top, that's High C. Again, there might be some Sharps or Flats involved (actually, neither of those notes can be Flat, so never mind about that part), but you can still tell, within about half a note, which key you need to strike on the piano to play the note you see on the staff.

I still need lots of practice, both at correctly identifying the notes on the staff and at accurately hitting the right keys on the piano, but at least I know a lot more about how to play music than what I knew before. This is awesome, and it's even starting to sound okay. So I just want to say Thanks to Teresa for teaching me those tricks and for lending me a book with even more great tips. She really helped me out a lot.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

You Can't Buy Happiness

I had this song stuck in my head yesterday morning, so when I was asked to share a spiritual thought, I shared one based on this song. This morning, I'd like to share another one.

The Alligator royal family was obviously very wealthy. They had access to diamonds, pearls, rubies, and silver (jars). Then again, the fancy perfume they got smelled "like cheap cigars," and the royal crown was bought at a discount store for seven cents, so maybe they weren't so rich after all. But that's just as well because money can't buy happiness anyway.

Assuming that the alligators were wealthy, which is what I had thought before re-watching the video just now, this really illustrates the point that material possessions don't really make people happy. Most of the alligator sons obviously thought that they did, since they gave their father material possessions believing that receiving such wealth would make their father happy. When in reality, what actually brought the Alligator King happiness was his youngest son's expression of love.

Money can't buy happiness, but you can get it for free by sharing it with others. Making other people happy is a good way to become happy yourself, and expressing and feeling genuine love is a great place to start. The purpose of life is to obtain happiness by following the path that leads to it, and that path has nothing to do with becoming extremely wealthy or receiving a bunch of material gifts. As long as people have their basic needs met, they can be happy whether they have money or not.

I'm not a wealthy person, but I'm mostly satisfied with what I have and I'm able to find happiness without being very rich. Happiness is an attitude, not an acquisition. The Alligator King wasn't made happy by getting something. He was made happy by feeling that he was loved. And we are all loved by our Heavenly Father, who wants very much for us to find true happiness by following Him rather than pursuing the world's idea of happiness by obtaining material possessions.

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.