Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review March 2014

There have been some fantastic articles out there about reading, re-reading, and some inspirational people who have tackled some of the hardest literature out there. Shout-out to all you amazing readers. I wanted to highlight some of my favorites and then give you my latest book review.

BBC Article, Reading the World in 196 books: A woman named Anne Morgan started a blog called A Year of Reading the World, in hopes that she would be able to fill her shelves with various publications from nearly 200 nations. The article states "One by one, the country names on the list that had begun as an intellectual exercise at the start of the year transformed into vital, vibrant places filled with laughter, love, anger, hope and fear. Lands that had once seemed exotic and remote became close and familiar to me – places I could identify with. At its best, I learned, fiction makes the world real." 

The full list is on the website, and her experience is inspiring!

BBC article, The Joy of Binge Reading: The trend for books has been, write one book quickly and write another one, quickly - so that the readership doesn't die down, because reader's are bingeing. The author argues that this addiction is actually quite healthy stating, "it’s an experience in which you suspend critical judgment and allow pure joy to take over" and "Of course, go too crazy too fast with binge reading and you can feel as awful as you do after traditional bingeing on food and drink: overfilled, dazed and in need of sunlight and exercise. The good news? Even the worst binge reading has got to be among the most productive of binge behaviours." I would like to argue that binge reading supply and demand may make the 'literacy' part of reading fall by the wayside in order to meet the demand. However, I am not quite set in my theory yet. 

I notice that at the end of my novel, I am not quite ready to give up the book. It makes me angry that I don't know what else happened during the novel, especially as Fanny and Edmond end up together at the end of one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. I guess I am the classic binge reader - always wanting more. I see the author's point.

BBC article, Re-Reading; The Ultimate Guilty Pleasure: I love the premise, "As parents learn with frustration, as small children we love immersing ourselves in the same story over and over. But in adulthood that joy tends to become a forgotten pleasure." 

The article poses some fantastic points, even including some scientific data, like 1. The first time we read something, we are so pre-occupied by the what, and 2. The second time we read something, we can allow ourselves to get caught up with the emotions of the book. The article concludes, "Perhaps what’s really strange is that we don’t re-read more often. After all, we watch our favourite films again and we wouldn’t think of listening to an album only once. We treasure tatty old paperbacks as objects, yet of all art forms, literature alone is a largely one-time delight. A book, of course, takes up more time, but as Mead and Ellis confirm, the rewards make it amply worthwhile."

I hope you enjoyed those articles as much as I did!

Book Review 

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott - 5*

I have written a review on this before. This was a fantastic re-read. A little while back, I decided that I would begin re-reading this book every November. It makes me happy. We all need a little more happy in our lives. The characters are so well-written and developed - the personalities of the characters so unique, the story is beautiful, and the script is captivating. I identify with more than one character in more than one season. It is worth the read and re-read!

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis - Unfinished, but loving it!

My mom and I listened to this while we drove across the country. It was hard for me to listen to because there were so many good and deep points. It got to the point where weather and listening did not mix, so I haven't completed this yet. However, from what I was able to listen to, my mind was blown away. It exposed me to so many insights and theories about the after-life and what is really important in life. I can't wait to find out what happens to the main character after all his experiences!

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Judy Blume - 5*

How could I not give 5*'s to these classic children's books? I started reading more children's literature. This classic made me wonder if children take away that it is ok to lie, lol. But, in all honesty, I think it is just a good story about defeating odds and finding joy in the journey of being young. I enjoyed it because it kept a smile on my face.

Running Out of Time, Margaret Peterson Haddix - 5*

This author is awesome! I read the Shadow Children series written by her several years ago, and remember really liking the series just as much as I liked the book I just finished. These are fast reads - and I finished this book in one day's time. I like that her books always have a political underlying theme. I can't say too much about the book itself for fear of spoiling it, but can say it is about a teenage girl who grew up in an environment and within a matter of hours, her world turns upside down as some truths about her life, community, and family are exposed. The tone is fast and very much portrayed like a 14 year old girl. Love this author.

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B, Sandra Gulland - 5*

I could not put this book down, and finished it in a week's time. Ask my sweetheart. This book is the first book of a three-part series. A fantastic account of Mrs. Bonaparte recounting her life experiences in journal style, based on accurate information of the time. It is well researched, and strikes several of my emotions. I am already reading the sequel. Highly recommended.

Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, Sandra Gulland - currently reading

This is the sequel to the Bonaparte series. Again, I am almost halfway through the book, and have only had it for three days. 

1776, David McCullough - currently reading

This is a fantastic research paper written in a novelistic documentary-style, highlighting the Revolutionary War. So far, I like that McCullough tackles both sides of the story. He creates a fantastic view behind the scenes by referencing writings including, journals, newspapers, personal letters, and other historical documents to back up this incredible time in history. I highly recommend this to anyone questioning the intentions of government during that time, or wanting to know more about the art of war. There is no doubt in my mind that the creation of this nation was Providential - this book backs my theory.

My Other Book Reviews 

Children's Literature....How I Love Thee
Book Review - Some Classics
Little Women: Keeping Busy, Best for Happiness
The Same Kind of Different As Me
Thoughts From These High Green Hills: Finding Joy in the Journey
The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime: October Happiness Project Updates
A Home at Mitford: Getting Rid of My Trash
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is the "Search for Happiness" Counterintuitive?

It was not a coincidence that I have had several opportunities to talk about happiness. As some may be aware, I found that I was lacking happiness and really starting doing some deep introspection about what I needed to do, what attitudes I needed to change, what habits I needed to break, where I may be lacking in the spiritual aspect of my life in order to find happiness.

I took a rather methodical approach to happiness (adopted from The Happiness Project) and began measuring my success by my accomplishments, acknowledging my failures, and reporting my endeavors on this blog. I still feel it is a worthwhile endeavor, and so I will keep on keepin' on. However, I made some discoveries and have had some discussions, which have altered my approach, slightly. 

First, one night my sweetheart and I were talking about contentment. He said he was reading an article that said something along the lines of, if you are constantly in search of happiness you will not find it, because you are creating a delta where it may never exist because you are in constant search of it. Something like that.

This idea reminded me of a conversation I had with someone who was depressed who said that he would rather not talk about his depression, not because he was in denial, but because the more he would talk about it, the deeper in his depression he became. He felt like if he kept talking about it, because he was still deep in it, it made him believe that he was so depressed that he couldn't get out of it. This idea makes sense to me. 

I often hear that what we tell ourselves in our minds becomes reality, like saying "I'm not tired," after 24 hours of no sleep can actually help someone capitalize on what energy they do have, and how these people - at the end of the day - testify that they really aren't tired. Perhaps it is a philosophy of The Secret, I assume, having personally not listened to it. It is the same with what we tell ourselves too. If we keep saying, "I'm not good enough" so many times, we may begin to believe it.

Regardless of the research that may or may not back up this theory, I was intrigued by this idea of searching for happiness. Automatically, I came up with the following questions:
  • Is it still possible to progress if we are not seeking happiness? 
  • Is it possible to remain in a state of contentment and yet still have the motivation to hope for betterment, peace, understanding, or happiness?
  • If I was happy, would I be trying to figure out what the Lord needed me to do to obtain it fully? 
  • Is this type of introspection, the search for happiness, bad or wrong? 
Perhaps what the article was trying to say is that if we worry so much about tomorrow, we will miss out on a lot of joy we could have today. I agree with that sentiment at least. 

I have included several excerpts from the talk Finding Joy in the Journey by President Thomas S. Monson, who said: 

"This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now."

"Said one well-known author: “Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”"

"The ancient Roman philosopher Horace admonished, “Whatever hour God has blessed you with, take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.”"

Second, some of you also know that it is hard for me to be content in the moment. I am always trying to do better, be better, thinking about tomorrow, and am generally a tightly-wound sort of person who always have to have a list and a plan.

This week, I attended a wonderful ladies night activity dinner, where we also had small discussion groups talking about the Plan of Happiness. The more we discussed happiness, the more I realized, I am just not getting it! After all those talks I read about praying, serving other people, living in the moment, being present, reading scriptures, going to the temple, learning about patience and timing, developing faith, etc., I still don't feel like I get what I need to do. Sad, really. 

During the conversation, we talked about having faith enough to live in the now. Having faith allows us to live in the now, stop thinking about our past, hope for the future, but don't obsess about living for the future. Then the question was asked: What are you doing to empower your faith? 

I sat there stumped. What am I doing to empower my faith. Other than direct obedience, am I really feeding my faith the way I need to learn this valuable lesson of 'finding joy in the journey?'

I pose these questions to you, my readers. 
  1. How do you feel/find joy in your journey? 
  2. Is finding joy in the journey something you have to work at - one that you have to concentrate on everyday? If so, what techniques do you employ?
  3. What do you do to empower your faith?
  4. Do you feel that searching for happiness is counterintuitive?
I would love to hear from you.


The painting above is by Mike Vollmer from Houston. For me, the brilliant colors bring to light the idea that I am surrounded by magnificence everyday, and I could be a part of that if only I would open my eyes. For me, the light that seems to be streaming from the top, depicting the hope that this thing called 'happiness' can be found today...the search is over. Thank you for this wonderful painting.

The Second Painting is by Rassouli. I was trying to find a painting that depicted how it would feel to find a way out of the storm, happiness in a confusing world, and light in a whirlwind of darkness. This painting spoke to me of what it would feel like to experience joy again, if not for the first time. This artist has captured my heart and soul. All the other paintings also exude this conquering spirit.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Overcoming Trials - A Gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

My sweetheart and I had the opportunity to speak at church yesterday. We were both so profoundly affected by our time prepping our talks, and so blessed to experience some wonderful confirmations that I felt prompted to share what I spoke about. I hope you find solace in the trials you are going through, and hope you lean on Jesus Christ to help you through them. There is hope for a brighter future.

Here is the Talk  

This past week both Adam and I have had divinely inspired opportunities that gave us insight into what we have been asked to speak about today. I am humbled by this opportunity to speak of something so sacred and invite the Spirit to testify of the truth of the things I am going to share today about how I have used the Atonement to overcome trials.

To start my talk, I felt it was best to present some every day life scenarios that we may relate to. I invite you to think about similar experiences in your lives and deeply contemplate what you have done to feel peace.

Scenario #1*: A family returns from a funeral of their young child. A father is struggling with his testimony of the plan of salvation and eternal families. He is wondering “Why? Why did this happen to our family?” He is experiencing feelings of doubt, despair, fear that he will never see his child again, and unfairness.

Scenario #2*: A single mother of four children sits at a table struggling to pay her bills. She wonders how in the world she is going to make it this month with all those mouths to feed. She plays the role of both mother and father to her kids, and works several jobs to keep food on the table and maintain a happy home. She is experiencing feelings of hopelessness, doubt, loneliness, and stress.

Scenario #3*: A once marathon runner sits in his wheelchair watching old videos of his glory days. He is now paralyzed with limited ability to do anything, including brushing his own teeth. His wife has become a caretaker and struggles to lift him physically and spiritually. This small family is struggling with feelings of depression, anger, guilt, and maybe even resentment.

Scenario #4: A youth attends middle or high school where they feel out of place.  They have tried fitting in, but to no avail.  Maybe they are being mocked, but maybe they are just coasting by, not really feeling like they belong. They tend to think, I am not good enough, I am not pretty enough, I am not sporty enough, I am not confident enough. They are experiencing feelings of self-doubt, loss of individual worth and self-esteem, and loneliness.

Scenario #5: An elderly couple struggles to get out bed everyday, quite literally. They are having a hard time knowing that at one point they used to be able to do everything, like pour a bowl of cereal without any aches or pains, and even when they can their cereal doesn’t taste the same. They struggle to remember and their recall seems to be failing. They can’t hear as well and their eyesight only allows them to see fuzzy shapes but their inner HD is limited. They are struggling to know if they have accomplished everything they have wanted to and struggle to understand why all of a sudden they are limited because their bodies won’t let them do what they want them to do.

Scenario #6: A person is struggling with addiction. What used to be something that was a momentary fix has become an obsession. They have tried to wean themselves, but end up needing that momentary satisfaction that doesn’t seem to last. They are experiencing feelings of being trapped, sometimes physical pain, anxiety, guilt, and depression depending on the addiction, false sense of security, and powerlessness.

Scenario #7: A newly married couple is struggling to figure out how to set aside individual needs, learn how to communicate, and determine the best course of action for this newly formed family. In trying to overcome stubbornness and pride, they are struggling in their testimonies of what it means to hone this new relationship and bond together and with the Lord, therefore struggling with the concept of eternal marriage. They are experiencing feelings of resentment, uncertainty, panic, disorientation, and desperation.

I have had my own scenarios, and I can tell you that I often felt like I was fighting against the storm and was doing everything in my power to stay afloat. It was a struggle getting up everyday knowing that when I went to sleep my circumstances didn’t go away. These situations seem daunting when speaking about them in the same setting, and talking about them is kind of depressing.

I am here to tell you something amazing. I am here to tell you that even in the most dire of circumstances, I was able to beat the storms of life. I was given a life raft and able to swim to safety. I have been able to find peace again, and I was able to do this not by myself. For all those experiencing any related feelings described in the scenarios, there is hope that you too can find joy; a joy that comes as we seek to understand and allow the Atonement of Jesus Christ to buoy us through the storm.

In a talk Mountains to Climb, President Henry B. Eyring said: “Many of you are now passing through physical, mental, and emotional trials that could cause you to cry out as did one great and faithful servant of God I knew well. His nurse heard him exclaim from his bed of pain, “When I have tried all my life to be good, why has this happened to me?

The way to rise through and above trials is to believe that there is a “balm in Gilead” and that the Lord has promised, “I will not … forsake thee.” 

In Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9 it reads:  “And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”

When I am experiencing trials, I don’t like to hear that my trial will give me experience and I will grow from it. For me this advice seems to undermine how I am feeling when I am going through a trial. Especially when I feel like I am drowning. 

I can tell you though that knowing that there is someone who understands my trial so completely the way the Savior does because of His Atonement, helps me to find the desire and motivation to overcome it.

In the talk Adversity, President Henry B. Eyring taught: “It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. … And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.

Yes, there are things we have to do to fully grasp how the Atonement can help us with our trials, and we have the opportunity to learn about them every Sunday. 

As Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the talk He Heals the Heavy Laden, he taught: “Healing blessings come in many ways, each suited to our individual needs, as known to Him who loves us best. Sometimes a ‘healing’ cures our illness or lifts our burden. But sometimes we are ‘healed’ by being given strength or understanding or patience to bear the burdens placed upon us.”All that will come may be “clasped in the arms of Jesus.” All souls can be healed by His power. All pain can be soothed. In Him, we can “find rest unto [our] souls.” Our mortal circumstances may not immediately change, but our pain, worry, suffering, and fear can be swallowed up in His peace and healing balm.” 

For those that feel like they are drowning and just need a hand to grab them, the most important thing I can tell you is that Jesus Christ is there with you in the storm. He has a crew equipped with all manner of life saving devices to help you. He is at the helm, and is reaching out to grab your hand. Don’t give up reaching for His hand. There is hope you can overcome these scenarios in your own life.

One last quote from Elder David A. Bednar in the talk The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality, said: “The Savior has suffered not just for our iniquities but also for the inequality, the unfairness, the pain, the anguish, and the emotional distresses that so frequently beset us. There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul, no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal journey that the Savior did not experience first. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry out, “No one understands. No one knows.” No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying upon only our own power.”

I testify that He will nurse you back to health. He will help you overcome whatever challenges you face. He will lead you in the direction you need to go. He will let you feel love again. I testify of these things because I know them from my own experience. I know because when I let Him in, He healed my broken spirit. AND I know that this is all possible because of the amazing Atonement, which covers all conditions and purposes of mortality.

These truths I leave with you in gratitude for the Spirit that guided me through how to deliver this message, in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, AMEN.


NOTE: Some of these scenarios were borrowed from the following video, Mountains to Climb by President Henry B. Eyring, which I have also posted below.