Let’s Play Inferences

Facts:
I checked my grades for my religion class on Thursday
Apparently I received a 7/10 on a weekly journal assignment
I reviewed the journal assignment
I sent the professor an email contesting the score
The email may have sounded slightly annoyed, but I tried sounding as nice as possible

The professor’s response:
Ouch… sorry your journal was misgraded… It looks great to me and I have given you three more points. The reason it was marked down is my TA misunderstood what you were doing. It is fine. Press on. I continue to like your creativity…
[Professor]

Conclusions:
Ouch: I may have come across more annoyed than I intended
three more points: My overall journal score is now perfect, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be
TA misunderstood: This does not surprise me, though I’m a big fan of smart and competent TAs
I continue to like your creativity: The entry was relatively creative. Duh.

***

Now it’s your turn! What are your conclusions from these statements?

1. General Conference was great and dreadful in all the expected ways.

2. This week will be insanely busy.

3. I know I should want to get married, but most days, I just don’t feel it.

Have a great week!

Not A Big Deal

dictionary.com:

font

–noun

1. a receptacle, usually of stone, as in a baptistery or church, containing the water used in baptism.
2. a receptacle for holy water; stoup.
3. a productive source: The book is a font of useful tips for travelers.
—–

font1(font)

noun

  • 1 a receptacle in a church for the water used in baptism, typically a freestanding stone structure.
  •  another term for stoup
  • a reservoir for oil in an oil lamp.
  • 2 a fount:they dip down into the font of wisdom

Derivatives

fontal

Pronunciation:/ˈfäntl/

adjective

Origin:

late Old English: from Latin fons, font- ‘spring, fountain’, occurring in the ecclesiastical Latin phrase fons or fontes baptismi ‘baptismal water(s)’

—–

1font

noun \ˈfänt\

Definition:
1a : a receptacle for baptismal water b : a receptacle for holy water c : a receptacle for various liquids
2: source, fountain <a font of information>
font·al adjective
Origin:
Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin font-, fons,from Latin, fountain

First Known Use: before 12th century
—–
However, the Mormon Tabernacle Choirs sings “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

So, I understand what the guy was saying. And the message itself was powerful, because he used the story of the woman at the well and related that Christ told her if she partook of the water then life would spring forth from her, that she, too would be a source of life, because she drank of the living water of Christ. She, too, could become a font. Or fount.

Are they different to you?

It was just a little weird that he approached the talk by focusing on the differences between font and fount, instead of considering that they could actually be variants of the same word. And then implying that those who sing “Come thou font” are singing it wrong.

When I sing it that way, I always think of a fountain, a wellspring, an eternal source.

When I sing it the other way, my thoughts do not change.

*****
I co-taught a lesson today for the Relief Society and Priesthood combined meeting.
I was sort of a sweaty mess.
Hardly anything original came out of my mouth.
But I asked questions.
And people commented. Lots of people. They discussed.
Totally my kind of class.
They were incredible.
And I kept asking questions to guide the discussion and people kept commenting until it was the other teacher’s turn.
And he did a marvelous job. Really, he’s fantastic.
That class strengthened my faith in a lot of things.
And then people came up to me after class were very nice.
And I did what I always do:
“Thanks. And so what are you doing at your benefit concert next week?”
“Thanks. Your comments were really great.”
“Thanks. I was really impressed with the class discussion.”

I often forget that I’m hard-wired for this kind of thing. But then somewhere along the way of each teaching moment you remember that it’s not about you, and it becomes clearer than anything that the class is learning something, and you really feel you can’t take credit for teaching anything at all.

And that’s when the blessings really spring forth.

Senegal Sundays

Whenever I hear the song of a bird
or look at the blue, blue sky
Whenever I feel the rain on my face
or the wind as it rushes by
Whenever I touch a velvet rose
or walk by a lilac tree
I’m glad that I live in the beautiful world
Heavenly Father created for me.

He gave me my eyes that I might see
the color of butterfly wings
He gave me my ears that I might hear
the magical sound of things
He gave me my life, my mind, my heart
I thank him reverently
for all his creations of which I’m a part
Yes, I know Heavenly Father loves me.

Someone played this song on the piano during church yesterday. I cried.

I can’t stop thinking about Senegal. Not that I would want to.

Sundays were special, because that’s when we held church. We were the only group of our kind holding the kind of service our church holds. It was us and a lone family who lives in Dakar, the Smylies. When we’re not there, it’s just the Smylies, in their home. We were glad to spend two Sundays together with them.

The first Sunday was our arrival in Dakar. We agreed to have church in the conference room of the hotel at 2pm, after getting some rest. It was also the first Sunday of the month, which means testimony meeting.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church meeting so small. We sang hymns in French, we prayed in French; we passed the sacrament around the conference table.

Church in French when one doesn’t know the language well takes extra concentration. The rest of the meeting was spent bearing testimonies. I listened hard. People got emotional, and perhaps the more intentional focus helped me to feel the Spirit. I wrote in my journal at the time that the Spirit is stronger in French. I know if I put as much mental and emotional effort into an English church meeting, I could have the same experience. As classmates bore their testimonies, I couldn’t contain my tears. I knew the next five weeks would change me.

We toured Dakar after church. Madame Thompson led us down city streets and past markets and various restaurants. We took pictures and wandered for two hours, dodging occasional vendors and walking through neighborhoods. A little boy gave me a tap cinq.

We ended up in a restaurant where the program paid for the meal. It was a strange meal with strangely plated foods with beef or fish and brown sauce with either rice or millet. It tasted fine, but other people were a little bit squeamish about the meal. I shared some of my rice with Sarah, because the millet with its strange sauce tasted like strangeness. The tv broadcasted lutte, which is a type of wrestling and the most popular sport in Senegal.

Then, the power went out.

The second Sunday was Mother’s Day. The Smylies invited us to their home for church and brunch. They have a piano and we sang hymns with accompaniment. There was a special musical number by Melanie and Stephanie. Stephanie and Spencer gave excellent talks. Brunch was amazing with quiche and scones and fresh fruit and cake and delicious juices. I had been looking forward to it all week. People gathered around the piano and sang hymns. I played with the Smylies’ toddler. Their home was beautiful and clean and they were gracious. I got to speak to them about a common NYC friend, Ned. They love Ned, as everyone does.

This would be last time we’d see the Smylies on our trip. After an hour or so, we shook hands and gave thanks and boarded our trusty white school bus.

We went to an orphanage.

It was Mother’s Day.

We waved and smiled at the kids, and they smiled as us. Sometimes they were shy. We walked through buildings where they slept. Sometimes kids peeked around corners and I waved. I tried to imagine my life without parents, and my heart became heavy.

We stood outside, and a group of children stood facing us, and they taught us a version of “If you’re happy and you know it.” Their rendition uses joy in one’s heart and then shouting “Merci, Dieu” on the last verse. Those children were happy, and they knew they didn’t have to be unhappy, and I wanted for them to have even more happiness. I prayed it for them as I whispered through a tight throat, “Merci, Dieu.”

The following Sunday, the 15th, was our first in Saint-Louis, an old town in northern Senegal. I said the opening prayer for sacrament meeting that day. Don’t ask if I wrote it down and memorized it, because I won’t answer you.

I wrote this in my journal that day, in actual English:

“I’m thinking about capitalism and governments and organizations that promote and educate and encourage. I wonder if any of these institutions wil ever synchronize. I saw a news headline that said that Mitt Romney thinks ‘Obamacare’ will result in a complete government takeover of healthcare. This is such a huge issue in the United States, and elsewhere in the world people struggle with clean water and good schools.

“Schools! Why aren’t all the kids in school and not off the streets? This is a problem everywhere, but when little beggar boys wander around at night asking me for money and/or food, it’s very disheartening.

“How is this trip strengthening my faith? How is it touching my heart? It certainly enrages me in several ways.

“Dinner was lovely. Conversation was fun, though we got gently chided for talking in English.

“I think I’m gaining weight, which is totally lame.

“Another week is over. That’s so hard to believe. Yet, in some ways, I can’t wait to go home.”

Then, in French:

“Where is my heart? What do I love? How do I understand people? How do I devote my life to God?

“I don’t know how to read more quickly. Continue. Persevere. My brain is broken. Please, help me to fix it.”

We spent another Sunday in Saint-Louis, the 22nd. Those in the loop know this date is my birthday. Before sacrament, Madame Thompson announced there would be a “surprise” after church. Professor Lee’s birthday was on the 2nd, and Andrew’s birthday was on the 20th, and there was talk about having a combined birthday party for the May birthdays.

After church we met downstairs in the lobby of the hotel, and Madame Thompson led us into the restaurant, where tables were decorated with confetti and stars and little angel figurines. There were delicious drinks that I know the names of but I do not know how to spell. And then, there was cake. And three candles. And “Joyeux Anniversaire” piped in frosting and Professor Lee, Andrew and I blowing out the candles.

And then the cake was something like tiramisu. I don’t want to say for certain.

After cake, everyone who bought a boubou posed for pictures.

Then we strolled the town for our last Sunday in Saint-Louis.

Also, there was studying for an Anthropology midterm, but we can gloss over that.

Sunday the 29th, we rode a fancy, air-conditioned charter bus from a nice hotel in the middle of nowhere to another nice hotel in Saly, Senegal. (I will tell you another time about the hell-hole hotel in the middle of nowhere prior to the nice hotel in the milieu de nulle part. It was so many types of awesome.)

I took a nap on the bus and woke up with the worst headache ever. I drank some water, and I tried going back to sleep. It hurt so bad I turned my head toward the window and away from my dear friend, Kylie, and cried. Probably for a solid twenty minutes. Then I calmed down and Kylie shared cartoons on her iPod with me.

We arrived at the nicest hotel I have ever, ever, ever, ever stayed. Church was going to be at 6pm, and since it was our last Sunday together, it was also going to be a testimony meeting, in addition to Andrew speaking. Since it was a testimony meeting, and since it was the last one, the culmination of all our experiences in the past month, and since I already had a headache, and since classmates were saying beautiful and touching things and men were crying and I knew them so much better than I did just a month before – their spirits and their hearts – I sobbed the entire meeting.

This did not make my head feel better. At all. However, I was sitting next to Andrew’s wife Rebecca, and I told her I had a headache. That was when she placed her fingers at the base of my skull and applied a moderate, massaging pressure, and I felt instant relief. I had given shoulder rubs to eight or so people on the trip (because that’s how I make friends), and thought nothing of being touched in return, because I know not everyone is touchy, but this was what I needed. Also, Excedrin.

Then Sunday, June 5, I didn’t go to church because I was too busy being on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean. So yesterday was my first Sunday at church back in the United States. I thought about the part of the world I’ve been blessed to see and experience in Senegal. I reflected on its beauty and richness of culture. I brought my French scriptures to church yesterday, and I thought especially of the children and how much God loves them. How they seem to know. I want to keep a deeper, more meaningful focus, and the eyes of the children are my lens. Their innocence, not just in French, not just in Africa. They are the difference I will never forget, happiness unrestrained and nondiscriminating. I spent five Sundays all over Senegal to realize, to see with utmost clarity, that God truly loves us all.

Merci, Dieu.

Options

Sunday night, I texted a friend: “Are you up? I need a familiar voice and funny friend.” So this friend replied, “I am. Let’s talk.”

Before dialing, I tried to untighten my throat and breathe through my tears. Somewhat composed, I called and we talked for a solid half hour. It was coming up on 11pm on the East coast, and it was extremely nice for this friend to give a little time before going to bed.

This friend asked how things were, and I responded with school stuff,  how I want the semester to be over, how overwhelmed I feel. This friend asked if that was all but sympathized with expressing how endless it all seems, with midterms and papers all due at the same time.

Is that all? Yeah, just school frustration.

Have I mentioned my lying tendencies?

Of course it wasn’t all, but what was true was that I did really need a familiar voice and a funny friend. This person fit the bill, and this person was available. This person was happy to let me take advantage of that.

I felt a lot better, and I am very grateful.

Some other good news coming up. Stay tuned.

May’s Guide to A Successful Mormon Sabbath, Part 1

Go to church. It’s remarkable how showing up to meetings can affect your day. It was pretty simple. I texted one of my roommates, asking if she was going to church, would she mind giving me a ride. And she said yes, because Mormons almost always say yes. Once I actually got to church, things were okay. I talked to a few people. A member of the bishopric, whom I’ve never met, sought me out and wanted to test his name guessing skills on me. He got my name right, and I didn’t even let on I was the least bit freaked out. I also took research-type notes during classes, which helped me pay attention. These notes may serve as writing kindle, and that’s always exciting. They asked me to pray, which is always an experience. I even raised my hand and asked a question to progress the discussion in Relief Society. Lest you think my halo returned to its full glow, I duly smirked at a few remarks during classes because they were weird, and I am cynical.

Eat pancakes or other foodstuffs after church when they serve them. I got to sit with a few people I didn’t  know, and I let them talk, and I laughed. I interjected a few snide remarks, and I also may have found another friend with whom to watch television. Food is the great equalizer, the main unifier in this culture. It meets a major temporal need so we can address the more important spiritual hunger which we all have. Sometimes during these opportunities people discover how funny I can be. I can be pretty dang hilarious.

Listen to classical music. This can apply to any day of the week, but it’s especially conducive to pleasant Sabbaths. I was blasting Respighi while getting dressed in the morning, and I played him after church.

Banter with home teachers. It’s pretty easy to joke with guys.

Spend time with roommates. My roommates are actually pretty cool people. We share stories and we laugh, and I nearly forgot how much drama is built in to the lives of traditional college students. It’s better than, say, Jersey Shore or the Hills. I was actually privy to some information that included the words that “[someone] was sleeping with [someone else] who [that someone] wasn’t even dating.” And better yet, the relationship between those two was so … tacitly unbreachable? I know this isn’t Sabbath-appropriate content, but the cognitive dissonance made me drool. It was so absurd yet plausible. I didn’t quite know how to react, so I didn’t do anything. Oh, I also played a game of Scum with them after we got home. That seems apropos to this context.

Find lost things. Your own personal parable of the lost sheep, right? I’ve been looking for a certain pair of hiking shorts for over a week. Between blasting Respighi and Scum, I found my shorts, and then I immediately removed the skirt I was wearing and put the shorts on. I may never remove them.

Read uplifting stuff. After playing Scum with the roommates, I took Lectures on Faith outside to a bench and read for an hour. This is mostly because they blast the air conditioning in my apartment, and the temperature is quite pleasant in the shade even when it’s 98 degrees outside. I also took my iPod and streamed a short classical music playlist as I read. I would have read for longer, but the sprinklers came on. I usually don’t bring books into the shower, and this was a lot like that scenario.

Attend praying functions. They affectionately call it “ward stare.” We socialize a bit, we sing, we become edified, we pray. Some people flirt. Par for the course. I was able to opine on my R-rated movie watching policy to someone there. Which was neat. In the corner of my eye I saw a guy sitting alone to my left seeming to fidget with his phone. I couldn’t tell whether he was waiting to talk to me or was truly flying solo, because he’s a very popular guy, always talking to somebody, always with a girl at either elbow. Regardless, I wasn’t going for it.

Oompa Loompas. After I prayed with my ward, I jumped in a friend’s car to watch her sister’s apartment introduce themselves to their ward. They dressed in muumuus and performed the Oompa Loompa dance from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was pretty brilliant, as I hadn’t really ever seen anything quite like it. Their ward received the show very well, and I don’t think they’ll have a problem remembering who those girls are.  The singing and praying were nice, too.

Leftovers. Having food you may not have to cook is an important part of May’s Mormon Sabbath. I like to minimize physical labor. I didn’t have to cook the pancakes from earlier. Eating is one of my most refined skills. And actual cooking  is not a normal Sunday activity for me. But if heating up some rice is all one has to do to eat with leftover Thai curry, that’s fine.

Cookies make a meal. I ate one.

Have friends inadvertently call you boring. It puts things in perspective. And it makes them laugh. I really like it when my friends laugh.

Because my Sabbath was so relaxing, I stayed relatively calm when I discovered I lost the memory card with all my footage of Chicken and Pig.

Today, however, I sort of feel like weeping.

I guess that’s next week’s lost sheep.

Sucky Sonnet Sunday

I sit in a chair where my desk is strong
My mind turns its gears all the day long
This isn’t as smart as it seems to be
My mind needs focus, tied to this oak tree

I slump at this desk that keeps me stable
My heart is willing, but weak and unable
This isn’t as smart or elementary
Untether my heart, it longs to be free

I sit, I cry, I laugh, I stand, I breathe
One day I rejoice, and the next day I seethe
I want to be grounded to certainty
I need to fly high with nothing to see

The mind will always struggle with the heart
I’d cease to exist if they tore apart.

Before My Sunday Nap

Yawn.

Stretch.

Oh, Sunday. How I love thee and those quiet afternoons which beckon me like a righteous siren to slumber. Naps are nice.

So I have this talk that I gave about three weeks ago. Speaking in church makes me very nervous, and so I wrote the whole thing out. It’s maybe 5 minutes long, there’s no room for tangents or anecdotes; I had in mind that the other seminary teachers were speaking, and I wanted to keep it short. I tried choosing my words carefully, and I tried staying true to the topic, which was the blessings of seminary and regular scripture study. I gave the talk, I sat down, I let it alone. I wondered if it helped people. It was the day we turned our clocks ahead, so that made me nervous. I don’t know.

I’ve been thinking about it since. Some friends have wanted me to deliver this talk because they weren’t able to attend that meeting. And then some things are popping up in seminary that contradict what I presented in my talk. And it’s not like none of that is my fault. I can’t talk about it here. The only people who should take part in this discussion are my seminary class.

Anyway, I haven’t yet been able to read this talk to my friends. And I’ve been thinking about just posting it here, because this is where my writing goes to settle down and sometimes rest. My writing likes napping, too. But I like my friends, and I wonder if they’d feel jilted if I didn’t read it to them. I mean, other things have come up; a good time to be spiritual outside of church hasn’t presented itself. But it’s not like we couldn’t create that kind of situation, either. But, it’s not like the talk was anything new or profound. Still, it did come from my heart.

I think I’ll just let it be.

Today has been quite fabulous. Church every Sunday just brings it. The social interaction is nice, but it’s good to discuss deep and important and spiritual things. The learning and growing and nurturing of our souls that goes on is incredible. The friends I have who share the same beliefs are a tremendous support.

And, maybe today, I talked to more guys than girls, but the deeper dialogue was with the women. And they’re women who are funny and charming and so intelligent it’s ridiculous, and I totally want to be them because they inspire and stimulate my brain and I feel … twinkled just by being around them.

It was fun sitting between the guys during Sunday school, though. For some reason that helps when that happens every once in a while.

So, as you know, I was sick last week. This week, I have a residual, persistent cough. This happens often after having a cold or some other respiratory infection. Then a couple of weeks later, I’ll still be coughing, more out of habit than a result of being ill.

So maybe this cough that’s become second nature can be likened to my gospel behavior. Maybe circumstances are such that I have to do this unpleasant thing, but it’s a purgatory thing, ultimately beneficial. And then I find I’m still doing this thing, involuntarily, subconsciously, because it’s what I’ve constantly been doing for weeks.

But then again, sometimes, I want to be more deliberate about it. But sometimes, it happens – out of my control, and it’s just better that way.

Just like this nap I’m about to take.