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.

Mormonish

You should have seen me as a youth: reading my scriptures every day, going to seminary, being the stake scripture mastery champion, going to church when my parents were inactive. I was a fine little example of commitment to religion.

Of course, as life went on I wasn’t perfect, but I knew the church was always there in case I wanted to go back.

I’m not perfect. I don’t read my scriptures every day now. Church is a struggle to attend sometimes. At times I find myself rolling my eyes at talks or silently criticizing lessons, though it’s a nice surprise when I enjoy church because of an especially sensitive talk or balanced discussion.

I was very recently Primary president in two different wards, and I still struggled. I wasn’t perfect, but I worked hard at being the best Primary president I could be.

I don’t know. These feelings creep up, and I don’t know what to do.

As of now, we’re not super devout Mormons. We believe all the fundamental Christlike things. I love people, and I want to serve and help them. I want to be an awesome friend, mother, and wife. An awesome May.

It’s a combination of things, really: personal trials, policies, politics, raising our daughter to be able to make good decisions and be a kind person. Asking “What if?” all the time.

Yet we’re sticking around. Why, if there’s so much grief, so much struggle between the spirit and mind? Part of me needs to wait it out. Something’s going to change, and it possibly could be me, and it could be another bunch of things. Part of me needs to have faith for my loved ones.

I’ll push myself. But when it gets hard and I don’t feel like pushing anymore, I might pause until I feel like pushing again. Maybe one of these days the church I thought I believed in so much as a youth can be a church I can fully commit myself to again.

Aron Ralston Was Here

I never have my camera with me for these opportunities. My little flip phone does okay. The lower end of okay, but still okay.

Aron Ralston’s talk was part of the Nuskin convention at UVU this weekend. A friend of mine who works with that company had some extra tickets, so Reilly and I jumped at the chance to hear him speak last night.

Company formalities took up the first hour of the evening: votes for Nuskin’s Got Talent, a Lifetime Achievement Award, recognition of the Gold and Lapis executives. Those familiar with the company know how this business works, their whole culture. Easily, at least 2,000 people filled the seats of the UCCU Center, and one could conclude that nearly all these people matched the network marketing archetype. A giant family all with this personality came to this reunion with loud music and a bright stage almost as bright as the smiles of the crowd, almost as clear as their product-enhanced skin. I felt out of place. I didn’t get the jokes. The whole setting was surreal.

It was worth the wait, though, because Aron Ralston told an incredible story. He cut his hair and wore a suit and tie. We watched the trailer to 127 Hours, we watched a few scenes from the movie during his talk. He shouted and whispered and reenacted scenes of videotaping himself and fidgeted with his prosthetic arm that he helped design. Effective pauses and homage to his mom. Out of body experience where he met his future son. Picture of the 4-year-old son nearly 10 years later. Pictures of him with his friends climbing various mountains around the world. Pictures of him climbing solo, appearing impudent, challenging fate, seeking the same solitude he pursued when that boulder pinned him.  Pictures of him giving back to the community, participating in search and rescue parties and other non-profit organizations.

He recounted that a truly bad day is when you’ll have to drink your own urine. He spoke of turning boulders into opportunities, being grateful to leave the arm behind that held him back. He prayed in the middle of nowhere. He thanked the boulder that he used to break his arm off and ultimately set him free. He described everything well, as if he’s had to tell this story thousands of times. He talked about what matters when death is imminent. He dismissed prestige and achievement and lauded his family.

His appearance at the Nuskin convention seemed fitting. He inspires.

I’ll never go hiking alone.

I haven’t seen the movie or read his book. But hearing him tell his own story live, in person, seems a sufficient primary source.

I Took A 5-hour Nap Yesterday

friend: how is my friend May?
me
: i’m sleeping a lot
friend
: hmmm
why is that?
me
: i guess i’d rather sleep sometimes than be awake
life is easier
friend
: ugh
I’ve been there
but I hate that that’s where you are right now
me
: i get up for work and class
just not much more than that
friend
: oh no
I really hate to hear that
anything in particular weighing on you, or is it just life in general feeling like a slog?
me
: just general
friend
: yeah, I hate to hear that
I mean, I understand
I wish I could help….but you know things will turn around and look brighter soon
me
: yeah
thanks
friend
: I know that’s not encouraging
me
: i don’t really expect it. you’re fine, really

I think I’m still okay. I can have fun chats with friends, and I can be social sometimes.

My dreams are crazy, though.  I told someone I dreamt that Prince died, and I spent much of last week consciously believing he was dead. And I have bizarre French dreams.

I wonder if this semester ending will help at all. There are still a few weeks left.

The sunshine should help. I hope it does.

But for now, it’s bedtime.

Proof I’m Learning Stuff

Well, at least about writing.

I got a paper back tonight. My first of the semester that wasn’t French. It earned an A. Nice surprise, considering I’d written it in a big hurry, pretty much until just before it was due.

A year ago, I don’t think I would have written a first paper – in that manner – that would have done as well.

I’m becoming way too comfortable with procrastination.

Also, I’ve learned just not to write about Jane Austen.

So far, I’ve gotten A’s and A-‘s on French papers.

My first French grammar midterm earned a B+ (89% – so close!), which relieved me. I remember leaving the testing center thinking I’d be perfectly content with a B. The exam ended with writing a short composition about the novel we’re reading. I remember feeling pretty good about the essay. The professor gave me a bonus point for style, with a little comment at the end: “Vous êtes poète!” Also, thank goodness for bonus points, for I  might have dipped down into B- or C range without them.

So, that balances the ridiculous crying I did today. If those good things hadn’t happened, I would have chalked today up as an epic loss. Of course there are worse things.

Thanks for the comforting texts, you. I wish I had a gold star to give.