Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Holding up the universe

Earlier this year, my mom gave me a great little book by Elder Holland, titled "Created for Greater Things." It is filled with beautiful photos and short inspiring thoughts. I love to thumb through it in the mornings while I sit down and eat breakfast (which doesn't happen too often!) I find it brings a lot of peace to my day. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

"What is the best that lies within us? Of how much are we capable? None of us yet knows.

An old Arabic legend tells of a rider finding a spindly sparrow lying on its back in the middle of the road. He dismounted and asked the sparrow why his feet were in the air.

 Replied the sparrow, “I heard the heavens were going to fall today.”

 “And I suppose you think your puny bird legs can hold up the whole universe?” laughed the horseman. “Perhaps not,” said the sparrow with conviction, “but one does whatever one can.""

I'm sure many of us have felt, at one time or another, that we are trying to hold up the universe with our puny legs, so to speak. Our lives can get so busy, hectic, and stressful, and it can be pretty easy to feel powerless in the turmoil. But "one does whatever one can." The good part is, when we really don't have the strength to keep our universe from crashing around us, there are people who can help. Spouses, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, even random strangers can help us when we are weak. And, if nothing else, we can have the Lord's help--"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7)

Wishing you a very joyous New Year! Thanks for reading!


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas--The Summer of the Soul

As part of our many Yuletide celebrations, Tyler and I watched The Muppet's Christmas Carol a few nights ago. I love that movie so much! Watching it as an adult is even better than as a kid, though, because you notice so many hilarious little comments and occurences that would otherwise go over your head.

I really enjoy the song with The Ghost of Christmas Present, when everyone is dancing in the square and rejoicing in full Christmas spirit. The lyrics are so perfect, I just have to quote a few of them here:

It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the sprit
The message if we hear it
Is make it last all year.

It's in the giving of a gift to another
A pair of mittens that were made by your mother
It's all the ways that we show love
That feel like Christmas
A part of childhood we'll always remember
It is the summer of the soul in December
Yes, when you do your best for love
It feels like Christmas.

You can obviously tell what my favorite lines are. I had this song stuck in my head last night before bed, and I started to think about how nice it is that we have Christmas every year. Yes, "it is the summer of the soul in December." Summer, the physical summer, is about the blooming of life. In my mind I see vegetables ripening in gardens; children, carefree and barefoot, playing with their friends; tables laden with plenty to eat. I see long, slow sunsets. I feel warm, noonday sun. Summer is when you can stop worrying about catching headcolds, or wearing coats and gloves, or finishing your homework.  It's a time to take a break from the stresses of work and school--you take vacations, you celebrate the Fourth of July, you go swimming at the lake. That is the summer of the body. The summer of the soul, then, must be a break from our inward worries and walls. During Christmas, we shed some of our inward walls the way we shed layers of clothing in July. We are more willing to donate to charity, to participate in service projects, to think about what others need instead of what we want. We let our hearts soften and grow a little larger, to make room for loving people a little more.  At least, I hope we do. If we do not, then the wonderful blessings of the Christmas season are lost upon us, just as if we insisted on wearing sweaters and staying indoors on a beautiful summer afternoon.

I think Heavenly Father understands the renewing quality of rituals and traditions. We are told to pray every day, to attend church once a week, and to fast once a month. All these regularly occurring events have one purpose: to recenter us on the things that are truly important in life. These things are so important to keep us strong in our faith. They also help us find peace and happiness. It seems fitting that once a year we have a special time to participate in rituals that bring the Spirit of Christ into our hearts a little deeper. We sing carols, we laugh and play games with our loved ones, we make (and eat!) special, yummy, fattening food, we read the story of the Christ child born in a manger. It gives us a little extra time to pause and let a little wonder back into our lives. Sometimes life feels so humdrum, and it is so refreshing to just be still for a few moments in the midst of our celebrations and wonder at the greatness and glory of our God. I think Christmas gives us an opportunity, many opportunities, to do just that.

To return to the song I mentioned above, the importance of Christmas is to make this message--the message that God sent His Son to suffer, die, and live again for us--leave its imprint on our hearts all year. By the time we feel it fading away, Christmas will come again to renew and re-strengthen our sense of wonder. I think this, above all, should be our what we take away from our celebrations of Christmas. Strength, joy, love, peace in knowing there is a God in heaven--enough to last through a new year, with all its new challenges and possibilities.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Making music

 I like to play the piano and sing. I am far from proficient in either area, but I am trying to improve. Having said that, I realized this week that there has been a subconscious, ongoing debate in my mind about my music for quite some time. The question is, whether my talents, limited as they are, are worth pursuing? I know that unless I dedicate significant time, effort, and possibly money, I will never have the true skill and creativity necessary to merit much attention or praise for them. Given my particular situation and current pursuits in life, these necessary dedications are not likely to happen. Why keep stumbling along with my imperfect, underdeveloped musical talents if I can never rise above mediocrity? Why keep going when I know so many other people who are much more advanced, much more able to express themselves through music than I am? When I think of my many friends, neighbors, and family members who can play piano so much better than I can, sometimes I hesitate to even touch the keys. When I hear people singing with voices they have striven to train and hone and perfect, sometimes I hesitate to open my mouth.

That is the one side of this argument--the devil's-advocate-side, if you will. Yes, the devil's advocate, because we all know what the correct answer to this question is. Of course I should not give up my talents. It would be wasteful, ungrateful, and--well--silly if I did.

I think this little debate has been left under my brain's radar for so long because that's where I usually put an end to this conversation. One side of my mind would ask the question, just as I have written it for you above. And then the other side of my mind would answer so smoothly and quickly, just as I have answered it here, that the matter was closed and pushed aside before I even noticed. But this time, it was different. This time I noticed, and I began thinking more about it. In my considerations, I discovered some new avenues of thought.

If we left all the singing, dancing, painting, sculpting, piano playing, acting, writing, and creating to the professionals, our lives would lose so much meaning. I believe we need this joy of creation because we, in an eternal sense, are meant to be creators. It is our nature--to stop creating would mean an end to much of our happiness. When I speak of creating and beauty, I do not only mean it in the traditional artistic sense. Creativity goes far beyond painting and dancing. It extends to every aspect of our lives: the homes we make, the children we birth, the friendships we forge, the careers we build. There is something about participating in the creation of beauty that gives an irreplaceable joy. The closer and more involved one is in the creation, the more joy and fulfillment we experience. Although my ability to play the piano is far below Jon Schmidt's, I gain far more joy in my imperfect attempts to make beautiful music than I ever would in listening to his albums every day.

It feels nice to conclude this ongoing debate. No, I will not become the next Jon Schmidt or Julie Andrews. But I will continue to make music because I now have a better understanding of why I need it in my life. Though my music is imperfect and full of limitations and mistakes, I will keep trying to improve it, one baby step at a time, gaining more and more joy with each song I play and each note I sing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: Feeling Important

I've had a few different thoughts floating around in my head this week. I didn't really think they had much to do with each other until I sat down to write this post. I was pleasantly surprised when they fell together rather coherently.

Thought #1: For some inexplicable reason, I've been thinking quite often about the experience I had on Pioneer Trek when I was fourteen.* It helped me understand, in a small way, how much hard, physical work it took to cross the plains. It taught me to be grateful for the luxuries that we enjoy in modern life, and at the same time taught me that it is possible to be satisfied with less of them. The greatest lesson I learned, though, was about people. We did not get to choose our "families." If we did, I certainly would not have chosen the people that I spent those few days with. They all had personalities, interests, and goals that were completely different from mine. But by the end of the first day, I had grown comfortable with them. By the end of the trek, I had even grown to love them. Part of it came from the camaraderie of a common goal. But another part came from the experiences that allowed me to discover their strengths and their weaknesses. In those few days, I got to see more sides of these people than I probably could see in a year of casual friendship. To put it briefly, Pioneer Trek taught me that there really is something to love about everyone.

Thought #2: A friend and I have been conversing via email about ways to improve certain parts of our lives. As part of that conversation, I started to wonder when it was that people stopped offering refreshments--tea, water, cookies, whatever—when visitors came. It's easy to understand why people don't do it so much anymore. Since most of us work during the day, the era of formal "social calling" is long gone. And while it is still common to offer a glass of water to a visitor, it doesn't involve nearly as much work as being prepared with something a little more special to drink and maybe a nice crumpet or other treat. It's such a charming tradition, and we've lost it somehow. We still do it sometimes, but only for very defined occasions, like a party. Anyhow, something like that might seem very superficial and too formal for everyday occurrence, but after a great deal of thought on the matter, I really think it's just a nice way to tell someone that they are important.
(I'm not saying that offering a glass of water isn't good enough--I think it's a very thoughtful and polite thing to do. And there are many other thoughtful things to make a visitor feel at home!)

Thought #3: This led me to think about how crucial it is, in our day-to-day human relationships, to make others feel important. Just like my unlikely friends from Trek, everyone has immeasurable worth, even if it's not outwardly apparent. And I believe, in order to be happy, we must have some sense of this worth. We learn from Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People (see my post on that book here) that one of the most basic, driving desires of humanity is to feel important. In Kathryn Stockett's The Help, Aibileen felt that the most vital thing she could teach little Mae Mobley was, "You is kind, you is smart, you is important." And she said it every day, just to make sure Mae Mobley knew it. Last, and most significant of all, Christ made everyone feel important by performing miracles and other acts of service for others. Our Lord, the very Son of God, sought the uneducated, the poor, the lame, the lepers, the sinners, and healed them of all their infirmities.

Knowing this, I ask myself: What can I do differently to make others feel important? How can I let them know that they matter to me and to God? How can I say that I'm truly grateful to know them? I've thought of a few things, and I'm excited to make a greater effort to do them. What are your thoughts? What are ways you like to make others feel important?

I hope these thoughts of mine have brightened your week, even a little. You, reader, are important to me. :) Thanks for reading!

*For those that don't know what a Pioneer Trek is, it is a recreation of the Mormon Pioneer's struggles to cross the plains over the period of several days. We were sorted into families, wore Pioneer-type clothing, pulled our possessions in handcarts, slept and cooked our food outdoors, and participated in the same kind of recreation that the Pioneers enjoyed. Thankfully, we did have a truck towing Port-A-Potties for us.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday: The Peace Carol

I was invited to sing The Peace Carol with a group of wonderful women in church on Sunday. I was not very familiar with the song; I only recognized it from the Christmas album by John Denver and The Muppets, which I listened to growing up. The last verse has been stuck in my head since then, and I've been thinking a lot about it.

Add all the grief that people may bear;
Total the strife and the trouble and care;
Put them in columns and leave them right there;
The peace of Christmas Day.

There's something in that image--putting all my burdens in piles on the ground and simply walking away from them--that is so captivating, almost in a surreal sense. I don't need to hold on to my griefs, my strifes, my cares. I don't even need to hold on to my sins. I can put them down, realizing that Christ is there to carry them for me--for unto this end was He born.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Project: Gift from the Sea

I recently finished Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I have not read such a transformational book in a long time! Today I'm just going to give you a few of my favorite exerpts that will hopefully spark your curiosity.

Gift from the Sea, only about 130 pages long, is a collection of thoughts and epiphanies that Lindbergh wrote during a two-week vacation to an island in 1955. Most of the subject matter is about the nature of woman, the problems that our modern, busy lives present, and the natural cycles a marriage goes through. I apologize in advance because I am going to quote a lot from the book, just because I found so much of it so inspiring. I hope you stick with it to the end! And believe me when I say that the following is just a small sampling of the treasures I found in her book!

"What is the shape of my life? The shape of my life today starts with a family. I have a husband, five children and a home just beyond the suburbs of New York. I have also a craft, writing, and therefore work I want to pursue. The shape of my life is, of course, determined by many other things; my background and childhood, my  mind and its education, my conscience and its pressures, my heart and its desires. I want to givve and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.

"But I want first of all--in fact, as an end to these other desires--to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, "May the outward and inward man be at one." I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God...

"...certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification of life is one of them.

"I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily--like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity..." Lindbergh then gives a terrific list of all the things demanding a woman's attention--laundry, dinners, parties, charitable organizations, carpools, vacations, shopping, media--I'm sure you can continue the list in your mind well enough. And then she says something that I really hit home with me: "This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul."

I loved this. I think she's exactly right. Women are pulled in so many directions by a million distractions each day that it becomes exceedingly difficult to stay centered. She says that it applies to men as well, but the problem is "particularly and essentially woman's...For to be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider's web to each breeze that blows...

"The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life...

"I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rythm between these two extremes; a swinging pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life."

"To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with? To say--is it necessary?--when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity."

Ah! I love love LOVE these thoughts and ideas! This was such a great reminder to me that I need time to reconnect with my core every day. It taught me that there is nothing wrong with leading a complicated life as long as I remember to keep reconnecting to my inner core, the hub of my wheel. I think in that way I can avoid the "multiplicity" and "fragmentation" that might otherwise happen to me if I let myself be pulled off balance. I think this will allow me to live a busy, complicated life in a simple, peaceful way.

I'm not joking when I say that I could quote way more passages from this book--in fact, this only covered one chapter of this wonderful little book. But I'll leave them for you to discover on your own, if you choose.

If you made it through this whole thing, thanks for sticking around! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the quotes I wrote down! Cheers!