Thursday, November 17, 2011

Quiet Thankfulness

There are few things that make me more grateful than watching the picture slide show screen saver roll by on my computer.  How grateful I am for all the people who have come into my life at one time or another, and for all the experiences I have enjoyed across the world.  I am ridiculously blessed.

I am grateful that my screen saver pops up when I need to be reminded of those blessings.  Tonight I was just beginning to feel the stirrings of panic in my stomach as I researched for my thesis.  I have sooooooo much more to learn and study and think about before I can even begin writing!  There simply aren't enough hours left in the seven months before my paper is due.  Sounds like a long time, right?  Yep, it so often does to my too-easily distracted self, too.  But I am in LOVE with my topic.  In a moment of pure insanity, I chose a topic on something I knew literally nothing about and have had to begin my research from scratch.  Every time I pick up my books to study a bit more, my sense of wonder increases as I realize that somehow this topic really IS something that seriously fascinates me.  I stumbled across the perfect forum to study the tension  between ceremonialism and spirituality in Christianity.  Corporeal vs. ethereal.  Ritual vs. the inner devotion of the heart.  Awesomely, this all relates directly to Christianity's relationship with its Jewish past.  Fascinating stuff, and who would have guessed the writers of the English Reformation and beyond would have had such interesting things to say about it?  It's all very thrilling, but the panic comes nonetheless (or perhaps because it is so thrilling), and I needed my photos to start sliding by tonight to remind me about how good life has been to me, and how much the Lord has done for me and will continue to do for me.  Peace has settled in again.

The peace is magnified by the atmosphere here in our little home.  I have been asked to teach the young women in my church congregation.  Each Sunday, I meet with the 16 and 17-year-old girls and we talk about everything under the sun, from forgiveness and scripture study to dating decisions, to recognizing our individual worth, to being dependable, preparing for change and choosing a vocation.  The young women also have a personal challenge, to be worked on and completed between the ages of 12 and 18.  It's a program called "personal progress" and is basically a self-improvement plan that helps them work on specific goals and develop particular talents and strengths in eight different areas: faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity and virtue.  The leaders are encouraged to work on the program also, especially since personal growth and progression really shouldn't end at 18!  I've been thinking about the things I can and have been working on in my life.  My thesis is obviously the biggest single commitment to "knowledge" that I have ever made and I undertook the commitment with the keen hope that doing so would bless my life and the life of my family literally forever.  I was thinking about other areas of focus in my life too.  My apartment has been quite the project for me ever since I returned to the States.  I felt this urgent obsession to come back not only to my husband, but to a home.  I loved (LOVED) my flatmates in England, and did not mind sharing a flat with them in the least.  But it was difficult to go from my beautiful first married apartment to a space over which I had little to no control.  I missed being able to create a home.  I was really struck by the words of President Uchtdorf, one of the twelve apostles, given in a women's conference a few years ago.  The passage is fairly long, but so powerful!!:

The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before. 
Everyone can create. You don’t need money, position, or influence in order to create something of substance or beauty. 
Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty [...]
You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.” 
If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit daughters of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination. 
But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fulness of joy. Our birthright—and the purpose of our great voyage on this earth—is to seek and experience eternal happiness. One of the ways we find this is by creating things.

I love that.  I have felt driven to create something of beauty and peace as I organize my new apartment into a home.  I have gathered things from Goodwill and the clearance racks of other stores to beautify our shelf and wall spaces.  I have printed out pictures I have taken or found online (specifically the New York library public online archives.  SO COOL - and free!) to put on the walls.  I have found new ways to add light to our otherwise very ill-lit rooms.  I have made a renewed effort to keep things clean and tidy.  My most recent addition to our home?: a new set of couches, for which Dave and I have been saving for months.  I think David, especially, was grateful, since he has been sitting on the floor now for just two weeks less than a year.  It was a big purchase, but we felt they would help to make our home a place of comfort and beauty, where we could invite friends, co-workers, neighbors, missionaries and families interested in the church to meet with us.  This desire to create a peaceful shelter from the world in our little space here in Arizona has been my commitment to grow my testimony of divine nature, and feel the strength that comes from exercising one of God's great gifts to us: the power of creation.

It is evenings like these, when I sit in my living room (on the new sofa!), listening to my soft pre-Christmas music, studying fascinating things about the world by the light of our nearest floor lamp, that I feel perfectly content.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christmas Music Rebellion

Tonight I am playing my pre-Christmas music.  Or maybe my "soft" Christmas music (in a soft commitment kind of way).  I sort of consider this playlist a general winter song track.  It's the kind of music that I don't remember exists until around the end of October when there begins to be a chill in the air.  In fact, it's very possible that the desire to listen to this playlist is triggered by the sight of snow.  My current presence in Arizona makes my listening to this music unlikely, then, but there was a bit of snow dusting the mountain tops in Utah when I was there a few weeks ago.  That was probably it.

There are three cds that fit in this category of pre-Christmas.  Two are Windham Hills celtic Christmas cds.  Some of the songs are blatantly Christmasy and lots of others aren't...or at least, they aren't American Christmas songs.  I have a feeling that my dad loved the flute/harp/guitar combos and played these discs a lot when I was growing up - especially in the evenings while we all cozied up in our warm Minnesota house and watched the snow fall on the trees in our backyard.  That's the image that comes to mind every time I hear one of the songs.  It's an incredibly peaceful memory.

The third disc was a newer addition to the playlist.  It's the Little Women soundtrack, which is without doubt my favorite soundtrack of all time.  The music is brilliant, and there is something so very wintry about it too.  Unfortunately, I don't actually own that cd (I purchased the other two over various winters away at college).  I have to hit YouTube each time I want my Little Women pre-Christmas fix.

Having three "soft"-Christmas cds is my little Christmas music rebellion.  It allows me to judiciously uphold the no-Christmas-until-after-Thanksgiving rule.  And it allows an outlet for my post-Christmas sorrow even after the decorations have been packed away.  It's the perfect solution to my heart's desire for an extended Christmas season.

Of course, last year it wasn't necessary to stick strictly to my pre-Christmas music pre-Thanksgiving.  After all, there wasn't actually a Thanksgiving to stand sentinel before the Christmas season.  The rest of England busted out Christmas at the beginning of November.  When in Rome, right? ;)    

Friday, November 4, 2011

Til Death and Beyond!!

I love weddings.  Love them.

It's a fairly recent thing.  I think it happened when my own wedding day was so fabulous.  I've been giddy about weddings ever since, and they are especially good when they are close friends or relatives!  I can't believe my little brother is all grown up and married, but it's true, it happened.  Dave and I spent the. most. perfect. autumn. weekend. ever. in Utah a couple of weeks ago and looooved spending the time with both my family and his.  Saturday was bright, cool (but warm in the sun, so basically perfect) and glorious in every way. The trees were still hanging brilliant colors and everyone had pumpkins and gorgeous fall flowers on their porch steps.  My brother and his new bride could literally not have chosen a more perfect day.  I'm not kidding when I say that I was quite jealous.  I had originally wanted an October wedding, and their day was just the kind of wedding day I had envisioned for myself.  I'm glad someone could enjoy it anyway :)  Weddings are best told in pictures, so here it goes:

This was literally the first of their kisses I ever saw.  It's good to know they like each other!

One happy groom :D

Love these guys!

My beautiful parents!

My sweet sister, growing up fast

My adorable grandparents!

My other adorable grandparents!


Love the smile!

Wedding party - I totally loved the grays!

Awww, my cute brothers

Ah, my bros

HOT - this face is why I married him ;)

...and Derek

Couldn't miss out on the fun

The best place for a marriage!

Love this guy!