Please note, I will not admit to whom that message was written.... (;
So here is my essay. I go through phases of loving and hating it. Here we go:
**please note. I think I edited this since the file I have on this computer, but I'm not going to fix it, so please self edit as you read...
The Right Choice
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson has become an overused cliché, however the message and meaning still remain intact, and it is definitely true as I consider the course of my own life. I cannot define one event that has shaped my life, but rather that my life is a single event shaped by an endless multitude of moments. However, if I had to determine the one aspect of my life that has affected my course most, it would undoubtedly be my belief and membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Days Saints. Overall, my beliefs have genuinely acted as a standard for every choice I make on a daily basis. My “Mormon” beliefs do not define me, but affect my view on the world and lifestyle decisions that I have made. While my testimony of my faith affects all decisions I make, there are three big decisions that I made at distinct periods of time in my life, that had pivotal impacts on the person I have become and the person that I will be. The three decisions I’ve made that have played the most significant role in my life so far are: choosing joy, choosing faith, and choosing forgiveness.
The decision to be happy, or to choose joy, was the first of these three “big decisions” in my life. It has had a profound effect on my character, personality, success, and the way that others view me as an individual. “Choosing happiness” as I define it, is just as it sounds. When I face trials and tribulations or when things get frustrating, I step back and look at the positives in all things, and I refuse to give negative thoughts permission to bog down my mind. Some people hear this and think of me as naïve, but please don’t be confused; I do not ignore the problems I have. I have found that is easier to find a way across the river of my struggles with a paradigm based on the view I can obtain from the shore, which is in stark contrast to the hopeless viewpoint I might have while I’m drowning in them. Overall, choosing happiness really just means choosing a positive attitude in spite of tribulation without allowing detrimental negative thoughts to impede my own success.
I made this choice for joy at one of the most degrading, unhappy, and emotional times of any young woman’s life, middle school. While for most of my friends, middle school seemed to be a drama filled, friendship killing, emotional dump, I found perspective that gave me an entirely different experience. Evidently, it’s easy to get caught up in the self pity trend in Middle School. Between all the changes in school, all the changes to the body, and all the changes in hormones, it’s easy to see why Middle Schoolers seem to think everything is the end of the world, from heartache spurned by the end of a two hour relationship to misreading the lunch menu, every mishap in middle school is utterly catastrophic. Rumors spread like destructive wildfire, and any offhand or unintentionally offensive comment is a stab to the back, complete and utter betrayal. Yet, despite the magnitude and gravity of the dastardly situation felt by those involved at the time, most events are forgotten by the end of the week. I remember one specific time, looking around my math class in seventh grade on a regular day and noting any number of girls doodling away in their notebooks, but they all drew the same thing, hearts. Some were broken, some had arrows, some were plain, and some were dark, but they were all hearts nonetheless, and most were surrounded by lyrics to sappy, sad, love songs. In that moment, I began to realize that we are creatures of impatience, we see a good desire, such as love, and make it a core focus in life, never mind all the millions of people in the world, never mind the years we have ahead of us, and never mind that we may only be thirteen years old, we know what we want. When we have it, we draw “happy hearts” with picturesque arrows through them, and when life does not meet our demands, we draw broken hearts surrounded by the lyrics to “Teardrops on My Guitar.”
At this moment, at a young age, I recognized the nature of human beings and our common tendency to seek instant gratification instead of bridling the natural man in each of us to take the harder less traveled path. However, at this age, I wouldn’t have told you all of that, I would have told you, “I have no reason to be sad, and I don’t want to be.” Motivated by all the useless drama around me, I decided to conduct an experiment; I decided to live my name. In middle school and throughout high school, I’ve done my best to “always look up.” I don’t focus on all the less than satisfactory parts of my day, except as a function of my day overall. I take my mother’s advice by “choosing my battles.” I don’t sweat things that I know will be inconsequential within a few days or a few months time. This decision has become a habit that blesses my life on a regular basis, even without my constant effort. Just last week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were hellacious, at home it seemed there was one mishap after another, and as a result, blame was continually misplaced on me. Despite this, each night I went to bed happy, I did not let those events dictate my emotions or productivity for the day, and because of how the remainder of each day played out, I nearly forgot about the struggles I had encountered. I didn’t ignore my feelings or the heartache and frustration I felt at circumstances outside of my control, but rather, I focused on the undeniable reality that my life is a seemingly endless sweet melody composed of all the innumerable blessings I have, whether appreciated or unrecognized. Why would I want to let one accidental distract from or halt such a masterpiece? If my life is a song, I am going to smile while I sing it.
Choosing faith was probably the hardest of the three decisions I’ve chosen to make. Before I explain why, let me take a moment to clarify my meaning. When I say faith, I don’t mean “choosing faith” with respect to choosing to practice a religion, in fact, all three of these decisions are how I‘ve chosen my faith, by applying it into my life. All my life, I have been a tremendous “worry wart.” I can remember in the fourth grade getting on the computer, looking up colleges, checking out scholarship opportunities, checking out SAT taking tips, and overall, trying to figure out how to make my life work. You may consider this memory and scoff, “Alyssa, all that proves is that you are a tremendous nerd, it has nothing to do with being a worry wart.” I can assure you that I was wholeheartedly afraid that I wouldn’t get into college or that I would not having a way to pay for college. I still recall the fear I felt constantly after a traumatic experience in grade school. I never wanted to be alone, I wanted to know that I was safe, and I was afraid at all the infinite possibilities of things that could go wrong. I never liked to use the word afraid or to admit my vulnerability, but this fear seeped into all aspects of my life and began to be a constraint in my progress as an individual: fear of inadequacy, fear of mistakes, and fear of harm or abandonment were constant variables in my thoughts. Luckily, I cherish having a wise woman for a mother. One day, as I was rattling off a list of things that I was worried about, she interrupted my train of worries with a complete paradigm shift. She, with love and tenderness, counseled me , “Alyssa, in the Book of Mormon it says that fear and faith cannot exist in one heart at the same time.” She asked me if I was letting fear and doubt overcome my faith. At that moment, I realized that I had a choice, and I chose faith.
One topic I often mentally wrestle with is still the money issue. Just like in fourth grade, I find myself tirelessly trying to reason out how I can possibly afford to pay for college without parental aid. While I believe in having trust in God, I also believe that to make things work, I must do all that I can, and He will make up the difference. Thus, all summer I work as hard I can as a lifeguard to save up the money I will need for the upcoming school year, I take every shift I can get my hands on and work hard to be the best employee I can be no matter what type of day we are having at the park. I even miss out on family vacations taken in August each year because it is the busiest part of the season and I get more shifts because of all the college kids leaving for school. However, this year I was faced with a great internal conflict when my grandfather called and asked if I would go to Oregon. My grandfather is over eighty years old, which is an age older than either of his parents managed to reach. I cherish time I spend with my grandfather and have been working with him to make scrapbooks of his personal history, so I knew I would really regret not making the sacrifice of hours at work and going with him to Portland. I was a little disheartened upon finding out that the trip was right in that critical time at work, but I decided that this was a priority for me, and I worked as hard as possible while I was in town, and then left the rest up to faith that I would make the money I need to make ends meet this year. Somehow, despite this extra trip I managed to make my summer savings quota. I don’t know where those shifts came from, but I am grateful that I had the faith not to let something so trivial stop me from making fabulous lifelong memories with my grandpa.
Being faithful will never necessarily be simple or effortless, but in my experience, the payoff I’ve received emotionally, physically, and spiritually more than compensates for the effort I put into having faith. As I began to institute a pattern of faith in my life, I was introduced to a scripture that became a sort of stronghold for me in any struggles to walk by faith. The scripture Joshua 1:9 speaks against fear and admonishes us, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage, be not afraid neither be thou dismayed, for the Lord, thy God, is with thee withersoever thou goest.” Due to the steadfast nature of my beliefs, knowing that I am being watched over makes it impossible for me to choose to dwell on doubts, despite their presence in my life. Just as courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it, to me faith does not exist without doubt, but exists when it stands in spite of doubt and exists to overcome doubts. Being faithful in the face of adversity or trial is an enormous and seemingly impossible task, but through simple means it can be accomplished. I access the situations I encounter, make a plan, attempt to make my doubts my strengths, and then I leave things up to faith, knowing that someone else is in control. Above all, I no longer let fear dictate my life.
Finally, the most recent decision I’ve made an effort to apply to my life is the decision to forgive others. As a child, forgiveness came easily and I was always able to let harsh feelings dissipate without much effort. As I have grown older, this has become much harder for me to accomplish with such ease. I would fully think I had forgiven someone, I’d have given my mind justification for the things they had done , and I would think to myself repeatedly, “It doesn’t matter. I’m beyond it. I am bigger than this.” Yet, when I would hear the individuals’ names, they had a negative connotation, I would feel the same outrage I felt at their insolent actions and would try again to let go of the anger I felt. I knew that I should stop holding onto the anger, but I had let it fester for so long, that it had become strong and hard to scrub away.
One such experience occurred as the result of a folly by a childhood friend. She and I had known each other from a young age, but in recent years have not been incredibly close, but we were still friendly, amiable, and made many fond memories, though they were sporadic. Then, tragedy struck in the form of a teenage boy. The boy and I were fairly good friends, and thus, as good friends do, we spent a great deal of our time together. Whispered rumors within our social circle surfaced for the all too quickly jumped to conclusion that we were “a thing.” Slowly, the foundation based on years of friendship I shared with the girl, with whom I had once been so close, began to crumble. She began to treat me harshly and made every interaction we had a competition for the boy’s affection. One night, we had a heart to heart about him and I was overjoyed, we seemed to be at an understanding, all was well. Soon, it was obvious that she had not been totally honest with me. Eventually, I was told in confidence that she was spreading rumors that I had betrayed her, that I had stolen the boy from her, and that I was a terrible friend. I was heartbroken and at a loss. I had no idea how to continue. Should I confront her? Almost immediately after all this happened, the rolling boil of emotions she had had simmered down. She moved on, but how could I when I knew what she had said? I tried to move on countless times without avail, and it was really taking a toll. I felt guilty at my inability to forgive.
Things kept getting worse, soon I was having problems with more than just her. One person after another seemed to do things that were uncalled for or rude, I would never say that the world was “out to get me” in any way, but there was a lot of pressure on my mind and heart. I knew I should have been more than capable to forgive, but attempting in vain to forgive others was just adding to the pile. I finally began to understand that holding onto anger is similar to walking up a mountain and consistently adding bricks to your pack; it creates an unbearable burden. I needed a place to leave my load, to let the anger I felt out of my heart, and to seek peace and supplication. Finally I turned to a scripture I’ve always held near and dear to my heart in Psalms which assures, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain thee, He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.” I prayed until the anger was gone from my heart, I felt an instant release, I felt my mind clear and my troubled angry heart calm.
Since that time, forgiving others has become a little easier for me, but I have had to commit a great amount of effort to it. Originally, I thought that because I chose so long ago to be happy, that this would be enough to overlook other‘s offenses. I would attempt to push away my feelings and tell myself that I was over the circumstance. However, this is like repeatedly pushing snooze on a morning when you just want to sleep in. No matter how many times you push the button, the alarm still goes off until you turn it completely off. The only way I’ve been able to turn off anger and reach a true and lasting peace of mind is through true forgiveness. I reach this forgiveness by putting myself in the place of the person, by praying for aid in my endeavor, and by seeking to love the individual through service. Forgiveness gives peace to the weary mind and calms a pained and troubled heart.
Overall, through different periods of struggle in my life, I have come to three conclusions of the utmost importance to me. It is better to choose happiness than to hold onto sorrow. It is better to yield faith than to fear for tomorrow. It is better to forgive than to hold onto pride, and through each of these choices my life comes alive. These decisions are all layered and dependent on each other, but they really have made me the person I am today and help me to really live my life to the fullest as I enjoy the journey. Perhaps to you these stories seemed trivial, inessential, or without consequence, but these are small brush strokes on the painting of my very individuality, and I know that the messy threads of my life I see now are really just the scraps under an incredible embroidery I’ll view from above. I know that my life is made up of small moments, but they are moments that matter, because I matter. I live my life with happiness, joy, and forgiveness because that’s the best way I know how, and I wish others could feel the joy and love I have for life despite my struggles, to really see things the way I do, and feel the happiness I have. Through all of this I’ve realized that sometimes the hard way now is the easy way down the road. These three choices may be hard to make, but they make it easy for me to enjoy the ride of my life, to chart my own course, and to look on the horizon of coming days with hope and excitement.