The most wasted of all days is one without laughter – E.E. Cummings

Tag: truth

Fail-Free New Year

It’s that time again, folks. Every year we bottle up all of insecurities and doubts and then resolve in a 24-hour period to fix each one of them over the next 365 days. I love a new year full of promises that I likely won’t keep, nay, even think about once the summer sun is shining. Let’s be honest, by April I’ll be the Miss Columbia of resolutions: just as I think I’ve made some progress, I’ll be honest with myself and hand over my resolution crown to more worthy recipient.

My issue is that my goals are always astronomical – like not even Stan Lee could write them even to existence because nobody would believe it. In the promise of total honesty, I submit to you some of my most miserable failures to-date:

New YearI will lose 15 pounds a month for an entire year.

I will stop eating all sugar. . . probably forever.

No more eating out. Nope. Not economical.

I will hand-sew all of my clothes this year. . . Just kidding. I would never try to do this. I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.

I will get rid of everything in my house that doesn’t serve a purpose. (Husbands, beware of this one. If you don’t start helping out, you might just make the list. . . I’m just saying.)

As you can see, I’m not really a “realistic” goal setter; I’m more of the all-or-nothing type. I don’t just want to lose a few pounds; I want to be a contender for America’s Next Top Model by August. Stop laughing, you’re killing my dreams.

I’ve taken all the courses about SMART goals and I still don’t grasp it. I know all of the steps to being successful with your goals like, “A goal not written down is just a dream,” blah, blah, blah. If you ask me, I say a goal not written down is a SMART goal – smart because nobody can ever prove that you set out to do it in the first place so they can’t hold it over you when they try to prove that you are a failure. How’s that for thinking like the mafia – never leave a paper trail.

This year, however, I’ve decided to change things up a bit and bite off some New Year’s Resolutions that I think I can tackle. Once I started reviewing these on paper, I thought I should let you all in on the plan so that when your other, loftier, “5k by March”-type goals fall through, you’ll have something to fall back on and just continue to be proud about.

So without further ado, here is Carlee’s Guide to a No-Fail New Year:

Goal #1: Be Less Dumb

Some years (like this past one), I’ve set reading goals to try and increase my vocabulary and to have something intelligent to talk about (with my 3-year-old?). Anyway, by mid-year, I’m so sick of reading things that I hate and that are supposed to make me smarter (Christian Science Monitor, I’m looking at you) that I actually get sick of reading and find myself watching Netflix and completely avoiding the documentaries (remember, by brain is tired). It becomes counter-productive and I start to loathe an activity that I generally really love.

I have also set goals to watch more news and stay fresh on what’s happening in the world – a goal that I can promise you now will only lead to mild bouts of depression and anger.

So how do we fix this? How do we win the battle of the brain? Well, I’ve found two things that have helped me feel “less dumb” and they only take me about 20 minutes a day to chomp through. They are theSkimm and Highbrow. theSkimm is a daily e-mail (Mon-Fri, folks. I don’t want to hamper your weekends with thinking.) that takes the major news topics and breaks them down into really short, fairly humorous facts. By the time you are done reading it, you feel informed enough to make it through water cooler talk (they are all Skimming, too, by-the-way) without all of the heavy, Lester Holt reporting. It’s good stuff.

Highbrow was introduced to me by a guy that used to rock a mullet so you know it has to be amazing. It, too, is a daily email but it is filled with course-like information about a topic of your choosing. The information is concise and really entertaining. I’m in the middle of the “Short Stories” course (each course is 10 “episodes” or emails) and have thoroughly enjoyed reading E.A. Poe this time around – my high school English teacher would be so proud. When your course is over, you simply jump back on and pick another topic. Again, easy breezy.

Whatever your methods, the goal this year is to be less dumb. Don’t force yourself to read stuff you hate. If you feel like reading about the latest E! News controversy will add to your dinner table discussion, do it. If 20 minutes every day proves too difficult to start, just read something, anything. Cereal boxes are chalk-full of good info these days. Start there.

Take in more information this year than you did last. Goal #1.

Goal #2: No more Chocolate Cake Wednesdays

You know how every Wednesday, you sit down with a nicely covered chocolate cake and a fork and you just drown your worries in devil’s food. . . Now that I’m writing this down, I’m starting to think that maybe this isn’t as widespread as I’ve been telling myself. Dang it. But this is: EXCESS! Let’s talk about that.

Because it is so effective in the Bible, I like to use metaphors in my teaching. But then I take it a step further and explain the meaning, kind of like I’m talking to a little kid. Adults love that. You should try to be condescending in everything that you say. People will just think you are charming and fun. . .

I digress. The cake represents excess. The “Wednesday” represents regularity, and not the Metamucil kind although if you are literally eating that much cake. . . I digress AGAIN! Dang it.

My point? What was my point? I’m so distracted by cake. Oh yes, eating cake on occasion is great, no harm, no foul. But eating it on a regular basis is no bueno. Sure, it might improve your mood a bit but it’s just not healthy for your mind or your body.

The goal this year then? Pinpoint your “cake” and try to cut back a bit. If you shop too much, gossip too much, eat too much, drink too much, talk about CrossFit too much, whatever you do “too much” of, identify it and trim it back by 25%. That’s all it takes. Not only will you feel better physically, if your excess is some personality trait or talking about something in excess, you might actually find yourself with more friends because you’ll be that much less annoying (Vegans, I’m talking to you.)

Doing anything in excess is never wise which is why I’m limiting the number of marathons I run this year to six. Jokes.

While we are on the subject of exercise:

Goal #3: Netflix

You thought I was going to say “Watch More!” like this is some paid placement from Netflix, America’s leader is replayed television and original programming. You guys, I’m not a total sellout.

I was actually going to say: Let’s all resolve now that we will not binge watch more than two hours of anything without at least doing a lap around the kitchen. This needs no further explanation. I’m just trying to do my part to keep you healthy, you guys.

Goal #4: Be Nicer to People

This goal is a bit tougher than the others, particularly if you plan on visiting a Wal-Mart over the next year. Also, this requires you to overlook obviously idiotic moves by your fellow men and harness your inner Namaste. It’s hard!

So rather than saying “I’ll be nice to everyone, all the time” (a nearly impossible task if you own miniature humans/versions of yourself), we are going to make use of that “r” in “Nicer” and just be better than we were last year. A good place to start? Please and thank you, my friends. They’re called the magic words.

Remember that lady that slammed the door in your face at that little store on Main Street last year? It was probably me and I probably did it because you didn’t say “thank you” when I held it open for you the first time. That’s right, I’m guilty! But here’s the thing: I felt like my childish retort was justified because, in the words of my three-year-old, “You started it.” I admit my mistake publicly under the hope for a brighter future. When someone does something nice for you, say “thank you”. That’s includes even little things like holding doors, getting out of your way or helping you pick up something you dropped, even if it was just a cigarette butt. (I’ll still don’t understand why people keep getting upset when I hand those back with a “don’t litter” smile on my face. . .)

“Please” is another great word that insights kindness and giving. Smiling at people is good, not speeding up when someone is crossing the street and not looking disgusted when people bring their kids to dinner are also other ways to be “nicer” to people. Do what you need to but even starting here will turn your niceness factor way up, yo.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like my New Year’s Resolutions are really just lining up with the kind of person I want to be come 2017. I feel success in the air, my friends, and you should, too. Join me on this journey to change the world one kitchen lap at a time, will you? Together, we can!

Happy New Year.

 

 

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I’m a Believer

“Why are you Mormon?”

I’ve been asked this question multiple times in my life but it’s never as important or life-changing as when it’s self-directed, me asking myself to really think about why I live the life that I do. I think people of all life styles should (and do) encounter these quiet moments of introspection to evaluate the life they are living and better understand if they are truly happy. I remember the first time, and I was in 12th grade.

I had just sat down in debate class. When I was in high school, debate was that controversial class that high-schoolers took to prove that they were free-thinking and liberal and all of those words that were not part of my vocabulary at the time. The most liberal thing I had done in my short 18 years was being late for curfew . . . and even then I called first to let my mom know I’d be tardy. I’m such a rebel. I took debate because it counted as a fine arts credit and it was the only way to get out of art and ceramics. That’s me, always doing things for the unconventional reason: naivety.

Anyway, as in most Northern Utah high schools at the time, there were more than a handful of students in debate that shared similar religious convictions but there weren’t a lot that liked to wear them on their sleeve – literally. How many shirts can you own with a picture of Che on the chest? I digress. My point is that it was a decisive time for a lot of students – what do I believe? What do I want to do with my life? Can I really get away with wearing socks and sandals? You know, really critical issues.

One day, some topic I’m unable to recall now was brought up and there was a clear divide in the room as to opinions on the subject. I could have taken a Sharpie and drawn a line called “Religion” down the middle of the room and it would have only cemented the obvious difference in perspectives. Debate ensued. And as with most high school seniors, we all kept our cool and had a pleasant discussion about religion and belief systems. The end.

Or, we did what is more “high school” than I want to admit and we argued, because that’s when you do when you are 18 and know everything. Debate went back and forth about who was correct and I, in all of my life wisdom, decided to offer up my obviously Mormon-based opinion. Before I knew it, a classmate who I thought I knew well was in my face with the following retort:

“You don’t even know what you are saying! The only reason you think that is because your parents make you! You go to seminary* because your parents make you. You don’t even know what you believe! You just follow the crowd.”

*As a side note, I wasn’t trying to become a priest. In Utah, most high schools offer religious studies (seminary) for an hour during the day for those that are interested. In high school, people likely would have thought that I enjoyed it more than P.E. which was only sometimes true. (If we were doing fitness testing, it was for sure true.)

Well, after this O’Reily-type retort, I did the only thing I could think of: I kept it together long enough for the bell to ring and to go sit in my car during lunch and cry. Don’t feel bad for me – a LOT of girls do this at some point in high school. I’m actually glad that mine was over a fairly important topic and not because I had my skirt tucked into my undies while walking down the hall.

Anyway, I think the reason that I was so frustrated was that I had nothing to say back, not because I didn’t have an excellent rebuttal but because I felt like the right thing was to keep my mouth shut and move on.

The truth of the matter is that unlike a lot of religious families (not just those of the LDS faith), I actually didn’t have parents telling me what to believe or forcing me into religious practice. Despite having a fairly strong LDS heritage in my family, my parents were never religious during our (mine and my brother’s) growing up. They never asked me if I was enrolled in seminary other than conversationally, they never worried if I was attending church or not. They never forced me to do anything, other than to be nice (I’m still working on that). By the time I was 18, I had already spent countless hours getting to know my religious convictions and whether or not I was willing to commit to that phrase – “being religious” – for the foreseeable future; and I did it all on my own. No prodding, no pushing, no judgment.

So really, in a classroom that probably had multiple students that were living their religion under the direction of their parents (no shame or discrimination here), I was obviously the wrong tree to bark up. If anyone had a “you don’t even know me” bullet that could have been fired, it was me. And I said nothing. Why? Sometimes it’s better that way.

If anything, I had an a-typical, albeit wonderful, generally religious upbringing; my parents taught us to love God, to count our blessings, to be kind, to serve others, to have an opinion, to believe people were good, to be honest and handfuls of many other important general principles about life but rarely was it under the umbrella of the LDS church. I will say that it was all of those principles that lead to my activity in the LDS church and have allowed it to be fairly seamless living since then. But the actual organization of the LDS church and all of its wonderful oddities were not the lens through which religion was presented in our home.

So that day was the first of many times that I decided to take a step back and ask myself, “So why do you do it? If it isn’t your parents or your friends, why do you live the way you live? Why are you a Mormon?”

The answers that came that day are the ones that I continue to hold onto all these years later. The reasoning has likely changed slightly because life changes and circumstances determine perspective, but the basic principles are the same. So, why am I a Mormon?

Hope

As a Latter-day Saint, hope is the basis of our faith. In fact, many times in our religious sermons, those words are used interchangeably. We hope for/have faith in many things that we believe will bring happiness. These include a belief in God, faith in eternal life, trust that there is a specific plan for each of us and hope that by using our agency to make good choices, we can live as families throughout the eternities. For me, all good things. If you don’t like your family much, that may not be a selling point. Jokes, jokes.

If there is one thing that I think unites religions around the globe, it’s a sense of faith and hope. Religious people everywhere find safety and solace in the knowledge that someone who is all-knowing and all-seeing is in control, which brings hope that tomorrow could be the best day they have ever had, whether or not they have the power to make it so. There is a sense of release that comes from thinking that there is a bigger design, something in store for us all if we’ll just hold on a little bit longer.

There is a strong sense of bravado that comes with the declaration that there “is no God,” like a person is unwilling to admit that there could be anything beyond or more important than themselves. It’s amusing to me that we will esteem titles issued or demanded by men (political offices, military rankings, etc.) but refuse to acknowledge that there could be something beyond ourselves that caused all of this.

I remember being put into groups in a math class in college – we were given a pre-test and lined up around the room according to our scores. Once we were ordered, we were numbered off in groups, 1-6, starting with the highest score in the class. When the groups were finished, we all had a smarty-pants, a “will know most of the answers”, a “going to struggle” and a “probably should take a lower math class” participant in each group. Our professor figured that the two more-advanced students could help the less-advanced on homework and group quizzes.

When we lined up, I noticed that I was NOT the smarty pants in our group. While I did score decently on the pre-test, I definitely wasn’t the head-honcho in our little math family. At first I was a little offended that my good-grade streak in high school apparently meant very little in college algebra; but soon enough, I was so grateful Kayse, our resident genius. I can’t imagine the pressure she felt (she never showed it) to make sure she understood all of the principles we were being taught because she had to help all of us slackers. When we had a question, we went to Kayse. I’m actually pretty sure that she knew more than our professor but I could never prove that she was a Harvard implant that was being paid to help out at a junior college.  I digress.

Anyway, I thought about how hard it would be to spend a semester dragging up the grades of a bunch of math nimrods as part of your “you signed up for this class” duty. That is a lot of pressure. Having the answers or knowing where to find them ALL of the time is a huge task, one that I was relieved was relegated to someone else. Kayse gave me a huge sense of relief throughout that entire semester. I knew that if I struggled (which I did) or had times when I was unsure of myself (which I was), she would be there to help me pull through with words of advice and a reassurance that college algebra was, in fact, doable.

This little math anecdote mirrors how I see one role of God in my life – a being with supreme intelligence that not only knows the answers but is willing to teach me how to find them if I will be humble enough to ask. I still have to do work, a lot of it, because in the end, the grade is my own. But there are no rules that say I can’t ask for help along the way. In fact, it’s encouraged. I was taught at an early age that I should trust God; He knows my struggles and understands everything from my heartache to my joy and is the place that I can turn when I don’t seem to be getting it. I have always received comfort in knowing that someone else knows the answers . . . even when they were math-related.

The Big Picture

I love the sense of community that I feel when I meet with friends and neighbors to discuss issues that extend beyond our homes and our immediate neighborhood. Religious services facilitate those meetings for me. In church services, we are able to discuss welfare concerns both for our immediate community and how we can contribute to world-wide needs and concerns; we discuss safety, service, education, finances and community responsibility.

One of the biggest problems plaguing the world today is an incredible sense of self-entitlement; everyone is looking for the best for themselves and their immediate family. “How can I benefit from this situation? What can I gain? How do I make my situation better?”

I believe that religion provides and outlet to look beyond ourselves, to focus on the needs of others before we worry about ourselves. In the LDS faith, we are taught that how we use our time is just as important as the mere fact that we have time. We call these choices our “work”. Most organized religions don’t have a doctrinal foundation related to this principle as they believe that we are all saved by grace (us too, but not as a stand-alone principle. We believe that we are saved by grace after all we can do. See “work” above.). Despite not having doctrinal direction on work, I believe most people have some spiritual tie to this principle, otherwise why are most people good? Why do we make good choices? Why do we help neighbors move, donate to cancer causes, stop at lemonade stands, volunteer to help pets, the list goes on. I believe that it’s because there is a spiritual connection (feel-goods) tied to helping others and focusing on issues beyond our own. We do these things because it feels right.

My faith helps facilitate opportunities to serve, as do most. Beyond even my basic need for this, I want my kids to know how to put themselves aside and help in the community that surrounds them. Technology is only making our self-involvement worse; with each new selfie stick that is sold, my heart dies a little. By the time my kids are my age, there will be literally no reason to leave the house. I desperately want my kids to know that turning outside of themselves to serve others will help solve whatever internal battles they are facing. I have found that to be true in my own life and have witnessed the same in many others. It’s remarkable.

At this point, you are probably thinking that I haven’t been overly specific about why I’m a Mormon – hope and a sense of community are the basic tenets of a lot of the world’s religions and say nothing specific about what sets the LDS faith apart from others. In this thought, you are correct.

The most important part of all of this, the reason why I’m a Mormon, is because it suits me.  Every principle, every facet, every directive resonates in my bones. I believe it. I love it. I trust it. This same feeling echoes through the minds and hearts of millions of church-goers around the globe, and not just LDS church-goers. This same conviction exists in millions of people in a variety of denominations.

I think that this is the miracle of belief – it unites people in ways that are beyond words. I’ve always felt that belief in something is exponentially better than belief in nothing; it causes us to be better people, to love harder, to think deeper and to have trust in things we may not be able to understand as of yet. It brings peace in trial, strength in struggle and hope for better things to come.

I’m a believer because it makes me better. I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an author. And I am a Mormon.

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