30 September 2013

Me and Mickey

My bishop asked me if my degree was a Mickey Mouse degree. I promptly said, "No." He then clarified and asked if I'd be able to get a job with it. I quickly gave an emphatic, "Yes!"

Not sure if it was my hope or my pride that responded, but either way I'm grateful that my fears didn't have time to speak up. I know without a doubt that this is where I'm meant to be, doing exactly what I'm supposed to do. Now where that will lead, I have NO clue. But the Spirit has led me here on no uncertain terms, and that gives me all the confidence I need to go forward with faith that Heavenly Father really DOES have a plan for me.

So even if it does turn out to be a Mickey Mouse degree, maybe God means for me to work at Disney World. There are worse futures than the most Magical Place On Earth.

28 September 2013

Warwick

Pronounced "Warrick," not "War-wick"

I was able to meet a friend and his family in Warwick for the day, and we had a blast! He and I were at BYU Nauvoo together in 2006, and I haven't seen him and his wife in about 5 years. They now have two delightful children, and it was so great to finally meet them.

But since I've been told that people just want to see my pictures, I won't bother going into the details of the day. So without further ado:

St. Mary's Parish Church 



 This plaque gives the details of the couple's tomb shown above.


Warwick Castle 



Trebuchet!

One example of the fantastic language used on various signs here.

 One of the walls displayed with bits of the family's extensive collection of armor and weaponry.

A gorgeous piece of furniture... an elaborately hand carved buffet, documented for you, Mom.

View from the mound across the Castle Park 

The mound (right) was the original site of fortification, with a wooden stockade built atop in 1068. A keep was added to the site in the 13th Century if I remember correctly. And well, the rest is history.

 Looking up at the mound

 View from the ramparts down at the Castle Gatehouse and out upon the city, with the tower of St. Mary's showing quite prominently.



It was a bit windy up on top! 

A row of houses built in the 14th and 15th centuries along the River Avon.

River Avon... (Warwick is only about 9 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon

Suffice it to say that I think every child deserves the chance to visit Warwick Castle. It was truly enchanting, with a load of family-friendly activities. And we had some beautiful views that only added to the atmosphere. Hopefully I'll take the time to go back and explore a bit more on my own.

27 September 2013

Member Missionary

Over the past week I've had the opportunity to bring up the church in conversation at least once a day, like high school all over again. People have randomly stopped me on the street several times this week (JWs, non-profits wanting money, students promoting various clubs, etc.) or in the course of serving me as a customer they tell me all about their lives (eg Ian, to name just one). I don't know if I look easy to talk to or easy to target, but either way I'm loving the opportunity to share the gospel; and I can only hope that the rest of my days in the UK, however long they prove to be, will be filled with many more such experiences!

26 September 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like a home.

Tonight I hung up the posters that I had bought on campus this morning. The plain grungy walls were starting to feel like an old, run down hospital ward. These are the posters I bought, of course all color coordinated with the other decorations I inherited and my bedding, because I'm OCD like that.

Van Gogh's "Almond Blossom" ...one of my many favorites from my years of studying art

Among the many things I've inherited from my mother, a love of words is at the top of the list. :) It just wouldn't be my room if I didn't have some inspiring words posted on the walls.

“To dream anything that you want to dream. That's the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed.” -Bernard Edmonds
*I LOVE THIS QUOTE. SO MUCH.*

All by myself

I ventured into the city ALL BY MYSELF today!

I had a meeting with Rosie from Women's Interfaith Network. She's in charge of the art exhibition I'll be helping with in March, so she came all the way up to Birmingham to meet with me and discuss how WIN and WVN might best partner and collaborate. After a lengthy discussion, we decided that we wanted to have a day-long film festival in conjunction with the exhibition...

So it looks like one more awesome opportunity was just born! If the BBC filming "Doctors" in our house wasn't convincing enough, maybe me co-hosting a Film Festival in London will finally prove that I have a remarkably random and slightly ridiculous life! And I LOVE IT!

After my meeting I successfully ran a few errands and explored a bit more. I was completely competent in all my ventures today, until I arrived at the Birmingham New Street train station and had to figure out which train to take. For us Americans who are entirely illiterate when it comes to public transportation, seeing a screen with about 20 trains listed for 12 different platforms, and all of them being for destinations much further away than my two-stop journey, I was utterly lost. This was the only part I hadn't done with the group on Tuesday, because we had gone to a different (and MUCH smaller) station. So I did the sensible thing and asked someone for help, and gratefully he DID help me. PHEW. And now I know, so hopefully next time it won't be so overwhelming. Even so, this little experience didn't diminish the immense satisfaction I felt in finding my way around the city center all by myself!

A Day in the Life

Yesterday I was able to go out with the missionaries for the first time since my mission, and it was just as wonderful as I remember. Truly. It was so frustrating to me not to have missionaries in my ward in St. George, because they were so inaccessible to me. My ward here has FIVE sets of missionaries, two of those being sisters! What great fortune! Needless to say I was thrilled when I saw them at FHE on Monday night and they asked me to attend a lesson with them. They also asked me to play piano for a triple baptism on Saturday evening. haha Some things just don't change that much. But I digress.

The lesson was great; the investigator, Lloyd, is AWESOME. He is ready to make the changes in his life and is trying hard to do so. He's decided to be baptized, and now just has to cross the hurdle of quitting smoking. No doubt it will be HARD, but his faith is mighty and his determination to keep God's commandments is powerful. He prayed at the end of the lesson and asked for the courage to never turn away from God again... such a simple, humble plea that touched my heart deeply.

After the lesson I just didn't want to leave the church quite yet... I think I just wanted to ponder and soak in the Spirit a bit longer, so I stayed and practiced the piano for an hour. It was the first time I've played on an in-tune piano in MONTHS, and it was glorious. "The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me," the Lord said... and I'm glad He did, because that time was holy communion with my Heavenly Father. Thanks to having the gift of the Holy Ghost, I was able to carry that spirit of peace, love, and joy with me throughout the rest of my day, and it was delightful!

I walked into Harborne (first time ever) where I found a bank that would let me open an account, and I just happened to make a new friend in the process. His name is Ian, and he was the banker who helped me. Perhaps he's just very chatty with all of his customers, or maybe it was that I'm American, or possibly I just have one of those personalities that causes strangers to tell me their life story on the spot... but whatever the reason, we talked for about 2 hours. He told me ALL about how he was engaged to a girl from Indiana and she broke his heart; that he's again engaged to a woman who is carrying his first child and due in a few weeks... a little girl they will name Amelie (but call her Millie); that he really doesn't like Americans all that much (um, thanks???), but he completely idolizes Barak Obama; that he does a really good "gay clap," as he called it (which he also demonstrated); etc etc... Needless to say, it was quite an interesting experience. haha 

I walked a bit further to the post office and then the grocery store, and then headed for home. On my walk back I was stopped by Jehovah's Witnesses, and we had a nice little chat. The woman who stopped me was a bit taken back when I told her during the course of the conversation that I was LDS, and even more so when I told her that I'd been a full-time missionary for the church and so I could relate and completely respect what she and her companions were doing. I've learned that when it comes to JWs the most effective tactic is to respect and love them, be thrilled to chat with them, and let the Light of Christ shine through you as you do. I'm not sure what most of them think of Mormons before they meet me, but I'm determined that each one will walk away with a higher opinion, if not grudging respect, of us. I think I succeeded in that yesterday.

On my way home, I stopped at a park to enjoy the scenery and rest my back from the weight of my backpack that I'd been carrying around for hours. I watched the gaggle of geese at the pond, and was thoroughly amused when a mischievous dog being walked without a leash decided to charge the birds, creating a moment of outrageous honking and a flurry of wings as the geese all escaped into the water. The dog, of course, stopped at the water's edge, turned around, and trotted back to the man who was walking him. I was most entertained by home much the dog's chase reminded me of my brothers, for that's exactly what they would've done if they'd been walking near the pond. 

By the time I arrived home I only had a couple hours before I had to leave again... for Institute at the church. The classes this term are Book of Mormon and Eternal Marriage. I'm really grateful to have an Institute at my chapel and so easily accessible to me, because I know that my attendance will be a wonderful blessing in my life! I'm sure I'll have much more to say about Institute and what I'm learning, but suffice it to say, the Spirit is really good at helping me recognize the gaps in my thinking and/or habits. It's not a very comfortable feeling, being constantly schooled by the Spirit... but it IS a very comforting feeling, and I'm grateful for it! I'm also grateful that my Heavenly Father knows me and loves me enough to care about my progression.

25 September 2013

Birthday in Birmingham City Centre

A group of YSA showed me around Brum's City Centre on my first real excursion out. It is quite the eclectic city with architecture ranging from the grand historical stone edifices to the ultra-modern space-age looking buildings. And often times they are right next to each other.

 A beautiful chapel...
...next to the Selfridge building, which is covered in thousands of metal discs...

Now, I obviously prefer the former over the latter, but it was cool to see how Brum is such a unique mix of the two. And it definitely contributes to a sense of a "We've been here awhile, and we're planning on sticking around for a good while longer."


I came across the Aston Villa FC Store... though I need to be careful about who sees me go in there. Apparently being a Villa fan in the heart of Birmingham is a dangerous business.

We had Sushi for lunch, and my mom would be proud of me for having a few pieces, though I will admit they were all vegetarian. It still counts though, right? Then we found some ping pong tables in the middle of the market square... and since a few of the YSA are slightly obsessed with table tennis (and carry around their own paddles), they decided to play for a good long time. At a few points we actually had a crowd gathered to watch, and I realized that this must've been Heavenly Father's way of answering my prayer from that morning... I had asked that we might be able to conduct ourselves in such a way that we might be a light and example to people, and that we would find a way to share the gospel or invite someone that day to Institute. (I had taught FHE the night before about member missionary work and how WE are the ones that need to find people for the missionaries to teach. I gave everyone a mormon.org pass along card and extended the invitation for everyone to take/create just ONE opportunity to give that pass along card away by the end of the week.) Well, after about an hour, a man named Ken came over and started to watch, and then asked if he could play. He ended up being better than any of the YSA, and we had a good time with him. As the game was drawing to a close, I decided we needed to give him a card and invite him to come play table tennis at the church before/after institute. But I didn't know the church address to write it down for him, so I asked Tina if she knew, and she said "I want to give him mine!" So she wrote down all the info on the back of the card, and then as he was getting ready to leave she gave it to him and invited him to come play with the YSA anytime, which he seemed quite pleased about. I don't know if Ken will show up tonight at institute, or if we'll ever see him again. But I was SO grateful that an opportunity presented itself, that we took it, and that we were all there together to witness just how easy it was! That might've been the best part of my entire birthday. :)

After we finished with ping pong, the group walked we to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where I have a meeting tomorrow for that art exhibition I'll be participating in. I was grateful they showed me how to get there because I would've been SO LOST trying to get there on my own tomorrow! And since we were there, we went inside for awhile and looked around. I LOVE museums. I LOVE art. It was a great addition to my day.

We then made our way to the new city library, which is a super funky building. For being a GINORMOUS building, it really doesn't have very many books, which I found a bit surprising. It'll be a great place to hang out or study when I need an escape from campus or home, though. And it has some balconies on the 5th and 7th floors with incredible views of the city!






We didn't leave the library til 7pm, so after that we decided to head home. Of course, we decided to make our route include a brief glimpse of the beautiful Birmingham canals to top off the day. :)


Yep... it's good to be me. And every day I'm finding more reasons to be so grateful that the Lord directed me here to Birmingham. Now let's just hope I survive my trip into the city tomorrow when I'm on my own!

24 September 2013

Scarborough and Cayton Bay, Yorkshire, United Kingdom

I had the chance to go to Yorkshire this past weekend for a YSA (Young Single Adult) Convention, hosted by the York Stake at the LDS chapel in Scarborough. It was a lovely experience meeting some incredible people, attending workshops, going to the beach, being the recipient of so much kindness and generosity (especially from the family we stayed with--The Tomlinsons--and feeling the Spirit in order to receive the necessary personal revelation which I'd been seeking. I'm so grateful to their family for letting us take over their house and their lives for a few days! 

Now I know that the real reason anyone is looking at my blog is in hopes of seeing some photos to satisfy your curiosity and fuel the fire of jealousy... So here are several that help to summarize my 2.5 days in Yorkshire. ;)


View of Scarborough Castle from Cayton Bay (zoomed in, of course) 

 The landscape was absolutely breathtaking while the sun was shining!

These rocks reminded me of the Muppets, or the birthplace of the Grinch.


 A few springs further inland created these shallow streams flowing down the beach towards the ocean.





Around the corner from the Tomlinsons' home there was this little neighborhood park alongside the River Derwent. I wish I'd had a few hours to just go sit and read my scriptures and write in my journal. Sometimes nature has a way of creating its own temple-like atmosphere for us, and this place was one of those undefined sacred spaces calling out to me.



 A perfect little English garden that made me want to come back to Harborne and spend all my time and money turning our backyard into my own version of the perfect English garden. It's been a long time since I've had a garden to tend. But alas, I'm poor in both time and money as a graduate student, so that daydream will have to wait a few more years to resurface.

 On Sunday after lunch, Sister Tomlinson offered to drive me around the ruins of Scarborough Castle and the bay so I could see a bit more before we headed home. I so wish I would've had an opportunity to explore the area a bit, but I guess that just means I'll have to go back!



#myrandomlife

Yesterday a man from BBC came to our house. They want to film some scenes for the British soap opera, "Doctors," in our house... None of my flatmates had ever seen it either, so we took a gander and watched the latest episode... There really aren't words to describe how ridiculous it is, but that just makes it even better! So I thought I'd share the link so everyone (aka Tanner) could enjoy this as much as we did. The director is here right now to make sure they can get all the shots they need using our house. Let's hope they do, because we could earn almost an entire month's rent if they decide to film here!

*Update: They are officially filming here next week! Cheers!*

#nowcloserto30than20

I realized today as I've thought about my previous birthdays that for the past 6 years I've celebrated my birthday in a different state or country...
21-Provo, Utah
22-Mount Sinai, Egypt
23-Cleveland, Mississippi
24-Sylmar, California
25-St. George, Utah
26-Birmingham, United Kingdom
Turning 26 feels relatively insignificant, but maybe it's because no one ever talks about it as a big milestone. And yet, I'm at the beginning of a new adventure that is bound to be a HUGE milestone in my life, whatever happens here. So here's to one more year of random adventures, advancing my education, pursuing my dreams, sharing the gospel, and embracing my quirky life, no matter what the age attached to it!

18 September 2013

I got in!

I was offered a place to sing in the choir of Rob Gardner's Lamb of God musical production, which will be presented by the UK YSA next Easter. I know it will be a commitment of both time and means, but I also know that it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will bless my life forever. The music is inexplicably compelling, and I'm grateful for the chance to study and sing it more in depth. I'm SO excited!


17 September 2013

Settling in

I've been here in Birmingham a few days now, and things are going really well so far!

It feels as if I've spent all my time at the church for various activities: auditions to participate in a special musical presentation next Easter (which you'll hear plenty more about if I get in), Stake Conference, a CES Fireside, Institute Enrollment, and FHE. The church is about 1.5 miles from my house, so just in walking back and forth I've gone about 9 miles in the last 3 days. Not bad, right? I'm proud of my tired little legs so far!

In between all those church activities, I've been unpacking, cleaning, weeding the yard, and getting to know LOTS of new YSA friends. It's been a complete whirlwind, but staying busy has helped me both stay awake during the appropriate daytime hours and just jump into this new adventure of mine with both feet. I have a feeling the whole year is going to be like this, because my calendar is filling up already!

I really am just so grateful to be here, and so thankful for the warm welcome I've been receiving everywhere I go!

11 September 2013

Contact Info

Here's my UK address for the next year! Also, since international calls are super expensive, I have created Skype and Facetime accounts for anyone interested. I'd love to stay in contact with as many as possible! But I also know that life is busy for everyone. I'll try to update my blog as often as possible, so even if you're just mildly curious enough to stalk me but not contact me, I'll try to oblige. :) Of course it's always much more enjoyable to have a 2-way relationship, no? So stay in touch! PLEASE!

Dana Blackburn
130 Poole Crescent
Harborne Birmingham
B17 0PD
United Kingdom

Facetime: danaroo4@gmail.com
Skype: dana.blackburn4

04 September 2013

Shana Tovah!

It's the Jewish New Year today... so Shana Tovah!

When I lived in Jerusalem, this holiday was one of the many I was able to observe and participate in... the city literally shuts down for these high holy days. No public transportation or services, cars are banned from the road (in the Jewish parts of the city), and any businesses owned/operated by Israelis are closed. I found a brief and accurate description of the holiday for those curious souls.

Tonight at sundown marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday that celebrates the start of the Jewish New Year. It ushers in the 10 day period known as the “Days of Awe” or the “Days of Repentance”, which culminates in Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.”

Rosh Hashanah is a festive holiday, celebrated by attending extended synagogue services with special prayers and liturgical songs. The shofar, usually a ram’s horn, is blown multiple times throughout the day, which gives the holiday its other name, the Feast of Trumpets. Traditionally, the shofar announces the beginning of the New Year, the anniversary of the creation of the world as well as G_d’s sovereignty over the universe. It also serves as a spiritual call to reflection and repentance in preparation for the coming Day of Atonement.

Another tradition, known as Tashlikh, (casting off) involves going to a flowing body of water and emptying one’s pockets into the water or casting pieces of stale bread into the water – both are meant to symbolize the casting off of one’s sins. Sweet foods are eaten during meals with family and friends, such as apples and honey, raisin challah, honey cake and pomegranates meant to symbolize hope for a sweet new year.


So go get yourself some challah bread and have yourself a Shana Tovah!

01 September 2013

Patterns of Light

Today our RS lesson was on Light and receiving Revelation. We watched the 3-part Patterns of Light videos, taken from a talk by Elder David A. Bednar in the April 2011 General Conference. The videos are beautifully done, but even more beautiful is the simplicity and plainness with which Elder Bednar is able to teach these Gospel truths.

After each video, we had some great discussion about the principles being taught. Although these principles are not new to me, I definitely felt more illuminated from having examined them all through a microscope and studying them more directly. I suppose since a microscope uses light to help with magnification the analogy is fitting.

These videos are just too beautiful not to share, so enjoy! And hopefully you can feel as enlightened as I did.

Part I: The Light of Christ
video


Part II: Discerning Light
video


Part III: Spirit of Revelation
video


I keep a little nightlight in my bathroom so that when I get up in the middle of the night I don't have to turn on the bright lights and hurt my eyes. Going from total darkness into bright lights can be quite painful actually, so our eyes naturally squint to allow them time to adjust. It occurred to me again during this lesson just how important this adjustment period is for revelation, too. There is a reason why we NEED to learn line upon line, precept upon precept. I thought of Alma the Younger, who saw an angel of God and KNEW the Gospel to be true, and yet still he testified that he fasted and prayed many days in order to know of these things for himself. Saul (aka Paul) saw the Resurrected Christ and was literally BLINDED by the Light for several days... giving his heart and mind time to adjust to the new truths he had learned in a miraculous instant, as well as giving him the opportunity to receive or reject these truths. So even when we do have a spiritual "light switch" moment, our spiritual eyes still have to adjust. We still need time to search, ponder, and pray until our hearts and minds are once again in tune and include the new truths we have just come to know. In other words, we need time to understand. It is one thing to know, and quite another to understand. Therefore, I think the times when we receive spiritual "light switch" moments are often when we need them as a catalyst to open our hearts and minds up to the "sunrise" and "foggy day" revelatory experiences that will most assuredly follow.

Did Joseph Smith see God the Father and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove? Absolutely! He had his "light switch" moment. But I guarantee that the next few years following that experience were full of daily moments of tender mercies, brief glimpses of understanding, continuing prayer and scripture study, sin and repentance, and especially fogginess as to what he should do next. So as glorious as it would be to see God and His Son, and have them tell me their divine plan for my life, I know I would not be nearly as prepared and willing to obey it if I knew it all from the beginning. It would be too daunting, too overwhelming. Sheesh! The next two weeks feel overwhelming enough, I can hardly imagine having to know about the next 5 or 10 or 30 years. So from now on, I'm going to be grateful for my "foggy day"personal revelation... because even though it is foggy, it is personal!