Talk in Church

On July 30 2017, Reilly and I spoke in Church. I’ve decided to post my talk here for posterity.  And kicks. You’ll see that I spent the first third of the talk introducing us, since we are relatively new in our ward. I was pretty lighthearted and included some jokey inflections in my voice. Then I got a little more serious and decided to share more of myself, being just vague enough about my imperfections as well as admitting (vaguely) some of my struggles. If I spoke quickly enough, this talk would have been under 10 minutes, but I applied a nice cadence and switched up tempos throughout, so it ended up being closer to 15 minutes. Enjoy. Or not. 

Good morning. I am May Ryan. My handsome, smart, selfless, and sort of muscley and strong husband is Reilly Ryan. Reilly works at Diamond Fork Jr High in Spanish Fork, teaching 8th grade English. I work at a content and publishing company in Sugarhouse, maintaining a cancer diagnosis app. We’ve been married for five years and we have a 3yr old daughter named Z. We have been in the ward for 7.5 months, and we really love it here.

As more of an introduction, Reilly and I met in a Provo singles ward in August 2011. I was walking home from dinner at a friend’s house and happened upon ward prayer in my neighborhood cul-de-sac. I was new in the ward. Earlier that day at church someone had invited me over for a potluck, but I couldn’t remember where it was, and I wanted to check it out, even though I had just eaten.

While I’m not the most social person and I usually didn’t attend ward prayer, I needed to find out where this potluck was, but not because of the food. I was single, and because I was in a new ward, I had resolved to make myself try harder at getting to know people, even though large groups are intimidating.

I stepped into the crowd and asked a random person about the potluck. She said she didn’t know anything about it, but she pointed and said I could probably ask that bald guy over there. I didn’t see where she had pointed, so I approached the first bald guy I saw. That was Reilly.

We stood in the middle of that cul-de-sac, and I tuned everybody else out to focus on our conversation. I found out that we were both English majors. He graduated from the University of Utah, and I would be graduating that following April from BYU. We chatted about books and movies and music, and I was excited to talk with someone with whom I have so much in common.

Needless to say, Reilly Ryan thwarted my Sunday plans. During our chat, going to the potluck was the furthest thing from my mind. But it couldn’t have ended better.

We got married June 1, 2012. Our daughter Z was born in April 2014, when we were both in the middle of grad school. Our life together has been a marvelous journey so far.

Part of that journey includes speaking to you in church today. Time will tell if this experience ends up being marvelous or not. I’ll try to be optimistic.

In our remarks, Reilly and I will address the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? We will draw upon a talk by Elder L. Whitney Clayton from this past April’s General Conference called, “Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It.” This is a wonderful talk that has helped me focus my thoughts, and I pray that the Spirit will guide my words in their meaning and message.

Elder Clayton begins his talk with the story of the wedding at Cana in John chapter 2. Verses 1-11 read:

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Elder Clayton points out that we recognize this story because it demonstrates Jesus’ power early on. It’s his first miracle. But as in most scripture stories, there can be multiple layers and lessons, and in this story, the lesson we focus on here regarding faith and obedience is in Mary’s instructions to the servants: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Mary’s confidence reminds us of who she is and how she came to give such straightforward direction. Mary is the mother of Jesus. As many parents with their children, Mary knows her son more than anyone. She knows his quirks, his tendencies. She knows that he is sinless, he is perfect. The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 25:3 states, “he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.”

When Mary says to the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,” she’s saying she knows of the Savior’s divinity, his ability to save our souls. She’s saying that He is someone, the only one, we should have faith in.

How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? The fourth Article of Faith says the first principle of the gospel is faith IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Not just general faith. Faith in anything else will not sufficiently equip me to handle today’s seemingly numerous and relentless trials.

What is it about today’s world that makes life so difficult? What present challenges make faith and obedience especially crucial? We have many examples in the Bible and Book of Mormon of people struggling and exercising faith during those earlier dispensations. We have stories from early church history of saints facing different difficulties. We can gain inspiration from reading about all of these experiences. We can liken the principles taught to our lives. We know that we live in a unique time, and since the topic specifies today’s world, I have reflected on the years I have lived on the earth and some of the particular temptations that have tested my faith and obedience.

In the 80s, my dad introduced my mom to the church, and she was baptized when I was 6, and I got baptized when I was 8. I lived most of my childhood during the 80s in Florida, where I had a fascination with fire, and I remember taking books of matches from my house to the nearby playground and gathering kindling to start fires to watch them burn. These were always small fires that I extinguished pretty quickly, and this phase didn’t last very long. I’m not sure, but that was probably because I got caught and got in trouble. I conveniently don’t remember.

In the ’80s also emerged of MTV, which was really enticing with the adding of often spiritually toxic videos to already bad lyrics and a good beat and catchy melody. Media of all types had started to sneak their way into my mind.

The ’90s immersed my teenage and early adulthood years with increased intensity of what I was exposed to in the 80s. More tv, more music, more movies. Peer pressure invading my mind, I learned things I would have never seen or heard about in my home or from my family.

For the most part, I was a very faithful and obedient child and teenager. My parents and church family taught and supported me well. My friends were good and decent and wholesome people. I was a good student, graduating 2nd in my high school class, and I was accepted to BYU. I went to mutual. I went to early morning seminary. I earned my YW in Excellence Award. I kept going to church when my parents went inactive for a time.

It’s so weird to look back at the ‘80s and ‘90s and say these were simpler times, but the 2000s brought the seriousness of adulthood to my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, much less as a career, so I took a detour and moved with friends to New York City. I spent almost 7 years there. The entire world in all its aspects unfolded itself to me in that one place. The accumulation and amplification of every temptation I had been exposed to growing up and more was there. Furthermore in the 2000s was the full unleashing of the internet and the myriad potential ways it could derail someone like me from living the gospel.

There were bad influences in NYC, but I remember most fondly all the goodness it offered, too. I made some of my best friends there. The church is strong there. Members there struggle and fight, probably a lot like members everywhere do. There were times I wavered in my faith, but I always knew the gospel was true, and that my life had purpose. After trying to attend a singles ward for several months, I decided my time would be better served and I would feel more comfortable in a family ward. I served in the nursery. I served as a ward missionary. I also taught early morning seminary for two years. When I was there, serving others kept me on the right path.

And so we come to this decade. We could probably discuss and make a list of ways the world has changed in the last 7-10 years. Elder Clayton, in his talk, tells a story of speaking to a young bishop that spent several hours a week counseling members of his ward. He said, “The problems that members of his ward faced … were those faced by Church members everywhere—issues such as how to establish a happy marriage; struggles with balancing work, family, and Church duties; challenges with the Word of Wisdom, with employment, or with pornography; or trouble gaining peace about a Church policy or historical question they didn’t understand.”

This bishop often advised his ward members to “get back to simple practices of faith, such as studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion.” He said, “Frequently, however, the members’ response to their bishop was one of skepticism: They said, ‘I don’t agree with you, Bishop. We all know those are good things to do. We talk about those things all the time in the Church. But I’m not sure you’re understanding me. What does doing any of those things have to do with the issues I’m facing?’”

That could have been me a number of times in the last 10 years talking to that bishop. I have questions and issues that I wrestle with. Most of the time they are about people I love and their relationship with the Church. My spirituality ebbs and flows, and when I am in the lower moments, it can be hard to know or remember what to do.

Elder Clayton says faith and obedience go hand in hand, that obedience is an act of faith. He says that those who obey in “seemingly little ways are blessed with faith and strength that go far beyond the actual acts of obedience themselves and, in fact, may seem totally unrelated to them. It may seem hard to draw a connection between the basic daily acts of obedience and solutions to the big, complicated problems we face. But they are related.”

Obedience is an act of faith in Christ, and the more we obey, the more we are blessed with faith. The more faith we have, the stronger we are to obey, even in the face of today’s barrage of mega-challenges. Christ can do that for us. He can fortify us. He can save us.

Reflecting upon the story of the wedding of Cana, perhaps the answer to the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? is another question: How do I come to know Christ the way Mary does? To answer that question, I wish I had something deeper than the little things, the “primary answers,” but it’s the little things that are truly profound and lead to growth. They set the foundation for progressing toward keeping higher covenants. Being diligent in my obedience as a child prepared me for many difficulties I faced growing up. Being faithful and obedient now motivate me to keep going to church, remind me to count my blessings, and reassure me the Lord knows my concerns and will provide the answers I need in his time.

“Whatsoever he saith, do it.” To apply that bishop’s counsel of studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion is a lot like pouring water in those stone vessels, not really understanding how that will result in the best wine. That’s where I am right now. If I do these things, I don’t understand how that will resolve my personal struggles. But I do know that these acts of obedience are an exercise of faith in my Savior. These acts will enable me to know him better.

And I believe that the better I know Jesus Christ, the stronger my desire will be to obey his teachings. This is what I was taught as a child; and because we are uncertain and nervous about the world our daughter will grow up in, this is what Reilly and I will continue to teach our family. No matter our struggles, if we can establish little habits of faith, if we can fill the pots with water to the brim, the Lord will somehow touch our lives, perform a true miracle and fortify our souls, and bring out the best in us.

One of Those Situations Where I Absolutely Kill It

A nice young man leads me behind the checkout desk toward the director’s office. I see she’s on the phone, but she waves me in and motions for me to sit down.

I try to tune out her conversation, but I can’t help internalizing an offer to help the person on the other end of the line. At the same time I try to take in details of her office without looking nosy.

She has books, of course. She has big plants. I like that.

She wears an olive green dress. I wear an olive green skirt. I wear brown shoes. She wears brown shoes and brown stockings. Fun coincidence, but I think it’s one of those unspoken connections.

She introduces herself and describes the interview process. She explains what the questions entail and asks if I’m ready to begin. I rub my hands together and say let’s go.

I sort of don’t believe that I rubbed my hands together. But it happened.

She starts out with questions like what do I do for fun, what role do librarians play today, what are my passions.

She asks about my leadership and  teamwork experience. What qualities make a good leader? A good team member?

She asks why I want to pursue a master’s degree in library science.

I elaborate on all the answers to these questions.

My armpits give away my nervousness and adrenaline levels. Thanks a lot, armpits.

As I give examples in my answers and talk in paragraphs, which is something I generally don’t do in everyday conversation because most of the time I talk in sound bites and snide remarks, she nods and gives affirming feedback. This encourages me. I feel I could keep talking.

Throughout our conversation, I catch how her eyes agree with my answers and the momentum I gain carries me through to the end.

She makes me feel as if I’m already a librarian.

We make good time. She says I’m doing a terrific job. She wraps up the interview and asks if I have any questions for her. I listen to her describe the timeline for the different tracks within the program. She talks about getting me involved in networking and conferences and I wonder if I should have worn a darker shirt. A black one, because I can’t stop sweating. The anxiety about sweating makes more sweat. We know how it works.

She said that I seemed really in tune with what the program is about, and that she would strongly or highly recommend me. She says that I seem a perfect fit, and I say it feels pretty good. She’s pleased.

Then I ask her what her favorite part of her career has been.

This is a nice way to end an interview for me because I get to hear someone talk about a career she loves. In this particular situation, we both finish confidently.

Thanks to those who answered polls about whether I should pursue an MLS or an MFA (though the MFA may still be in the future) and about times where I have been a good team member. All of you were extremely helpful.

Thanks to those who have supported me in whatever decisions I make even though it takes me years to make up my mind.

Thanks also to Reilly for taking the day off to drive and give moral support, as well as setting off the alarm at the library where I interviewed by bringing a book from a different library. That was great.

Now, it’s just a matter of waiting to see if I get in. I don’t mind waiting.

We Voted!

He’s wearing purple. I’m wearing red. We aim to confuse.

We didn’t wait longer than 10 minutes in line. We arrived at Orem Elementary School just before 5:30 this evening.

While we stood in line, we talked pretty loudly about some of the headlines we’d seen throughout the day.

We approached the table and our names were the only two Rs on the last page in the R section of the registered voter binder.

The poll worker gave me an electronic card. The machine I used is very different and so much more . . . modern than the machine I used when I voted in NYC. What was this fancy touchscreen? Why didn’t I have to walk into a booth and close a curtain and use all my brute strength to vote?

I spent maybe at least 5 minutes voting/playing with the fancy machine. I watched the ballot print through a little plastic window. I removed my electronic card in time for a poll worker to check a number on the machine I used. Apparently I was the 47th person today to use that machine.

Reilly waited for me just outside the gym/auditorium/second cafeteria where voted.

We ate. We came home. We took a picture.

We feel pretty good.

Booklist Checklist

Well, here’s my course schedule for fall semester:

Course Hrs Class Period Days Course Title
 ENGL 319R  3.0  9:30a – 10:45a  TTh  Writing Poetry
 ENGL 322  3.0  11:00a – 11:50a  MWF  Hist & Criticism of Rhetoric
 ENGL 361  3.0  8:00a – 9:15a  TTh  American Lit 1800 – 1865
 FREN 340  3.0  1:00p – 2:15p  MW  Intro to Literary Analysis
 REL A 327  2.0  10:00a – 10:50a  MW  The Pearl of Great Price

Here’s the weekly layout:

And here are the books I need:

Engl 319R Writing Poetry
Todd Davis and Erin Murphy, eds.  Making Poems: Forty Poems with Commentary by the Poets
Amy Gerstler, EdThe Best American Poetry 2010
Elisabeth Murawski, Zorba’s Daughter
W.S. Merwin.  The Shadow of Sirius
Neil Aitkin, The Lost Country of Sight
Dana Levin, Sky Burial
Tony Hoagland, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty
Nancy Eimers, Oz
Billy Collins.  Horoscopes for the Dead

Eng 322 History of Criticism and Rhetoric
McKee, Robert, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting
Woodruff, Paul, The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched
Aristotle, et al, The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle
Alexander, Gavin, various, Sidney’s The Defence of Poesy and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism
St. Augustine, On Christian Teaching

Eng 361 American Lit 1800-1865
Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written By Himself
Barnum, P.T. The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself
Pratt, Parley P, The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt
Jacobs, Harriet, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Penguin Classics)
Franklin, Benjamin, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography
Davis, Andrew Jackson, The magic staff; an autobiography of Andrew Jackson Davis

Fren 340 Intro to Literary Analysis
Montesquieu, Lettres Persanes
Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
De Troyes, Erec et Enide
Balzac, Le Chef-d’oeuvre Inconnu
Molière, Le Tartuffe ou L’Imposteur

Rel A 327 Pearl of Great Price
God, Scriptures

I love the beginning of the semester because I seriously enjoy feeling both excited and terrified.  Yep.

One week, everybody!

Slow and Steady

That’s what they say wins the race. Or, in the case of Sarah’s dreams, second place. I’ve reinflated my tires. I’ve packed my backpack. It’s only a daytrip, so I didn’t go crazy. In about 20 minutes, I’ll be heading out the door to meet my friend on this side of the GW bridge. Then we’ll go meet the friend who’s picking up the car in Fort Lee, NJ. Less than a mile and a half.

Swim, bike, run. Three little things. Three fun things. It’s going to be a blast.

The water was 74 degrees this morning. That’s room temperature, but in water. And once I get swimming, it’ll be fine.

Here’s the course map. It looks like someone did it with the little WordArt tools. With his eyes closed.

Okay.

I’m nervous and excited. I slept rather poorly last night, and I hope I can get some rest tonight. I don’t know if adrenaline can push me for two hours like that. This is a completely new experience, so we’ll see. If I love this, you know what’s going to happen. Triathlons may be all I talk about for a while.

As for now, I’m nervous. Dang, people.