Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Will Rejoice

Merry Christmas, friends and family. I love this time of year. November gives us an especially poignant opportunity to reflect on those things for which we are grateful, and I realized that this year, I was thankful for Thanksgiving! Early on in our nation's history, we decided to set aside sacred time just to be grateful for our blessings. What a beautiful holiday!

December is the month of Advent, a time of inward reflection and outward looking-forward, a time of rejoicing and expectation. Though Advent is rarely practiced in the U.S., I fell in love with the season while living in England and have decided to adopt it for my own family. Every Sunday this month, I have lit one more candle around the Advent wreath on our kitchen table, symbolizing the Light that is about to come into the world with the birth of the Savior. The Advent program I received in Cambridge one Sunday said, "Christ comes to bring light to a darkened world.  As the candles on the Advent wreath are lit the illumination increases and the darkness is progressively dispelled." Love that. I love how Advent helps keep the focus on Christ throughout the busy Christmas season. 

I also love the combination of scriptures that the Church of England has gathered for its liturgy. You can find them and other Advent liturgical information here, but I think I'll post them for you too, in case anyone is interested :)

First Sunday: The King and his kingdom
1. Zechariah 9.9,10 
Psalm 72.1-8

2. Jeremiah 23.5,6
Psalm 21.1-7

3. Psalm 118.19-29 
Psalm 24

4. Isaiah 9.2,6,7 
Psalm 28.7-10

5. Isaiah 7.10-15 
Psalm 132.10-16

6. Romans 12.1,2; 

Gospel. Matthew 25.1-13 

Second Sunday: The forerunner
1. Exodus 3.1-6 
Psalm 99

2. Isaiah 40.1-11 
Psalm 103.8-17

3. Isaiah 52.7-10 
Psalm 147.1-6

4. Malachi 3.1-5 
Psalm 97

5. Isaiah 61.1-3,11 
Psalm 146

6. Philippians 4.4-7 

Gospel. Luke 1.5-25 

Third Sunday: A vigil for prisoners and those who sit in darkness
1. Isaiah 43.1-7 
Psalm 46.1-4, 11, 12

2. Psalm 107.1-3, 10-16 
Psalm 130

3. Isaiah 61.1-3,11 
Psalm 146

4. Isaiah 42.5-9 
Psalm 43

5. Isaiah 62.1-7, 10-12 or Micah 4.1-5 
Psalm 85.1-7

6. Ephesians 2.11-22 

Gospel. Matthew 25.31

Fourth Sunday: Looking for the light
1. Genesis 1.1-5 
Psalm 136.1-9

2. Psalm 13 
Psalm 43

3. Isaiah 45.2-8 
Psalm 97

4. Isaiah 60.1-5
Psalm 84.8-12

5. Isaiah 9.2,3,6,7 
Psalm 36.5-10

6. 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11,23,34

Gospel. Luke 12.35-40 or John 3.16-21 

One of the things I appreciated as I took on this course of Advent scripture study this year was that Advent is not only about looking forward to Christmas (the day we remember the birth of Jesus Christ), but is also very prominently about looking forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. We are reminded to reflect on our lives and to repent and come unto Him as we prepare for His coming. This time is a time to prepare to meet God, in a beautiful, sacred, expectant way. We rejoice at His coming. We look forward to it and we better ourselves because of it. I felt the goodness of the Lord throughout this season, and I am grateful for that feeling of peace and joy.

I am grateful for my sweet family and the sweet feeling of safety and love in our home. I am excited to share this time - my favorite time of year - with Madelyn. We have been singing and dancing to wonderful Christmas music all season. I have been delighted to share her first Christmas experiences with her: walking through our neighborhood Christmas tree lot after dark, with the lot's twinkling lights hanging above us and the snow falling softly around us, choosing our first live Christmas tree; hanging ornaments; picking up (and shaking and piling) the gift-wrapped packages as they appeared under the tree; walking around Temple Square with all its lights; tasting gingerbread cookies; going sledding for the first time; attending church choir practice as we prepared for our Christmas program; watching the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Alfie Boe Christmas Concert on DVD. We have had an idyllic month. 

I wish you all the most joyful of holidays and the same peace and love in your homes and families. 

As Alma said, only a few years before the birth of the Savior: 
Now is the time to repent, for the day of salvation draweth nigh;
Yea, and the voice of the Lord, by the mouth of angels, doth declare it unto all nations; yea, doth declare it, that they may have glad tidings of great joy; yea, and he doth sound these glad tidings among all his people, yea, even to them that are scattered abroad upon the face of the earth; wherefore they have come unto us.
And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice.
Book of Mormon, Alma 13: 21, 22, 25 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ah, Halloween

Halloween wasn't HUGE at my house growing up. We did hang some Halloween cardboard cutouts in our window - not this, but something like this:

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And we did love carving pumpkins. Every year we proudly drew a face on our very own pumpkin, then either carved it ourselves or let Dad do it...probably Dad did most of them. We waited excitedly for everyone to finish so that we could turn out the lights for the dramatic illumination. Every year we took a picture of our pumpkins lined up and glowing on the kitchen table.

Costumes were homemade and probably caused my mother no end of stress as she tried to come up with a way to meet the demands of our imaginations. She did a remarkably good job! As I got older I loved being responsible for the face paint. There were many years when I drew a huge Y over the eyes, nose and mouth of my younger brothers so they could be epic BYU fans.

We would meet my best friend from the other side of the block and go around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. Then my brothers and I would spend days doing complex candy auctions, trading candy like it was the stock market.

My freshman year of college, my roommates and I dressed up in simple, "find-things-around-the-apartment" costumes (I donned my ski gear and became a "skiier"). My apartment joined with one of the guy apartments across the way and we went pumpkin caroling (by replacing Christmas carol lyrics with Halloween-themed lyrics and singing door-to-door) in a local neighborhood. Ok, so maybe it was a little embarrassing, but we were freshman in college and we had a blast. Lots of families loved it and we came away with a bit of candy ourselves, even though we weren't officially trick-or-treating.

So maybe Halloween wasn't a huge deal, but it was definitely something we enjoyed every year and it was always a day filled with family and friends. Maybe that's why I felt a definite sense of let-down on Halloween the first year Dave and I were married. No one would be trick-or-treating to our childless apartment complex and we didn't have any way to celebrate. In Arizona, we spent Halloween with our best friends - from that same pumpkin caroling group of freshmen - and their children, who were old enough to dress up and trick-or-treat and be excited about the holiday. This year...

This year we had our own child! It took me until October 30th to realize it, but once I did I felt a strange kind of happiness. Maybe I could start reviving some of that childhood Halloween magic.

I started by making "Dinner in a Pumpkin," something my mom made for us every Halloween before we went trick-or-treating. You add hamburger, rice, water chestnuts (and I added chopped almonds) and seasonings to the hollowed-out inside of a pumpkin. Then, the directions clearly state to "paint an appropriate face on the front of the pumpkin with a permanent marking pen":

 I called Dave and asked him to pick up a pumpkin for us to carve on his way home from work (because really, I hadn't even thought that far). Poor Madelyn has had a miserable week (ear and eye infections on both sides, plus a molar coming in) but she was pretty intrigued by our pumpkin. She loved feeling the slimy insides with her fingers and insisted on sticking her foot into the bowl filled with pumpkin guts. As parents, we try to enable our child's curiosity but poor Madelyn burst into tears as soon as her foot touched the cold, slimy, stringy mess. At least she learned for herself?

We like friendly more than scary... the first annual glowing pumpkin photo

A common Madelyn face this week

 We struggled to come up with a family costume idea (last year it was garden gnomes, two years ago we were Angry Birds) - the best I could come up with was Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato (Madelyn would have made a darling tomato, but I probably would have been a hideous lettuce). So we combed Grandma's costume box and made Madelyn an adorable ladybug. Surprisingly, Madelyn loved her costume, especially after seeing herself in the mirror. She wore it happily all night.

Working on her walking

2nd cousins appraising each other down the hallway

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Healers of Souls

My husband and I have been reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People together and supplementing with 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (I recommend reading them in conjunction, since the habits are the same. Together, you get a rich perspective on how to assist yourselves on both an individual and a family level). The books encourage writing a personal, couple, and family mission statement.

Yesterday I was thinking about what I could include in a personal mission statement. Something was obvious immediately (based on the subject of my recent "---M.St, Mom" post). I knew I wanted to "give my time and energy to my children and home and love it."

There was another, perhaps similar, thing I wanted to include too. I want each day to focus on who I want to BE, not on what I want to DO. It seems to me that my days will look and feel different if I pattern them after the kind of person I want to be and the kind of home I want my house to be. It's when I worry about whether or not I'm doing what I want to do that I start feeling bored and discontented.

Then there was something I wanted to add about my relationship with other people. I am a quiet soul. Remember that "23 Surprising Signs You're an Introvert" that's been going around? Only number 12 didn't apply to me. Some of them really, really apply to me (rather give a talk in front of 500 people than mingle after? Uh huh. I have spoken in front of 500(+) people without my heartbeat accelerating but my poor husband has to do major pep-talking and literally push me out the door if I'm going alone to a small, private dinner party for a select group of people I've never met).

Unfortunately, my natural fears don't fit very well with my strong belief that people are here to help each other, to brighten each other's days, to be mindful enough of another person to see when she might need a friend. It's been a challenge for me to push aside my introvert fears and cheerfully bless lives. Sometimes - maybe more often than not - my fears win. An elderly woman lives next to my in-laws. She loves to see Madelyn, so one day when I was out walking with Madelyn past her house, I thought, "I should go knock on the door and say hello!" But then the inevitable next thought came: "What on earth would I say?"

That is always my thought. I sit down next to a woman I don't know too well in the woman's class at church and I rack my brain: "What should I say, what should I say?"

So I didn't knock on my neighbor's door. I've regretted it ever since, but mostly in a panicky, I-still-can't-go-do-it sort of way. Ah, it sounds so pathetic writing it down.

What do I write in my personal mission statement that encompasses this need to fight my fears and bless lives? How do I put into words the goal to become like the sweet friend who showed up at my house the evening before we pulled out of Arizona with a bucket of cleaning supplies and started attacking my microwave and fridge without even waiting for me to give directions? I want to similarly be able to come prepared to work, to see a need and do it, without having to be told what to do and how (let's be honest, if she'd waited for my directions, I probably would have been too embarrassed to let her clean my dirty appliances and would have had her polish doorknobs or something ultimately unhelpful).

How do I say that I want to make blessing lives my ultimate priority? The phrase came into my mind: "Healer of Souls." I want to be a healer of souls.

President Uchtdorf, one of the presiding Apostles of my church, gave an amazing talk in the men's session of the church-wide General Conference last April. In it, he discussed the imperative of men (and I'll add women, which he would have done if he'd been addressing the general church at the time) who truly follow Jesus Christ to be healers of souls. I loved this:
It is our job to build up, repair, strengthen, uplift, and make whole. Our assignment is to follow the Savior’s example and reach out to those who suffer. We “mourn with those that mourn … and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” We bind up the wounds of the afflicted. We “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”
Of course, this doesn't just apply to those who mourn or suffer in big or obvious ways. Don't we all suffer in some way sometimes, whether it's from loneliness or self-doubt or whether we're troubled about the increasingly troubling world we live in?

Doesn't that phrase just mean so much? I decided that if there was a one phrase motto I could create for my whole family it would be, "We are healers of souls." Wouldn't that teach my children to be more aware of the needs of their friends and classmates? Wouldn't that teach my husband and me to look outward at our neighbors, our church congregation, and our community before getting too caught up in the bustling daily affairs of family life? Wouldn't that teach siblings to help each other? Wouldn't that teach parents to be more aware of the children's emotional and spiritual needs than just to worry about their physical activities?

I hope that if "Healer of Souls" is a phrase I can include in my personal mission statement and keep in my heart and mind, I will be better able to push aside my introvert nature and "go about doing good."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

England Pictures

Doing a little catch-up here. We spent an absolutely gorgeous week in England with my parents just prior to our move. Yes, we brought Madelyn. We were so glad we did; she remained good-natured and happy for most of the trip. We did some sight-seeing (Stonehenge, Cardiff coast and Windsor), quite a bit of family history touring (Bath area and Bristol), some graduating (Cambridge), and some meeting up with good friends (Cambridge and Kew). We covered a lot of ground during that time, but I was able to see many things I hadn't seen during my previous stay and it was so fun to see the towns, houses and churches that meant so much to my ancestors two hundred years ago. Here are (lots of) pictures for your viewing pleasure and my personal record keeping:

Madelyn loved watching the trucks and planes on the tarmac.

Like grandfather, like granddaughter.

I'm convinced that when it came down to it, we just couldn't have left that face at home.

Cool contraption that Madelyn could sleep in on the overseas flight. Didn't last long, but I'm grateful the airlines think up such things anyway. 

Cool walky-listeny thing that told us all about Stonehenge - a site I hadn't seen while living in England.

Madelyn and Grandma were asleep in the car.

I love British food, actually, but when you're jet-lagged because your international flight arrived at 7:00 am and you are driving all day across the country, Burger King is as good as anything.

Monkton Combe - area where my dad's ancestors settled.

South Stoke, near Bath, where my ancestors lived.

The church at South Stoke where my ancestors were married.

Dad writing in the guest book:

I love English homes, spilling over with flowers.

The house in Bristol where my mom's great-grandfather was born and grew up. She only found her great-grandfather's notes recently, so she is the first of her family who has been back to this spot.

Loving the time with Grandma!

Very jet-lagged dinner at the hotel after a long day of touring after arrival.

We enjoyed "the best weather in years" on the Welsh coast. It was an absolutely perfect morning and the water was warm!

There is a trail that runs the full length of the Welsh coast - so neat! I was on the same trail further west (Pembrokeshire) just two years ago. 

Formal luncheon at Emmanuel College prior to the commencement ceremony.


The graduates congregating together to receive our instructions before the ceremony.

Speaking with the Dean and Graduate Tutor (read: really important man) of Emmanuel College after the ceremony. He was the man who led me to the Vice Chancellor of the University and proclaimed, in Latin, that I was worthy to receive my degree.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He was the one who bestowed the degree upon me. 

My mother speaking very animatedly about something.

This guy put up with so, so, so much so that I could get this degree. He is amazingly good to me. 

I couldn't have done it with out these three wonderful people.

I succeeded, Lars. What do you think about that?

Ok, so maybe Madelyn wasn't cheerful all the time. She is especially tired and hungry in this picture.

Apparently the hoods really are hoods. Not very attractive when worn as hoods, however.

Taking a break before dinner.
Graduation/Wedding Anniversary dinner at Dave's favorite restaurant: La Tasca. Yum!

A Chinese woman stopped to talk to us about some Chinese political struggles. While she talked to my parents, I took cute pictures of  Madelyn. 

This was the newspaper in our hotel the next morning. As we walked by the stack of papers, Dave saw only "Hit and run punt shock - 24-year-old arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after stabbing." We sat around the breakfast table trying to figure out how someone could hit-and-stab-almost-to-death-and-run on punts. Finally, after retrieving the paper and reading more carefully, we realized that they were two separate stories. How's that for misleading media? :P

We finally visited the American cemetery in Cambridge. We had never been before. What a powerful and moving and completely staggering thing to think of all the lives lost in Europe (and certainly our minds and hearts were with all the men and women from other nations who suffered and died as well).

Cute Madelyn eating the yummiest bread ever at a pub in nearby Grantchester.

The best fish-n-chips you'll ever eat.

We loved meeting up with the Curleys, who had been so kind to me while I lived in Cambridge without David.

We spent the afternoon touring Windsor Castle. Prince George was born while we were here, which means that I can officially say I was outside Buckingham Palace when William and Kate announced their engagement, along the Mall during the Royal Wedding, and at Windsor Castle when the new prince was born. Since two of the three of those were unintentional, there must be a sign in all those connections somewhere, right?!

We spent our last evening picnicing along the Thames outside of Eton. Perfect end to a perfect trip.

Or maybe this was...