“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”

Today I had to give a speech of commemoration in my public speaking class.

I decided to speak about the opportunity I had to visit the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany nearly four years ago. I thought I’d share my speech on here and hope that it reminds someone–as it reminded me–to be little more conscious and aware of the difference that each of us makes upon each other, and the love and compassion we can show to others.

We shuffled to the gate—a group of foreigners with a foreign perspective. The mid-July sun was sweltering—and angled in such a way that forced my eyes to battle to find the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” cast into the iron gate that I would soon realize had constrained unconsenting casualties and shackled sore souls in a feud based upon falsehoods. “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work will set you free,” was the first of a repulsive repertoire of lies that had been served alongside unjustice and mistreatment at the very first of the World War II Nazi concentration camps in Dachau, Germany.

Our young group of American teenagers continued through the camp, naïve to the reality that what we were about to experience would age our characters significantly. Our eyes poured over statistics and photographs. We stood in solemn silence as memorials and statues became etched into our hearts and molded into our minds’ memories. These mementos paid tribute to the fallen victims of racism in its most intense form. Men, women, mothers, fathers, children, friends. These precious lives had been taken in a shamefully disgraceful way, but my overflowing heart took comfort in knowing that there would be no shame upon the countenances of these broken souls when grace would one day make them whole.

In that chilling concentration camp were traces of feelings and numbness, growth and defeat, tears, sweat, blood, dirt. Not only were those things experienced by myself and my somber schoolmates, but they had been experienced by thousands before and would be by thousands to come. One particular monument encompassed my emotions as it read, “May the example of those who were exterminated here….because they resisted Nazism… help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”

My shoes crossed over dirt paths and I thought of the thousands of bare and tattered feet that had stumbled across those same places. A group of teenagers bustled past me and I overheard their German dialect. Some were irreverent. Others observant. But, overall, their demeanor did not show the same grave ambiance that resonated from that of a contrasting group. In the distance was a group of teenagers of darker ethnicity. They were carrying an Israeli flag and a sizeable floral wreath as they quietly moved on toward another memorial in the courtyard.

All of the emotions and thoughts I had been having halted for a moment as my subconscious placed me in the experience of each of these starkly different companies. What an antithesis of experiences these two groups of students were having. It was something I couldn’t comprehend, nor imagine.

The Israeli students, the German youth, the Nazis who had traipsed the hallowed grounds, the Jews whose lives had be taken, my fellow classmates, the foreign tourists—all unique backgrounds and circumstances, but with a simple truth to bind us commonly. Each had their own battles of anguish and strife that beat down upon fatigued spirits. Some were visible. Others suppressed. But the history of the war and the accounts of individuals continues and lives on so that each may come to empathize with their fellowmen and, “Live for the defense of [their] peace and freedom.”

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“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”

Musings From McKann

There have been so many different things that have been on my mind in the past few months.

Of course, there’s going to be somewhat of a transition coming home from a mission. But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really feel like it was hard at ALL to come home. I wasn’t awkward (any more than I just already was as a person anyway). I wasn’t freaked out by the real world. I didn’t just always want to do church stuff. I didn’t keep waking up at 6:30 am and going to bed by 10:30 pm. I just didn’t have a hard time returning back to “normal” life.

There’s probably a few reasons for this. But the two that have been the most prominent to me are that, first of all, I’ve never had a hard time with transitions. I couldn’t really tell you why that is. It’s just never been a hard thing. Change is constant, and it is inevitable. So why not enjoy it? And, second of all, I just knew that eventually, my mission would end. And whether that would be a great thing, a horrible thing, or somewhere in between… it was a fact. I accepted that fact the second that I accepted the idea that I would serve.

But, in the midst of all this “not-so-difficult-transition” period, I have had so many wonderful moments of reflection and pensiveness. I feel that one of the great blessings that came from serving a mission and dedicating such an extended period of time to any one activity (let alone such a great a work as sharing the Gospel), is that it seems as though my mind has just gained a greater capacity. It really seems like I’ve been able to think about things more clearly, and with broader perspective than ever before.

Some thoughts, for example:

>>We really don’t understand our potential a lot of the time. I have thought so much about this! We are literally sons and daughters of an omniscient being; an Almighty God. How phenomenal! Do we really believe that? Do we really understand that we have divine DNA? I think that there are moments where we understand this. For me, I feel that when I have total clarity in my mind about a specific subject or issue that I’ve been pondering. It’s almost like I feel like I can see something from beginning to end in a spiritual sense. I don’t necessarily know all the details in the situation, but I can feel peace about it and I understand my role in a situation. There is so much power when we understand our divine heritage.

>>In general, we have expectations for what we want. We have these “ideals” that we’ve set in place of how we want to be treated, or what we want to happen in our lives. But because of a number of different influences (self doubt, culture, social pressures, etc.), we don’t act in harmony with what those desires are. A simple example? Everyone likes to feel loved and appreciated. But for some reason it is seen as awkward or “too forward” when we tell people things we admire about them. I have had so many times where I have debated giving someone a sincere compliment because I didn’t want it to be taken the wrong way. Another example is similar but one that I’ve thought about a lot. Think about just about everyone you know who has criteria for marriage that’s anything similar to “I want to marry my best friend.” I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say this. In fact, I think this is something that most of us say ourselves! But then, when it comes down to it, we won’t date our best friends. Instead we play silly mind games that make dating difficult and discouraging. What stops us from dating our best friends? Social pressures and culture, mostly. And that can be really unfortunate, I think.

>>God answers small prayers. Seriously! That’s one of those things you kind of just have to test out. But I had the simplest experience the other day. I asked Heavenly Father for something that I even classified to Him as “silly.” It was a sincere request, but it felt silly even asking for it. In the clearest, most deliberate way, that simple,”silly” prayer was answered.

>>This world is such a beautiful one and we are so blessed to live on earth. Even the fact that we have oxygen to breathe is a miracle in and of itself. But I’ve spent some time up in the mountains skiing recently, and even if the snow conditions are less than ideal for skiing, I find myself sitting on the lift just in awe and the majesty that is all around me–the divinely handcrafted beauty that I get to intake just because. The beauties of nature aren’t really a necessity for our salvation. But they are definitely a consistent reminder to me of my Supreme Creator and His magnificence.

>>I love people. So much. I think if I could just take weeks and weeks to talk with individuals and learn more about them and what makes them tick, I would never get bored. There have been a few people recently that I’ve been blessed to get to know more personally. And like anything else, the more I know, the less I realize I know. I learn more details about their lives and what makes them who they are… and then, undoubtedly, I leave those conversations with a thirst and a desire to ask more questions and intake more information. And, quite honestly, I think that comes from really caring about those people. People are amazingly fascinating. When you find those people that you just want to learn more and more about, hold onto them for a little while. They aren’t commonplace.

>>I am so blessed. I really am. I think about that on a daily basis.

… And I honestly don’t know where that was all going too much, other than the fact that I haven’t written in a while. And I’ve had some thoughts. And I haven’t put them into formulated sentences.

I guess to sum things up, the past three months have been an adventure. I sometimes wonder if I ever served a mission because it feels like I’ve been home for a LIFETIME. I’ve learned and grown immensely in such a short time–something I definitely did not anticipate before making it home.

Life is so good, folks. Remember that. And more importantly, BELIEVE IT.

Musings From McKann

A Big Week of Firsts

There comes a time in every recent returned missionary’s life where they have to face a lot of realities. One of which is that they literally have nothing in order as far as the world goes. There’s this rosy perception in your last few weeks as a missionary that somehow you’ll come home and all of your carnal affairs will be in order.

… Wrong.

So, because I’ve just now started to get my life somewhat in order, I’ve had a lot of first experiences with certain things.

1. Bought my first Mac.
Granted, that’s not a necessity. Other computers suffice, hopefully. I’ve purchased a computer in the past. But it had terrible issues and was so unreliable that I decided to play it safe and go with a MacBook Pro and I am so very pleased with my decision. #hatersgonnahate

2. Bought my first CAR.
So.. That’s a bigger one in all honesty. I was kind of just flyin’ solo down here in good ‘ole P. Town for a while. Honestly it was really difficult for me to feel a loss of a sense of freedom. You’d think anything would feel free after being bound under specific and intense rules and regulations while a missionary. But I found it to be quite frustrating to have the opportunity to have freedom but no means to do so. Anyway, say hello to my first car!

2005 Volkswagen Jetta. 5 Speed Manual Transmission. Never been in an accident. Super cute.

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3. Today, I went to Shoots with my Nana. (Actually just quick shoutout to Nana. She is the best. Today she took me to get my haircut from my favorite hair stylist, Bethany. She took me to lunch. Then she insisted we go get our nails done. And, even though that’s not super my thing, I was super thankful for her pampering me. Aaaaanyyyywwwaayyyyyy). We were ordering our food and “Hot Garlic Chicken” sounded really good to me. But what was that? A little icon indicating that it was, in fact, “spicy?” … Did I dare? What if I just hated my whole meal after that? What if it was painful to eat? What if I walked out with burning red lips and an upset stomach?

… But GARLIC CHICKEN. It sounded so good.

So, for the first time in my entire life, I intentionally ordered something spicy from a menu in a restaurant.

Big deal people. Really big deal.

A few other less significant firsts for your enjoyment: first time being caught up in my Twitter feed in two weeks, first time missing my Doctrine and Covenants homework because of an intense group project, first time seeing The Count of Monte Cristo musical (actually it was everyone’s first time because it was the world premiere at BYU!), first time hearing this great band called Bear’s Den (look up “Above the Clouds of Pompeii” … thank you Josh Rasmussen), first time seeing a handful of people I haven’t seen since I got back… And many more.

It’s pretty neat that I can just have a whole slew of first time experiences in one week, isn’t it? Man. There’s a heck of a lot to look forward to in this life. So here’s cheers to firsts!

A Big Week of Firsts

Am I Dreaming?

Currently I’m about as relaxed as I have been in a while.

After having a brutal beginning of the week (including 13 hours of school, laundry, minimal sleep, being sick, three midterms, 18 hours of work and about 8 hours of full-out study time in the library), I ventured up to Park City with my Nana and two sisters, Nyia and Gillian. Somehow my Nana is just a miracle worker and she managed to get us free ski passes and an overnight stay at the Canyons Resort, so we’re taking full advantage.

We checked in to our room with a full kitchen, dining room, two bathrooms, and incredibly comfortable beds, and went straight to the outlets. I usually hate shopping, but somehow I managed to find quite a few good finds for my mission, which was a huge relief seeing as I’ve been quite stressed about how I’m possibly going to find eight outfits that are all interchangeable and will last for 18 months. Then, we went to eat at Main Street Pasta & Noodle Co. and it was delicious. BBQ wings, veggie pasta and Santa Fe chicken pizza. And unlimited hot chocolate.

Wrapping up the night, we came back to the hotel and Nyia and Gillian quickly changed into their swimming suits to go enjoy the outdoor heated pool and hot tubs. As is typical, I forgot my swimming suit in my car at home and decided to take a hot bath. Aromatherapy bubble bath with Ed Sheeran on the iHome (provided by the hotel, of course).

Now, I’m sitting in a lovely plush chair next to the fireplace, drinking a steamer in my terrycloth robe, writing a blog post and thinking about a beautiful day on the slopes tomorrow.

Pure bliss. I could get used to this.

Am I Dreaming?