Hi guys! Many of you know I have dabbled in writing over the years and participate in Nanowrimo each year. Of course, I also love movies and especially a well written script. Well, today I had the cool experience today where I got to interview Melissa Leilani and find out what it is like to be a screenwriter. She was the main writer for a film I loved in 2015 called Freetown.
Freetown is a faith-based film but one that is approachable to anyone. It tells the story of a man who must smuggle 6 missionaries out of Liberia during their brutal civil war. Things are tense and Brother Abubakar is a man of practical faith mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism. It makes him a very compelling character.
What I really appreciated about Freetown is that it told a compelling story and let the messsaging take care of itself. Unlike many faith based films (that I still find some value in) I didn’t feel it was preachy or forcing a message upon me. In fact, my friend Yusuf who is Muslim liked the film as much as I did.
Here are both of our reviews:
I think you might find it interesting to watch the film and then listen to the interview about her experience. However, I also think it will be interesting if you are just interested in screenwriting or writing in general. It was really cool to hear about her process, the research that went into the film and how she approached characters and faith.
We do get off topic a few times (we have very similar movie and theater taste!) but it was a lot of fun for me. She has a theater background so her transition from playwright to screenwriter was very interesting.
Anyway, this is only the 3rd interview I have done, so if you have any feedback that would be great. I hope you enjoy it.
I have lots of different readers who enjoy my posts for different reasons. I love every last one of you! This is a religious post probably best suited for my Mormon readers but hopefully encouraging to anyone of faith. If religion isn’t your thing don’t worry will be posting about your favorite topic soon. It’s a huge part of my life so it will come up on the blog from time to time. Love you!
Lately I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my mission. This year marks 10 years since I came home which has given me pause to think about the decade which has come and gone. Plus, I recently played host to my favorite companion Julia Graves and spent time with a sister who also served around my time Lisa Luddington. We’ve shared stories and looked back on all we learned during those very intense 20 months (I extended).
Today I went to a homecoming for a friend and it touched my heart to see how strong she has become. I hope she can keep that strength and faith for a decade as I have striven to do however imperfectly.
As I’ve been thinking about my mission I realized something special it taught me I hadn’t put my finger on before. It taught me how to deal with the loneliness of faith.
Let me explain. There was a time on the mission I was given a companion who was bi-polar and thought that a mission would cure her mental illness. When it obviously didn’t she took her anger out on me and was emotionally and verbally abusive. I was berated as the worst missionary, ugly, stupid, inept, you name it. Then she would go days with the silent treatment which was better but hard when you have to spend 24 hours a day with a person.
It was an especially hard time because I was trying so hard to be a good trainer and obedient. We were opening a new area to sisters so I didn’t know anybody and we were far away from the mission home. On LDS missions you are not allowed to call home, just weekly letters (although my parents did send me flowers. Love them!).
I’m not saying I was perfect because I wasn’t but I was trying to be obedient and I seemed to be punished for that where other people had great training experiences. Plus, how many times can you be told your a terrible missionary before you begin to believe it.
It was one of the loneliest time of my life. That may be surprising because I was with someone all the time but it just goes to show a person can be lonely who is surrounded by people.
Anyway, I thought about coming home but I didn’t want to let my family down especially my younger siblings who needed an example missionary in their lives. I had to call the mission president every night and he helped me to get through every day. I had a sister swap with my MTC comp Sister Noyes and that also helped.
But in the end I had to turn to my Heavenly Father in a way I hadn’t done to that point. He was all I had to really lean on. I read my scriptures and I prayed so hard my knees hurt. And you know what? He filled me up. He let me know I wasn’t a bad missionary. He helped me to forgive her, which was incredibly hard to do. He loved me and I was not the same after that. I was in 100% to the mission and while again I was far from perfect I know I was the missionary He needed me to be.
As hard as that experience was, and it was brutal, it gave me a gift. In the 10 years since I came home there have been lonely times. I don’t need to go into all of them but just trust me there have been lonely times. I’ve felt attacked, disappointed in the choices of others, angry, frustrated, confused and alone, as all humans do from time to time.
But I’ve always had that time on the mission in my pocket to carry me through.
I had discovered God’s ability to strengthen me during the lonely times and have never forgotten it and never will.
If you are feeling lonely or life is giving you a shellacking (we’ve all been there!) maybe it’s a moment God is trying to turn you into something better, like He made me the best missionary I could be? Maybe he is trying to make you strong?
I absolutely believe moments of loneliness are essential to understanding the atonement of Jesus Christ and really applying it to your heart. We need it so bad in those moments and only then are we teachable and humble enough to make the tough choices and rely on His mercy completely. Never forget the scripture says
“I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
Normally New Years is one of my least favorite holidays. For a long time it was fun but I’ve found it frustrating because it is a very couply holiday and one where I increasingly seemed to get left out. See post New Years Eve Sucks)
Not this year!
This year my friend and former mission companion Julia Graves came for a visit and it was such a treat. I rarely have visitors that are here just to see me. My family comes a lot but they have their own house and sometimes I hardly see them because of their work responsibilities and other family things.
Regardless, they aren’t here just to see me and for me to be host and show them around.That hardly ever happens despite my very comfortable guest room! (It’s ready for anyone to come on over!). So it was so great to have Julia here for a visit and to have fun and reminisce.
She arrived on the 30th and we went to lunch and then got settled in and she was kind enough to join me for our SLOW (Salt Lake Open Water) end of year banquet. We spent a fair amount of time in the car and had a lot of fun talking with each other.
Then the 31st we went to Blue Plate Diner in SLC and had a yummy breakfast.
And then I had gotten a room for New Years at my favorite hotel- the City Center Marriott in Salt Lake. It is the place I went when I quit my job in 2007 and so it has always had a special significance (one of the best days of my life!). I also went there for my Eat Pray Love weekend in 2012.
It’s a lovely hotel with great linens and fluffy robes for all the guests. They have yummy room service and an amazing pool! It is one of my favorite places in the world.
I also successfully parallel parked twice! Pretty impressive right?
Then we went to Copper Common- the sister restaurant of my favorite place Copper Onion and it was very yummy!
After that we spent a bit of time at Temple Square and listening to music and enjoying the lights of the city (there was a lot going on this year with eveslc.com). It was the most walking I’ve done since the knee injury which was good. I felt it the next few days but it was a start. There was a faux light fireworks display but we were so cold we decided to head home and watch the New York ball drop (what a letdown that was. They didn’t even show the countdown!). But we had a great time with the hot tub and pool and just enjoying the hotel.
We rang in the New Year with gusto a little early and then crashed! It was great.
New Years Day we went to breakfast at the hotel and then went to the new Living Aquarium in Draper. I’ve been wanting to go and it was really fun! My knee was hurting from pushing it the previous day so I used my cane and it helped a lot.
The aquarium was easy to work around with lots of animals and fun exhibits. My favorite was the penguins.
We spent about 3 hours at the aquarium, and I have a membership now so if you want to go call me up and let’s go! Your kids will LOVE it!
After the aquarium my parents and grandma came over and we had fajitas and Mexican food together. They got to hear all about our memories from the mission. It is so strange to think it will be 10 years in March since I came home from my mission. Being with Julia made it feel like yesterday.
Today was the final day of the trip and we went to Bake 360 for breakfast (their new cafe is so delish!). Then we did some shopping and tried to go to 2 different art museums but they were both closed! (Art was not on our side!).
So we went to the Leonardo. They have one of those plastic body exhibits and those creepy me out so we just went to the regular exhibits and it was fun. I thought it was an art museum but it’s actually science and math based.
Julia wanted to go to Chick-fila since they don’t have them in Nevada so we finished off the day eating some chicken and ended up visiting my Grandma in some extra time.
It was just a great trip and time with a friend. I am so lucky to have wonderful friends in my life and playing host was a blast. I loved reminiscing about our mission and all the years since. Julia is also single and we have very similar personalities and are both still active in the church. Our faith is very important to us and sharing it with the Hoosiers has given us a bond that will last forever. I just had the most lovely time.
Definitely my best New Years Eve ever! A great way to start 2015!
Any reader to this blog knows that missionary work is very near and dear to my heart. My mission helped me purify my weak layers in every way and become a lot more like my Heavenly Father. It was a 20 month colossal size jump in testimony, conversion, hard work, a reliance upon God and a simultaneous overcoming and awareness of my many weaknesses and failings.
More than anything else my mission taught me that I mattered to God and that my life could mean something. In some ways I wish we didn’t have unpaid clergy and I could do it fulltime still today, as hard as it was, because no job will ever be as important and matter so much until perhaps I ever get the chance at a family. But even on low days, all these 7 years later, I can look back on it and know that I matter and that God can and will use me to further His work. How can that not motivate you?
The God of the whole universe needs you!
This is what excites me about the new age change for women (the men I hardly noticed although still significant). So many more women will have the opportunity to know that God needs them to share the gospel to the world. Its fabulously important to be a wife and a mother but it can seem constrictive for women who want to have an experience where they see different sides of the church and know that they are needed there too. It just gives women options and options are empowering.
I cried when I heard of the announcement because I thought of all the girls dying to go and now could. I thought of the women watching who would have longed to go but the 3 years of life got in the way. I’m sure their moment of regret and ‘what if?’ must have been tender. (Listen to President Uchtdorf’s talk that might help! ). I thought of the thousands of people that are now going to hear the gospel as thousands of new missionaries get to preach and teach and become the pillars God needs them to be.
Even in the last year I’ve thought about my mission many times. The transition to family ward has felt like a transfer to a new area. Everything feels different and strange. You miss your old area but you try to get to work as fast as you can. I’m still not 100% but I’m trying. I also think of my mission when life gets hard and I want to give up (and boy can it ever get hard, almost overwhelming) In those dark hours I often remember my mission and say to myself ‘you made it through with power and strength. You can make it through this’. How fabulous that thousands of additional women will now be able give themselves a similar pep talk when facing challenges? Makes me so excited!
It also makes me excited for scores of more endowment and other temple work that will be done. When I was 21 I wanted to go to make covenants in the temple but my bishop said I wasn’t ready (which I may not have been), and had to wait until marriage or mission. I had no prospects on the marriage front and was unsure about a mission. I believe I needed this so when I went on a mission, I was SURE, but it was a challenge to my faith at first. I remember driving by the temple and feeling such a yearning and when I made those covenants it was one of the happiest days of my life. I’m happy for those girls that don’t have feel that pain, as helpful as it was in my case, and can get right to serving.
I also cried when they made the announcement because I believe the change has an equalizing force in the church. I love the priesthood and know it is God’s power on earth. However, sometimes I have yearned for the Relief Society and roles of the women in the church to feel as important. We always hear of the value of nurturing and motherhood but are never really sure what it means. Is it just being nice and comforting others? Men can do that. Is it just raising children? Some of us can’t do that. I just see this change as a step in the right direction of putting an equal importance on both gender’s ability to share the gospel and the need the church has for both priesthood and womanhood.
Finally I cried because of the advantages it will give sociologically to the church. What I mean is men and women will basically be the same age and many have the same experiences during their college years instead of the 2 year, I’ve been on a mission, gap. A gap in both education and experience that does and is eventually made up by almost all girls. However, when one perspective dater has done so much and is 2 years older it creates an interesting dynamic when courtship and marriage eventually occurs. I like the prospect of as equal life experience dating as possible. I don’t know if that makes sense but it does in my head. Sorry.
In any case, the 19 year old girls should be able to get more life experience one way or another and hopefully marriage age in the church will go up and the long strain of the single experience may not be so difficult. These are just hopes and projections. Obviously we will just have to wait and see.
At the very least it gives young women options they didn’t have before. It gives them the choice all the sooner to be come rocks in the Lord’s church as my mission did for me. Good luck girls and if anyone wants to mull over their decision with me I’d love it. I love talking about missions and missionary work!
I do have a testimony that we have a living Prophet, President Monson, and that this change is of divine revelation from God. Because of that alone, I know it will be a blessing to the Church and World. Go forth to serve!
Here is the press conference on the topic if you had any questions
This weekend I enjoyed the semi-annual General Conference of the LDS church. During this bi-yearly event the leaders, including the apostles and prophet, speak on a variety of topics such as faith, charity and strengthening family. While this instruction was fabulous (I took 17 pages of notes!), the most exciting moment of the weekend was the Saturday announcement by President Monson of 5 new temples- one in Indianapolis, Indiana! As all blog readers know I served my mission in Indiana from 2003-2005. I loved my mission but it was a huge purifying experience physically, mentally and spiritually. For once in my life I left nothing on the table. I worked as hard as I possibly could, and found everyone I needed to find. It may sound cheesy but I left a part of myself on the streets of Indiana- my blood, sweat, tears and prayers. Sometimes I wonder if I could do it again? I really don’t know. It was an amazing experience and completely worth it to bring souls to the gospel but it was very difficult.
With my sacrifice and that of many more, the work has continued to grow in the great Hoosier state; however, I was skeptical a temple would ever be built because of the many temples in surrounding states- 2 in Illinois, 1 in Michigan, 1 in Ohio and 1 in Kentucky. To my delight with the faith of the Saints and the work of the missionaries the need for a temple in Indiana could not be denied. They have not announced when construction will begin or where the temple will be built but if you are interested you can see updates at http://indianapolistemple.com/. I am so excited!
It’s overwhelming for me to think of the increased missionary work and the blessings that will come to the great people of Indiana with a temple nearby. I struggle with the words to describe my emotions. I am so happy! I remember one time in Angola walking in the snow, my feet near frostbitten, and thinking “this will be worth it someday.” I’ve had many days when it was “worth it” including each time I felt a connection with the people I served with. Since I came home my mission has continued to be a daily motivating factor in my life. Whenever I face something difficult or challenging I know I can do it because I finished my mission. I know the Lord will help me and that my life is important to His work. When President Monson made the Indiana temple announcement, Saturday became another “worth it” day!
I had an interesting moment of clarity today. With long-term tenants in most of the houses I am not getting the kind of work-related emails I used to get. September is also traditionally a slow month for the rental business; however, I don’t want you to think I haven’t been busy because nothing could be further from the truth. I’m afraid as soon as one business slows down another picks up! In fact, on Thursday I was up till 2 am doing taxes for Grabber. Despite this work, lately I haven’t been getting very many emails both personally and professionally. I also haven’t gotten many comments on facebook or my blog. I’ve gotten some just not as many as at other times.
Today I was bemoaning this lack of internet correspondence when I realized something funny. Since last Wednesday I’ve had a plethora (yes plethora) of company including a well attended book club and visits from two of my sisters- Megan and Anna. During their visit my guest room and new sofa bed were both used (the sofa bed for the first time) to which they gave rave reviews so friends come and visit! In addition, we also spent a lovely evening with our long-time friend Emily Alvillar Whitman (former roommate and best friend I’ve mentioned many times on this blog). On Sunday I also had the pleasure of seeing my nieces and Megan’s extended family at Luisa Gough’s house. To add even more blessings, today I had lunch with my Grandma Wagner and Aunt Jodie. After that Anna came with her roommate Becca for a movie night. I could keep going about my plans for the rest of the week but I won’t bore you except to say that I have some plans.
As I was cleaning up from Anna and Becca’s visit the irony of this weekend struck me- I was missing my electronic conversation when the entire time I was surrounded by REAL PEOPLE! How greedy can I get? I thought it such a funny realization I had to share it immediately with my electronic friends! Thank you to everyone for the visits and friendship- both through the internet and actual human contact but especially the latter. I am so blessed to have such wonderful people in my life.
On my mission occasionally we would come across people who were truly lonely- men and women who had nobody to lean on when times got hard. One woman in particular that stands out in my mind. She was in Bloomington, IN and her family had disowned her for joining the church. In addition, her only son had taken his own life years before. Naturally she had the church to lean on, but she was a terrible pack-rat and a bit of an odd ball. It was interesting because she lived in a big sprawling house from the 20’s or 30’s (it even had a dumb-waiter) which she completely filled with stuff. There were entire rooms that could not be entered they were so full of stuff (junk really).
To be honest I can’t even remember this woman’s name but she has always struck me as an example of a lonely soul surrounded by meaningless objects. Whenever my possessions start to feel too sentimental I think of her as the ultimate extreme and it gives me pause. I am so blessed to have an abundance of love in my life. I have an amazing family that supports me, friends that reach out and new acquaintances that enrich my life. How much more blessed am I that I frequently get to see these people live in person! No more complaining about email for me! I am one lucky girl!
So I haven’t posted for a bit. To begin with I had a lot of make up work to do in both my jobs after being sick so long. The next reason is I have been exercising like a maniac at my new GYM!!! Yes, I finally decided to step my exercise to the next level and join a gym. It was a hard decision because the only gym nearby that had a pool (an absolute requirement) is at the top of my price range ($69 a month). The gym is called the Treehouse Athletic Club and is about 5 minutes from my apartment. Treehouse is actually a great deal for families but they sock it to the singles (I’m sorry but you think it would be the other way around. I’m only one person!). Weeks ago I asked my facebook friends whether I should join a gym and one of them said “make sure it is somewhere you want to be”. This sounds obvious but is not the case with most gyms. They are usually “too body builder, show-off my weights, I’m a total tool”, for my taste. On the other end of the spectrum I have done Curves once before but its expensive for what you get and doesn’t provide classes, a pool or any real cardio.
With these expectations I went in to Treehouse last Monday for a trial day and it was like they knew I was coming. There even happened to be a swim instructor there who gives tips on your stroke twice a week. Need I mention that the pool blew me a way and the spa was even better. There are 2 hot tubs, 2 pools (one for laps, one for child play), tons of equipment and weight machines and classes galore. Plus, the whole environment felt so relaxing. They have fluffy bathrobes, shampoo, conditioner and body wash in the showers, deodorant spray and lotion in the changing rooms, a swimsuit dryer, and nice hair dryers. In the words of my friend “this is a place I want to be”. After weighing the options, on Thursday I went in and paid the year-long membership (got a 10% discount for paying upfront) and have been using it like crazy since. Anyone in the Draper area who would like to check it out let me know. I have a few guest day passes. There have been times when I’ve joined gyms before but this time feels different. This whole fitness quest has felt different. I’m now at 285 (that’s 28 lbs lost since March) and working to get down to 250 asap.
Speaking of 250…the other day I was watching TLC when a weight loss program came on. The idea was to profile people who are trying to lose 100 lbs. One of the men on the show was nearly 500 lbs- clearly a huge problem. However, the girl they profiled was 258 lbs, and they were acting like the two amounts were identical in scale. I will be thrilled when I get to 250 lbs but that’s not really what bothered me. I genuinely see myself and certainly myself at 258 lbs as beautiful not some grotesque human being as this show was portraying. The woman wouldn’t look at her wedding pictures because she was so horrified at her weight. They even interviewed her parents who said how disappointed they were in their obese daughter (Isn’t that awful! I wish I was making this up). I’m not trying to defend being 250 lbs. I know it is unhealthy in many ways but isn’t it strange that I have such a different viewpoint than the producers of this show or the woman involved? When I look in the mirror (even at 285 lbs) I see a beautiful plus size girl.
This is not the first time that I have noticed my unusual degree of self-acceptance. When other people are apologizing and criticizing themselves I often feel great. Of course, I have moments of self-doubt and discouragement but usually not because of my behavior, performance or body. In fact, Megan is always laughing at how freely I compliment myself. I simply respond, “I live alone. If I don’t say it no one will!”. For example, when I cook a new recipe or try a different technique I will tell everyone at the table if the food is delicious (my former roommates can attest to that!)!
Several years ago another example hit me. I was an obedient, hard-working missionary-not perfect, but I can honestly say I tried my hardest each day. When I got on the plane leaving Indiana I knew in my heart I had found everyone I needed to find, and worked as hard as I could. I left with NO REGRETS.
I naively thought all good missionaries felt this way and had this same reassurance from the Lord. A couple years after the mission Julia Graves came to visit me, and we met up with several sisters from our mission to see both our mission presidents. When chatting with President Simmons I said
“the great thing about a mission is it is the one thing in life you can do with no regrets. You can know you served the Lord 100%”.
I was not saying this to boast or brag about my great mission. I really did think everyone felt this way; however, when we got in the car one of the sisters said
“Wow, sister Wagner. I wish I felt that way about my mission.”. Then all of the others agreed with her.
I can’t overstate how surprised I was by their reaction. It made me step back and realize my many blessings. I knew then Heavenly Father had given me my sense of peace and closure to a very physically, spiritually and mentally draining mission. I didn’t specifically pray for this reassurance but the Lord knew I needed it.
I was thinking about this experience and the 258 program when I realized perhaps my acceptance of my body has also been a blessing. Maybe the Lord needed me to be happy with myself until I was ready to change. He needs me to be actively serving, loving and trying my best no matter what my weight is. He also loves me regardless of my appearance. Last year I read a book called the Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl, and I hated it with a passion. The thing that made me mad is the author portrays her heavy self as practically worthless- like a big blob incapable of interacting with friends, family, or participating in activities such as travel or other recreation. I promise that when I lose weight I will never look down on the old me. I have value and am beautiful even at 285lbs, and I don’t care if some stupid TLC program or book says otherwise!