2016 Year-End Review

2016 was a big year full of changes: new school, new state, and new socks.  In a year full of ups and downs, heartbreak and breakfast tacos, I always look forward to writing this year-end review, written in first and third person.  If you were hoping for a physical Christmas card to decorate your fridge with, click here to find a local Kinkos to do it yourself.

The beginning of the year found Matt frequently traveling for graduate school interviews.  In Seattle at the University of Washington, he quickly discovered this was not the place for him after being deceived by a delicious organic beet-and carrot-filled quesadilla.  Those things shouldn’t go together, but why was it delicious?  Matt decided it was just best to stay away from that confusing lifestyle.

Outside of Disneyland, traveling to the University of Alabama at Birmingham was one of the few instances where I have felt like a minority.  BYU always told me that I AM diverse for being a white guy who lived in a foreign land and speaks an obscure language.  But Alabama made me remember: I’m still just a white guy.

In the end, the desire to further understand Texas pride overcame my need to be pampered by southern hospitality.  I live in Texas now and have discovered it is a culture of its own.  Texas cities are like family members.  I live in San Antonio, which could be compared to your old, conservative grandpa who is unintentionally racist.  Sometimes I go through Austin, which is like your brother who is going through that weird phase; we don’t talk about him at family gatherings.

Over the summer, Matt traveled to Glacier National Park with a few friends.  On a separate but related note, he has also entertained the idea of running for public office later on in life.  Since most politicians tend to have compromising photos of themselves, Matt created his own on the trip.  This way, it comes as no surprise during election time.  The voters need to understand what kind of candidate they’re getting:

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I successfully completed my first semester of graduate school.  I am also happy to report that I received straight A’s in all courses.  Something I was never able to accomplish during my undergraduate courses.  This accomplishment has been offset by the repeated emphasis of the professors that “grades don’t matter!”  Oh well, at least I can still get free doughnuts for every A at Krispy Kreme.  Wait, what do you mean it’s only for grade school…?

In November, Matt decided to grow a mustache.  He doesn’t want to talk about it.

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The new face of men’s health? Or poster boy for chocolate “got milk” commercials?

Since it is the holiday season, it seems fitting to mention that Matt wasn’t invited to a single Christmas party this year.  This is only mentioned to make you feel guilty in case you had a Christmas party and failed to invite him.  He’s been free every weekend in December and most in November.  One friend was kind enough to invite him to a party for married people, but it was more of a pity thing.

So far, 2017 is looking to be promisingly boring.  Thank heavens.

Wishing you all the best,

Matt

 

 

Thailand – Amazing, Yet Problematic for the Alone, Weak-Willed, and Trusting (Part 2)

I have made up SO many stories since being in Thailand.  I have had to get out of situations more difficult than getting out of a relationship with an obsessive girlfriend (not something I know about firsthand, just making an assumption).  Many of these situations would have left me in circumstances such as (but not limited to): dead (maybe), without a kidney (possibly because of previous, another assumption), no money, more money, four more Armani suits than I arrived with (none), and a body more tender than the steaes at Ruth Chris’s Steak House.  What’s funny is that this all occurred during my day-and-a-half stay in Bangkok.  Quite the opposite experience from Chiang Mai.

Bangkok

When I arrived in Bangkok at 9:30 PM, I had been awake since 5 AM, spent an exhausting day at the elephant park, and was quickly becoming exhausted with all the flying I was doing.  So I was quite ready to get to the hostel and fall asleep.  I had heard somewhere that a taxi to get to my place would cost around 400 baht ($12).  So when I walked into the lobby area, I asked a few of the more elite taxi services how much they charged: 800 baht.

The regular taxi queue had a long line stemming from the front.  As I moved to get in line, a man approached me and asked if I needed a taxi.  I cautiously told him yes and told him where I was going.  He said he could take me there and I made sure he could do it for 500 baht, rather than wait in line, to which he agreed.  We walked away from the busy lobby and down into the nearly empty (in terms of people) parking garage (first red flag), he directed me to his SUV and opened the door.  On the inside, there weren’t signs such as a meter that hinted this was a taxi (second red flag).  Driven by paranoia, I quickly glanced in back to make sure no one was there.  Clear.

After about 10 minutes of driving through backroads, rather than through the busy city (third red flag), the driver turned around and told me he needed to fill up with gas (fourth red flag, they should always be full) and needed the 500 now, and 2500 later.  Wait, what 2500??  He slyly pulled a laminate sheet out of the seat and handed it to me.  This was one of those flat rate taxis I had been warned about!  This had gone from a $15 taxi to a $60 taxi!  I really had 1200 left to finish my stay in Thailand.  I argued that he had said 500 and I didn’t have 3000 baht.  He persistently kept dogging me for the 500 first so he could fill up.  Uttering a few choice words under my breath (although out loud probably wouldn’t have mattered) I reluctantly handed it over.  I considered just getting out, but the surrounding area was deserted at 10:30 PM and probably not the safest option.

As we started driving again, I decided I needed a new approach.  I suddenly feigned alarm and told him that I had left my passport at the airport and needed to go back to get it.  I don’t know if he believed it or not, but we started heading back in that direction as he got out his phone and started talking to someone.  He kept mentioning the word “filang,” which I had previously learned meant foreigner.  No doubt referring to me and my idiocracy.   He kept asking how long I would be so he could wait.  I told him I didn’t know and to just get another passenger, but he was persistent and told me to leave my stuff.  I gave him another 500 baht to hold him over and convince him I needed my things.  As soon as he pulls up to departures, I throw open the door and run out with him yelling after me.  I dash to the regular taxi queue (much smaller at this point) and get in a regular taxi.  This trip only costs me 200 baht.

Admittedly, my own naiveté allowed me to fall into this predicament.  It made me learn the hard way to go with the gut feeling and to go with the flow.  Besides one other minor event (to be covered later), the rest of Bangkok went off without a hitch.

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I stayed at a ritzy hostel named Glur (it sounds fancy, doesn’t it?).  It was only $10 a night, but I shared a room with 7 other travelers, in this case, all Chinese (sorry, with two Indonesians).  It was located right in the city near the river.  This allowed me to walk less than a quarter-mile to the river, purchase an all-day boat pass, and go where I needed to go.

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I first headed to The Grand Palace.  Since I arrived before it opened at 8, there was quite a line forming.  You’d think most lines would curve around on the sidewalk, here, they just stretch out into the street, regardless of traffic.  Come 8 o’ clock, the gates open and the crowds flood in.  If you’ve ever been to Disneyland and seen the surging crowds who rush in upon opening, that’ll give you a good idea of what The Grand Palace was like.  Except instead of rides and pineapple smoothies, it’s making donations and burning incense.  Upon entering, those of us dressed immodestly (shorts) were redirected to another building where we were given complimentary drawstring pants.  I began heading again towards the palace entry, anticipation building, and realized that the entry rate was 500 Baht (about $15).  Me being the thrifty person I am, reconsidered, returned my pants, and cleared out.  This wasn’t going where you expected it to, did it?  The palace looked cool from the outside though!

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I headed over to Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, where the entrance fee was only 100 Baht!  The Reclining Buddha was quite a sight, laying in at 138 feet long and 45 feet high.  Tourists on both sides of me walked the span of the statue with their GoPro’s and cameras in panorama mode.  The rest of temple grounds were lovely.

Much of the rest of the day was spent following directions on a disproportionate map I found on the ground.  Some of the anticipated activities turned out to be a bust, such as the fourth largest flower market in the world being a warehouse full of potatoes.  Or the National Bangkok Museum being closed (the 1 day I am there).

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I had heard a lot about the famous Khao San Road that every tourist should visit.  I didn’t have that much time to spend there since I had to catch the last boat back home, and didn’t want to be stranded across Bangkok.  The joy of the journey was found in actually getting to the road itself.  I followed signs that promised a shortcut to the road which ultimately led to a door.  Seems like a bad idea to go into an unmarked building with arrows pointing to it.  So I did it anyways and it turned out alright.  Additionally, I was constantly accosted by smartly dressed men who grabbed my arm and would confidently lead me to their suit shop, attempting to size me up to begin fitting me for my new Armani suit.  I come to the conclusion that since I am traveling alone, I must come off as an easier target.  Therefore, just like I did when I needed to get into Costco without a membership, I fell in line with random people, pretending to be a part of their group.  Unorthodox, perhaps.  Effective, yes.  Strength in numbers.

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At night, I headed back to Glur and made friends with a Brit named Emily.  She had sold her flat back in March in order to travel the world.  She seemed keen to discuss Game of Thrones and Dr. Who; both of which I did my best to feign interest through.  She also asked if I had read 50 Shades of Grey.  I thought she was joking, but she was quite serious.  We headed over to the food court across the way to get some spicy chicken and green beans (did not bode so well later).

This is that other “minor” event.  The morning I was supposed to leave, I headed out into the city before it became too busy.  As I joined a throng of people about to cross the street, I struck up a conversation with the person next to me.  Chim is a retired Thai teacher who spends his days enjoying the city.  He asked me what I was doing there and how I was enjoying Thailand so far.  He very nonchalantly asked if I had bought any suits during my visit.  After replying no, before I knew it I had been directed into a suit shop where Chim greeted the owner like as an old friend.  They began taking measurements and sizing me up.  Time to make up another story.  I told them I was headed to the airport in 15 minutes.  They saw that coming.  “We can send the suit to you!”  I ran out of the store.

It’s interesting to point out that in Asia, public displays of affection are uncommon.  It is rare to see anyone kissing, holding hands, or even arms around each other.  This is not the case within enclosed walls.  Many of the people I was sharing a room with seemed to be vacationing as couples and were sharing beds.  Luckily, I had kept the ear plugs from the international flight over.

Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Thailand.  However, I would recommend to future travelers to visit the outer provinces.  It is more of a cultural experience and you can get more for your money.

Thailand – Amazing, Yet Problematic for the Alone, Weak-Willed, and Trusting (Part 1)

It wasn’t until I started writing this entry that I realized how massive it is.  And no one wants to spend their day reading a novel with limited pictures (unless it’s Harry Potter for the umpteenth time).  So I gone the way of Hollywood and turned this into a two-part event.  Except you’ll only have to wait a day for part 2.

Chiang Mai

Upon my arrival in Chiang Mai, I took a taxi to the guesthouse I would be staying at called The White House, which was situated next to The Blue House.  I chose to spend most of my time in Thailand in Chiang Mai because I had read that the smaller city vibe was more preferable for visitors not digging the big city feel.  Being the second largest city in Thailand, it was still a city with nearly a million people in it and only hundreds of temples instead of thousands of temples.  The host, named Nuk, checked me in to my private room ($8/night), complete with its own bidet (‘bidet’ to you sir) allowed me to place my bag and valuables in a secure storage locker, and provided me with recommendations of things to do in Chiang Mai.  I decided to go out and walk around to get the feel of the area.

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In Thailand, main streets are broken into smaller sub-streets called “Soi.”  Think of it as a street-within-a-street.  I could make a joke about street-inception or street-ception, but that joke has overstayed its welcome.  I had a map to follow around, but it was usually difficult to find which direction I was going, unlike the eastern mountains of Utah which always declare East.  One of the reasons I preferred being alone was that I could walk wherever I wanted and take as much time as I needed without having to be considerate of others asking: “Where the cuss are we going?” or “What the cuss are we doing?” and dignifying them with the all encompassing response of “I don’t know.”  I felt a certain sense of nostalgia (and queasiness) as the familiar third-world smell of free sewage overcame me.  I was staying in a part of the city referred to as “within the old walls,” where many of the temples were located.  I saw a group of people gathering at a makeshift terminal waiting to go somewhere, so I decided to join them.  They were headed up to an area called Doi Suthep: a temple at the top of a mountain with a view over the entire city.  The road there was harrowing; winding up the mountain in a series of switchbacks.  I was only one shade of green among many in our small, crammed bus.

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The temple was located in a high, mountaintop village adorned with hanging flags.  There were approximately 300 steps to the temple and lookout at the top.  For those not fit enough to make the arduous trek, there was an elevator to take up.  The view at the top was breathtaking as the clouds settled over the valley and mountains themselves.  I befriended a couple from Israel, Tom and Filek who were on their honeymoon.  I became their unofficial photographer as I kept running into them in the most photogenic areas.  They must have thought I looked lonely by myself and needed something to do.  My best to them.  The ride back down wasn’t much better, and it didn’t agree with the chicken I had eaten.  Admittedly, I went back to my room at about 6 pm, spent an unspecified amount of time in the bathroom, and gave in to jet lag.

Fortunately, it took me only 10 hours of sleep to acclimatize to the new time zone.  At 5 AM, I woke up and took a rented scooter (only $6 and no proof of license!) back to Doi Suthep, and further up to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise.  Words can’t describe the sight, so I won’t try.  I had left my phone at the guesthouse and my GoPro died, so just take my word for it.  I headed back down to a restaurant and ordered my first real Thai meal of Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice.  I CAN show you a picture of this.  Words can’t describe how it tasted, so I won’t try.

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I was lucky to have T-Mobile, whose phone plan allowed me to have free texting and data abroad without incurring roaming fees.  Google Maps has been incredibly helpful.  It allowed me to find the church (LDS church, you don’t need anything to find a Buddhist temple here) that I would be attending.  If it was a cultural experience I was hoping to experience at the Chiang Mai 2nd Branch, I was mistaken.  About 80 people were in attendance, roughly half of which were students from Utah through an assortment of programs such as Help International, study abroad, teaching English, and internships.  No one was more than 50 years old, so they couldn’t have been there to find a wife.  A more appropriate name for the branch would have been the BYU Thai-SA Branch.  The small world that it is, I knew one of the attendees present, Amber Nordhagen, and was able to spend the rest of the day with their group.

The Sunday Market is well-known in Chiang Mai.  Major streets are closed off to allow more than 1500 vendors to set up stalls to sell food and crafts.  It’s been estimated that tourism makes up about 25% of Thailand’s GDP, and the night market was a good example.  The market drew hundreds, if not thousands of tourists.  Besides the vendors, there were few Thai’s there.  Probably because they know they can buy a better quality item for half the price the next street over.

IMG_20150719_192541       Fried Insects for all!

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I’ve never been the sentimental type to buy souvenirs, but I will happily throw down extra money on food.  Which I happily did at the market.  I loved trying shakes from different stalls, trying to find the best one – Mango, avocado, strawberry.  Undoubtedly the best one was this mixed-berry smoothie.  Words can’t desc- you get it.  There were some other delicacies to try such as fried milk, spicy sausage, tzoriso, and fresh coconut milk.  With how many people were there, the next day, everyone cleans up so well, you’d never have been able to guess what had transpired the night before.

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My last day in Chiang Mai, I had made reservations to go to an elephant nature park.  There are varying philosophies concerning the elephant in Thailand.  It is a sacred animal according to the religion here and can be found in stone form in many temples.  In the past, elephants were used for field labor and in the logging industry.  In select areas, some people still use elephants to beg in the street, unnerving the creatures with the loud, city noises.  Many services in Asia cater to tourist’s fascination with the elephant in the form of riding, caring, or feeding them.  The service I chose to go with did not believe the elephant should be ridden and focused on allowing them to roam free and recover from their past.

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I had a wonderful, hands-on experience with the elephants.  We learned about Moosh, an 80-year-old elephant saved from the logging industry who had given birth while working and whose baby had been killed by the careless workers.  Jungle Boy, a 5-year-old baby who had stepped in a trap at the age of one and now had a permanently disable leg.  Seree had stepped on a mine at the border and had her foot mangled.  Each elephant had a story.  Seeing them interact with other elephants rescued from similar situations and how they had bonded was a wonderful sight to see.  While many people fanaticize about riding an elephant, I was content with playing with them.

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When I returned to the White House, I got my stuff together and prepared to fly to Bangkok, which is where a completely different experience awaited me . . .

Going Lone Wolf Through Asia

Upon graduation from college, people take different paths in their lives.  Some jump right into a career and become “grown-ups.”  Others decide to further their education and go to graduate school.  Those who gradated with a degree in History or Humanities spend the next year trying to find a job.  And then there are those who travel.  I fit somewhere between all of those (minus those degrees).

In three short weeks, I will depart to Asia for a six-week venture that is part business, part pleasure.  For the first three weeks, I will be venturing to Thailand and the Philippines: backpacker style (minus the inclination to attend international raves and drink local drafts).  I plan to shave my head, put on my Chacos, pack my stuff into a backpack and let my beard grow out (that last part is a lie, my beard turns out as patches that make my face look like it has cancerous blotches on it).  I’m not going over for a wife, so there’s no one I need to impress with my ruggedly good looks.  By the time I get back six weeks later, my hair should be back to normal.

My question is why would more people rather travel to Europe than Asia?  Having sent two years there already, I may just be biased, but consider it!  Talking with my friend who recently left for Europe, she told me how she bought her EuroRail pass for a mere $700 (bunks not included)!  Contrast that with the $50 flights I can take to get around the country, the $10 overnight train from Northern Thailand to Bangkok – room included, and the $6 scooters I can rent to get around the city.  There are 1000’s of temples to explore, hikes, waterfalls, elephant parks, night markets, rice terraces, cultured food, cultured people, and so much more!

These first three weeks will all be done flying solo.  It could just be my gradually attained introverted attitude I have developed.  It could be that no one else wanted to foot the bill to join.  It is however, something I am looking forward to greatly.  Traveling via bus, ferry, and plane and staying in dormitory type hostels will allow me to reach out and meet new and fascinating people.  My ability to speak Filipino will permit me to make more personal connections with the lovely people of the Philippines.

The second part of my travels will have me volunteering for a nonprofit called CharityVision.  CharityVision is dedicated to eradicating blindness by performing restorative eye surgeries in developing countries.  Leading a group of 8 students, we will be working at one of their clinics assisting in surgeries, providing recommendations for improving processes, and making building improvements.  We will also be doing weekend vacationing in Cebu and Hundred Islands National Park.  Stay tuned for pictures.

If you have experience backpacking or have been to Thailand, what are some of the things you would recommend?

But Exercise and Diets are for Bros and Cheaters!

Disclaimer: This post somewhat contradicts my earlier post about how much I love food.  But people flip-flop.  Just go read about politicians in the news if you don’t believe me.

I’m not a big person.  Although I currently stand at 6’3″ and 205 lbs., I have always seen myself as skinny.  This self-perception has most likely come through the years growing up.  There was my doctor who would routinely ask me if I was getting enough to eat, the lunch ladies in elementary school who would encourage me to take the largest brownie, and my friend’s dad who always referred to me as the lanky one.

When I left to the Philippines for two years, I weighed 185 lbs.  I discovered that, unless I went to the only pizza place in the area, I never felt completely full.  Rice & lard just wasn’t enough.  By the end of those two years and a combination of worms (take your pills), parasites (don’t drink the water), dengue fever, and 90% humidity-induced sweating, I weighed in at barely 155 pounds.

A diet of fruit and rice. 155 lbs!

A diet of fruit and rice. 155 lbs!

In some ways, I should consider myself fortunate.  My metabolism is much too fast, so I lose weight faster than I can gain it and can eat whatever I want.  Most people just roll their eyes when I tell them of my struggle to gain weight (#thestruggleisreal).  Most dieting programs are geared towards helping people lose weight, or even maintaining it.  Why would anyone in their right mind want to gain weight?!  My work with Intermountain Healthcare rewards its employees who live healthy.  Bonuses are awarded for those who lose, or at the least, maintain their weight.  But there is no reward for employees who gain weight (most likely for obvious reasons).

When I began attempting to gain weight, I wasn’t sure how to do it (correctly).  A woman I worked with told me about the “milk diet” she put her sons on (her sons are Tongan and apparently it’s taboo to be a skinny Tongan).  I decided to give it a shot and proceeded to drink a gallon of whole milk every day for the next 30 days.  By the end, on top of hating myself, cows, and their product, I had put on 15 lbs. and did a decent job hiding the fact that it all went to the same place (not the badonkadonk).

The next method I tried came to me while perusing through a Men’s Health magazine.  I was reading about the diet/exercises Hugh Jackman did to gain weight for his wolverine role.  The only part I took away was “6,000 calorie diet . . . gained 20 lbs. of muscle.”  I obviously don’t think these things through very well.  Over the next month-and-a-half. and bags of chicken, bowls of granola, and cartons of Costco muffins (poppy seed) later, I ONLY put on ten more pounds.

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126 wings. Wing Tuesday at Buffalo Wild Wings fell during the “6,000 calorie” diet. As you can see, 40 wings did not bode well that night.

Within a few more years, I’m where I’m at now – Just with a few more unhealthly habits. I eat until I’m full – whether that takes 2nds, 3rds, or 5ths.  If I don’t have anything ready to eat, I’ll settle for unhealthy snacks (I go to the kitchen expecting to find food, but only find ingredients).  I will commonly eat directly from the bag/container, preventing me from knowing just how much I am eating (at least until the bag is empty, then I know I ate the whole thing).

I came to the conclusion (albeit a long time ago), that proper dieting, along with exercising, need to go together.  So instead of copping out and waiting until New Year’s to begin exercising (everyone knows that’s a bunch of crap), I’ve decided to begin a proper routine with both parts.

As cliche’ as it sounds, I’ve started doing P90X.  As much as I hate Tony Horton’s commentary, I must say that even after three weeks of intense workouts, strict dieting, and sore muscles, I feel fantastic (I will never use the word swoll, nor should anyone else).  I have made a few adjustments to the diet however.  For instance, swordfish is on their fixed menu for tonight.  Has anyone ever tried swordfish who wasn’t on a cruise?  I also can’t bring myself to eat kale, or eat Quinoa (I’m not a hipster or a hippie, I’m an adult).

I have never been one to post casual selfies.  People don’t need pictures of you. If they really love you, they’ll remember what you look like.  But I will post some titillating, unrendered, #nofilter, before-and-after pictures at the end of 90 days.  You can be the judge of whether the program works or if I just wasted my time and money eating swordfish and quinoa.  I gotta stop watching those late night ads.

Talking About Your Mission After Your Mission

 

 

 

 

 

A few days ago, I put out a quick survey for one of my classes.  The purpose of the assignment was to collect information that we could use to prepare a persuasive speech.  The topic I chose concerned the LDS culture and how we talk about missions and unintentionally (hopefully never intentionally) disaffect those who have chosen not to serve or have returned early from a “full-time mission.”  Before I continue, I would like to say that by no means do I think it is a bad thing to talk about a mission and the blessings gained from it.  I just know that there is moderation in all things and sometimes people may tend to overglorify it and rely on their experiences too much rather than continue to create new experiences.

I didn’t expect much of a response after I put the survey out; after all, it was a school survey.  But within a few days, I was overwhelmed as dozens of responses continued to come in.  I asked 6 simple questions with a short, free response at the end (some of the free responses are quoted and interspersed throughout the article).  The answers given were somewhat surprising and disheartening.  Although I didn’t originally intend to share what I collected, I felt that I needed to share the information and hopefully raise awareness to an issue that is likely being caused unintentionally.  These are the following questions I used and the results (at the time of this writing):

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being never, 10 being always), how often does the topic of a mission come up in daily conversation?

How often people consider the topic of a mission to arise in daily conversation

How often people consider the topic of a mission to arise in daily conversation

 

On a scale of 1-10 (1 being never, 10 being always), how often does the topic of a mission come up in church?

How often people consider the topic of a mission to arise on Sundays

How often people consider the topic of a mission to arise on Sundays

Do you know someone who has felt uncomfortable in social situations because they did not serve a mission or returned early?   Yes – 89%  No – 11%

Have you ever been in a social situation where the speaker has asked by a raise of hands who has served a mission?   Yes – 92%  No – 8%

Concerning dating, do you know of someone who will not consider dating another person simply because they did not serve a mission?   Yes – 84%  No – 16%

Do you know people who served a full mission who probably should not have due to their behaviors and attitudes?   Yes – 87%  No – 13%

There is no doubt that the topic of a mission comes up frequently, especially within a highly concentrated LDS population.  The topic arises even more frequently during church as people share experiences from their mission which relate to the lesson. It is easy to begin sharing mission stories and advice that the mission president shared (the advice about having to get married within 6 months of returning is just a poor pick-up line).  When we are in these groups, we need to be mindful of those who have not served by not assuming they know what we’re talking about or making them feel excluded.

“I’m a woman who has been married for two years and the social situations where everyone had served a mission including the other women are getting worse. I feel like I have to change the topic (which is difficult to do) or leave the room. And I have something to prove because I didn’t serve a mission and getting married apparently isn’t on the ‘same level’.”

When we are in large groups and asking others if they have served missions, it can put people on the spot and make them feel uncomfortable if they reply no.  I have attended a number of sacrament meetings, firesides, and devotionals where the speaker has asked by a raise of hands who has served missions (in some instances who has not served a mission).  I attended a family home evening at a local leader’s house at the beginning of a semester when we were getting to know everyone there.  To introduce ourselves, we were asked to give general information about ourselves as well as if we had served a mission or not.  It was noticeable how uncomfortable some people felt responding no after others were responding yes.  In these instances, while there may have been good intentions in asking, there really wasn’t the need to bring up the question.

“I’ve been in many conversations where people have not served missions and have felt very uncomfortable because of the inability to be a part of the conversation. I’ve always tried to change the subject when I realize the exclusion. Just the other day someone asked me “where did you serve your mission?” And then someone asked if I served. I immediately thanked the person who asked me if I served for being sensitive to those who haven’t….even though I did.”

My sister is one of the many who came home early due to medical reasons.  She struggled when she came home and experienced feelings of guilt, regret, and shame; although she had done nothing wrong.  A few weeks after returning, she attended a fireside where the keynote speaker was a collegiate athlete who spoke of his mission.  He spoke very highly of his experiences and kept referring to it as “the best two years.”  My sister left early from the fireside in tears, feeling that she had been robbed of her experience and wouldn’t get to know what those best two years were.  I have an uncle that says “whoever said a mission was the best two years didn’t have a very happy childhood.”  While a mission is filled with wonderful and spiritual experiences, a lot of it was spent in disappointment, getting rejected, spit on, yelled at, and wading through floods.  Not very happy things.

“This actually is more about how MRs treat sisters who did not serve a mission. It really hurts us if you nag in us about our spirituality because we didn’t feel right about serving a mission. It also hurts that some believe that because we don’t serve missions we aren’t good enough to date or aren’t as worthy as other girls because they served missions. We try not to let it show, but due to this, our self esteem, self worth, and confidence have been shot down and some of us don’t see the point of going on dates anymore due to this issue.”

I heard it said once that “a mission is the church’s best kept secret.”  While I was on my mission, I came to understand this phrase after seeing the behavior of other missionaries.  Friends and family have also shared that there were many issues and problems that arose in their missions due to unruly missionaries.  From the survey question asked above, 87% of respondents said that they knew someone who served a mission who probably should not have due to their poor attitudes and behaviors.  What is unfortunate is that back home, many people only see two different kinds of labels: “Returned Missionary,” and “Did Not Serve (or came home early).”  Although someone may have served an “honorable” full-time mission, it in no way means that they served honorably.  Back home, people see them as having served a full two years (or eighteen months) and place them above those who have not served at all or returned early.

The situation for those who have not served or have returned early can be extremely unfortunate as they attempt to move on and focus on finding a worthy spouse they can find happiness with.  84% of those who responded to the survey said that they knew someone who would not consider dating someone because they had not served a mission.  This is very disheartening.  Do you think someone would consider dating a returned missionary if they knew the negative, unruly, and disobedient behavior he/she displayed?  It comes down to labels again.

RM

While the intention is good, some may consider instances like this unintentional labeling

“I think constantly talking about missions like it was the vital thing in life, in front of these men who have not served, makes it harder for them to live the gospel confidently. I do not think people shouldn’t be allowed to talk about their missions but I don’t think it should be over glorified.”

Once again, I don’t want to downplay the importance of serving a mission, because I am grateful I went.  However, now that I have been home for almost four years, I have tried to be more conscious in when it is appropriate to talk about my mission.  I am constantly trying to create positive, spiritual experiences that I can share with others besides simply mission stories.  Remember, no one in the First Presidency served a mission, but does anyone think less of them?  They are always sharing examples which occurred later on in their life.  They are examples we can live by.  My good friend Tori said that “each year of our life can be the best two years.” But only if we make it so.

Go My Favorite Sports Team!

     I didn’t grow up in a household that watched sports.  That’s not to say we didn’t associate with sports.  I did the rotational thing most parents do with their kids as they sign them up for every seasonal sport to find out which one they excel at (for me, it was none of them).  Me and dad would even occasionally go out back and throw the ole’ pigskin around (sorry, back then we still called it a football).  But as far as watching sports went and knowing individual teams, that didn’t happen.  This could have been that besides the Jazz, Utah didn’t have a professional sports team to cheer for (growing up not knowing about the Jazz was too bad since the 90’s were probably their best years with Stockton and Malone, now all that’s left of those players are car dealerships named after them).

     A few year’s ago, Utah got a professional soccer team – Real Salt Lake – which is actually pretty good.  But unless you grew up playing soccer, are a die-hard fanboy, or are from anywhere in the world outside the United States, you can’t really say you’re a soccer fan.  But don’t be fooled every 4 years when the World Cup comes around, every American suddenly becomes soccer fans and it’s all anyone talks about.  It all blows over about a week after it finishes (or when America loses), and not even Tim Howard can stop that.

     There are other sports teams in Utah of course, the kind you got tickets to for getting gold stars in elementary school: the Utah Blaze, Salt Lake Buzz/Stingers/Bees, and the Utah Grizzlies.  Who are they?  It doesn’t matter, let’s move on.

     My first and biggest exposure to sports growing up was probably from NFL Blitz on the Nintendo 64.  Along with Goldeneye and Super Smash Bros., this game stands out as a classic, not only because of its high entertainment value, but also its educational value.

I didn’t gain exposure to many teams since I always chose the Buccaneers (I liked pirates you see).  As I grew up more and watched real football, I began to realize that Blitz wasn’t as informative as I thought.  For instance:

  • You can’t just go tackle someone and do a body slam on them after the play.  It’s illegal apparently.  And less fun.
  • It’s unrealistic to expect a quarterback to throw a 100 yard Hailmary. 
  • Players don’t actually catch on fire when they are “on fire.”

One of my favorite shows is Scrubs (excluding season 9), due to how closely I relate with JD.  One of the running gags is his apathy for sports.  The following clip is pretty much my approach (a bit of language):

Then when I try and talk sports with other people, I mix things up and end up feeling silly:

So now I just learn to keep it to myself.

If the occasion calls for it, I’ll go to someone’s place and watch the big game.  My reaction time is usually a second after everyone else has responded to a call so I can respond accordingly for not knowing what happened.  Odds are though, while everyone is yelling at the TV, I’ll be in the kitchen like “hey, what kind of wings are these?”