Thursday, June 30, 2016

Slavery and Sex Trafficking - Thursday Thought #8

I often hear people say, "Slavery ended when Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation." The thing is, slavery didn't die. It went into hiding.

Even today, slavers and the slave trade exist. Hundreds of individuals are ripped from home and family (or even sold from home and family) and turned into the playthings of unscrupulous men and women. The victims of these tragedies are often children.

I have recently grown more aware of this issue thanks to the research others have taken upon themselves and then sent to me. As I've worked to educate myself regarding this issue, I have decided that not speaking up about it would be cause for condemnation.

And so, I share this message with you.

I first began my studies by listening to this podcast.

I know it's twenty minutes long, but at least listen to the first three minutes of it. If you're utterly bored at that point, I give you permission to stop.

Then I visited

I especially researched the 'Join the Fight' section.

And as I worked on this very post, I discovered this campaign.

My challenge today is simple: join the fight.

As for me, I jumped on that Thunderclap and donated ten dollars right from the O.U.R. website. I invite everyone to find whatever way works best for you to help and then do it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Would You REALLY Party If There Was No Tomorrow? - Tuesday Thinkjoust #53

I binge-watched the TV show Community recently. One of the episodes featured fan-favorite character Abed, an aspiring director, attempting to film a scene where his volunteers 'partied like there was no tomorrow.' The joke in this B-plot was that Abed took the phrase too literally. He became more and more frustrated that his actors weren't really dancing like there was a tomorrow, only merely partying like there was a tomorrow, a distinction only Abed seemed to understand.

As I watched this sitcom, I thought about that common phrase and how I'd never considered it in the literal sense. I'm sure I've invited someone to 'party like there's no tomorrow' before, but what if there really wasn't a tomorrow?

Would you party? Or would you spend quality time with your family and friends? Would you try to knock a few things off your bucket list, or would you stay home? Would you write a letter to anyone, or everyone? If everything ended when the clock struck twelve, what would you wish to accomplish with the few hours you have left?

Be sure to comment via the comments section or social media, and you may be featured when I answer my own question(s) next Saturday!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

My Testimony of Christ - Response Saturday #21

Here is the testimony response I received this week.

And here is my own testimony.

I am a man prone to error and fault. I often find myself failing to live up to my standards and ideals, both assumed and self-imposed. I struggle at times to see myself as someone capable of much of anything at all.

But I remember the role of the Savior in my life. He is not just a name or a person or even a concept. He is real, He is invested in me personally, and He is willing to do everything he can to see my success. He took upon Himself my weaknesses, my sins, my mistakes, and my pains, and grants me the chance to erase them all, if I'll only do as He asks. And I'm willing.

I know Christ lives. I know He suffered for me in the garden and on the cross, and I know He continues to guide my life. I have felt his presence and his love time and time again, and I cannot deny them.

My testimony may be least of all. It's hard to impart how integral such a momentous relationship can be in my life. But it is. He is.

I know my Redeemer lives.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How to Connect to Strangers - Thursday Thought #7

While I was working one of my evening shifts, one of the university police officers dropped by the desk to take care of some things. Before I knew it, we'd fallen into a deep and revealing conversation about each other.

We got to know about each other's families. We compared notes regarding the various books we're writing. We chatted about our personal dreams and goals in life. We offered advice according to our confidence in various topics. We spoke about the gospel and its effect on our lives. We got to know each other as people, as individuals, as we exposed ourselves through our thoughts and comments.

It was awesome.

When I first started talking with the officer, we were basically strangers. Oh, we'd seen each other around campus a couple of times, and I'd even had a few conversations with him, but this was the first time I really learned who he was.

This experience got me thinking. The only time in my life when I regularly interacted with strangers on a regular basis was on my two year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Even then, I wasn't necessarily trying to learn everything about these strangers. I had an overt motive to share my message with them, and while that was a good thing, my first few minutes of conversation would be spent looking for specific common ground, as opposed to merely enjoying what came my way from them.

Upon this realization, I decided I needed to start reaching out to people more. I may not be able to have an in-depth conversation with a stranger every day, but when I do meet a stranger, I can at least try to learn something about them, and not just where they're from or what their major is, either. 

Whether it's their dream residence, or why they chose their major, or even what their favorite color is, I need to remember that strangers have a lot to share. So why not ask them?

And just so you know, Officer Wayne Beck truly is just an awesome guy. Don't believe me? Check out what he's doing at his website, which is entirely appropriately named, "Every Encounter Builds Perspective." Thanks, Wayne!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Will You Testify of Christ? - Thinkjoust Tuesday #52

I use the label 'Thinkjoust' here gratuitously. The topic doesn't offer much of a debate per se, but I would like to receive responses, so this week's thinkjoust it is.

When I look at the total sum of every word, phrase, and rhetoric I could offer the world, the possibilities stretch toward the infinite (and if you doubt me, check out this blog post by Randall Munroe). When I go on social media sites like Facebook, I see hundreds of people just talking, sharing the things they think are the most important, whether it's relationship updates, concerns about the current political climate, recommendations for a new product, or just exuberant expressions of emotional ecstasy.

I, too, have this same opportunity, to grab someone's attention for possibly only a few seconds a day. When someone scrolls past my name, what will they think of my thoughts? Will they be inspired? Will they be disgusted? Will they find me inconsequential? Will they respond?

I often forget this, saying things that aren't necessarily important or relevant to me and my goals. When I come to the realization that I've lost my own vision, I like to take a few steps back and again voice what I believe to be the highest priority.

For me, that's testifying of Christ.

I know not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I would guess that most of you are. For this week, I challenge you to testify of Christ in some way, be it through social media, a blog post, or even face-to-face. Tell of your experiences with and love for the Savior and his everlasting grace and mercy.

And then, if you want, share those testimonies with me, whether you copy-paste it into a comment below, or just send me the URL.

I'll be sharing my testimony of the Savior myself this Saturday, after I showcase your responses to this challenge.

Will you take it?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

How I Use My Time (And How I Want to Improve) - Response Saturday #20

This post is in response to this past Tuesday's thinkjoust.

I would argue that I am not a lazy person. Let me break down my average schedule for this past semester.

When I wake up in the morning, I go to my part-time job at Future House Publishing. In the evening, I go to work one of my other two part-time jobs. I 'donate' plasma twice a week. In addition, I work on online coursework, work on creative projects like my novels and this blog, and even throw in some exercise here and there. When I'm finished with all that, I'm afforded a few hours of free time a day.

The question is, what do I do with that free time? Lately, I've been playing video games.

The thing is, I swore off video games for a while there. I started back up this summer because one, all I was doing was working (which meant I was getting burnt out), and two, I wanted to be more informed about narratives in video games, seeing as how becoming a writer in that industry is a possible future career path for me.

The thing is, when I say I use my free time to play video games, I mean all of it. When I'm home, away from work and projects and school, I'm either eating, sleeping, or gaming. That's it.

In the meantime, my impressive stack of books I have yet to read grows instead of shrinking. I've still mastered only one or two chords on my guitar. I haven't figured out how to properly fly a drone yet. I haven't made a YouTube video in months. Except for when I do some one-on-none basketball, I don't go out to appreciate the beautiful summer weather, or take a drive, or do anything physically engaging.

Again, I don't think I'm lazy. But I'm not doing enough with the time I'm given. I can only 'research' video game stories for so long before I'm just wasting time.

So what about all those questions I asked on Tuesday?

Basically, I balance my time between 'working' (which includes my employment(s), my online 'business,' and other responsibilities like school) and video games. As it is, I feel like I have become a slave to routine. I don't do anything because I want to, or because I am reaping true satisfaction from it. Instead, I'm just mindlessly doing the next thing on my check list.

An easy solution would be to take a leaf from Casey's book, but I need modern conveniences for a large variety of reasons, including my work and other things. Sure, what helps me produce blog posts (the internet) may also distract me from improving myself, but the solution may be better time management on my part as opposed to blaming the machine. If I'm being distracted, that's pure user error right there. After all, I know activities that better myself offer the most value in my life.

Either way, the most important thing for me to remember is that life is about living, about loving what you're doing every day. If all I'm doing is working toward goals, always seeking the next 'ending,' then I fail to live in the moment and enjoy what I'm doing. I need to be happy no matter what I haven't accomplished, be it a novel, my education, or even finding a future spouse. I can be happy, right now.

And that's all that matters.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Milky Way Commercials: The Ultimate Mystery - Thursday Thought #6

I don't know if anyone else has thought much about the new* Milky Way commercials, but by the ever-lovin' hair on a llama's rump, I certainly have! There is something bizarre going on in these things!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this:

Let me break down why I'm obsessed with this ad campaign.

Many commercials utilize the concept of 'audience surrogacy' in their campaigns. The idea is that the audience will want to be the character presented in the commercial, and therefore will buy the product the character uses. Examples of this include these two commcercials, which are both part of larger campaigns seeking to resonate with their audience.**

When someone watches these commercials, the advertisers hope to inspire their consumers. "Wow!" we're supposed to think. "That man is so dang desirable/interesting because he uses this shampoo/drinks this alcohol! I want to be like him, so I should do what he's doing!"

So let's go back to the Milky Way commercials.

In them, we meet a colorful cast of characters who are remarkably apathetic. From lumberjacks to tattoo artists, these people frequently fail to accomplish even the most basic of tasks because they were 'eating a Milky Way.' Even poor 'regerts' guy, who may now have gathered a few regerts despite his permanently emboldened claims to the contrary, doesn't seem to care that much about his lamentable fate. I would have gone ballistic.

In the end, however, there is nothing about these incompetent, unaware, self-centered Milky Way fanatics that make me want to be like them. At first glance, it would appear as though the Mars confectionery company has failed to produce an ad campaign that promotes the consumption of their product.

But then again, why have I been buying so many Milky Way bars this past week? 

*My further research suggests that these commercials are actually over a year old. However, I hadn't seen a single one until this past week. Now I've seen hundreds of them, for some reason. New push, old material?

**I am merely using these commercials to make and prove points. I neither endorse nor condone the featured products.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Are You A Slave to Your Time? - Thinkjoust Tuesday #51

Today's thinkjoust was requested by a loyal reader.

The modern era offers us more options to fill our time than ever before. With the internet and other means of instant media, the world can be at our fingertips with only a few keystrokes.

The thing is, it's easy to drown under all these options. While some people make efforts to improve themselves, others find themselves doing things that are easy or unfulfilling. With the high-speed lifestyle most of modern life demands, it's one thing to take a break, but are breaks all we do with our free time?

So, how do you balance your time? Are you master over what you choose to do, or are you a slave to routine? How does technology help you? How does it hinder you? What brings value to your life? Do you feel like you're actually living life, or merely waiting for endings?

Be sure to comment below, and you may be featured in Saturday's post, when I respond and talk about my own habits.

Love ya!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

I Conquer Weakness

This week's past two posts have talked about my lack of perfection and my mistake-making. The conclusion to this mini-arc focuses on how I combat my insecurities and weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

I imagine myself as a monarch over a castle. My best self is kept safe inside the castle walls.

So the gray part is my castle, the green part is grass, and I'm the yellow dot.
I'm ready to defend myself from any weaknesses that want to come in and wreck the place, thus holding back my best self.

Sure enough, before long, I'm attacked by two vices (the purple dots holding cutlasses). Let's say these are pride and anger. I rush to defend myself.

But then two more vices come onto the scene. These guys could be envy and hatred. Fearing the new threat, I rush to answer their assault, leaving pride and anger to attack my right flank.

But before I can do anything about envy and hatred, laziness and greed swoop in from the east. I leap forward, ready to take these new enemies out.

But then, lust and discontent barrel into the fray, and I race past laziness and greed to contend with these new enemies.

But by then, it's too late.

Because I spent so much time jumping from threat to threat, I never fired a single arrow. My defense was useless, and now all of my weaknesses are successfully battering down my best self.

should have taken the time to tackle one weakness at a time. If, instead of racing to the new threat the moment it presented itself, I'd taken aim and gotten rid of the issues currently in front of me, then I might not have become overwhelmed.

Yes, by the time I took out pride, anger, envy, and hatred, the others might have put some sizable dents into my castle. However, the damage they would have ended up doing would have been far less than the entire combined body working together unhindered.

Now let's jump into the real world application.

We all have weaknesses and things that keep us from being our best selves. I have so many, in fact, that I am often overwhelmed by all the work I have to do on myself. Because I get caught up trying to balance so many things at once, I end up doing nothing at all.

So here's my advice.

Pick one thing about yourself that you want to work on. Focus on that one thing for a week. If you're satisfied you made progress, move on to focus on something new. As time goes on, you will find yourself circling back to the first thing you picked. You may not recognize improvement in yourself all at once, but taking things one step at a time will help you continue moving forward, as opposed to being overwhelmed and stagnating.

So get on up top of your castle's ramparts with a bow and a smile, and start picking off your personal goals one by one. I'll be right beside you in my own castle, plugging away myself.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

I Make Mistaeks

As I said on Tuesday, I'm not perfect. And part of not being perfect is making mistaeks.

Mistaeks are things I struggle with. I have a hard time letting them go, if you remember my personality type from the 16 personalities post. As the website states, "[I] define [my] self-esteem by whether [I am] able to live up to [my] ideals, and sometimes ask for criticism more out of insecurity than out of confidence, always wondering what [I] could do better. If [I] fail to meet a goal or to help someone [I] said [I'd] help, [my] self-confidence will undoubtedly plummet."

As an example, I am a very huggy, touchy-feely sort of person who grew up in a household full of huggy, touchy-feely sort of people. Sure, some of us grew out of that, but I didn't. And so I sometimes make a jerkwad of myself when I go in for a hug with a friend I consider close, and they ain't havin' it.

Or other times, I make inappropriate jokes that sounded a whole lot better or even just cleaner inside my head. Sometimes I totally forget that I made a commitment. Other times, I'm just selfish and don't want to give my time of day to people who really need it.

And then I can't stop thinking about what I did wrong. I keep agonizing and sweating over my failures and wishing I didn't make such a fool of myself all the time.

I could go on. The thing is, no matter how many mistaeks I make, I know things are going to turn out all right.

I know this because things have turned out all right before.

So if you're anything like me, and you hate the mistakes you make, don't worry. Through the grace of our Savior, Jesus Christ, there will be nothing left broken or unhealed.

He hasn't left me yet, despite everything.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I Am Not Perfect

Sometimes, when I sit down to write this blog, I worry.

I think it's important to sound authoritative when I write my own personal opinions. Otherwise, I seem unsure of myself, which heavily undermines whatever message I'm sharing.

The thing is, I know I sometimes say things you don't agree with. I know my wording can sometimes be vague or unintentionally confusing. Some blog posts are better than others, and some are just garbage.

This isn't something I just struggle with when blogging, either. I constantly fail to live up to my own expectations and standards. I find my conviction to my personal beliefs threatened every day. I doubt my intelligence, my goodness, my worth. I know I'm selfish with my time and my service. Smiling to myself sometimes feels like a lie.

I say all this to point out that I don't think myself better than you, my readers and fans. If anything, you inspire me to do better, to reach inside and dig out the very best I have, even if I miss the mark and bring up garbage instead.

So, thank you. Thank you for being patient and forgiving when I don't provide what you're seeking. I want to be a better blogger, a better Christian, and above all, just an all-around better person.

I love you--yes, you--and I'll see you Thursday.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

So DOES Christ Tap-Dance? - Response Saturday #19

This week's one response went as follows:

I tend to agree.

As God's children, we are sent down to earth to learn, develop, and grow. Part of that process revolves around learning and assimilating talents. Christ, too, didn't come to the cradle knowing how to speak or walk. He had to learn such things the same way we did.

So, a better question might be, "Has Christ chosen to learn how to Tap-Dance yet?" Because of the nature of the question, we won't find an answer, but we can be assured that, if He so chose, Christ would be one mean tap-dancer. And you know what? Life is short and full of possibilities. Why not go out and learn tap-dancing yourself?

And for the record, if I had to guess, I would say no, He doesn't know how to tap-dance. At least not yet, anyway.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Your Personal Beliefs Are Flawed - Thursday Thought #5

Yes, I'm a Mormon, and yes, I attend a University owned by the Mormons.

We Latter-Day Saints believe in keeping the Sabbath Day holy. This includes refraining from participating in our usual labors. In order to encourage others to avoid their own usual labors, we are encourage to avoid buying things on Sunday. After all, if we go to a restaurant or a store, then we're making someone else go to work when we believe nobody should have to on the Sabbath.

Further interpretation is left up to the individual, and differences sometimes lead to philosophical debates between members. For example, I recently bought something from an on-campus vending machine on Sunday, a frequent habit of mine, and one of my friends claimed I was breaking the Sabbath.

I owe my mentality to my circumstances. I've lived in the freshmen dorms, where eating a Sunday meal at the on-campus cafeteria is both encouraged and expected. The Missionary Training Center feeds their missionaries at a cafeteria, too, and people staff both places each and every day.

As for my friend, I can't say his circumstances. I don't know what paths he's taken to get a different understanding than me.

But that doesn't mean either of us are wrong.

Sometimes, our personal beliefs just don't suit others, no matter how much overlap already exists. The important thing is to respect each other's beliefs. As we learn more about each other, we may even find beliefs we want to call our own.

So, yes. Your personal beliefs are flawed, but that just means they're not perfect. But then again, it's not a competition. Why not work with others to find those flaws?