Yo yo yo yo, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

In my hometown, there’s a church that my family calls “the fish church” because there’s a big metal fish on top of it. Some churches put crosses on top of their buildings, others put angels; this one has a fish. (Maybe fish are God’s favorite animal? idk.)

Even though my family is Mormon, the fish church is an important landmark to me because it’s where my mom went to church when she was younger. I wouldn’t describe either of my mom’s parents as super religious, but they were good Americans who made sure their only child had a Christian baptism.

Mom says that on the day of her baptism into the fish church (whatever religion it was), she prayed beforehand and asked God that she would be baptized the way he wanted her to be baptized.

Obviously super introspective and super spiritual (but still super young), Mom went to the fish church when possible and read the Bible.

It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she found the Mormon church and started going to church there. After several years of attending, she decided that she’d found the baptism God wanted her to receive and was baptized a Mormon, along with her mom.

I’m very grateful for my mom’s example of faith and searching. Because of her, I know the importance of prayer and finding a personal connection to God. Because of her, I know that God listens to and answers prayer. Because of her, I know that I can read and study to find answers to my own questions instead of wandering in doubt and hopelessness.

She was just a little kid and teenager when she made the most important decisions in her life, but it turns out that these decisions have not only blessed the rest of her life, but have also blessed the entire lives of me and all my brothers and sisters (there are 7 of us — oh boy!).

When I see the fish church, I think of my mom’s faith and how it started at a young age. I think of baptism and searching. I think of love and family. I think of my own spiritual journey. And I think of fish.

Love you, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!

   also can i borrow/have $200?   

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Sorry I couldn’t crop out my ugly brothers without it looking weird. :\

She met with Mormon missionaries and then what happened?

After she went to church, Taiwan Grandma started meeting with missionaries. Taiwan Mom had been asking her to meet with missionaries for forever, but Taiwan Grandma had never accepted the invitation until she came to church in September.

After a couple weeks of meeting with the missionaries, Taiwan Mom told me that Taiwan Grandma had decided to be baptized in December. I was surprised.

To be honest, I had been skeptical while Taiwan Grandma was meeting with the missionaries. From what I’d seen of her, she was an aloof person who liked to do her own thing. The people I’d taught and baptized on my mission were open and curious, excited to learn more about God and faith. When I’d gone to church with her, Taiwan Grandma hadn’t seemed very interested. So why was she getting baptized? I figured she was probably doing it to make Taiwan Mom happy.

So last weekend, Taiwan family and I drove down to Kaohsiung (where Taiwan Grandma lives) to see her baptism.

Turns out, I didn’t know the real Taiwan Grandma. At the baptism, she was bubbly, huggy, and super friendly to everyone who came. Taiwan Mom said she’d always been that way. I just hadn’t seen it because of the language and cultural barriers between us.

Her baptism was very cool. She said that she chose to be baptized so that she could be with her family for forever.

I think that people who aren’t familiar with Latter-day Saints assume that missionaries are basically salespeople taught how to give a sales pitch about joining the Mormon church.

But, in reality, the only way to be an effective missionary (or be an effective ANYTHING) is to be yourself and care about other people. I think in the past missionaries were pretty wooden, but nowadays, there’s a huge emphasis on being natural, really believing what you’re teaching, and listening to what people say. (To watch a cool documentary about what it’s like to be a Mormon missionary, click here.)

The missionaries who taught Taiwan Grandma were both Taiwanese, which is super cool since she speaks more Taiwanese (a dialect widely spoken here) than Mandarin.

What a good way to start out the New Year! Taiwan Grandma got baptized and I realized that even though I’m a “world traveler,” language and cultural barriers still prevent me from seeing some really cool things. I still have so much to learn, man!

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That’s me, Taiwan Brother (he baptized her), and Taiwan Grandma.

To read the Taiwan Grandma Saga, click here:

She told me I smell weird.

Let’s be Catholics.

MONKEYS GOT HATERS TOO

Bye, Grandma

 

Christmas presents

There was a point growing up when I realized that I wouldn’t always be excited to get presents for Christmas. And that made me nervous. Christmas was my favorite holiday, the best time of the year. Without that excitement, Christmas would become just like any other holiday.

If you asked me why I liked Christmas so much back then, I would have replied with a faithful/dutiful, “Because Jesus.” I’d gone to church my whole life and I knew what I was supposed to say, but the real reason I loved Christmas was because of PRESENTS (duh).

I’m not sure why I got excited for presents. I can’t remember ever getting anything really great as a kid (sorry, parents). But I think it was the excitement of having a surprise waiting in a package, a surprise that had been chosen just for me, something that my parents thought I would like or that I had asked them for (I never believed in Santa Claus – sorry, kids).

That excitement to get those special Christmas gifts started creeping in during mid-November, then steadily built after Thanksgiving when we started watching Christmas movies and eating massive amounts of junk food, and culminated the night before Christmas,  keeping me awake until morning when it was finally time to open those presents.

The rush of excitement to open Christmas presents was the best, most important part of Christmas!

But what would happen when I grew up and became old like my parents? Us kids never got them anything for Christmas. Did they even get excited for Christmas? Maybe they did, but I was sure any excitement they felt couldn’t compare to the euphoric, sleep-depriving excitement I felt.

Sure enough, now that I’m older, Christmas has changed. I still get excited for Christmas every year, but it’s for different reasons than before (and some of the same reasons too).

I’m excited to have neighbors and friends supplying me with a bottomless pile of holiday cookies and candy.

I’m excited to open presents even if it’s just empty boxes (tearing wrapping paper off of stuff is really satisfying).

I’m excited to see Christmas lights because, honestly, I like shiny things.

I’m excited to surprise family and friends with presents that I’ve picked out just for them.

I’m excited to hear Christmas carols because even though they have different words, they all sing about the same thing.

And I’m excited to refocus on Jesus Christ. Even though I didn’t understand what I was saying when I was younger, I really believe it now.

Christmas isn’t a time to just tell the story of a baby born in a stable. It’s the time to tell the story of a man who lived a very humble life: born in a dirty stable, raised as a poor carpenter, spending his whole life with the sick and poor whom he taught and healed, then being rejected and killed by those same people whom he taught and healed, and willingly doing it all because of love.

When he died, he did it for each of us, to help each individual. He died to give me gifts he’s chosen and prepared just for me: healing, hope, and love.

Now, because I understand the true meaning of Christmas, I can be excited everyday, not just during Christmastime.

Merry Christmas everyone!!! Yayayayayay!

Dear Future Russian Missionary

I remember when I got my call to serve as a Mormon missionary in Russia. My literal thought was, “Seriously? I’ll go, but I’m gonna die.”

When I submitted my mission papers, of course there were places I would have liked to serve — England, Australia, SPAIN (ugh, little brothers) — but I was okay serving anywhere. I didn’t have very many friends on missions, so I didn’t have to compare whether or not I was going some place “cool.” I was okay serving anywhere — EXCEPT Russia or Asia (which, ironically …). The cultures of those places didn’t interest me and the languages seemed impossible to learn (which, ironically …).

So when I got the call, I called my twin sister Meredith (who was graduated from college and married and pregnant and WE’RE NOT REALLY TWINS) and our conversation was basically, “Russia for two years … that sucks.”

But I knew the call was from God. The Russian people needed the gospel just like everyone else on the planet, even if they had a weird culture and language.

As I prepared to enter the MTC everyone had something to say about what life as a Russian missionary would be like:

“They don’t like Americans over there.”

“You’re going to see poverty like you’ve never seen before.”

“They don’t smile over there.”

“The people are hard to crack, but they’re real nice on the inside.”

“They’re all communists over there.”

“You’re going to be in the MTC for 12 weeks?!” — it’s 9 weeks now — “That’s torture!”

“You won’t get a whole lot of baptisms over there.”

Or my favorite from a lady who captured everything she knew about Russia in one sentence: “Cold Russian wind blowing through Red Square … Stalin!”

None of this really scared or surprised me since I already figured I might die. But the only piece of useful advice I got came from brother-in-law who’d actually served his mission in Russia. He told me to go without any preconceived assumptions. I didn’t know what it would be like to live outside the US or be a missionary, so it was better to figure my new life out as it happened than to expect the best or the worst.

And he was right! There was so much on my mission I saw and experienced that I would have overlooked if I had been expecting to see something else.

For example, on the bus from the airport to the US embassy, I saw real Russians walking down the street, laughing and smiling, holding hands and talking. These weren’t the tough-to-crack, communist drones I’d heard about. They were real people who laughed and smiled just like Americans. If I had only expected to see unsmiling faces and unhappy people, I wouldn’t have noticed their smiles.

Russia was a lot safer (although still crazy) than I expected it to be. My previous notion of dying on my mission had been based more on ignorance than bravery.

And when you get down to it, everybody who told me about Russia had never actually been there (everyone except my brother-in-law). Everything they knew about Russia, they’d learned from Cold War politics (which are still alive) and James Bond movies (which are also still alive). They knew as much about Russia as you do right now.

So prepare yourself by being willing to see what very few Americans will ever see or believe: that Russians are normal people.

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Rant #1 in the series Rants About Russia.

If you have any questions about serving in Russia (what to pack, etc.), hmu on my contacts page. I’ll be posting more about it too.

Faithful Muslims

“They’re gonna kill us!” I was shouting like a crazy person. I didn’t really believe they’d kill us, but I knew if they caught us, they’d hurt us.

It was the 4th of July and I was less than a month from finishing my mission in Russia. I’d managed to survive this long without getting beat up, which I attributed to street smarts and God loving me just a little bit more than other missionaries.

But I’d done something dumb: I’d “accidentally” punched some drunk dude who’d been holding my greenie comp’s arm and wouldn’t let go. Punching him hadn’t been smart, but the drunk had been getting angry (like drunks do) and I thought it’d be the easiest/fastest way to get rid of him. Anyone who’s actually ever been punched by me knows I hit like a girl, but this punch was more of a shove and was just enough for me to loosen his grip and pull my comp away.

But then we had to run. Running from a single drunk dude is pretty easy since he can barely walk in a straight line, but my hit-and-run had brought enough attention to us that a group of men from an outdoor bar were also chasing us. I guess they were only a bit buzzed because they were catching up to my companion who was behind me.

“They’re gonna kill us!” I kept shouting, hoping it would scare my companion enough to run faster. I was scared enough to run five miles, but he was tired.

I heard them tackle my companion to the ground as they caught him. I turned around, not thinking, knowing I had to somehow pull them off and get both of us out of there before they did too much damage.

It was actually only one guy who’d pulled my companion to the ground and he wasn’t hitting him yet. He was just asking (in Russian), “What happened? Why are you running?” In my head I was like, “Really? You tackled my companion only because you wanted to know why we were running?” (I still don’t understand that logic.) But what I said (in my scared, broken Russian) was, “We have to go! We have to go!” not knowing how to explain the situation quickly in Russian. But he wouldn’t let go, not satisfied with my answer. His friends from the bar were catching up and I didn’t want to be surrounded by a gang of semi-drunk Russians.

Just then more people caught up to us. It was a gang of brown dudes, not drunks from the bar. They made the drunk guy let go of my companion and asked in English what happened. I pointed and said, “You see that guy back there?” — by now the first drunk was a distant, stumbling figure across the road — “He wants to kill us and we have to go!” They actually didn’t understand English very well, but they understood enough to know we hadn’t done anything wrong. They stopped the other drunk Russians from getting to us and followed us halfway home to make sure we were safe.

Aside from a ripped shirt and scraped arm, my companion was fine. We laid on the apartment floor for ten minutes to recover from our run, then called the zone leaders to tell them our crazy story. They laughed and were like, “That’s it? You should try Saratov” (a city in our mission further south).

A couple weeks later, my companion and I ran into one of the brown dudes who saved us. He asked how we were and if we’d had any more trouble. We talked to him a bit. Found out he was a Muslim serving his mandatory military service in Togliatti (the city where we lived; all male Russian citizens have to serve in the army for a year or something). He was a real cool guy, just like almost every other Muslim I talked to during my two years in Russia.

Muslims were consistently some of the nicest people in my mission. They weren’t all nice, but none of them were dangerous. In fact, the safest city in the mission was a city that was predominantly Muslim.

I feel a connection to Muslims because of my mission. Every time I meet one, I say the typical Muslim greeting as-salamu alaykum (Allah’s peace be upon you), to which they respond, Wa-Alaikumus-Salaam (And upon you the peace).

I feel like very few of the people who blame terrorist attacks on the Muslim faith have ever met a Muslim. I can’t remember ever meeting a Muslim or even seeing a mosque in America, so I don’t blame them for not knowing a lot about the faith. But I want them to know:

  1. Muslims are our brothers and sisters in God even if they call him another name.

2. Whether terrorist attacks are carried out by militant Muslims or militant Mormons makes no difference to me. In either case, the attackers are not doing what their religion teaches.

3. On the 4th of July in Russia, I was saved by a group of Muslims.

Let’s be Catholics.

The next day was Sunday. Taiwan Grandma isn’t a member of the Mormon church, but Taiwan Mom said she recently agreed to meet with the missionaries (still hasn’t tho), so I asked Taiwan Mom if I should invite Taiwan Grandma to church. Taiwan Mom said I should, so I did.

What actually ended up happening was me googling the word “church” in Chinese, showing it to Taiwan Grandma, her shaking her head, then Taiwan Mom calling Taiwan Grandma. Taiwan Mom texted me that Taiwan Grandma said she was going to the mountain in the morning so she couldn’t go, but that she’d drive me to church. I wasn’t sure why an old lady would want to make a morning visit to a mountain, but I was glad that I wouldn’t have to walk to church.

So we jumped on her scooter the next morning and headed off. I guess Taiwan Mom told Taiwan Grandma where the church building is because she just started driving without asking for a map or anything. Except after 20ish min, we pulled over to the side of the road. She looked a little lost, so I pulled out my phone and found the church building. I showed it to her, but I guess she’s far-sighted, so she couldn’t see it.

I could see we weren’t far, so I told her I could find it by walking (via pantomime/sign language). She didn’t like that, so we hopped back on the scooter.

Just around the corner, we found a building with a cross hanging over the first floor.

1) Mormons don’t use crosses, so I knew this wasn’t it.

2) My phone said the LDS church was farther away, so I knew this wasn’t it.

But when she asked if this was it and I said, “Yes.” I figured that I’d get off, she’d ride away, and I could find the church on foot.

That would have worked, but she got off too and followed me. Maybe she wanted to make sure I got inside? So I went in. She followed. There was a man in a white shirt standing by the door and a room full of pews seating the only other two people in the room.

I sat down in the nearest pew and bowed my head, trying to look as content and no-out-of-place as possible in this completely unfamiliar setting with everyone in the room staring at me, but she and the man started talking. I don’t speak Chinese, but I heard the word “Mormon” and I knew the jig was up.

It’s not that I’m opposed to attending other churches. I’ve been inside SO MANY different kinds of churches and temples and shrines, but Sunday is my day to be with God the way I believe he wants me to be with him. It would have been fun to sit with those Catholics/Baptists/whatevers and see what their church service was like and feel their excitement at having another Christian with them (an uncommon thing in Taiwan), but I had my own church meeting to attend.

So I got up, was like, “Oops,” and we left, me wondering what the heck was going through the heads of everybody in the room. We  got back on the scooter, the man at the front door staring at us as we strapped on our helmets and rode away.

Around two more minutes later, we found the actual church building (no cross). I got off the scooter. She got off the scooter. I went inside. She went inside. I sat down in the chapel. She sat down next to me. She stayed all three hours.

I’m glad she stayed, but I feel a little stupid for telling her that Catholics/Baptists/whatevers are Mormon. That was probably her first time setting foot in a Christian church and it’s too bad it was so confusing.

When we got home, I asked why she hadn’t gone to the mountain. She said, “You want to go to the mountain?” (or something like that in Chinese), put me on the scooter, drove me to the bottom of a mountain, and left me. So I still don’t know what all that mountain business was about.

Guys, I’m moving out of the U.S.

The quarter life crisis is REAL and such a struggle.

Before I graduated in December, I had the plan to apply to BYU’s psychology PhD program in January, get accepted, take nine months off, go back to school Fall 2015, become a bona fide therapist, then live the rest of my life sitting in a cushy armchair listening to other people’s problems.

Then my last semester happened and I got hit by senioritis SUPER HARD. I didn’t want to be in school for another ten years — heck, I didn’t even want to finish the semester. The idea of studying for and taking the GRE, applying to a graduate program, then going to school for ten years was soul-crushing.

I was hating school so much that I talked to a professor about it. She asked if I’d ever taken time off from school — aside from my mission (which wasn’t a break). I said I hadn’t and she recommended that I take some time to R&R.

I knew there were other things I wanted to do in life aside from becoming educated and getting a good job (like traveling and writing), so I put all my plans on hold and impulse-bought a plane ticket to Europe (I’d always wanted to see western Europe) for a month-long #EURUSSIACRAYCRAYVACAY (which you can read about here).

First day of the trip, found St. Basil’s!

My crazy Europe vacation was so great! I saw amazing places I’d always wanted to see and experienced amazing things I’d always wanted to do WHILE seeing amazing places I never knew existed AND doing amazing things I never thought I’d do. My month-long trip was a huge success and made me want to travel all over the world.

But then I came back home. I’d spent all my money, maxed out my credit card, and was living on borrowed cash from my parents. My trip had been pretty cheap, relatively speaking, but if I wanted to do another big trip, I knew I’d have to save up a lot more money to do it.

Being a recent college grad, I applied for lots of jobs hoping to find one that paid well and would give at least a month off every year to travel. Even if I didn’t get a lot of time off, I figured I’d be able to make pretty decent money. I mean, I had a college degree, right?

JK. Turns out, getting a job is kind of a game: a lot jobs (decent-paying, full-time jobs) value experience over education. I had the education, but little experience, so every job I actually wanted wouldn’t hire me.

Another part of the job game is having connections. Fortunately, a roommate helped me get a job doing customer service. It wasn’t salaried and I was at the bottom of the totem pole, but the job paid the bills. In a couple months, I was out of debt and was able to save a bit.

While I appreciated the job, sitting all day drove me CARAZAY. I’d worked on my feet with REAL people my whole life, but this job was all on the phone and I mainly got callers asking questions I didn’t know the answers to. At the end every day, I felt like such a dope cuz I was a college-educated dude who couldn’t even do this rinky dink job right. I quit after two months and did odd jobs (yard work, etc.) to make ends meet (which I preferred).

An old #worktweet. Follow me on Twitter!
I worked in this creek for a day. Much better than a desk.

I was super frustrated. By this time, I knew I was going to Taiwan for a month (which was gonna be cool!!), but I didn’t know how things would work out after that. I’d gone to college so I could get a good job, but now I was digging holes all day cuz I’d rather do that than sit at a desk. Why had I gone to college if it didn’t help at all? Why were things not lining up like they’d always seemed to before?

I mean, my whole life had been a check list: go to school, get good grades, get your Eagle Scout, go on a mission, finish college, get married, have kids, support a family. I’d done everything on the checklist (up to the married part), and now there was nothing left to do. (And even if I had married, I feel like I’d be having similar struggles, just multiplied.)

So, since I didn’t know what to do, I started fasting and praying to figure it out. The idea of traveling popped into my head. I’d already known I wanted to travel, but now I was thinking about traveling full-time. I thought, “Maybe I can stop playing this job game and just go off and do my own thing. I could travel for cheap (like, not in Europe) and see where things went from there.”

Then I thought, “I can’t do that. I need money to travel and I have no money.”

Then literally someone shared an article on my Facebook: “How to travel with no money.” I read it and other blogs about traveling even cheaper than I already had.

So I figured God was trying to tell me something. I thought, “Fine, after Taiwan, I’ll work for six months, save as much as I can, then go off and travel.”

So I went to Taiwan with that plan. Taiwan was a blast and a half, then I went to California last week, and I just got back to Provo.

I was applying for jobs today and I was back at the job game again: “Not enough experience. Don’t have the right connections for this job. Yes I can answer phones all day.” I knew I could get a job in customer service or custodial (because that’s what I have experience in) but I didn’t want to. Like, I really didn’t want to. But I applied for, like, 15 jobs today. Some I’m qualified for, some I’m not, but I just hoped to get something.

About midday, the lady I worked for in Taiwan posted online asking if anyone could come to Taiwan last minute to teach English for six months. Immediately I responded and said I would go. It just felt 100% right and I had (still have) no hesitation at all. She was like, “Great! You’re flying out on the 31st.”

I Skyped with her later today and it sounds like a sweet deal: housing and food paid for along with a paycheck every month.

I’m very excited and it feels exactly like what I should be doing right now. I’ll be able to work for six months, save a lot of what I earn, then go off and have an adventure, all while having an adventure.

I mean, I know my whole life isn’t solved now. I know things might fall through. I know teaching English will be hard. I know it’s only for six months. But it’s something and things are working out for now.

So look forward to the next six months of blogging, y’all! And after that, we’ll be able to travel somewhere else together.

Fun fun fun fun, you know what I mean.