Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Daring Greatly

I’ve been trying to go to sleep for the past two hours, but this demands to be written, so I’m relenting in the hopes that my brain will shut off.

Miranda Hart wrote an inspiringly hilarious book called “Is It Just Me” where she chronicles years of awkward moments, bad jobs and sticking her foot in her mouth on her journey to achieving something she didn’t quite dare even dream: becoming a comedian. She gives amazing perspective on things like manicures (“basically just holding hands with a stranger for forty-five minutes whilst listening to Enya”), Christmas (“Each year, from at least November, well, September, well, if I'm honest, May, I look forward to it hugely”) and the pressures of being a woman (“You may look at me and see a slightly frayed, wool-clad woman with an inexplicably hefty rucksack, but I look in the mirror and simply give thanks for all I've opted out of”). She also talks about the importance of remembering to dream. To dream big. To reach for the stars, take risks, and keep believing in yourself. In her words, “…holding onto the bonkers dream might just turn out to be the most marvelous thing you ever did.”

As most of you readers know, I recently went through another heartbreak. While that might seem unremarkable in the larger scale of things, to me heartbreak tends to feel like an atomic bomb in my life. My initial reaction was simply that this isn’t worth it. It hurts too badly, and I don’t want to feel it anymore. Inevitably of course, I start to come around because in the end I really do WANT to find someone. I’m a hopeless romantic. And I need someone to call my cell phone when I can’t find it.

I recently spent some time with a good friend. He and I tried dating, and it didn’t work, but we are the best of friends now. He gets me. He knows me. He thinks that I’m fantastic. He is one of my greatest cheerleaders. As I left dinner with him a few weeks back, I had the thought, “If I can end up with someone who views me and treats me the way he does, all of this pain will have been worth it.”

And that’s the beauty of risk, isn’t it? That risk, in the end, can pay off! We start businesses, we quit our jobs, we move to New York for the stage, we participate in clinical trials, we start a new diet, we love again and again because the potential payoff is worth the potential setback. But . . . what if there is no payoff? Businesses fail. We end up in dead-end jobs. People take medication, do therapy, change their diet and don't feel better. Is beauty only found in success?

I have a new goal. To be grateful for the moments when I feel like I failed. Because it means that I tried. To stop feeling like every dead end means that I screwed something up, that I missed the road to fantastic glory. I want to be happy for the experiences that I’ve had, not because they are preparing me to be successful in the future, but because I had the experience. Because the experience of fighting for it, of risking for it, will be what defines me rather than the end result.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lean Forward to the Next Crazy Venture Beneath the Skies

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved and happy to be leaving 2016 behind me. Like so many other people, there were just hard things going down all year for me. However, I keep a small leather journal in my purse to write down my thoughts and impressions and things that people say, and as I reviewed everything I wrote this year, I realized that it has also been a year of incredible growth. So, here is my list of 17 things I’ve learned that I want to carry forward into 2017.

      1. Top Golf in Houston in July is too hot.
      2. Top Golf in Salt Lake City in December is too cold.
      3. Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.
      4. When in doubt, hope. Against hope, believe in hope.
      5. Love everyone. Choose God.
      6. Don’t be fearful of the divine experience. Don’t be afraid to suffer. To weep. To run the risk that some days will be painful and long. While you are in the struggle, remember the importance of the suffering. This gospel is a gospel of happy endings.
      7. The sun will rise. It always rises.
      8. “I tremble to think what we would have lost if we had taken counsel from our fears.”
      9. There is something divine in the process of working hard to master something.
      10. Who I have become is not an accident.
      11. Keep staring at the marshmallow – it is worth it! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment)
      12. Start with the desire to have the desire to do it.
      13. Being sincerely kind is more important than being authentic.
      14. The Atonement gives my faith validity.
      15. “This isn’t it. You can’t stay here.” The Lord will get me where I’m meant to be, even if I’m afraid to let go of my current circumstances because I might not have better.
      16. “Embrace the suck. Stick it out. There’s too much riding on it.”
      17. There is no situation where there is no solution for God. At the Red Sea, there appeared to be no solution.

“God, there’s a sea in front of me.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“But God, there’s an army behind me.”
“Yeah, I know.”

Happy 2017, dear reader! Remember that “to reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done.” Can’t wait to see what the new year will hold.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bah, Humbug

Christmas is my favorite time of year. The lights, the music, the family, the food - it has never lost its magic. The one thing that's hard about Christmas for me is being alone. And with the end of the latest in what feels like a never-ending string of failed relationships, I find myself newly single for the holidays. So tonight while my family walked through an elaborate display of lights, music and smells, I'm somewhat embarrassed to confess that I found myself distracted with the all-too familiar feeling of heartache and loneliness and longing. And let's be honest - an unhealthy dose of feeling sorry for myself.  

Eventually we turned from the brightly colored lights into a display full of soft, glowing luminaries. They called the area "Light of the World" and there were a dozen statues portraying events in Christ's life. Giving sight to the blind, teaching, showing forgiveness and kindness to all. As I wandered through the path depicting beautiful moments of clarity and love from our Savior, I was overwhelmed with a different feeling. Peace. Howard W. Hunter said, "The real Christmas comes to him who has taken Christ into his life as a moving, dynamic, vitalizing force."

Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, the Grinch and so many who have come before me, I have been considering Christmas in the wrong way. It's not about holding hands while you walk through lights. It's not about having the coolest picture to post on social media. It's not about having someone to make elaborate holidays plans with. Christmas is about Christ. It's about love and peace, generosity and kindness. It's about looking outside of my own selfish world and seeing how I can lift the load of those around me. 

The final sculpture in the garden is a depiction of Christ walking on the water. Back then, he said, "Peace, be still." He still says that today, as we experience our own storms and trials in life. He is always reaching out. And the true spirit of Christmas is for us to reach out too. "Pure Christ-like love flowing from true righteousness can change the world." "This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and in deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again."

My dear, lovely reader - may you have all the celebrations you hope for. May you get all the cheeseball and fudge you can eat. May you feel the love of the people around you, and especially the love of the Savior. And may your days be merry and bright. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Place Whereon Thou Standest is Holy Ground

One of my favorite cinematic moments was written by William Goldman: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” While it’s a pessimistic sentiment, there’s a lot of truth to it. Life is just . . . hard. There are really amazingly wonderful moments, but those moments tend to be wonderful because we make them so through hard work. We usually don’t like to talk about or hear about the hard things – it’s why social media feeds are full of the high points of our lives and why our automatic response to any inquiry into our well-being is, “I’m good!”

The past few weeks have been hard. The specifics aren’t important, but I’ve been going through what everybody goes through at different stages of their lives – intense disappointment and pain. There have been many hours of tears, phone calls to my life lines and a deep need to stay busy. More importantly, when I am faced with uncertainty, the only thing I know to do is to turn completely to my Heavenly Father. As Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” When my life seems to implode on itself and the peace of the world leaves me to my own devices, seeking the peace of the Lord just makes sense. The peace that comes not to free us from our circumstances, but in spite of our circumstances. The grace that gives us power and strength beyond what we normally would have the capacity to withstand.

I remember in the Missionary Training Center, one of my teachers said that he had “received freely” from the Lord on his mission. That is, quite simply, the only way I can describe what life has been like for me lately. I was talking with my sister last week, describing some of the things that I have felt and experienced. In an off hand way, I said that I wished that I didn’t have to go through this particular experience. Her response changed everything – she told me not to think of this time as a time of pain, but to make this a holy time. To take the amazing experiences and learnings that I’ve had and make them the focal point. We can make the darkest, most difficult moments of our lives intensely beautiful and meaningful in hindsight by focusing on what we are learning, how we are growing and what we can improve within ourselves. Become tough and tender, dear reader. And when all else fails, remember: sometimes it’s a good day if you get through the day without hitting or biting anyone. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Happy Sabbath

So . . . it's been a rough week. Like, a bad week. One of those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad weeks. The kind of week where I want to simultaneously laugh out of absurdity, cry out of frustration and hit something. So naturally, I played a lot of racquetball. But I've also been desperately looking forward to Sunday.

I was always taught to keep the Sabbath day holy. Growing up, Sunday was a different day in my house. We didn't shop, clean, work, exercise or garden. It was essentially the only time we used our large (for the time) sound system to blast classical music to all corners of the house. We helped my mom cook a big family dinner. We went to church every week without fail. There were Sunday approved movies consisting of Disney, musicals, Chariots of Fire, A Man For All Seasons and Henry V. Visiting grandma, visiting neighbors, playing card games, reading, singing . . . it was different and it was peaceful.

Because of the way I was raised, I grew up just not doing homework or working on Sunday. For my first run through college, I continued that practice mostly because I was accustomed to it. For my second run, I revel in it.

Let me say that this is not for everyone - it's a personal choice for me. But I'm so grateful for it. I need my Sundays. I need a day of worship. Of peace. A day where I can read and study the scriptures without a timeline. I love that I can stay at my sister's house for 4 hours and see my family without looking at my watch. I revel in worshipping at church, singing in the choir, reading for hours. I need one day a week where I don't feel constant anxiety about the things I SHOULD be doing.

So grateful for my friends, coworkers and team members from school who have supported me in this. I can't wait to put on my classical music playlist tomorrow morning and curl up with Outliers. And tonight while I stressfully study for midterms, I agree with Uncle Vernon. Best day of the whole week.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

You Become

I bailed on a party with some friends tonight. Basically any social event where I won’t know the majority of the people involved creates high amounts of anxiety and requires an excellent set of circumstances for me to follow through on any more. It’s probably the grouchy old lady inside of me that gets stronger with each passing year. At any rate, it’s been a quiet evening.

In the midst of making cupcakes for a meeting tomorrow, cleaning my kitchen, hitting the grocery store twice, and finishing some homework, I was left with time to reflect on the summer, and the current state of my life. You know how you have those times when you’re just unsatisfied with who you are? When you find even yourself annoying? When you’re convinced that every person that hasn’t wanted to be a part of your life had just cause? Is it just me?

I am semi obsessed with progression. I always want to be working on some aspect of my life, because I want to be good. I want to be the kind of person that people want around. I want to be pleasant and kind and selfless and funny and clever and everything else that I admire in others. And because I’m slightly neurotic, I convince myself that by working towards something, I’ll become something better. In many ways, it’s why I went back to school. I left a job I loved and a career that was going places because I thought grad school would be hard and refine me just a little bit more. (TOTALLY right on the hard part, by the way.)

A good friend checked in on me, and I expressed to her some of the things that I have been feeling lately. I am blessed with the best of friends! She made me feel loved, but also helped me change my thinking. That to discount my personality is to discount everything I’ve gone through. I certainly didn’t start life the way that I am today. I became this person bit by bit. In her words, “Who you are is a product of so many difficult, heart-wrenching, wonderful, painful, loving experiences. You are exactly who you are supposed to be right now.”

The book The Velveteen Rabbit contains one of my favorite sentiments ever expressed in literature:

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you.’
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

So I guess the key lies in making the best decisions I can, being as kind as possible, taking life in stride, and trusting the rest to the grace of God. Although I’ll probably move forward with my plans to master archery anyway.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Believe in Miracles

When I was 16 years old, I was following my dad to drop off a car at the mechanic. Along the way, my tire blew out. I didn’t have a cell phone, I didn’t know how to change a tire, and I didn’t know what to do. So I sat on the side of the road for an hour hoping that dad would eventually figure out where I was and find me. It was slightly traumatizing for me, and one of my biggest fears is breaking down on the freeway.

I have been feeling a bit on the edge of my limits lately. I occasionally have flair ups of intense pain in my neck and jaw, and I’m going on 3 weeks of the worst flair up I’ve ever had. Nothing that I do seems to make a difference, and it’s consumed most of my energy just to make it through the day. The combination of this plus the end of my internship has put me in bit of an emotional whirlwind.

So when my car made a huge THUNK on the freeway this morning, complete with the check engine light and the smell of something burning, I felt like I couldn’t handle it. One of the hardest parts of living far away from family and close friends is that I feel like I don’t have anyone I can call when I’m in trouble. My family and friends I have invested in – we’ve helped each other, and I’ve invested so I feel like it’s ok if I ask for help. I hate inconveniencing people. And in Texas, the closest person I have who I feel like I can call is 4.5 hours away.

However, I have AAA just for such occasions. I happened to break down where two freeways split, so not on the side of the road, but in between 5 lanes of high speed traffic. I was too nervous to even get out of my car. Tears were rolling down my face before I was even connected to the right dispatcher.

Imagine my surprise when a jeep pulled up behind me and out popped a girl from my church. She didn’t know it was me – she had driven past me on her way to church, thought about stopping but said to herself that she didn’t know anything about cars, but the feeling to turn around and go back came harder and stronger, so she did. And she sat with me for 90 minutes in her brand new car with traffic swirling around (12 cars almost hit us, including a semi), waiting for the tow truck to finally show up. And she happens to live and work in the same places I do, so she’s giving me a ride to work tomorrow.

Without her help, I would have been scared and nervous. I would have been on the side of the freeway for 90 minutes in 100 degree weather without air conditioning. I wouldn’t have had a way to make it to church, or a way to work in the morning. In essence, she turned an extremely traumatic experience into a tender reminder that the Lord is aware of me, that He knows what’s going on, and He answers my prayers, even the ones I haven’t offered yet.

I’m so grateful for technology and air conditioning. For mechanics and tow trucks. For a loving Heavenly Father who takes care of me. And for amazing people who listen to random promptings that save the emotional well-being of others.