Friday, June 28, 2013

Casting Out All Fear

If there is one thing for which I am notorious it is the fact that I continually write old fashioned, snail mail letters and cards to people.  If there is another thing for which I am widely known it is that I frequently and spontaneously tell people that I love them, that they are wonderful, and that I believe in them.  A friend of mine once informed me that I am what she would be if she had no inhibitions.  Another friend, in answering why he would not keep in touch with someone he loved, mumbled something to the effect of "I'm not good at that."

It may shock those readers who know me personally, but in many cases I am frightened stiff when I seek to write to or compliment someone, particularly when it is someone I love tremendously or if I am not certain how they feel about me.  It can be absolutely terrifying.  But in my experience, those situations that prove the most nerve wracking are also the most important and and the effects most lasting. 

It isn't necessarily a matter of "being good at it" as much as it is a matter of recognizing that there is something more important than our fears or our egos.  More often than not, the person we would wish to love or compliment needs our attention more than we need to shelter our emotions.  Let us remove ourselves from the picture and let the love we bear the other person take the reins.  Let's just close our eyes, grit our teeth, and take that leap of faith.  Sometimes we rationalize that we don't have time.  We all have the same amount of time given us.  It isn't a matter of time as much as it is a matter of priority.  And what is more important than uplifting the people around us?  If we recognize the importance of interpersonal relationships we will find or make the time. And always remember that perfect love casteth out all fear. 

Drowning in Love

How much love can you imagine?   How much love have you ever felt in one moment?  Now please understand me when I say the word love.  I do not mean lust, I do not mean affection and I do not mean attention.  I mean pure, passionate, overwhelming, bright, powerful, innocent love.  What is the greatest love you have ever felt?

Perhaps you expect me to move on now in a sermon about how the Almighty's love is greatest above all.  I might well do that, for it is true, but I would rather focus today on interpersonal love, or the love we bear each other.   It is a strange thing, but I think that the love we bear each other can be powerful to the effect of rendering a beloved person helpless.  Surely God's hand is in it in order to prove sufficiently powerful, but He allows us pure and innocent love amongst ourselves as well. 

I speak thus as my mind has been much engaged today in a very rare phenomenon that has only transpired twice in my life, at least to my present memory.  Both times it has opened the same way.  There has been someone abut whom I cared deeply, and trouble brewed within that friendship.  I was on the verge of giving up, wondering how I could do so, not sure if I could but knowing I must, feeling that the person cared nothing about me and the like.  Then retiring to bed I spent a very fitful night.  Though I do not distinctly remember much about the dreams, it seemed as though something was being conveyed to me, that though there may be difficulties, things were yet on the right track and would prove more glorious than I could then imagine.  All I remember distinctly was a brilliant, blinding, ethereal light overpowering my senses and a love more innocent, pure and passionate than I could at that time comprehend.  I woke amazed, in a sweat, almost choking from the love pouring in unadulterated power into my soul.  Though strong enough to move mountains, I felt that it was not strictly the love of God but rather a purified and honest love from the person about whom I was troubled.  The second time this happened, which to own the truth was two nights ago, I repeatedly woke in a panic, kicking around the bed, trying to break away from the crushing force of light and reckless, insisting, irrational love, literally gasping for air, my soul helplessly melting at the dynamic and passionate heat that overwhelmed me. 

I don't have all the answers as to why things happen, why friendships go awry or fall apart and why heartache has to occur in our lives.  But I do know that there is a friendly guiding Hand that is at the helm of all things, that many of the blessings denied us for a small moment will be restored at a later time, and perhaps the reason friendships do not come to full fruition immediately is because they are in truth more heavenly than our finite minds can comprehend. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

You Are a Musician

Many years ago in college I had a professor who I had the pleasure to get to know fairly well and who at one point caught me red handed singing my heart out to Phantom of the Opera.  I had not been aware that anyone was listening and turned around to see a very astonished and admiring look on his face.  Shortly thereafter I ascertained that he played a bit of guitar, though he admitted this fact somewhat begrudgingly and attempted to dodge further questions regarding it.  I wasn't about to let him off the hook and meeting him in his office about homework assignments and the like I cornered him and asked him again about his interest in music.  In our discussion he asked if I knew a particular song and sang a few bars of it.  His voice was sweet, open, clear and simply lovely.  No frills or vibrato, but simple, honest and pleasant.  I responded offhandedly, "I was going to ask if you can sing; obviously you can."  He looked down bashfully and answered rather insecurely, "No I can't."  Automatically I nearly exploded from my chair, and gripping the armrests as I hung on the edge of the seat I leaned forward and looked sternly at him, emphatically correcting him, "Yes.  You can."

As a musician and particularly as a vocalist I often come across people who tell me that they cannot sing, have not musical talent, have no hope of musical prowess and the like.  My dear friends, please allow me to prove you wrong.   Yes, I have heard people sing thoroughly off key.  I still consider them full blooded musicians.

I come from a remarkably musically gifted family and virtually every family gathering on my father's side includes a guitar.  I have studied voice, piano, a little guitar and a plethora of genres across the board.  I do know music fairly well and I promise you are one in the set of musicians, whether you feel yourself so or not.  Music isn't about being on key.  It isn't about playing an instrument.  It is about emotion and the greatest songs ever expressed are the silent ones we sing in our hearts.  If there is passion in our souls, we are no less musicians than Beethoven himself.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

I have had the great blessing of being a part of my parents' rise from very poor circumstances into very great wealth, and have had the opportunity to learn from my earliest days those things of which millionaires are made.  Furthermore, though I have a Bachelor's in English my work for more than a decade has been that of a financial executive over a multimillion dollar enterprise and I can tell my gentle reader exactly how to become a millionaire, even if he is not yet able to pay his bills.  It is certainly possible; it is always possible.

Please understand firstly that I have very little natural interest in money.  I am extremely emotionally detached from it. I write this because I have seen so many people suffering financially and if I can make a difference then I feel duty bound to unleash the knowledge and understanding with which I've been blessed.  That being said, let's discuss what makes a millionaire.

A self made millionaire is usually not someone who follows trends, pursues schemes or expects easy, fast money.  The most certain way of rising in financial prowess is to simplify your life and cultivate positive gratitude.  It doesn't matter how much you earn; it matters how much you save.  Every person is capable of living beneath their means.  Note I did not say within their means.  I said beneath.  Spend less than you take in, and save something, as much as you can, with every paycheck.  I know some people are saying "you don't know my situation.  I can't make ends meet now."  Let me tell you about my grandfather.  He was an orphan and through some of his life he went into the mountains to earn money for his children and wife by chopping thorn ridden plants and binding them together to sell them.  He lived for that time in a cave, and he learned to be content living in a cave.  When we say we can't make ends meet, especially here in the United States, we often mean that we cannot continue in our present mode of life and pay the bills we have.  Perhaps we might rethink our mode of life.

Another aspect of becoming a millionaire is having vision.  My parents raised me on rice and beans and homemade clothes.  But they were saving constantly and when I turned 11 we moved into a mansion.  When I was 16 they paid for me to tour western Europe and Israel.  I do not consider it my right to judge anyone but when I see someone complaining about finances while puffing on a cigarette, I must conclude that the problem is not a lack of money but a lack of money management.  Allow me to tell you about my great uncle, Rafael.  In Mexico when he was young it was considered macho to drink and smoke.  Anyone who refrained was dubbed a sissy.  He did not do either and was respected above all the men of the town in which he lived.  He would not purchase alcohol and cigarettes, not because he didn't want them (he did and used them when others bought them for him), but because he sacrificed his own will and desires to provide for his poverty stricken mother and younger siblings.  The ultimate trick to becoming a millionaire is not about making more money necessarily.  It is about being grateful for what you have, refraining from buying what you don't need and being willing to invest in the future. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lead With the Heart

I feel very ill qualified to discuss a topic in which so many consider me exceedingly well qualified.  It causes me to stammer and shrug a bit when people compliment me on the work I have done for some years as a chorister in the womens' class at my church, because in truth, I have very little personal talent in that capacity.  Those who attend that class frequently tell me that my work is profound and even miraculous and I write this post only because I feel impressed so to do and because so many women ask how in the world I accomplish what I do.  My answer is invariably "It's not me."

My duty as chorister is to decide which opening and closing hymns the women sing when we meet together on Sunday in our women's class and then lead the music during the meeting.  Often the lesson is based on a lecture or sermon of a Mormon prophet or apostle, and we use that as a base to our discussion.  The music, as the women are kind and generous enough to tell me, tends to strike to the heart of the matter at hand.  At one point, my superior gave me the lesson and in choosing music I felt to chose hymns that had nothing to do at all with the subject before me.  Though perplexed, I obeyed the impression and when the meeting opened I found that the lessons had been confused and the teacher had prepared a lesson I had not read.  The music I had chosen was perfect for the lesson the teacher taught.  That ought to be the first sign that this is not my work or my genius.

So what does Michelle do when she chooses music?  Well firstly, I study the lesson, but not in the manner one might expect.  I do not read to discover the words of the lesson.  I read to understand in the heart the overall purpose.  The sermon's title may pertain to service but in feeling the lesson out and reading between the lines, I find that the greater lesson and continuing theme behind the words may be to follow the Savior's example.  So I throw out almost entirely the idea of service, focus only on the larger idea that the sermon is trying to convey and turn my musical search in that direction.  If I were to try to choose music by thinking analytically and drawing attention to every word of the scripture the result would be weak and unsatisfying for all involved.  It is when I close my mind, read with my heart and then match the emotion of that lesson to the emotion of the song that things seem miraculous.  And recognizing that this is not my doctrine, not my lesson, not my hymns, not my meeting and these women are daughters of God and not my audience I always put the matter to prayer.  I pray before I read, during my reading, as I choose music and afterward to ensure that the music chosen is what the Lord would have at the meeting.  If I feel uneasy about something I pray about it more or change it.  Only when my heart is calm on the matter do I submit the choice to those in charge.  It used to be fairly an epidemic that the teachers would forget the time, run overtime and we would have to forgo the closing hymn.  Those in charge of the meeting would attempt to apologize to me, as though it had anything to do with me at all.  They always found me smiling and shrugging it off, because the purpose is not first and foremost to lead music.  The purpose of the meeting is to uplift the women of the congregation.  If a prolonged discussion serves that cause better, then so be it.  The purpose is fulfilled better than had we employed the final hymn and cut the discussion short.   God is ever and always at the helm, and when I am weak, then am I strong.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Spread the Love, Baby

I might add a second title to this post in the words "How to Avoid Becoming a Psychopathic Stalker."  We have, I am sure, all experienced the soul wrenching misery of unrequited love whether it be familial love, romantic love, or that of a friendship gone awry.  We see the object of our passion moving on in their lives, happier without our company, or so it would seem.  We often want to yell, scream, throw a hysterical fit like a two year old, pounding our fists into the floor and the like.  I had a professor in college who admitted to once shaving his brunette locks completely off as protest against his girlfriend dumping him and in an attempt to prove to her that she really did want him back.  In short, we become temporarily insane when we experience a powerful relationship gone bad.

I have certainly had my share of mangled hearts, and I think one of the reasons God allowed me to be in some of the circumstances in which I have found myself was so I could learn a thing or two from them.  Firstly, throwing a fit very rarely gets the other person to turn your way.  Perhaps, if a beloved walks away because they think or feel you don't love them, then ardently getting in their face and proving your love might be ideal, but that is a very rare case.  Generally speaking, the healthiest thing to do is to spread that love around.  It will hurt, but it will hurt less than dwelling on the matter at hand and certainly proves more productive.  How does one do this?  Well, let's say you want to smother this person with affection but at this point cannot.  Then look around you, take that injured energy, and spoil with attention and affection everyone else within your reach.  Displacing the whole lump of emotion on one other person usually leads to disaster but giving some attention to one person and some to another until you feel like your energy is spent often leads to a great deal of personal popularity that in turn lifts you up and helps you realize that there is more than anguish in this world. Need ideas on how to spoil other people?  Smile at them, compliment them, look for things that others do well and call them on it, be aware of the needs of others and help if you can, pray for other people, and the like.  It doesn't have to be big things, and indeed it works best when it isn't.  And always remember that life is possible on the other side of this mountain you're presently hiking.

Ironically, this approach also tends to bring your beloved closer to you, makes them realize what they lost, and appreciate you more.  But even if it doesn't, your life will be fuller by understanding the fact that your life and worth doesn't depend on one person's opinion - anyone's opinion, save yours and most especially God's, who can see the light in you when you can least see it in yourself.  So the next time unrequited love of any kind rears it ugly head, spread the love to everyone around you, to God and also to yourself.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Look Great During Swimsuit Season!

No, no one has hijacked my blog.  It's still me. But it seems like an appropriate topic considering summer has started and I know that the vast majority of women are sadly worrying about wearing a swimsuit.  So I have a word to say concerning something that has a tendency to depress, upset and frustrate a great many of us - our own self image.

Let me begin by saying that I have long hated wearing a swimsuit myself.  When this began it was for the typical reasons but now it has evolved into Ms. Majorly Modest Mormon Mommy Michelle has learned to respect my body to the point of cringing at the idea of showing it off to any random person who happens along.  I'm not a piece of meat (and yes, I have pictures of me in a swimsuit without the wrap.  You don't get to see them. Too many silly, drooling boys out there. :) ).  But I have no qualms about the caliber of my physique anymore.  What changed that perspective?  I think the answer to being confident with your body is to learn to accept yourself for who you are and love your own body, independent of anyone else.  Recognize that you are unique, special and that no one can take your place. Let's say that we have a woman who weighs 200 pounds.  She works like a slave at the gym, eats healthful food and gets down to 160.  I say "Bravo!"  She has every right in the world to hold her head high and be proud of her accomplishment.  Does a woman like that have to sit in despair that she isn't a size zero?  Absolutely not.  Or a naturally thin lady who has felt that she is less than other women because she isn't built like Jessica Rabbit?  Let her exercise, eat well and recognize that she is being her best with every reason to love herself for it.  I have known men to have a similar issue, actually, though it tends to gain less publicity.  Nearly every man I know wishes he were taller.  I was talking to a guy who completely towered above me and asked, "You're what?  6'5"?"  His answer - "I wish.  I'm only 6'2"."  Does he know how many other men would kill to come up to his shoulder?

So the answer to looking fabulous in a swimsuit is not about measurements or body type.  It is about self acceptance and recognizing that you are a valuable human being just as you are.  If we are still having problems about being self conscious I would suggest we get out into the pool or beach and turn our attention to having a kind word for everyone we meet, seeking out those who look particularly uncomfortable being there and dropping a random compliment and ensuring everyone around you is having fun.  A welcoming smile and sweet countenance looks great on anyone!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Creating a World

Michelle: Welcome back to MVSB Radio!  I find via our statistics that after the United States the country which views Extensions of Thought the most is Russia.  So in honor of our Russian friends out there I am very pleased to introduce our next guest, the acclaimed writer and philosopher, Mr. Leo Tolstoy!  Welcome, Mr. Tolstoy.

Tolstoy: Thank you.

Michelle: Sir, your literature and philosophy has proven so important to so many people during your lifetime and after it and your work War and Peace has become a well known icon throughout the world.  There is something that connects with people on a tremendous level.  What do you think makes your work so distinctive?

Tolstoy:  Well, I think most writers write novels.  War and Peace is not a novel.

Michelle: You certainly produced a masterwork, and at your request I would never pretend to call it a mere novel.  It is so much more than that.

Tolstoy: You've read it then?

Michelle:  I've read it, Anna Karenina, The Death of Ivan Ilych and some of your other stories.  And I have studied events of your life as well as some of your journal entries.

Tolstoy:  Then you have done your homework on me as I did my research in creating War and Peace.  It was a phenomenal undertaking and quite exhausting.  I studied people, land, life, history, religion, philosphy -

Michelle:  Languages and the nature of society.  Social rank and the life of common people.

Tolstoy:  Yes.  Then I took the characters I found around me, changed the names as it were and transplanted them in the historical fiction I created.  It was more than creating a novel.  It was creating a world.

Michelle:  Indeed.  Which brings me to what I think drives to the heart of the matter.  Your character Natasha mentions something which intrigued me.  She mentions something about remembering a time before her life in this mortal realm began.  I can't help thinking that you feel that we came from somewhere else.

Tolstoy:  Existence is much greater than we tend to think.  We often think of life as what is immediately before us but in truth it keeps expanding outward to an extent that in the end baffles human imagination.

Michelle:  So just as your characters came from a greater and truer life, being modeled by the people around you in your own life, so we here in this life are only shadows of our truer spiritual selves, perhaps?

Tolstoy:  Well put.

Michelle:  Thank you.  I feel I could discuss War and Peace all day with you, but most people with whom I have spoken tend to prefer Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy:  I liked Anna as a character myself.

Michelle:  She is a tremendously immoral woman and yet...

TolstoySmiling.  And yet?

Michelle:  She is not malicious or vindictive.  She is human and profoundly imperfect.  And we can't altogether tremble at her death except in pity.  She brought it upon herself by the demons that overtook her.  It is a lesson to never give up and keep trying to do that which is right, I think.

Tolstoy:  She is human.  Correct.  We all are.  We are all in a process of learning and development.

Michelle:  You create such realism in your characters, and I have been impressed that you take a great deal of love in describing and understanding each person.  You love each character, I think, even those of lower classes and when one of your character does wrongly you clothe him or her in compassion and understanding.

Tolstoy:  A creator loves his creations.  I created these worlds as the great Creator created us.  He understands us perfectly as I understand the weakness, failings, strengths, triumphs and growth of my characters.  And yet they still surprise me.  I have intended to kill some of my characters off and they have surprised me  by continuing to live and continuing to progress.  Then I watch them with interest, finding out what they will yet accomplish.

Michelle:  Beautiful.  Well, Mr. Tolstoy, it has been a wonderful pleasure having this little chat with you.   I have intended to write a paper regarding a thesis born of much consideration regarding your works.  But writing about you is much like writing War and Peace.  You are a topic that doesn't have an end.

Tolstoy:  Neither does existence.  We just keep progressing and expanding outward.