Sunday, August 21, 2011

alright, alright, alright, hey!

After South Africa I began the long trek home. 22 hours of travel is longer than any human should ever be forced to endure. I got home with enough time to unpack, do laundry, sleep, repack, and sleep a little bit more. Then I was off to Virginia for three weeks of efy. Eventually I was offered one last session in Amherst, Massachusetts making it one full month of efy madness.

EFY is an acronym that stands for Especially for Youth, and it is a week long summer program for youth ages 14-18 that focuses on uplifting participants based of the doctrines of the gospel as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Basically we take a group of kids each week starting on Monday and sing, dance, teach, testify, and play all week long. Then we return them to their parents on Saturday with new friends, new perspective, and strengthened testimonies. It's a miracle program. I attended in 2004 and 2005 as a youth and started the counselor gig last summer. I liked it so much that I went back for more.

This year the theme was "Believe. Hope. Endure." It is difficult to regurgitate all the wonderful messages that were shared over the weeks, so forgive me for not trying. I will simply say that I am so grateful for opportunities to serve and forget myself. I know that as I make it a priority to assist others and fill their needs the Lord takes care of me.

Highlights of efy month:

  • Happy Birfday Amurica Orientation Dance!
  • Jared, the boy who was just old enough to make the age cut. He taught me not to take life too seriously
  • Having my girls bolt across the field, screaming my name just to come give me a hi-five
  • My kids referring to themselves as Jar-ites
  • Jowling every Wednesday night
  • Seeking the good
  • Secret service for fellow counselors
  • Someone re-rewriting the words from "Jar of Hearts" to "Jari of One Heart"
  • Offering a challenge and not thinking it would be a huge deal, then finding out it changed things for someone: Pray to know the Book of Mormon is true, I promise you'll get an answer
  • Sharing dreams
  • Celebrating random holidays every day
  • Stop and stare flash mobs at dances
  • Remembering how awkward it is to be a teenager
  • Finding out that a girl has a balloon balloons are falling from the sky
  • Adele karaoke, followed by Taylor Swift karaoke
  • Having the company name "Pass the Immortality"
  • Having prayers answered by the service of others. A specific thank you to Jenna Aldridge, Michelle Walker, Kristen Ford, and Esther Harsh. You women amaze and inspire me.
  • My kids telling me that I would be the coolest mom ever...still haven't decided how I feel about that comment
  • Making up a new ridiculous dance move, and having people incorporate it. By next summer the Bernie will be out and the Jari will be in!
  • Counselor slide shows
  • Finding a roommate and new friends for Utah
  • Being reunited with people from Southeast
  • Finding a sauce packet from Taco Bell that said "roadtrip" while on a roadtrip
  • At testimony meeting when kids say things like "Normally when I feel the spirit I get a warm fuzzy feeling, but right now it's like a giant teddy bear giving me CPR."

I loved every single person that I worked with and every participant I worked for. I am so grateful for your examples, for your patience, for your friendship, and for your spirit. If any of your are reading I want you to know that I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I know it is true. I know the Book of Mormon testifies of Christ and as you read it your relationship with your Savior will grow and you will feel loved. I know that Heavenly Father knows us perfectly. I know that he understands our full potential and offers guidance and direction as we strive to reach it. I know that as we work to keep commandments and hold true to our standards that we receive blessings, even if we cannot see them at the time. It is my prayer that you will each remember that you are a Child of God with divine potential and purpose. Have faith and believe in Christ. Exercise hope through the atonement of Christ, with an expectation that as you do what is right and repent when needed that you will receive every promised blessing. And as trials and afflictions come remember to endure them with humility and patience.

efy, you're just great! Thank you for a splendid summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Cirlce of Life

I love the Lion King. My sister and I even had matching Simba and Nala t-shirts when we were little; we wore them to do our Barbie Workout exercise video...but that's another story. The only reason I mention the Lion King is because there will probably be a shameless reference to that movie somewhere in this post. I thought you should be prepared.

So with with that said, I give you my trip to Kruger National Park:

My mom and brother came to South Africa to tour around a little before I had to return home. The Kruger National Park was top on our list. This park is big. Really big. 7,523 square miles big to be exact. We were only able to see a small part of it; but even so we were introduced to some of the greatest beauties of my life.

Whenever I say the word "safari" I assume that your minds will conjure images of big trucks and men in hats, khaki shorts, and long socks; and those tour options are available. However, the majority of our trip was spent in our own car driving down whichever road caught our fancy, and hoping that we would see something wild or exotic as we went.

We were royally fortunate.

I do not have the time to recount each wonder that we were a part of. I will focus on the highlight of our trip instead. On our third day after hours of driving and seeing nothing but trees, rocks, and impala the frustrations of being in a car with the same company were beginning to take a toll. We were nearing our destination for that evening and it seemed as though we wouldn't see much before that point. Then an old man drove past and motioned for us to roll down our window, he told us that up the road were three lionesses hunting.

We hadn't seen a single lion yet and the news alone was enough to change our mood, and fill us with new excitement. Another three minutes of driving and we saw the first lioness on our left side. She was close enough that if I really wanted to I could have thrown my muffin out the window and hit her, and I have terrible aim. She was strong, focused, and absolutely captivating. Every muscle in her body was tense and every move she made calculated. For me the most impressive thing was to watch her walk. I instantly understood why lions are considered royalty. She walked with power and command. She knew her purpose and nothing could distract her.

Eventually we left her and drove up a little further to find the game she was pursuing. Our hope was that if we were patient enough we may be audience to the grand event, the chase. Another few minutes passed before second lioness appeared on our right. She was equally as determined as the first. The row of cars were not to annoy her, in fact she used their camouflage to her advantage. Slowly and meditatively she made a large circle around until she was facing the unknowing zebras from the opposite side of her partner. She kept low to the ground using her surroundings to hide herself. Her movements we so quick and perfect that if you blinked you would lose sight of her.

All that was left to do was wait. The row of cars had turned off their engines, the cameras had stopped flashing, everything was silent. The anticipation was tangible. Then it came, the roar. You think it would sound familiar after all those discovery channel specials, but it didn't. I can't even explain the sound. It pricked my heart more than it did my ears. It was the part that lingered as the scene in front of me became a blur. The zebras reared and bolted with the lioness at their heels. In a matter of seconds their direction led them to a small valley which concealed them from our sight. A sort of gurgling sound followed, confirming their death, and the end of the chase.

It was an emotional experience. One that all of us felt the need to retell over and over in different ways before our minds and hearts had fully processed it. For me the roar is still the part that stirs me most, the signal that the chase had begun. It was issued with a type of confidence and tenacity that I was unfamiliar with. There was no doubt that she would kill, but even so it wasn't a violent or hateful sound like a war-cry. It was just bold confidence that filled the space.

The next night was our last in the park, and I found myself sitting outside wrapped up in a blanket thinking about all the different things I had seen and been a part of. Not just on the trip, but in my time in South Africa on the whole.

(Now is where I shamelessly incorporate Disney into my life) As I was sitting out there I noticed that Pumba was wrong in his description of the night sky in Africa. It is not bluish-black. It is utterly and completely black. The darkness of it made the stars seem brighter. The stars are different as well. I started by looking at just one star; and at first I thought it was an airplane because it was blinking so frequently. Not so. The stars in Africa don't just shimmer, they truly twinkle just like the song says. I have admired many different night skies, but this was drastically different. I didn't even realize that such a sky could exist outside of music, movies, or literature.

It was a little overwhelming to be surrounded my so much beauty. Especially when my next thought came in the voice of Mufasa:

"You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become."

Try putting that phrase to context in your own life, it's a little trippy and disheartening. But, as I was coming to the end of my grand adventure it was nice to be reminded that I have so much potential to be great. I don't have time to be distracted and forget who I am or what I am capable of becoming.

So in that moment I decided that I want to be like Simba after his glorious self-actualization when he's running through the desert to claim his rightful place and destiny...a choir singing me on wouldn't be too bad either.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I can be alone, I can watch a sunset on my own

A little history: I've never been someone who enjoys being alone. Even when I'm furious or annoyed with everyone around me I'd still much rather have them near me than be alone. Vacation is a time when I particularly hate being alone and have passed up tons of opportunities to visit interesting places or do exciting things for the simple fact that I would have to do them alone.

But, there comes a time in everyone's life when they must face their fears. Considering that from the moment I stepped foot in South Africa the number one question everyone asked was when I would be visiting Kruger or Cape Town I decided that my time had come, and off to Cape Town I went.

Wednesday (way back on June 15th) was my last day as an intern and I celebrated by staying up late watching movies with friends before catching a 6 am flight the next morning. A wise decision? Probably not. Do I regret it? Definitely not. After waking up slightly later than planned and running into some slow gas station attendants we made it the airport in enough time for me to run through security and reach my gate as the last person on board. I slept the whole flight with my head cradled on the shoulder of the person next to me. I love that air travelers are nice to strangers, and don't say anything when my sleeping habits invade their personal space.

Christine's son, Andre, and his family live in Cape Town and were nice enough to let me stay with them while I was there. They drove me around, took me to see old cannons, introduced me to new movies, fed me well, and kept me giggling the whole weekend. I could go on and on about how much I loved this family, but the point of this post is that I went on vacation alone. So let's fast forward to that part.

Have you ever heard of "Red Bus Tours?" I became well acquainted with them. Being that I didn't have my own mode of transportation I hopped on the big, red, Ms. Frizzle looking vehicle and turned my life over to their tour savvy ways. The top attraction on my list was Table Mountain, and I knew I had to get there when the weather was in my favor, which seemed a little tricky on that blustery day. However, the heavens were kind to me and I was granted a couple hours of sunlit exploration at the top of the mountain. I felt like Maria from the Sound of Music skipping about (and yes, singing) as I took in the incredible beauty of this earth. To be completely honest there aren't adequate words to tell you what it felt like to experience each scene as I walked along. "Majestic" only somewhat describes it. One of my favorite things about being up there was that as the wind brought in fog it felt like I was being whisked away to a mystical and somewhat eerie land. I only let myself bask in that Narnia-esque fantasy for a little bit before I decided I should get back on the cable car before the weather got really bad and I was left to walk down instead.

The next stop for the bus surprised me. Out of nowhere I was at this gorgeous beach front with Table Mountain standing there as my backdrop. I had other places that I wanted to see, but my Floridian heart couldn't say no to sand and salt water just sitting there begging to be explored. The water was disgustingly cold, but there were plenty of rocks I could stand on which let me get close enough without actually having to touch the icy stuff. There are few sounds in the world that I find as soothing as crashing waves, so I just sat there for a while listening and day dreaming. Nothing truly special happened there, I just felt completely at home, which is a nice feeling when you are actually 7855.8 miles (or 12642.6 kilometers) from home.

From there I went to St. George's Cathedral. When I first got there I saw a sign directing to the courtyard and the labyrinth. If you are anything like me the word labyrinth brings with it images of David Bowie with a super mullet, muppets, and songs about dancing babies. I was completely confused about why a labyrinth was in a church and I was intrigued. When I got to the courtyard all I found was a cobblestone floor that had used different color stones to trace out a labyrinth in the center. I decided to see if I could find my way to the heart of the maze, and started walking. It was interesting how meditative that walk was. My thoughts were focused and prayerful, which was something my mind had been lacking in the weeks prior. I found out later that walking a labyrinth in that manner is called praying with your feet. One of the happiest discoveries of my life.

By this point in my day I was tuckered out, which is a bad choice when you are walking around aimlessly in an unknown area. I took random bus stops, bought way too much merchandise at terrible prices from a sweet old lady in the market who won my heart, and I made friends with a man named David then fell asleep mid conversation with him, oops.

I ended everything with a fish dinner while looking out on the water and listening to a group of men sing and play drums on the street.

Moral of the story: I can have fun all by myself, and now nothing can stop me!

[cue cutesy girl-power music and fade to black]