Monday, December 26, 2011

Discovering the *Real* True Meaning of Christmas

Today I was going through some old files and happened across an essay I wrote while I was in grad school. I was visiting my favorite guys' apartment in the ward, where most of my best friends lived and where I had many amazing and involved conversations. On this particular night, I was talking to Josh when his roommate Brad came in, in the midst of some new insights about the atonement that he wanted to share and discuss. After some very good conversation, curfew came around so I went home and went to bed. However, it must have still been on Brad's mind, because he ended up writing an essay on his thoughts and sharing it with Josh and I. It was a very good and interesting essay, but I don't have his permission to post it, so I won't. However, he ended with this paragraph:
I haven’t figured out the mechanism behind the application of grace, nor how the Atonement supplies the “infinite grace” (Moroni 8:3) that was “made possible by his atoning sacrifice (Bible Dictionary). I’d also like to learn how to “tap into” this grace more. Please send me any insight into these three matters.
I was so intrigued by this line of thought that I wrote my own essay and sent it to him and Josh:
First, a quote from "The Broken Heart," Elder Bruce Hafen’s excellent commentary on the atonement, which I really give a very high recommendation. This is from the introduction, on page 7: "I once wondered if those who refuse to repent but who then satisfy the law of ustice by paying for their own sins are then worthy to enter the Celestial kingdom. The answer is no. The entrance requirements fro Celestial life are simply higher than merely satisfying the law of ustice. For that reason, paying for our own sins will not bear the same fruit as repenting of our sins. Justice is a law of balance and order and it must be satisfied, eiher through our payment or His. But if we decline the Savior's invitation to let Him carry our sins, and then satisfy justice by ourselves we will not yet have xperienced the complete rehabilitation that can occur through a combination of divine assistance and genuine repentance. Working together, those forces have the power permenantly to change our hearts and our lives, preparing us for Celestial life . . . the 'natural man' will remain an enemy to God forever- even after paying for his own sins- unless he also 'becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ and becometh as a child' (Mosiah 3:19)." I believe this is the general idea that you are getting at in your grace essay. So, the general question becomes then, how does the atonement give us that infinite grace that allows us to become like the Father, so that the atonement is a rehabilitative thing instead of just a restorative thing? To answer this question, I think we need to take a step back in time to the Garden of Eden. Before Adam and Eve partook of the fruit, there was no death in the world. They were both spiritually and physically intact. (2 Ne 2:22-23). They had physical bodies, but they were not truly separated from God the way we are today. But they were incapable of progressing. Without the fall, “all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end” (2 Ne 2:22). It was only after the fall that Adam and Eve had the necessary knowledge to know good from evil and to make conscious, informed decisions that would either bring them closer to God or farther away from Him. As we know, this agency is a critical part of the plan of salvation. No man can be saved in ignorance, it is only by consciously making good decisions and intentionally turning our hearts to God and allowing Him to change them for us that we can achieve Exaltation. However, it was also the fall that created the first real spiritual distance between God and His children on earth. For the first time, they really needed Him, His wisdom and guidance and love, but since God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, they were cut off from Him- they were spiritually dead. From this, I can see two important ways that the atonement provides grace for us. First, it provides us access to God. Because of the fall, or because of Adam’s transgression, we all undergo spiritual death with our physical birth. We are separated from God and He can no longer come to us and assist us because of the unclean state in which we live. Christ and the atonement are a critical part of our contact with the Father. We pray to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ because He is literally our contact between earth and heaven. Although I do not understand how, the atonement bridges he gap of spiritual death for all men who will merely come unto Christ and allow Him to open a window to heaven. Now comes the second point. The atonement overcomes spiritual death, and by so doing, allows us access to God’s goodness and blessings- or what we might call this grace. Grace, ennabling power, that which compensates for our imperfect attempts and sanctifies us. Another quote from Elder Hafen: “Consider the life and experience of the Savior himself, because His own development was marked by his receipt of the Father’s grace. His experience shows us also that being free from sin is not quite the same thing as attaining divine perfection. ‘Though he were a son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him’ (Hebrews 5:8-9)” Even the Savior Himself learned things and attained perfection through mortality and grace. Now, how does one access this grace, this power that allows us to take what we have, and through the Lord’s assistance, become so much more than we could on our own? Honestly, I think the answer to that is much more closely tied to the basic teachings of the church than most people realize. When we are asked to read our scriptures and pray and ponder on the solemnities of eternity, we are doing those things which bring us in line with the will of God. Another way of saying this is that we are coming to Christ. It is by grace we are saved after all we can do- and what we can do is come unto Christ. You may find, as I do, that the nearer I come to Christ, often the less satisfied I am with myself. In these instances, I take comfort from remembering Ether 12:27: “And if men will come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto all men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me.” See the connection? As we come unto Christ, He shows us our weakness. He shows us things we could not see before and helps us correct them- through His grace. It is sufficient to perfect us, but only if we are humble. Any man who is absorbing the gospel through constant study and conversing with the Lord through frequent prayer should be on the right path. One other principle that I find to be quite applicable to accessing grace through the atonement- we must offer everything we have to the Lord if He is going to be able to do anything worthwhile with it. He asks for our hearts- our whole hearts, not just part. He asks us to love him with all our minds, not just half. Only when we can give our whole selves to Him can He really start to make a masterpiece. We must consecrate ourselves to Him, consecrate our actions and our desires and ourselves, so that “he will consecrate [our] performance[s] unto [us], that [our] performance[s] may be for the welfare of [our[ soul[s]” (2 Ne 32:9). For further edification, I strongly recommend reading “The Broken Heart.” I have a copy in my apartment if you want to borrow it (you’re welcome to it also, Josh). Also, for something a little shorter but also loaded with lots of insights on the atonement, Elder Hafen wrote a conference talk that covers many of the same basic ideas, “Beauty for Ashes.” It can be easily found on the church website. Thanks for giving me an excuse to write this out. It’s a lot longer than I anticipated, but it felt good.
I'm so glad I happened across this today. Isn't this what Christmas is really about? Celebrating the beginning of a life that would end with the greatest act in history? Merry Christmas to you all, and remember that the true spirit of Christmas is not about giving each other gift of merchandise, no matter how selflessly given. It's about changing our souls from the inside out and rejoicing in the atonement that makes all men free. This is the true gift of Christmas.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Today was amazing- we visited gorillas and the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in Kigali. I want to write my thoughts on the Memorial before I forget. [p] I've been reading Paul Rusesabagina's autobiography as well and I'm in the middle of reading about his experiences hiding over a thousand people in the Hotel Milles Collines in Kigali during the Interahamwe bloodbath. He had been in Brussels with his wife and two-year-old son on a vacation a mere week before the genocide's official and intense beginning when the president's plane was shot from the sky. Through a truly amazing set of events, Paul and his family stayed safely- although not comfortably- in the hotel with their refugees. [p] Paul notes several times how he wished he had stayed in Brussels a little longer, and not come back when the trouble started. I read that last night. Today as I walked from exhibit to exhibit, I thought about Paul and what he went through to save those lives, and his periodic regrets of having returned to Rwanda. And the other thought that kept popping through my head was from Music and the Spoken Word this past summer- "a ship in a harbor is safe, but that's not what a ship is made for." [p] Paul Rusesabagina and so many other brave people like him were ships on the ocean during the genocide. They risked their own lives to protect the lives of others. Paul wished that he was safely in Belgium- in his harbor, as it were, but it's hard not to believe that this particular ship's voyage was perhaps one that Paul was assigned before he came. [p] Like Paul, we all long for our safe harbor on some level. It's different for each of us, but each of us deserves to reflect on what that harbor is that's keeping us off the high seas- or perhaps a better approach is to identify the high seas when they arrive and sail into them without looking back at the harbor. [p] The other mail idea I took from the memorial was a theme I saw throughout the building. There were allusions to "how could we let this happen?" and "we must prevent this from ever happening again." And there was one very powerful plaque that related something like this: "The Nazis did not exterminate six thousand Jews and the Hutus did not kill a million Tutsis. They killed one, then another, then another, a million times." [p] As Paul writes in his book, there was no magical switch on April 6th, 1994 that caused the Hutus to suddenly hate and turn on their Tutsi neighbors and friends. It built up slowly, over years of propaganda and decades of racial division encouraged by foreign powers. It was done one toxic idea at a time, as people played on wrongs, real and imagined, , that the Tutsis had inflicted on them as the ruling class. [p] And then I pondered how those small grudges and divisions built and built until they created a genocide. [p] Last year, I had a powerful conversation with someone about a close friend of mine who I'd been having some trouble feeling close to. As we spoke, this man asked me what I had done to create the distance between us. I reflected and confessed that all I could think about were the thinks she had done to me. [p]I was gently reprimanded as the man stopped me and said, "no, no, that's not how you go about healing a relationship. Can you see that really the conflict between you and your friend is no different than the conflicts that we are at war over? They all start with a misunderstanding that goes deeper and deeper until a relationship si broken, or a war begins." [p] So, as I read the plaque that stated that until we truly learn from the past, "never again" will stay "again and again," I concluded that the way to prevent a genocide is at the very roots of a society. If we can set aside our pride for humility and allow love to swallow up our differences, if we can have the courage to be honest with each other and live the mantra that we are all on the same team- if my friend loses, I also lose in some way- then we need never fear another genocide. However, if all we are relying on are the band-aids of law enforcement, armies, and the UN, then who's to say it won't happen again? [p] So, for myself, I choose to take a stand against genocide and other atrocities by living my principle. I chose to take a stand by eliminating prejudice from my life, and living so there are no strangers in my life. I choose to love, and to feed that love so there is no room for hate. If I do this, if we do this, how many lives can we change? [p] perhaps you'd like to reflect on yourself and make your own personal resolution to stand with me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving . . .

And all through the house, the nephews kept stirring around like a mouse. The sisters were cooking in the kitchen with care, in hopes that good dishes soon would be there. And I on my sofa was trying to sleep but near me were young boys who kept making peeps. There's an interesting trend the last couple of years when I spend the night at the family house if my nephews are there. They magically gravitate to wherever I'm sleeping at night. And since I long since lost the privilege of having a dedicated room to stay in (which is very appropriate), often that means that there are three of us piled on couches and on the floor. We've had some adventures, including the time that I was planning on staying in the room with two twin beds and both T and K wanted to join me. I gave them a little explanation about how there were only two beds but three people, so one of them would be sleeping on the floor, when K piped in, "that's okay, you can share my bed." So I ended up sharing the bed with a five-year-old. Tonight we are downstairs, with T and I sleeping on the leather sofas and K sleeping on the floor in a little low fort that he made himself, mostly consisting of blankets draped over upside-down banana chairs. It completely reminds me of something I would have done at his age. He spent a long time adjusting it, until it was time to pull out the stern aunt voice and tell him that it was sleeping time. Then he ran upstairs for a drink of water and I'm almost positive he snuck a fresh Thanksgiving roll from the rack while he as up there, because I can hear him quietly smacking on something under the blankets and chairs. At this point I'm not sure it's worth it to fight that battle, though. Time to go to sleep so I can be awake for the family Turkey Trot tomorrow morning. And have a good Thanksgiving before heading off to Rwanda on Friday. Hooray! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A stroll down memory lane

Smeels of Kenya walking past houses, when I first moved here tree with lamplight and Nauvoo secret pathway and orchard and secret places maple leaves and botany class It snowed today. First, it was gusty and drizzly. I was at work this morning and when I left at lunchtime, the wind blew the door right out of my grasp and would have kept it blown open if I hadn't forcibly closed it. Then as I ran some errands, the weather got wilder and wilder until it seemed to kind of snap into a sudden calm as the rain turned to a quiet drifting of snow. It was beautiful and peaceful to observe from the snugness of a blanket. Then a moment hit when I decided I'd been inside long enough, so I put on my bright green coat (not only is it cheerful, but it's a very nice pedestrian coat when it's dark- very noticeable) and hiked up into the foothill neighborhoods. And I do mean hike. It's a bit of an adventure just getting up as high in the hills as my own house when the snows come, but things get progressively steeper from my house up, and I have no clue how those people get their cars home in the winter. But it's great for a stroll with some beautiful architecture to observe, and on the way back, beautiful vistas of the city. This stroll also seemed to be triggering all kinds of random memories for me. As I first began walking, I realized I was on my old street, where I lived when I first moved to Salt Lake, and I suddenly recalled the walks that I took in those first days and week, especially before my job began. I had forgotten just how isolated and lonely I felt, coming from the camaraderie of a tight-knit BYU ward with friends I'd known for years- and now I knew Melanie, and I was meeting people in my new ward, but I didn't have a network. And I went on walks and I looked at houses and I felt a deep, aching hunger to be inside them, where warmth and friendship and love exist. It was that very driving emptiness in my life that propelled me to get Melanie to go meet our neighbors in our apartment complex, even in the midst of the onset of depression. The desire for human contact was stronger. And it was during that quest that we met our wonderful neighbors Daniel and Dallin, who became a critical part of my support network and who are really responsible for the base of friends I developed in the singles' ward (they also convinced me to attend their singles' ward, the student ward, rather than the stake ward I had been attending. That also made a massive difference in my life). So tonight, as I walked past the houses, and thought of everything I've built in the last three years in terms of friendships and relationships and deep human connections, I felt a huge amount of gratitude. Belonging is a critical feeling. I kept on walking, and I found a row of maple trees with most of their leaves still on. They were delicately iced with a thin layer of snow, and a streetlamp was shining through one of them in a slightly surreal way, the light from the lamp dancing off the edges of the snow. This time I was taken back by my memory almost nine years ago. I hadn't realized it was that long ago, but the memory was of Nauvoo. I lived there from January to May, taking classes at the BYU-Nauvoo center, which has since been torn down. I loved that building and I love that city. I loved putting on multiple layers of clothing to go out and brave the zero-degree weather, but even more I loved when the seasons began to turn and the river ice broke up (I watched this transition eagerly through my bedroom window, which afforded a great view of the Mississippi), and when the spring bulbs began to push their way up and I didn't require my trench coat when I went on walks, I just about went crazy from spring fever. I walked all over that city, exploring historical sites and back woods, and groves of trees. Then the magnolias started to bloom, and they were all over the place, covered in delicate pink and white blossoms that smelled, oh, so divine. One night in particular, Danielle and I went for a moonlit walk. We set out to watch the sun set over the river at our special place, past the Sarah Granger Kimball home to a grassy little bend in the river. Then on the way back, with the moon shining down, we stopped to glory in the magnolias- their scent, their beauty. The moon was full and shone down through the petals, a scene that Monet would have loved. It was quite a bit different than looking at lamplight through snow-frosted maple leaves, but the memory came back so sharply, and made me smile again. Nauvoo was a period of huge blessings and the formation of deep friendships was instigated there. Danielle is still one of my best friends. I curved around the peak of the road and began descending in the rambling, roundabout way that those streets do. I passed another maple tree, but this one made me pause for a different reason. It was a silver maple, a beautifully delicate tree with silver bark and very intricately designed leaves. This time, I was reminded of a class I took at BYU- one of my very favorite undergraduate courses. Not surprisingly, it was called field botany. The gist of things was that we would follow our professor around campus until he found a tree or shrub we hadn't learned yet, and as we gathered round, he would give us the necessary information to identify it. We learned the silver maple, Acer saccharinum, towards the end of the class, and the beautiful leaves were changing colors and falling. I gathered up a handful of them and stuck them in my binder. Later on, when I found them, they'd essentially been pressed, and I tied them to pieces of string and hung them from our living-room ceiling. Botany nerds do things like that. But tonight, as I saw the silver maple leaves, in a kind of tribute to Professor Furniss and everything I learned in that class, I collected some and carried my little bouquet home. Rounding back down my street to go home, I caught a whiff of something indescribable that smelled like . . . something. I actually have no clue what it smelled like, but I can tell you that whatever it was conjured up very clear memories of Kenya. For a moment, I was back in Gathiga village, walking down the bumpy, uneven red clay roads with random trash piles being incinerated at various lengths. I was laying in my bed, being awoken by a combination of the rising sun, the chickens and pigs outside, and the neighbors who every morning, without fail, played beautiful, happy ukulele music that kind of became my soundtrack for the trip. I wonder what it will be like to go back. Will any of the kids even remember me? So many volunteers come and go. I'm sure the older girls will. I'm hoping that I can get another Kenyan pedicure sitting on the ground while the little kids crowd around. And it will be so different to be there without crazy Kate, my wonderful, spontaneous British roommate, or Cynthia, my anchor who guided me around Nairobi, or even Dominic, the fascinating and very offbeat volunteer who arrived the week before I left. And of course James won't be there. But Grace will, and I am so anxious to get to spend time with her, one of the most amazingly strong women I've ever met. I ended my walk home with a spring in my step- so many good times have been had, and so many good times are in store. And best of all, right this moment, things are good and peaceful. What a lovely little walk down memory lane.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Music Therapy

It's been a great week. Good progress on sewing projects, an evening run to the hot tub generously shared to us by the Boys on Laurelhurst (we are the Girls on Blaine, it works quite nicely). I have almost all the necessary components for my Halloween costume, which will be fun. A very busy, full few days at work.
The only part of this week that hasn't been as good was an unexpected, painful conversation with a friend last night that left me in a state of, shall we say, emotional delicacy. This is not the place to go into details, but it was a conversation that left me with a hole in my gut all day.
But I knew that I had something waiting for me at the end of the day- choir practice. A choir loft full of almost four hundred good, fun, loving people singing together. I found myself praying that I would find songs in my folder that could give me a happiness boost. As I flipped through the sheet music, I was a little disappointed that none of them stood out to me as old comfort favorites, but still to get to sing was good enough.

Then we started actually singing. Somewhere in the mix, we sang "Consider the Lilies," an old favorite of mine. I sang it at my college graduation for my bachelor's degree. Something about the last verse started working on my tear ducts

Consider the sweet, tender children who must suffer on this earth
The pains of all of them He carried from the day of His birth
He clothes the lilies of the field
He feeds the lambs of His fold
And He will heal those who trust Him and make their hearts as gold

It especially resonated because on Monday, as I was driving to work and having a little chat with God on the way, I happened to pose the question to Him, "why on earth do you put up with my crazy antics?" And the response came in a startling flash- an image from the previous evening, Sunday, when I had been playing with my great little buddy H-man, my 20-month-old nephew. He's got some antics, I tell you what. But I love him so much, and I think he's adorable.

As this came up in my mind, I started laughing out loud. "Heavenly Father, really? You think I'm adorable?" and I felt the answer come right back, "Yes. I do. You're my little girl and I love you."

So here I am, trying to be a sophisticated adult living on my own, having a career, and traveling the world, and my Father is telling me that I still am, and will always be, His little girl.

Consider the sweet, tender children who must suffer on this earth

All of this popped through my head while I sang tonight.

Then, we proceeded to sing "I Believe in Christ." I must admit, it's a stirring anthem, but it's never been one of my absolute favorite hymns, probably mostly because I don't like the flow of the melody. Regardless, tonight, since I was already leaking at the eyes, that song struck me more forcefully than usual. Once again, it was a certain segment of the last verse that really woke up my spiritual senses:

I believe in Christ, He stands supreme
From Him I'll gain my fondest dream
And while I strive through grief and pain
His voice is heard, ye shall obtain

And yes, I'm definitely feeling some grief and pain right now, and that made me tear up, but more powerful than my own emotions in this case, I had a memory pop up that I hadn't thought of for a long time. I remember, as a teenager, sitting on the church pew with my family and singing "I Believe in Christ" during sacrament meeting. I was sitting near my mom, who was probably about three or four years into her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and definitely in a lot of pain- beyond my comprehension, and that was well over a decade ago. In any case, as we sang the last verse, she visibly began to weep. It touched me. She didn't outright complain much about her condition, so I guess back then it was relatively easy to forget how hard the disease had made her life. But she did, and does, believe in Christ, and is truly committed to the ideal of standing with Him at the last day.

I don't know why I thought of that tonight, except the theme of the evening seemed to be the tenderness of Christ's beckoning to us, first with Consider the Lilies and now through I Believe in Christ. By this point, I had salt streaks down my cheeks and the front of my dress was soaked. But you know what? I felt so good inside. Not happy, exactly, but peaceful with a deep kind of peace- I might even call it the peace that passeth understanding.

It turned out that there were a few other tender mercies in the form of songs, too, and by the time I left, although I was tired and ragged, I felt so good inside. I'll just leave you with the lyrics to the song that touched me the most. I wish I could play a recording of it on my blog, because the arrangement is breathtaking as well, but you'll just get the words tonight:
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,
to the throne thy tribute bring;
ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore God's praises sing.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Praise the Lord for grace and favor
to all people in distress;
praise God, still the same as ever,
slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Glorious now God's faithfulness.

Fatherlike, God tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame God knows;
motherlike, God gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Widely yet God's mercy flows.

Angels in the heights, adoring,
you behold God face to face;
saints triumphant, now adoring,
gathered in from every race.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Praise with us the God of grace.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The House on Blaine and the Girls Who Lived There

I've been pondering lately, among many other things, that one of the biggest blessings I can ever have is deep, satisfying friendships with deep, satisfying people. And the interesting thing is that the deeper I delve into myself and the more satisfied I am with life in general, the better I appreciate and love the people around me.

I live with four amazing girls. We are so varied in our skills and interests, but we are so good for each other. We have a professional violinist, a therapist, a health and nutrition student and a biochemistry PhD student- and me, the genetics researcher. I love and trust them all, and my relationship with each girl is so different- I bet this is why Heavenly Father's work and glory is to serve His children- because we're such a diverse, interesting lot.

Amber and I often engage in what we refer to as "geeking out" together. She's our biochemist, and we frequently have discussions about various chemicals, funny stories from the lab, or our respective research, Amber also likes to play devil's advocate and tease a great deal, and my natural reaction is to challenge her right back when she's being contrary on purpose. It's quite entertaining. Amber's common sense supersedes even mine, and if someone shares an anecdote or study that sounds questionable to her, she'll run to her computer to research its veracity. She tells stories with such an understated, wry wit that we can't help but laugh.

And yet it's so different from my relationship with Amy. Amy is quiet and sweet and laughs at just about everything I say, which stokes my ego nicely. Amy will be on her deathbed before she complains about how she feels, and she's got some pretty big health problems. She's a calming influence on everyone and a day brightener. She brought both a piano and a very nice keyboard when she moved in, and she is a wonderful pianist, so our home is filled with even more music than it was before. She will lend you anything yo ask for- she lent me her bike when I did my triathlon in May and treated it like it was the biggest honor I could give her.

Kerstin is our other main musician, practicing her violin for many hours a day. She teaches and plays for events around the valley. She's also my compatriot on Temple Square, since she plays her violin on the Orchestra on Temple Square. She matches Amy in sweetness but it a little more vivacious and talkative- quite possibly our most talkative girl. She was also my gardening buddy this summer, since she was just as excited as I was to pull out the grass and plant the seeds. We spent some great time together on our knees in the dirt last spring. She has a constancy of faith that gives us all support.

Our second violinist is Cassaundra, although her violin gets about as much show time as my flute these days (read: not much). Cass is my fellow outdoors enthusiast, and she far outstrips me in terms of her activity. This girl loves motorcycles, rock climbing, snowshoeing, backpacking, hiking, and camping. She petite and spunky, and gentler than her red hair would suggest, but still with a good bit of snap to her personality. Cass has been my hot tubbing buddy recently as well, when we go down the street to take advantage of the boys' hot tub. She's very sensitive to emotions and relationship problems as one would expect from a girl with her master's in social work, but she's also very good at not wearing her therapist hat outside of work unless asked. But she also loves providing that assistance to friends in the right circumstances. She was an incredibly steadying figure for me last week when a long-overdue torrent of emotions burst out and created a very teary evening.

And there's me. I provide a lot of the leadership in the house- I set up times for us to do spring cleaning, to work on our emergency preparedness, to go out together for a roommate night on the town. I make the girls laugh a lot and provide a nice garden and a messy sewing table in the basement. And every night that we have roommate prayer, when we come in close for a group hug afterward, I look around and think how blessed I am. For the first time since I moved to Salt Lake, I feel like there is complete harmony in my home. Everyone's gift and personalities work together in such a beautiful way. It's safe. It's peaceful. It's a fortress from the world, and I love it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The pursuit of happiness

Tonight in the Relief Society session of General Conference, President Uchdorf touched on the topic of being happy now- of finding joy in what is happening in our lives at the moment, and not holding out for one magical event to take us to the land of happily ever after. And as I listened, I realized that by and large, that's not something I have a problem with. I do agree with President Uchdorf's added caution that we deserve to always be working to improve ourselves and reach towards goals, but life is so good. And today was a great example of its goodness. This morning I got up at six in order to hike Deseret Peak with Emily, Trevor, and Trevor's friend Ben. We didn't actually get on the trail until shortly after nine, due to the fact that we left a little late and it was an hour drive from Sugarhouse. But Emily and Trevor and both very fun people to talk to, as Ben proved to be also. The hike was definitely strenuous, but so fun. We marked our pace by keeping far enough ahead of a scout troupe that we couldn't hear them coming up behind us. If they got within earshot (and since these are scouts we're talking about, it was a pretty long earshot), we'd get moving. Fortunately, everyone very kindly put up with my penchant for stopping to take note of the flora and foliage, and I even had Trevor and Emily eating wild currents and elderberries with me. After that, Ben was making jokes about the younger berries, filled with angst, that grow really well next to wild oats. Oh, dear. There was a small, unfortunate incident in which Trevor did a handstand and landed, flat on his back, in a patch of burrs. We then engaged in some social grooming, since wearing a pack with a back full of burrs would be incredibly painful. Of course, while Emily and I were pulling burrs off his shirt, the group of older men that we'd just passed caught up with us. We were quick to assure them that we don't normally engage in social grooming. We summitted at lunchtime, and had a fabulous 360-degree view of Salt Lake, Toelle, and the West Desert. We stood on the peak of a little island of green in a sea of brown, hostile environment, and out to the west, the salt flats were clearly visible. It's amazing what a change in elevation can do for the ecosystem! Also at the summit, we found small snow banks. Ben mysteriously disappeared from view and reappeared a short time later, with some snow, laboriously chipped from the hardened bank, to throw at Trevor. We were impressed by the amount of effort that went into that. On the way down, our main adventure was opting to more or less slide down a ravine rather than go around the longer, and flatter, loop in the trail. I managed to find about every hole in the ground, well concealed with foliage, and once I sneezed so hard I almost knocked myself over backwards. But it was a beautiful little ravine, and that's where we added wild raspberries to our cache of edible snacks along the way. We concluded our journeys with a sing-a-long in the car on the drive back. On our descent, I had been singing songs to myself (note to siblings: there was no dining room table present, so this was legal). Most of the songs were from musicals, which apparently put Trevor in a musical frame of mind, so he and I sang along to Les Mis, Wicked, Mary Poppins, and other great shows as we drove. Then tonight, after the Relief Society broadcast, we had an unusually quiet and comfortable evening at our house. Amy was gone, but the rest of us randomly congregated downstairs, and as Kerstin transcribed her grandma's old journals, Amber cleaned the bathroom, and Cassaundra did a workout, I sat at my sewing machine, working on yet another project, and thought about how nice it was to have everyone home, and all downstairs together. We are such a busy group of girls that our schedules very rarely line up like that, and it felt so domestic and homey that it brought a certain contentment and peace to my soul. It reminded me that I truly do love my life right now, and at the same time, that that feeling is my goal. Hopefully I'll get to experience it more in the not-incredibly-distant future by having my own home with my own family, but my roommates are my adopted family for now, and I love that we love and trust each other enough to feel that kind of kinship and peace in our home. That's a big deal. A lot of people don't get to experience that. So, President Uchtdorf, I agree that the importance of enjoying life where it's at is vital. And I feel incredibly blessed to have such a good one.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Just some musings

A day off! What a beautiful thing! I just spent a few happy moments weeding my yard and now my hands smell like mint. Mint is such an exuberant plant, it grows all over the place, and it smells so nice. I also ate some cherry tomatoes and observed that my paste tomatoes are coming in nicely, so a batch of tomato sauce might be in the works soon. And I dug up the first of the rainbow mix carrots- orange, red, and white. Gardening is always a learning experience. For example this year I learned what I suspected but failed to act upon- the west side of the house is just a little too shady to provide sufficient light energy for fruit crops. Things like beets, greens, and carrots don't take nearly as much energy as things like watermelon, pumpkins, and cucumbers, because the latter are all reproductive structures. They take a lot of energy to create, and plants get that energy from sunlight. Carrots, on the other hand, are a vegetative crop, meaning it's just a part of the plant and the plant isn't making the carrot to produce seeds. So it takes a lot less energy. So next year, the vines will be going in the sun-filled backyard and the carrots will be going in the more shady west side of the house. But then the tomatoes will be moved, too, because tomatoes drain a lot of nutrients out of the soil, and I'll probably put beans in their place, since beans actually return nutrients to the soil. See? There's so much to it- I love it! I had a dream last night that I was flying to Rwanda but I was completely unprepared. Oddly, the thing I was most concerned about was that I didn't have a guidebook with me. This is pretty standard for me to have strange dreams before big events, but this seems to be a little early- we're just under twelve weeks out from Africa. But things are starting to solidify. I have a traveling companion now- my friend Brian's sister Molly. I have my yellow fever vaccination card. I can't wait to see Grace and her daughter Kelly. I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of a change. I don't know what it is, but something in me is holding back somehow. I'm pretty sure I know the reasons why, but something- something is going to happen soon, and I think it will be good. Life is always good. Life is always a constant adjustment to find the balance that works for a particular moment in time. And life is not linear, as much as we try to make it out to be.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Upgrading the "friend" status

The following musings have been percolating in my mind in some form or another for quite a long time, but for some reason that I can't fully explain, they have become much more focused recently. Probably just the cycle of life, of events happening around me. But for whatever reason, I find myself pondering the "buddy" situation.
I'm really good at being a buddy, a support system of some kind for a lot of people. This is great. I love the feeling I get from that- of being needed, wanted, of having my assistance and love be desired. It drives a lot of gears behind my magnetic attraction to playing with and spending a lot of time with kids, when I get the chance. It drove a lot of my ability to push through challenging situations at home, knowing that I could provide support for younger siblings and I wouldn't let them down if I could help it. And, I fear that it has directed me to a place where I am a fabulous friend for a lot of men my age. I've observed the trend for a long time- I'm really quite skilled at becoming good friends with guys I am attracted to- and then just staying good friends. Often a few dates will ensue, and then the equilibrium just drops into a comfortable friendship. They are often very open and honest and trusting friendships, very deep and genuine. But something about me or the way I go about things seems to leave me in a position to be "just friends," time and again and again.

I have unwillingly realized this again recently with a couple of my very favorite guys- a kind of "wait a second" moment when I realized that not only am I great friend material- I'm great filler friend material. That is, I'm a great constant to come back to when things don't work out with other women. I am great to fill the time in between relationships.

Now, I don't know how this will come across to readers, but it's not really written in self-deprecation, angst against the portion of the human race with Y chromosomes, or anger against the world. It's more a general pondering. I'm sure that friends of mine who read this might be thinking things like "you can't blame yourself," or, "it's not you, it's them," which is very kind, albeit not useful at all. One thing I've learned as a scientist is to look for trends and constants- and the trend is getting stuck in a friendship rut with guys, and the constant is me. I've pondered what to do about this, and the obvious thing is to eliminate the factors that are holding me in the trend- but that means stopping friendships with guys that I get a lot of enjoyment and enrichment from spending time with. Which then leaves a void, and of course to fill the void I wind up right back where I was. I guess I fill a gap in their lives and they fill a gap in mine as well, and if we were all ten years younger, it would be a great setup.

Of course, the other hang up is I'd much rather date someone whose faults and failings I know, who's a real person and a real friend, someone I already know I can trust and be safe with, than I would someone who sweeps me off my feet in a burst of twitterpation and it's only during the courtship that warts and blemishes start to come up. But most guys don't operate that way in my experience, which includes conversations with guys about this topic.

And of course, added to this are the times when it's hard to care as much as I want to. I'd love to be dating a great guy, but it's so much effort with so little visible response- and there's so much else to fill my time. There's my job and camping and road trips, and planning things for JNF, and choir rehearsal, and, oh yeah, doing activities with my guy friends that are in all kinds of shades of gray with regards to the term "date." It's a good life. And, just as I'd feared, I'm becoming more comfortable in it than I wanted to. So maybe I do need a Prince Charming to come along and save me from the comfortable rut I've gotten in. Maybe. But I'd still rather be his friend first.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Calling me back for more

All right, one more post. I wasn't sure if I wanted to put this on the blog or not, but it's been in my thoughts a lot lately.
It's been too long since I've been an adventuresome traveler. I travel a fair amount, but it's been over a year since I left the country and that was only for a cruise. I didn't even get a stamp in my passport, which was kind of lame. So now there comes an event which is a long time in planning and is still in planning, let's be honest.

Africa is calling me. It's been calling me for a while. I know I'm not remembering some aspects of it as well as I should, like being asked for handouts all the time and dealing with bugs and humidity and ugali for lunch every day. But smiling faced are calling me back.

I mentioned my friend Grace and her NGO on here a little while ago. I don't have time right now to bulk out the full story, but Grace is amazing and I love her. She's going to University right now to get a degree in community planning, which will really strengthen her skills and abilities to find the right people and set things up the right way to get grant money for orphans and street kids. And I get to help.

I'm definitely going to be doing some sightseeing when I get to Africa (mountain gorillas in Rwanda, anyone?), but the last part of the trip, in Kenya, will be a lot about Grace and James Njuguna Foundation. I promised Grace that I would raise some money for JNF, which is where I'm at now. Waaay out of my comfort zone. Which is so good for me! But I'm beginning to explore options for hosting a 5k, a massive bake sale, or some other thing that would allow me to present Grace with at least 1k when I meet her in Nairobi. Wouldn't that be great? Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Would you be willing to donate to the cause? Every stitch of money that I get will go straight to JNF, even if it means paying bank funds and such out of my own pocket.

Meanwhile, I'm working on getting a blog up and running for JNF where I can share stories of the women and kids that Grace is working with. Add it to your RSS feed! There will be a website soon, too- as soon as I can get it designed. I wrote all the copy from material that Grace gave me and my friend Michael the Chef constructed it- but we are not designers and we are looking for one. Do you know anyone who would be willing to design a fairly small website for a rather small fee? (At this point, it would be coming out of my pocket as well, since our funds are pretty much nonexistent).

But I exhort you all to go read the new blog and learn about the people that I am beginning to work with. The stories are quite amazing. You'll love them. I know I do.

Of gardens, outdoor oases, and other such things

My garden is growing! Most of it looks beautiful, but there are a few things that will definitely be improved upon next year. Something is eating the leaves right off my beans, although the cucurbits (vine fruit in the cucumber family) are not being eaten very much. Right now it looks like the cucurbits and the tomatoes and the basil are the big winners of the year. They are all healthy and thriving and producing flowers, excepet the basil, which is good. When basil flowers it puts all its energy into making seeds instead of deliciously scented and flavored leaves. I crushed a leaf from my cinnamon basil yesterday and it smelled like cloves. Yum!
Meanwhile, the beets and carrots are coming up in a rather patchy manner, mostly because the seed packages were a few years old and the seed viability was probably falling quickly. The peppers look healthy but the flowers appear to be dying before they can set fruit- I wonder if they want more sun. And I am very excited for my lemon cucumbers, sugar pumpkins, and nine varieties of tomatoes. See, isn't gardening an adventure?

I also finally got my new picnic table set up outside a few weeks ago, the solar-powered garden lights in, and my pots of hostas and bleeding hearts established. And I planted impatiens in Amber's window well, which, fortunately, she thought was funny. It was better than the weedy tree of heaven that was growing up from her window well before I sliced it down and put in the impatiens.

In order to celebrate the backyard oasis, and also because Trevor was bored, he come over on Friday night and we made kebabs on Cassaundra's little gas grill along with my roommates and our friend Jon the Amazing Mechanic. I was very excited for the bacon-wrapped mushrooms, even after they dripped on the grill and started a grease fire that somehow spread to the lid of the grill. Fortunately, Trevor, like many men, is a pyro enthusiast, so between the two of us we got some very tasty and not-too-badly-singed kebabs made. Kerstin, Cassaundra, and Sarah made mangoes and sticky rice for dessert. It was a lovely evening, and it solidified my pleasure in my picnic table purchase. Good friends and good food on a pleasant summer evening is one of the great pleasures in life.

And many things did come to pass

One unfortunate mark that depression has left on my life is that my desire to write is substantially decreased. I'm not depressed any more, but I used to have words almost flowing out of me, as my journals can attest. I make no claim as to their quality, but I wrote and wrote and wrote- mostly personal reflections and experiences that I didn't want to forget any details for. The year that I started keeping my journal electronically, I had about 70 pages, single spaced, by the end of the year.

I still love the idea of writing a lot, but it doesn't seem to compel me to the point where I have to sit down and pull out y computer. Thus, both my blog and my journal are scantier than they used to be.

This is sad to me. I wish it were not so. I'm starting to work on changing it back to how it was- especially since I know, as a scientist, that record keeping is critical. I also know that as a religionist. And just as a person who likes to remember what she's done and how she's felt at various times in her life. I think my favorite thing about rereading old journal entries is how much I can remember about how I felt at a certain stage of life based purely off of the topics of choice and also word choices. I've gone back and read entries from very hard times and been amazed at the upbeat, optimistic tone that I chose to record my emotions of the time. I've also read a few entries where the sheer pathos I put into baring my soul almost made me feel like I was intruding in a time that ought to be left alone as a sacred period of grief. I've chuckled with myself on rereading accounts of summer days and nights where life just seemed too delightful to be true, I've rolled my eyes with myself at anecdotes of confusing boys acting in ways that are hard to interpret, and I've sighed wistfully, rereading accounts of longing for certain events to come to pass in my life, some of which have been achieved (finally getting my master's, going to Kenya, singing in the choir), and some of which have not (marriage and family, having a well-established NGO, being independently wealthy and traveling the world).

I guess the point is, life is so rich and full of so many emotions and experiences that I really cherish my records. So I'm working on becoming an instinctive writer again.

As part of this, I am writing this post at night, per tradition, although it's not really late enough for me to start with "It's so late! I should be in bed!" (That's how about half of my journal entries start). But to prevent myself from going overkill and writing a huge, long entry, I will now end this ruminative post and start another one with a different topic.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The satisfaction of small things

I'm rather intrigued. After years of believing that I'm a terrible runner, that the activity is loathsome, and that I would never do it unless I forced myself to, I am discovering that probably my biggest problem was running too fast for my endurance level. Having slowed it down and built it up a little, I went on a jog yesterday morning that I later discovered, thanks to the glories of Google Maps, was a four mile round trip. This leads me to believe that my goal of a half marathon is not far-fetched, maybe even next year.
But that's still in the future. Yesterday's jog was my first outdoor run since the triathlon (thanks to the very wet weather Salt Lake has been having), and it was glorious jogging weather. The kind where I was chilly when I started but a very pleasant temperature when I stopped. I looped up along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, past the zoo, and ended at my destination, a little grassy knoll called Donner Park that I often drive by but have never explored. Upon arrival, having just jogged on an uphill slant for half a mile, I rewarded myself by allowing myself to walk along the paths in the park. Coming over the hilly part, I discovered a small playground, hidden from the road, that I hadn't known was there. I love playgrounds because of all the fun memories they bring back. I was such a playground kid- and still am, let's be honest. And when one is by oneself at a park, the best activity is without a doubt the swings.
I hadn't been on a swing in several months, so as I passed the swing set, I found myself veering to the right and taking advantage of the vacantness of the area to pump myself towards the sky. I've always loved swings, and there are some swings that have a special place in my heart. I could write a whole post about that (in fact, I wrote half of it before I realized that it was a huge digression from this post and put it in a Word document for safekeeping). Yesterday morning, fresh off of running two miles, it was wonderful to kick my feet up towards the clouds and realize that I really do love living in Salt Lake City. For now, it's the best place for me to be.
Donner Park is situated at an elevation and location to have a view of a lot of the unique things that make Salt Lake City special. Right behind me was Emigration Canyon, passageway into the mountains and all kinds of glories. Fittingly, of course, if I turned my head, I could also see This is the Place Park, which is not quite a living museum, because the staff do dress up in period clothing from the 1850s, but they don't pretend to actually be people from that time.
Ahead of me spread the whole valley, big and open, with the Great Salt Lake, hard to see because of the overcast day, sprawling behind the downtown skyline. To my left, blocked by a bank of trees, lay Kennecott Copper mine, a huge open mine that is fascinating, beautiful, and hideous, all by turns.
And those mountains- those mountains that I love so much. They are truly beautiful things and I love living in them and learning about them and exploring them. As I ended my swinging, I began to get excited for more opportunities to find new trails, new treasures, and new adventures in my mountains.
I jogged home and stretched in the backyard, where I could inspect and observe our newly-planted garden, and gloat over the rows of carefully planted seed and the tender young tomato and pepper plants. Ah yes, I thought to myself. I am a true botany nerd. How many people take this much pleasure from marking not only the growth of their plants but also the development of their anatomical and physiological features? Not nearly enough.
Hm. I find myself rambling again. Must be time for bed. Other fun and exciting things happened on Saturday, including a bridal shower for my sister Laura, a rousing game of six-square with my family, digging in the dirt and finding worms with my one-year-old nephew, mowing the lawn and accidentally jamming the lawn mower with grass, and sewing half of one of the most unique dress patterns I've ever worked with. But the details would take me too long to type out, so I will just leave you, my readers, with the
knowledge that I had a very enjoyable day, filled with the satisfaction of small things.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

There's no "try" in "triathalon"

Yesterday morning, Emily, Melanie, and I congregated with about a thousand other women at the fitness center in American Fork for their women-only sprint triathlon. After all my careful doube0checking, I did remember all the crucial things to have- swimsuit, bike helmet, running shoes- and most of the nonessentials, too. It was a beautiful sunshiney morning, the one sunny day sandwiched in between all the rainy ones. Perfect triathlon weather.
My goal was to complete the race and to complete it without coming to a complete stop at any point in time. And I succeeded. I didn't love it the whole time, but there's enough of a competitive spark in me that even when I was wondering why I wanted to do this, I was still observing the people around me and making sure I kept pace as much as I could.
A few things stand out in my mind as pivotal in this event. First, the sheer triumph of knowing that I have the strength to do something like a sprint triathlon. I remember being in high school and dealing with Candidas (which has symptoms very similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and having to go home and sleep for long periods of time just to have the energy to get through the remaining school day. Or being a college student and not being able to carry my backpack across campus all the time because of the searing pain behind my ribcage when I wore too much weight.
Yesterday that familiar pain behind my right shoulder blade made an appearance on the run- the final stretch of the race. I was frustrated and annoyed at first, and went from a jog to a walk for a while. But then I realized that the pain hadn't been there for several months, even with the increased activity I've been doing. And then I celebrated- in a sweaty, tired kind of way.
A second thing that made an impact on me was the support of friends and strangers both. No one was at the race to cheer for me- Kerstin was going to come but ended up going to a funeral instead. But she stayed up on Wednesday night and made me a special triathlon support sign for my door, and she texted me on Saturday morning before the race to let me know she was cheering me on. And there were people along the race route who cheered for everyone- some in a rather placid manner, but some with a large dose of ebullience. There were kids who held out their hands on the 5k route to give us five as we ran past. There was one little girl who jumped up and down every time someone ran past calling, "good job! Good job!" And I hope all those people know how much they boosted my spirits along the way. I'm so independent in most of my life that I almost forget just how much I love getting that support and cheering from people. But it always makes a difference.
Lastly, afterward when I was talking energetically with Mel and Em and we made plans to2 do it again, I realized yet again how lucky I've been to find such good friends, who not only have interests like mine but give me opportunities to improve and excel in those interests. We are making plans to go back to Cedar City for some Shakespeare this summer and climb a few mountains and go on a few campouts. And now I am on a new topic- Summer Plans- that could fill a while nother blog post, so I will save that for another day and conclude by saying that I am very glad that I completed my first triathlon and I'm excited to do another one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Roll round with the year, and never stand still

Like a lot of things in my life, blogging seems to come and go in cycles. I often will think up little anecdotes and stories that I can't wait to post, but then when there's actually time to do so, which isn't often these days, I've lost the phrasing that made them sound so elegant and articulate, if I can remember what I wanted to write in the first place.
I'm not even sure why I'm making time tonight. By rights I should be in bed. I left for work this morning at a quarter after seven, learned how to culture peripheral blood, quantified DNA, scored cells labeled with fluorescence in situ hybridization, and hybridized microarrays until about 4:20, swam from 4:50 to 5:40, got soaked in the slush storm walking back to my car, went to Temple Square, and sat in the recording studio with my crocheting until class started at 7:25. I got home at 10:00. This is a very standard day for me right now on Tuesdays and Thursdays at least. Going to bed is a luxury. But I felt compelled to write something tonight.
In my swim class, I regularly marvel at the drastic change in ability I've seen in myself. When I began this class at the beginning of February, I swam one length -25m- at a time and stopped to breathe hard after each one. I was pretty proud of the 600m I swam back then. Today I went to class and did four lengths in a row with barely a pause in between. I completed 1300m total. And I wasn't nearly as winded when I was done. I tend to push myself quite hard- Mel swims with a lot more deliberation, really focusing on the technique, where I tend to attack it more head on, like something to be conquered. I'd love to find a place somewhere between our two approaches.
I've noticed a lot lately that the years of dance instruction I took as a child still impact my muscle memory habits regularly, which is interesting to me. By no stretch would I ever have called myself a ballerina, but when I stand in rehearsal to sing, I find myself alternating between mostly third and fifth position, sometimes second. Then I'll realize that I'm standing on one turned-out foot and pointing the toe of the other in front of me, to the side, to the back. Then I'll be doing a very subtle releve and plie (going up on my toes and bending my knees). I was in a running class a few weeks ago and the instructor was having us do backward lunges. He watched my lunges narrowly for a minute and then asked "are you a ballerina? You're going into pointe when you raise your leg in front of you."

The interesting thing to me is that I don't think about any of this. My body just does it because of some training I had well over a decade ago- some of it over two decades ago. It's habit, it's memory built in to me.

I started reading President Monson's biography (on the biking machine, about my only available reading time right now), and one of the main themes woven throughout is how Thomas Monson's whole life has trained him to habitually serve, give, and inspire. He doesn't think about it, he doesn't make calculated plans- he has just been so imbued in a culture of giving and serving, from his childhood on up, that it's a habit. He gets a prompting, and his trained response is "yes. I will go and do." One thing that stood out to me more than any other when I watched his DVD biography (for lack of a better term) was towards the end when he says something to the effect of that when the Lord has an errand to be run, he wants the Lord to know that He can trust Tom Monson to do it. Something about that statement almost brings me to tears even now, just thinking about it.

How would it be to be so trained to respond to the guidance of the Lord that running errands for Him was second nature? That, like my pointed toes, I wouldn't even necessarily realize that I was doing anything out of the normal course? I want to be like President Monson.

Another thing I love about this man is that he, as his friends describe him, is larger than life. He is who he is and he doesn't apologize for it or try to make himself smaller in order to make others feel better about themselves. He just shines, and those who come in his path get shined on and feel better for it. This, in my mind is what real humility is- not false modesty or hiding under a bushel, but truly shining forth and acknowledging the source from whence the light comes. Using the light to reach out to everyone, that all may be edified.

Doesn't that sound great? Let's do it! Let's all be truly humble and shine forth like God intended for us to do! Hooray!

I must be truly tired- I started my rambles talking about my day and swimming, and I'm ending on a much higher plane. This is good. THe goal is always to go higher than I am. With quite a few sidesteps back to lower ground along the way. But always looking up.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A lot of different "me"s

I am rereading (for the umpteenth time) one of my favorite books- Anne of Green Gables. There is so much in Anne that I feel makes us kindred spirits and I love all the descriptive passages that L.M. Montgomery includes. I feel like she always has little gems of wisdom and truth tucked in the humorous stories of Anne's adventures.

One passage in particular caught my eye the other day- Anne is talking to her friend Diana and says:

"There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I am such a troublesome person. If I were just one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but the it wouldn't be half so interesting."

Like Anne, I feel like there are such a lot of Marias in me. Some of the Marias are not very admirable and are rather selfish, and some of the Marias can just dance and sing for joy that the world exists and there are people in it. I am working constantly to encourage those Marias to grow bigger and stronger. Sometimes the progress comes in great leaps and bounds. Sometimes it feel like it might be going backwards. And such is the joy of life.

When I was a girl, I was extremely haphazardous. I had no self-discipline for anything. I took ballet lessons, gymnastics lessons, played soccer and coach pitch and did swim team and 4-H. My mother taught me to cook and sew and garden and play the piano. And I loved all these things. But I wanted to jump right in and go, proceed without thinking, and I couldn't stand the disciplined work it took to do a job well done. My early sewing projects can attest to this. I remember when I made some delicacy in the kitchen and was amazed at how poorly it turned out because I had no clue that the directions included with the ingredients list were actually meant to be read and followed. I have no idea how many scowls and fits of temper my mother put up with or how many times she told me to slow down a little. It was probably a near-daily occurrence. It reflected in my schoolwork, too. I loved school and learning and reading, but the discipline it took to be a good student was more than I was willing to invest. I was a certified bookworm by the time I was eight, but my mom had to make a rule that when we went to the library I had to get at least one book I'd never read before, because the effort of reading a new book was too great compared to the ease and comfort of a book I knew like an old friend.

This carried over into junior high. I started playing the flute and I remember conversations between my flute teacher and my mother that essentially consisted of Merrilee telling Mom that I could be a very good flutist if I would just take the time to practice, and Mom rolling her eyes in agreement.

Two things initiated the first change from the haphazardous Maria to the more work-oriented Maria. The first began, actually when I started junior high. That's when Mom started showing symptoms of her illness. With so many younger siblings, I'd always played a caretaking role around the house, but now it increased. I got up early a lot of mornings to make breakfast for the family. I felt sorry for myself a lot, until I realized that I was spending more time feeling sorry for myself than I was actually doing anything useful. Then, as Mom's health got worse, I slowly started stepping it up.

The other thing was the change in my own health. I had always prided myself on my good constitution and strong little body. When I was 10 years old, I could do 15 pull ups, a fact that delighted my father. But now in junior high, I developed a very painful condition in my arms called thoracic outlet syndrome. It was two years before the problem was diagnosed and operated on. Those were two long, painful years. But the stubborn Maria decided to face them head-on. Now that it was actually challenging to play the flute, I started practicing with an intensity I'd never had before. Now that I couldn't do much else, I was certainly going to do well in school. One semester in ninth grade, I missed two weeks of school (and would have missed more if my mother had her way) recuperating from two surgeries. Well, I may be missing school but you'd better believe I head-butted that challenge straight on and stayed on the honor role with my grades.

Isn't it interesting that the stubborn Maria actually ended up being a tool for the disciplined Maria to make an appearance? It continues today, to be honest. I chose to be a scientist. I love science, but it's not the most intuitive thing for me to do. When I started working in a lab as an undergrad, my lab book was a mess, for a scientist. I didn't have an eye for the kind of painstaking detail and note taking that is required to excel in this field. As I look back over seven years of mishaps and learning experiences of all kinds, I feel that I've really pulled myself up by the bootstraps in a lot of ways. And that has spilled over into other areas of my life and what I've come to refer to as conscious creating. Every second of every day, I am creating things- usually I am creating moods and feelings and thoughts and words, but sometimes I am creating assays and documents and lab notes at work, or quilts and skirts and gardens and meals at home, or experiences for myself or other people. A lot of what I create is not really intentional. It just happens as life goes by. But when I stop and map out what I intend to create and what my goal is, then I am creating consciously and taking hold of the reins of my life rather than just always allowing life to happen to me.

I feel like that's the most important difference between that Maria that used to dominate my life and the one that I am currently cultivating. This Maria has plans and dreams. She has goals and she knows enough to know that she wants them and is willing to set aside momentary pleasures and desires (often, but not always) to achieve her desired creations. She wants to create a good career, a beautiful singing voice, a healthy body, and a compassionate spirit, all of which involve a good deal of commitment and dedication. And it's not easy, because the Maria who's stubborn and always wants to have fun and get results right now without any effort is still here, putting in her voice and opinions. And another Maria, who is depressed and anxious, also speaks up from time to time and makes the whole vision blurry and seem pointless and hopeless. But these Marias have served to make me stronger in the past, so I trust that they can continue to do so, even though I dislike their presence so much.

So maybe in this life I'll never get to the comfort of having a single Maria inside of me. But maybe I'll continue to learn from the other Marias, since they may not be going anywhere. And as Anne said, that might just make things more interesting.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Today I am grateful for the crisp, cool morning air on my face and the damp soil on my hands while I planted seeds in my yard.
I am grateful for a safe neighborhood with fun houses to go jogging in.
I am grateful for the wonderful people in the Chorale and their love and friendliness.
I am grateful for my sewing machine and for Christina, who worked on sewing together quilt pieces with me.
I am grateful for Matt and Tricia and the great lunch they made.
I am grateful for my fun, adorable nephews.
I am grateful for Angi and her friendship and the opportunities she'll get to have at college next year.
I am grateful for my wonderful grandma in Minnesota and her open, warm, loving nature
I am grateful for goals and lessons and learning and repentance and second chances
I am grateful for my power to choose how I feel and react
I am grateful for Temple Square and the first blooming bulbs.
I am grateful for the Little House books and all the fun relaxation they've given me over the years.
What are you grateful for?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

And now the year changes

I've always had a slightly funny feeling about New Year's resolutions. It strikes me that if there are things that require attention in my life, it shouldn't have to wait until January to do something about. I'm more about starting resolutions when I become aware that something should change and that I have enough energy to give to it. But that aside, when January hits I do start dreaming about what the spring and summer will bring and getting excited.

This year, several things are exciting me about the coming spring and summer. For starts, I signed up to do a mini triathalon with Em and Mel. In preparation for this, all three of us are taking swimming lessons which started today. It felt so good to get back in a pool. It brought back a lot of nostalgia from my childhood.

Also, Emily and I are both moderately fanatical about gardens. This year's garden will be more involved than last year's. New tomato and basil varieties have been ordered, and Em gave me seeds for snap peas, beans, watermelon, lemon cucumbers, and a couple other things. I have visions of turning the backyard patio into a hospitable place for hosting friends- maybe garden lights, Chinese lanterns, seating, and a border of flowers? Too bad that's where the garbage can has to go as well . . .

Also, Michael the Chef and I are involved in a project that may end up consuming a lot of my time in the future, working with Grace on an NGO in Kenya (Grace is James' widow and I'll probably tell her story out in much greater detail in the future). This may involve a trip to Kenya sometime this year, when ticket prices are less than $2,000. At least it costs very little to actually be in Kenya, it's just getting there that's more expensive. But right now it's a lot of research and background work and Michael gets to make the website, since I don't know how to do that.

Also, sometimes it's hard to keep my money from all going into the U of U's continuing education program. Right now the big temptation is mostly gardening classes, although this one also is drawing me in substantially.

Also, what's left of my time is mostly going to the Temple Square Chorale and Choir School. This is the training program for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Chorale meets on Tuesday nights for the most part and Choir School meets on Thursdays. 100% attendance required. With some of the nicest people I've ever met, both in the choir and on the staff. It's very fun, but also tiring, not getting home until 10 PM. But very fun. I am amazed at how much behind-the-scenes work goes into this choir. I probably shouldn't be surprised, based on the size of the group and the amount of performing they do. We observed a "big choir" rehearsal on Thursday as part of our choir school class. The reason we are required to know a lot of music theory is that this choir has no time to waste on learning notes or rhythms. Rehearsals are for more in-depth concepts like dynamics, tempo, intonation, and emotion. And oh, it's fun.

So, yeah. Good things are ahead. It's a good year. I'm excited. And I hope you are, too.