[ WARNING: This is a long post that you may not care to read in its entirety. I won't feel bad. ]
Through a comment that Dallin Stephens left on my previous post, I realized that a majority of my outward expressions only make sense when in context.
While this is true of everyone to some degree, I think it is especially true of me in that people that don't know me very well are utterly lost when communicating with me, or believe me to be a really 'random' person. (I HATE the overuse of that word [the link is a little inappropriate, but funny] I mean really? You mean I randomly happened into existence, randomly came to Logan for no reason at all, and randomly interacted with you because of the sheer randomness generated by following the advice of my iPhone app that listens to atmospheric noise and algorithmically determines from a truly random source who I am to talk to? Geeze!)
Nevertheless, to demonstrate, my Swiss friend Marine has a wonderful grasp of the English language and American culture, yet she cannot understand most of what I say. (I don't know why I added that hyperlink, do I have to prove that she's a real person? That she's really from Switzerland? I dunno...) The idea that someone familiar with my native language and culture finding me 'random' or 'unrecognizable' is probably one of the most personally repulsive ideas I can think of.
So, I thought I would attempt to prove that I did not just happen into existence. At right is one of the most complete pictures of me that I can post. By going through my family one at a time, each number corresponding to a little red number in the picture in the order of when they came into the family, and explaining their effect (affect?) on me I will hope to show a little where I come from. Sorry family, this one is about ME.
- My Mother. The one person that will never forget the fact that I didn't just appear one day. My mom taught, loved, disciplined, encouraged, and gave me my view of this whole world by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because of countless conversations with her after church while everyone else was napping that I learned to think deeply about the gospel, and to gain my own testimony of Jesus. It was by her reading the paper and cutting out news, and editorial articles that I learned to care about current events and think critically of the world around me without becoming cynical of that world.
- My dad is the hardest working person I know, and if I know how to work at all it is because of him. Phrases like "try it, you'll like it, its all what you get used to", "take care of it and you'll always have it", "go do this... then come back and see me", and "...get your hands out of your pockets!" have made an indelible impression. More impressively than anything to me is the overwhelming amount of love that my father possesses, that though subtly expressed, drives him to also be unwaveringly obedient, honest, loyal, and penitent. I think the hard worker in my dad did a good job of rubbing off on me, and I'll be lucky if I get the rest by the time I'm his age. I also became a Star Trek fan because I watched it with my dad. From my dad I got to learn about raising livestock, landscaping, tools, construction, how to "savvy", and all those manly things kids with lame dads never got to learn.
- My sister Denise (now McDougal) is the one who taught me how to love art! Any eye that I may have for graphic design (which I LOVE) I got because she taught me how to draw in perspective when I was just 4 or 5 years old. I think I also learned from her the importance of being strong personally so as to be a strength to those around you.
- Kevin has had as profound an impact on my life as anybody in it. I ascribe my sense of humor to him. He is the one who opened my eyes to the fact that I could program computers (not merely play games on them). He is the one who explained my parents to me as a pre-teen so that I could have an awesome relationship with them the rest of my life. He is the one who threw a basketball at me over and over when I was little to toughen me up. He is also the one who shared a room with his dirty little brother until he was 18 (I was 8), took me on dates with him (girl bait? Yes I was.), helped me learn how to work a lathe, a mill, and a drill press, and always let me use his stuff.
- Brenda was my only sibling that I was close enough to in age to have any bit of rivalry. However that only lasted a few years and I think she made a good effort to be my best friend, and because everyone loved "little Stephen" to this day I struggle with competition. Brenda is the sister who somehow convinced me that it was possible that girls could like me (probably mostly by teasing me about them). She, along with Denise, are also the standards by which girls I date are judged. Brenda is the reason I got into singing. I never would have done high school choir without her, and choir has become a main-spring of my whole life. I would even go so far as to say that those who don't sing or appreciate sacred music are culturally separate from myself.
- Who is THAT guy!? Yes, I did have hair once. (Bald is way better: 1. The picture above is a dorky haircut. And 2. Being bald = built in joke/punchline! Who wouldn't want that!?) You may be wondering why this family picture is 9 years old and has floating heads in the margins? Well see, there is a more recent picture taken when I got home from my mission, but I am really tall, and the photographer worried about fitting everybody in the frame made me slouch like a hunchback to fit me in! (only slightly photoshopped...) My parents say they'll take another one when I get married. However, it seems like I'm that jerk who forgets your birthday and then says 'happy birthday' a week later with the consolation that you got to celebrate a whole week instead of just one day: Think of it this way mom and dad, you'll have some cute infant grandkids when you're in your 80's!
- Danny McDougal. Danny has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember! Though he is an 'in-law', it would be a crime to consider him anything but a full-fledged brother. To this day I think he is the only missionary outside my family (at the time) that I every wrote faithfully. Danny was a great example to me of how to be nice to little kids (as he was always nice to me) as well as an example of tenacity and ambition. I have never once seen Danny be anywhere he hasn't made a better place.
- My nephew Patrick. He's 17 years old now! Patrick is a great example to me of how to be gentle, loving, and quietly powerful. Patrick has a learning disability that makes alot of social/educational opportunities hard for him, but he inspires me in that he has the purest heart I have ever known and isn't afraid to let that show.
- My nephew Nathan was born something like 2 months prematurely. Even at that rate he was born with more muscle mass/definition than I have currently. Unlike me, he's a true example of keepin' it real. Although I think the most of my family is quite down to earth, and that is a part of me, I think that is most pronounced in Nathan.
- Julie Newman Nielsen has also been a part of my life since I was just a little boy. Julie was a great example to me of the necessity to have proper etiquette. Her presence in my family also taught me when I was very young that God loves and works through all of His children, that he has a plan for us, and opened my eyes to the difference between true restored religion and godless cultural Mormonism. I never feel cooler spending time with any member of my family than when I hang out with Julie.
- My nephew Tyler. Tyler is the only member of my family that I've been able to be a part of their coming into the church when he asked me to confirm him. Still one of the neatest experiences of my life.
- My nephew Matthew, even as a little guy, he had a sense for style. I can identify with this in that though I love pranks, jokes, and silliness, it must always bear a high degree of class (as demonstrated in the picture of one of my pranks -->)
- My nephew Ryan. Ryan is one of the smartest 9 year olds this world has ever seen. Not surprising given that 50% of his genes comes from my family. I have a habit of thinking I'm pretty smart. That works out for me most of the time.
- Sonny Mortensen. Sonny is my gadget friend in the family. Sonny is has shown me the value of balance in a relationship as I see him work to make my sister happy.
- My niece Arianna was the first to show me that I could buy a child's love with food :-) Arianna was born while I was on my mission, but from the time I got home to when I fed her a snack pack when she was 2 we weren't friends at all. Since that lucky snack pack we've been the best of friends, and lucky for me too, 'cause she is one of the most creative talented people I know.
- My niece Madeline was also born while I was on my mission. She is a great example of getting along, and of loving everything in sight whether its her brothers, her animals, or her uncle.
- My nephew Christian is one cool kid. He is a friend to everybody and truly thinks of how other people are feeling. He loves to play, make up jokes, and make the most of every day.
- My niece Halle is the latest of the nieces. She came with her own personality, but she knows what she wants/likes and what she doesn't, and there isn't much convincing that can be done. I have to say I identify with that.
- The latest member of the family is my nephew Evan. Evan was named after my grandpa (from whom I inherited my haircut) and is already a really funny kid. He loves to say 'no' when he means 'yes', (and I know for sure Brenda never would have let Sonny teach him that)
"Evan are you a good boy? Evan do you want a cookie?"
"No." He says, just to be funny. I can fully appreciate this. It is this dry humor that I also feel like I came to earth with. Evan is a great little chap.
Next time will be lighter, shorter, and less personal.