December is great. I like December. Here are two reasons why:
1. Christmas. 2. Birthday freebies.
Yesterday I spent a very productive hour online signing up for a multitude of birthday clubs and newsletters. My motivation? It's simple, darling!
How about a: Free frozen creation on your birthday at Cold Stone Creamery? $15 off coupon at Happy Sumo anytime during the month of your birthday? Free burger on your birthday at Red Robin? Free meal at Benihana (up to $30) anytime during the month of your birthday?
If this doesn't sound appealing to you, well then, you are not my son. In addition to the beauties listed above, I also have morsels waiting for me at Baskin Robbins, Papa Murphy's, Mimi's Cafe. Marie Callender's, Noodles & Company, Red Lobster, and probably others that I don't remember right now because I was clearly experiencing some sort of manic episode at the time and cannot be held accountable for my actions.
I'm well aware now that I can expect to be deluged with a flood of irrelevant emails from the above-listed chains. But you know what? It's actually worth it. And just so you know, these are only the ones I had to sign up for. There are plenty others where you just walk in and say it's your birthday, and bam! free sundae for you. Sometimes I love this world.
Yes, this is going to be a fine month indeed. And my actual birthday? Let's just say I will not be celebrating that day in my skinny jeans.
I'm pretty sure it was inspired when I got into a conversation one day with JJ that ended in him marching me to the bookstore and making me buy this book. Pretty sure I didn't really understand the Atonement - or the gospel, for that matter - until I read this.
Some may deem Dr. L to be heavy-handed and unreasonable, and maybe that is sometimes the case. Nevertheless, reading this book endowed me with a perspective on marriage and men that was radically different from everything I had ever believed on the subject, yet which I knew to be absolutely true. A must-read for every female.
If you read this blog at all, you know how I love this book. Solomon's exhaustive research makes it terrifically informative; personal accounts render it intensely affecting. I found the reading of this book to be cathartic without waning overly sentimental. My go-to for everything related to the big D.
Probably the single most relevant book I've read to date. The premise is simple, yet the contents quite honestly rocked my world. Pretty much the basis for everything I believe and everything I aim to do in my life. What is the myth of self-esteem, anyway? Not telling, you'll have to go here. (Thanks to Fa for gifting me his copy, btw).
Truly, no one could have done justice to a subject like this except our man Clive. Reading it humbled me in a way that I'd never been humbled before, and my entire conception of deity has never since been the same. If you haven't read it, please do so. Now. Read it now.
Oh man. Jack helped me get in touch with a whole side of my humor I never even knew I had. Today he is my number one source for gauging wit compatibility; that is, if you find this anecdote anywhere near hilarious, it's a pretty good bet that you and I are going to be friends.
Zugman called me out on being emo. I had begun to suspect as much, especially since no one is brave enough to comment anymore. See, I've got this obnoxious need to make my truths beautiful, but it's true, let's get real - unless you're a really good writer, it usually just comes out sounding whiny. So, I'd like to formally apologize to my faithful readers, and give you my committed pledge from henceforth to spare you the maudlin confessionals and start taking more from my fluffier truths. Like this mustachioed picture of and C. and me.
"But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence... in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day."
F. Scott Fitzgerald said that, and I think we all know exactly what he means. We wake up in the middle of the night as if we had been violently shaken, but really, it is only our frenetic mind, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to get a head start on the day's anxieties. It is the loneliest, most helpless moment we face the entire day. It is one of the darkest nights the soul can know.
My three o'clock is 6:25am, five minutes before my alarm goes off. At that moment I am flooded with that familiar early-morning experience that can only be described as panic, and I am wide awake. Every anxiety, doubt or dark thought that I have ever thought overwhelms me at once, as if they had all joined forces the night before and made a solemn pact to keep me from leaving my bed. At that moment, I am aware of every single thing that I must do today, only the degree of difficulty for each seems magnified one hundred fold and I know that there's no way I can be expected to get up and face that amorphous cloud of pain. Only a crazy person would willingly put themselves through that. It is a wonder that any of us get out of bed at all.
But we do. That's just the thing. Every day, millions of us get out of bed, and that alone should be an incredible piece of hope for us. Not only because it demonstrates the resilient nature of humans, but because it proves that our faith is indeed rewarded - or else we wouldn't keep doing it, would we? We get out of bed solely on the basis of faith - faith that the day will get easier, that it won't be nearly as painful as it seems now, that somehow we will pass the hours and be able to return at the end to our sleepy oblivion. To require such extreme faith at such an early hour seems like too much to ask sometimes, yet we prove day after day that it is not too much. And the best part is that it does get better. Sometimes only in a matter of minutes. It is all about that initial test that takes place when our windows are yet dark and our minds foggy.
If you got out of bed this morning, consider yourself high-fived. Don't underestimate the courage it required of you.
There's been a question burning in my soul for quite some time now, one that I've alluded to before but that I would like to now formally pose to you all:
Where do trials come from, and are we supposed to fight them?
Let me illustrate my confusion with a quote from George Q. Cannon:
"Do not allow darkness and gloom to enter into your hearts. I want to give you a rule by which you may know that the spirit which you have is the right spirit. The Spirit of God produces cheerfulness, joy, light and good feelings. Whenever you feel gloomy and despondent and are downcast, unless it be for your sins, you may know it is not the Spirit of God which you have. Fight against it and drive it out of your heart. The Spirit of God is a spirit of hope; it is not a spirit of gloom."
It seems straightforward enough, but here's what I don't get: Aren't darkness and gloom just like any other trial we mortals are subjected to? And aren't trials, after all, very good for the development of our characters, and indeed necessary for our eternal progression? My understanding is that (correct me if I'm missing something), while gloom and despondency themselves may not come of God, they are still vital experiences that He allows us to suffer for His own wise purposes. I've certainly felt in my life that the pains which have so alienated me from everything light and truth have also, paradoxically, drawn me closer to Him, and for this reason I would never trade those experiences.
Why, then, would I ever want to fight these feelings that ultimately improve me? Who would I be without these refining experiences?
And if these refining experiences are the will of the Lord, as I believe they are, then who am I to think that my own feeble efforts could do anything to remove them anyhow?
I just don't know. While you're pondering that, here's my pix from Portland last month:
Why? Because they allow me to make all sorts of awesome crafts!
Yes, I know this is a domain already very thoroughly explored by someone else we know, and to be honest, I'm pretty late getting onto the scene. But, after happening upon some craft blogs a few weeks back, I decided to try my hand at some of the twee little projects I found. Actually, to be more accurate, I got overtaken by the twee little projects I found, and was slave to them 24/7 until they were finished - there really wasn't a lot of free will involved.
I totally understand now why quelquejour exists. These things really do take over your life. One day you're fine, just livin' your life, and then by some freak accident you come across a tutorial online for a ruffly, DIY whathaveyou, and suddenly you cannot think about anything else; you spend all your free time contemplating fabric glue and stop-fray; you can't pay attention in class because you're too busy trying to figure out when you can get yourself up to Joann next. Basically your life is robbed from you until you find a way to make whatever adorable thing it is you found online. It doesn't help that there are SO MANY of them, so that there's this constant to-do list in your mind of all the crafts you need to make before you can rest again. It all makes sense now.
Thankfully, I think my episode is coming to a close. I still have a few lingering items on my list, but the major projects are finished and I hope to be allowed a hiatus, because honestly, that was getting a little ridiculous. And after a while it's not even fun anymore, you just want to get it done. And in the end your project never looks as good as the one on the tutorial.
But anyhow, here are the finished products!
Embellished tee. Unfortunately my camera sucks so it's hard to see, but the gist is that I cut out a bunch of fabric hearts of the same color and sewed them all over the neckline.
Voila, dressed-up tee.
Here I did the same thing, except with flowers instead of hearts. Again, sorry it looks like vomit. I promise it's actually pretty.
Rosette shirt! This one is my fave, and was actually very easy to make, if rather time-consuming.
This one used to be my 'I only like NY as a friend' shirt, but I've never liked how it was so obviously ironed-on, so I decided to put a geisha silk screen on top of it instead. Geishas: Unfortunate historical symbols, great fashion!
Ok, I know ribbon/flower headbands are soOoOoOo trendy these days, and trust me, that did discourage me somewhat. But I had to try them. This blurry one is a white bow.
And despite what the camera would have you believe, these flowers are pink.
And here are all the others.
This one is an exact replica of a project I saw on Dear Lizzy. It's a little funky-er, but I like it. Plus, it was super easy.
Ok. Now for a change in pace. A few months back I saw this beautiful cake in O magazine. I believe my exact thoughts went something like, "That cake is sooo pretty, and I bet it's super easy to make, too!"
Here's how my confidence translated. (Granted, I had pretty much given up by the time the fondant flowers were supposed to go on, which is why you can see they didn't even make it to flower form).
Crestfallen, I swore I would never make a cake again. Until this week, when I decided to give it another go, what the heck.
Slightly more respectable, and now I can rest in peace. I'm pretty sure I will never attempt anything like this again, though. As it turns out, cake-decorating is actually really really really difficult. But it's also really trendy, so maybe I'll save my pride and opt out for that reason instead. :)
I guess I'm also supposed to share the names of the sites I stole my projects from. I got most of my ideas from Dear Lizzy, the fabric heart refashion from Made by Lex, and I made my flower headbands using this tutorial. I'm hesitant to share those, cause we all know that the easiest way to quit is never to start in the first place, and I'd hate to be responsible for something like that. Just be careful, ladies.
Well, that about wraps it up for now. Peace in this nation, have a lovely week.
-Anna Karenina is not happening. Everyone who admired me for taking it up can just stop now because the truth is that I actually find it very, very dull and have finished 2.3 other books since the last time I picked it up, just to procrastinate reading it again.
-That granola with the flax seed that Ma bought at Costco, the one I initially snubbed my nose at because it looked healthy and claimed to relieve depression through the all-natural power of flax? Yeah, I love it. Prozac is still my gospel, but Organic Pumpkin Flax-Plus Granola with Omega-3 sure is tasty.
-I can't get enough of No Doubt's cover of It's my Life. Why is that song so good?When I listen to it, which is very often, I feel like I could be Gwen Stefani and be ok with that. Disturbing, I know, but thankfully the duration of the song is just under four minutes so the madness is over quickly enough.
-I've been crafting up a storm lately. Pictures to come soon in the Renaissance Mish post I'm planning.
-K. and I have renewed our beloved summertime pastime of watching tragic foreign films in between mail routes. Today it was To Live in an empty JKB classroom. I love my job.
-Only two weeks left of classes, and then on to Portland! I wish I could express just how mind-numbingly excited I am to conclude my summer in Carol's bedroom, surrounded by empty Propel bottles and Gilmore Girls reruns. Also just to visit my old haunts again for the first time in what's been three years but feels like much longer. And, most especially, to darken the doorway of Chang's Mongolian Grill. Scratch that, I plan on doing much more than darkening its doorway. My spirit feels instantly invigorated everytime I think about it. I am so excited I could eat my hair.
-Yoga on Mondays and Wednesdays was a good idea. My spine is so stabilized you would not believe.
-Yesterday I came home and there was a beautiful cake with silky white frosting and patriotic sprinkles sitting on the counter, and it was so beautiful in all its vibrant ethereal confection that I wanted to grab a piece and inhale, grab a piece and inhale, so I grabbed a piece and inhaled. I still don't know whose it was but I sure do love store-bought frosting. Worth it. (Side note: Which of you guys used to put a little masking-tape skull and crossbones on the frosting container to deter me from eating it straight up, finger as a utensil? Come on, 'fess up. For the record, it didn't stop me, so ha ha on you.)
Cactus Chef playing We Didn't Start the Fire on the flute.
The subject of healing in the scriptures has always sort of baffled me. We always hear about how Christ went around healing the sick, healing pretty much anyone who asked, just handing out healings like candy. I understand that the point of it was to reward the faith of these people, but I've still often wondered why He made it that easy. We talk so much of the benefit of trials, of their role in refining us and testing us, of building our faith and patience and all those good things that will mold us into the type of beings who will one day be exalted. Why, then, did Christ so easily remove these afflictions from people back in the day? Had they already proven themselves? Was this final act of faith - that is, asking to be healed - the last obstacle in the way of redemption? I can believe that for some, but for ALL those people? I just can't swallow that. It seems, at least, very different today.
These days it seems most people are allowed plenty of time for refinement and testing. And you know what, that's great. The present paradigm makes a lot more sense to me. Of course we should be allowed to muddle through our trials for a while, for months, even years, if that's what it takes for us to learn what we're supposed to be learning. And yet, we still read in the scriptures that if we simply cry unto the Lord and demonstrate faith, He will heal us. He will remove our afflictions. If it is indeed that simple, then I am sore confused. Does instant- gratification-healing seem counterproductive to anyone else? Why would the Lord, who loves us, cave in that easily and thus stymie our growth? Isn't that sort of akin to a parent who enforces some sort of punishment in order to teach a lesson, only to go soft at the first pleading and withdraw it? Isn't this how spoiled brats are developed? Maybe there are times when the test of faith is more important than the test of patience or long-suffering. If this is the case then it makes sense for a believing person to be healed. But what about when someone has the faith thing down and needs instead a lesson on enduring to the end? How is it that this person is given the same promise of healing?
Don't worry, I've taken the liberty of anticipating your counterarguments, so here are my concessions:
1. Timing - that is, healing might be promised, but maybe not right away
2. Will of the Lord - we know that this pretty much trumps everything. So, if a person is indeed healed as soon as he exercises faith and asks for it, we know that for whatever reason, the Lord saw fit to heal that person. Who knows, maybe that person had already proven himself in faith as well as in patience and long-suffering. Only the Lord knows his heart, after all. What looks like instant gratification to us may not actually be.
3. I thought I had anticipated more, but honestly this is all so confusing and mushy in my brain that it probably got lost somewhere by the wayside. Probably by my amygdala, everything gets caught there.
Refer back to my title quote. I find it interesting that people in the scriptures tend to ask questions like that - essentially, "Lord, what can I do to fix this?" They want a specific action that they can perform, an equation to run so that they might receive a desired outcome. And in our defense, the scriptures do seem to be rife with equations: seek-->find, ask-->receive, knock-->it shall be opened. But is it really that simple? When the Lamanites asked this question, they were told that if they repented, cried unto the Lord, and had faith, the cloud of darkness would be removed. And I can't help but wonder if maybe the point of that answer was not so much to show them how to remove the cloud, but rather, a way to get them to start doing those things for their own general benefit. Things they wouldn't have done if they hadn't thought there was a reward on the other side. It's really quite clever of the Lord, when you think about it.
Maybe the Lamanites were confronting a literal cloud of darkness, and maybe some of us have to confront a cloud of darkness not quite so literal. The procedure is the same. Maybe it'll be removed just as soon as we ask, or maybe it never will. Maybe it doesn't even matter what happens, so long as we're doing what we're supposed to be doing on our end.
"People around depressives expect them to get themselves together: our society has little room in it for moping. Spouses, parents, children, and friends are all subject to being brought down themselves, and they do not want to be close to measureless pain. No one can do anything but beg for help (if he can do even that) at the lowest depths of a major depression, but once the help is provided, it must also be accepted. We would all like Prozac to do it for us, but in my experience, Prozac doesn't do it unless we help it along. Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don't believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it's good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason. These fortune-cookie admonitions sound pat, but the surest way out of depression is to dislike it and not to let yourself grow accustomed to it. Block out the terrible thoughts that invade your mind."
"Patience is a willingness, in a sense, to watch the unfolding purposes of God with a sense of wonder and awe, rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance. Put another way, too much anxious opening of the oven door and the cake falls instead of rising. So it is with us. If we are always selfishly taking our temperature to see if we are happy, we will not be."
I came to an interesting realization a few weeks ago, and it was this: I like myself better when I'm single. I feel that I am stronger, wiser, more humble, more faithful, more patient, more exacting with my time, kinder to others and more fulfilled at the end of the day, when I am single, than I ever am when I'm not. And it's pretty easy to see why, but I'll list the reasons anyway:
1. When you are single, life kind of sucks. It's true. So, in an effort to make your life worth living, you (that is, I) tend to be better about doing those things that you know will really bring you happiness, even if only in the short term. Like selfless service, and hard work, and spending time with your family, and other things that you just don't make time for when you're dating.
2. Because you're so dang lonely and your moments are therefore harder to get through, you plan them more carefully. You live your life deliberately because you must, because it doesn't just float by on its own anymore. You can't take it for granted anymore that there is a boy waiting for you every evening after work; no, instead you have to actually stop and decide what productive/enriching thing you're going to do with your free time that evening. This usually means that your time is ultimately better spent than it would have been otherwise.
3. You learn what it means to be responsible for yourself again. Responsible for your happiness, responsible for your sadness, responsible for figuring out your own problems. The point is that you don't have the option anymore of handing your latest tragedy over to the nearest male figure, imploring him to dispose of it like you would the kitchen trash. Instead you sit with it, you experience it for yourself, and you come to remember who it is after all that you're supposed to be depending on. You resolve once again that you will never, as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, "use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings."
4. Finally, you are compelled to be humble. You figure out pretty soon that happiness in the form of a significant other is not going to come to you of your own efforts - it is clearly in someone else's hands, and in His timing. You learn a lot about what it means to really, I mean really, exercise faith (at least, as much faith as you've ever had to exercise so far in your short, cushy life).
So, in short, you're a better person. (Switching back to first-person now) I hate being single, I really do. And yet, I'm never more at peace with myself than when I'm trucking along without a man. How does this bode for marriage? Must I choose one over the other? I have so much to learn.
In case you didn't hear, it snowed in Provo today.
I've recently made two internal goals that I'd like to make external, via my blog, so I can be kept accountable.
1. Smile at people in passing (as much as is possible with the long path, of course).
2. Address people by name when I greet them. I feel like "Hey, Larry! How are you?" is a lot more meaningful than, "Hey, how are you?" ...which is what I usually do. Sometimes it's because I've forgotten their name, but most of the time it's just laziness. But no longer.
So let it be written.
Yes that is the best picture I could find of people greeting each other.