Saturday, October 25, 2014

What If He's an Angel...

     Working at a dry cleaners, I talk with strangers every day. I've memorized quite a few names. I know who likes to pre-pay, who likes their pants creased and I know who will not take their receipt no matter how much I try to make them take it. Sometimes I lose faith in humanity when people yell at me for things I can't control ("No, I did not personally prevent that stain from coming out of your shirt"). But sometimes, there are people that restore that faith. One of those people has changed how I see the world.

     A few seconds. Maybe two minutes --- every time this man came in I pictured him as an English professor. (That's the best compliment you can get from me). So, finally I asked what his profession was. Accountant. I was a little off. He turned it around on me, though. When he found out I was an English major, he asked who my favorite author was. A week later, a book about William Faulkner appeared with his dirty clothes. I don't know a lot about this man. But would you believe me if I told you that from a few two-minute conversations I know everything that's important? 

    Now I know that some people will say it doesn't matter what others think about us. And maybe my humble, dry-cleaning clerk's opinion of this obviously established professional shouldn't matter. But I think, in some ways, it does. How we treat other people says a lot about who we are, about our character. It made me wonder what "strangers" would say about me. For those that are religious, it tells if we really are loving our neighbors, if we really treat others like our brothers and sisters instead of just calling them so. Do we try to lift others when we could just go about our own lives with our heads down?

    Ironically, the book he gave me wasn't written by Faulkner. It's a compilation of other peoples' memories and opinions of him. There is one tiny part that stuck with me. An acquaintance of William Faulkner's of no particular importance said simply:

     "I like to think of Bill. I enjoy talking about Bill." (68).

   To me, that's at least partial evidence of a life well-lived. When I die, I think I'll be very content if someone, maybe even a stranger, can say about me: "I like to think of Brittany. I enjoy talking about Brittany." I think in some small way, that will mean that I at least got one thing right. I know that I can say that about at least one stranger. Just from these two-minute interactions, I know that he lives his life happily and that he genuinely cares about other people. He doesn't take from this world, he adds to it. And he's made my life better just by being who he is and even by taking the time to ask my name. 

    Think of someone you talked to today that you think won't even remember talking to you. Maybe it was someone you said "hi" to on the bus or maybe it was the cashier at the drive-thru or someone standing in line at the grocery store. Did you realize what an opportunity you had? Do you remember what you said to them? What would they say about you? Maybe their opinion matters more than you think. Maybe YOU matter more than you think.

Writing Music: "One by One" by Hilary Weeks and "What If She's An Angel" by Tommy Shane Steiner

"Maybe she's an angel sent here from Heaven,
and she's making certain that you're doing your best
to take the time to help one another.
Brother, are you going to pass that test?"

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Forgot Directions On Your Way

     You will never meet someone more directionally-challenged than me...ever. My GPS and I are best friends. If I go there once, I can't get back. If I go there five times, I can't get back. Street names are pointless. Do not ask me which road is 33 and which one is 231. I can't tell you. Dora the Explorer could not get me to Rainbow Mountain even with the help of Map.
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
    Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
    Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
    How much can you lose? How much can you win?

    And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
    or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
    Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
    for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

    So, how do we make it through those "lost" moments? How do we navigate? Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss. 

    There are so many decisions in life, some that matter and some that don't. But this mind-maker-upper has always had a problem with deciding which direction to go. What's funny, though, is when I'm in a car driving I have about 0% fear of being lost. As long as I have gas, it's really okay with me if I'm lost. I know that being lost is only temporary, for every wrong turn there is another turn that will get me back on the right path. 

    As someone who has vacayed in the waiting place, been in a lurch, met a few strange birds, and been in a prickle-ly perch, I have to say that the only solution to getting to your destination whether in a car or in life in general comes from the following passage:

    But on you will go
    though the weather be foul.
    On you will go
    though your enemies prowl.
   On you will go

   Sometimes life is just pushing forward, telling yourself, "On, I will go." When I'm lost in my car, I know that somehow someway I am going to make it to my destination. It may make no sense and may take all my gas, but I will get there. I happen to have a similar hope for my life. I've taken a few wrong turns in life already and will certainly take a few more, but with or without those turns I know I'll still make it. I also know that being lost will get me closer to my destination than sitting in a parked car crying about it will. You won't have all the answers always. Life doesn't come with a GPS that tells you every little turn to make. You won't always know exactly what direction to head in, but you can have faith that if you press forward doing the best you can and trusting yourself, you will make it. And if you're smart, you'll learn to enjoy being lost.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

Writing Music: "Compass" by Lady Antebellum and "Break Down Here" by Julie Roberts

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Careless Man's Careful Daughter

     Me: How do you feel? How do you know he's the one? Or do you still have doubts? I'm not criticizing. I just want to know how I'm supposed to feel for future reference...    
     Katie: I think it's because I feel the difference between how I feel with him versus how I felt with all the bad ones.

     That was the conversation I had with one of my best friends a couple days before her wedding. Her sister walked in, so I never got the rest of the answer really. But I've always been in awe of how Katie can throw herself so fully into relationships. She falls hard and fast and deep. And she gives everything. She trusts people way more than I've ever been able to. And so as I dawned yet another bridesmaid dress (#4 to be exact), I found myself wondering yet again: How is it that someone can go "all in" like that? How can you be so trusting? Good thing the next book on my list was The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright.

      Turns out that in this book there is someone a lot like Katie and someone a lot like me. Noah who goes all in without looking back and Rachel who wants to but just can't. The problem with that is that they are supposed to be getting married. Ideally, both parties should be "all in" in that situation. When I hit page 100, I knew Rachel and I were kindred spirits: "Noah fell asleep fantasizing about his honeymoon and life with Rachel. Rachel fell asleep terrified about those same things". Same event and two totally different outlooks.

     The question then is "why?" Why is it that Noah and my friend Katie can be so trusting? I know! The answer is babies! Stick with me's something called the attachment theory. The very short version is that when babies are first born those first few months are critical because they either form secure attachment or not-so-secure attachment (these aren't the technical terms, p.s.) They're forming an idea about the connection between themselves and the world. Is this a good place? Will I be taken care of here? When I cry and need something, will someone get it for me? If that trusting or secure attachment isn't formed within those few months, it's extremely hard to get it back...some argue impossible. Applying that to Noah and Rachel, I think the difference is good past relationships vs. bad ones. And not necessarily romantic ones either.

     At age 7, Rachel and her mother left her abusive father and the nightmare that Rachel has at one point in the book is evidence that she never really got over that. (Bad relationship #1) Later on, her mom finds a live-in boyfriend who is financially supportive but not much else (Not-so-good relationship #2). Compare that to Noah who has two loving and trusting parents who we see throughout the book as amazingly supportive and TA-DAH! That pretty much explains the why for me.

    So, are Rachel and I doomed? Are we just stuck forever with our trust issues? Destined to never be completely happy? Is there no reverse for us? Thanks to Noah, we have an answer (see below).

"It took time, a lot of time, but my mom and dad got through the worst of it. He started to understand that he didn't have to be anything he didn't want to be. He made his life. Not his history. He told me when I was a kid that history is dangerous if you pay too much attention to it, because tomorrow hasn't happened yet" (306).

    We're not babies anymore. We make our lives. We decide who we want to be. Does Rachel have a little more to fight against than Noah? For sure. But that doesn't change the fact that she is fully capable of being whoever she wants to be. Marriage is work. I've always, always believed that and my favorite lines from this book say just that.

"I know it's not what they say in the movies, and it's not terribly romantic or poetic. But it's the truth. We don't just fall in love through magic. We don't stay married because the stars align. Those things happen because we make them happen" (272). 

     I think sometimes we like to blame our weaknesses on things that happened to us when we were younger or the way we were raised. I can't deny that those things can shape us, but I do believe that there is ALWAYS a way to rise above, a way to change who you are despite of what others have tried to make you become. To all the Rachel's of the world, take heart. History doesn't always repeat itself. Sometimes it's okay to go "all in" but once you do, get to work.

"You decide what tomorrow's history will look like" ~Jason F. Wright

Writing Music: "Say Anything" by Tristan Prettyman and "Found a Heart" by Emily Hearn
Title Song: "Mine" by Taylor Swift

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I Hear Voices

     I hear voices. Every day...all day....I hear voices. It usually only takes a couple hours before I have a headache from all of those voices. These voices are the voices of family, friends, and loved ones who try to offer advice on my "current situation." Who I should date, what job I should have...the list goes on. I know everyone is trying to help, and I am truly grateful. But there is just one question I have, and I think it's time to use "lit therapy" to answer it: "Which voice do I listen to?"

     If you've read my blog before, you know that I believe that the answer to every question that every person has ever had already exists in a book. So, I do the work and figure out which book answers which question.To answer this question I was reminded of a story about a voice that actually comes from my very favorite book: The Book of Mormon.

    That won't be a shock to most of you who know that I'm LDS (Mormon), but I hope you won't stop reading because even if you aren't LDS I promise you'll be able to get something out of this.

    My second favorite story from the book is when Christ comes to visit the people in the Americas. Much like what occurred in the Bible, God speaks to introduce his Son before He comes. What's interesting is that the people don't understand it. Read this little part:

"And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard;" -3 Nephi 11:3

    I remember first reading this story and thinking that something so monumental was about to happen, Christ was coming, and the people didn't understand the voice of their own Father? The voice of the very God that gave them life. It just seemed so sad and so wrong. But, can I tell you? I understand. At times, I feel the very same way. We can't hear an audible voice from God telling us what to do, but I do believe that He can communicate with us. I also know that I sometimes have a hard time picking out that "voice" above all the others. 

    But maybe it was a trick question because I already know which voice is the one I'm supposed to listen to, God's voice. I just need to work on the "how." How do you recognize and follow God's voice when so many others seem to speak louder than His? I think the key comes from the third time when the people did understand his voice:

And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came." -3 Nephi 11:5

     As my phone is ringing right now, I sometimes think that in our world the trick is tuning out the audible voices and "opening our ears" and our hearts so we can hear the one that isn't audible. It takes practice more than anything and also a conscious effort to turn off the noise sometimes (whether that be the TV, the phone, the music, whatever.) It's not always easy to hear His voice, but can I promise you something? God lives and He speaks. And in the end, His voice is the only one that really matters.

Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name --- 
hear ye him
-3 Nephi 11:7

Writing Music: "Voices" by Chris Young and "This is the Christ" by Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Now That I've Found You

                Last week, I stood in a line waiting to board a bus when out of the corner of my eye I saw a middle-aged woman scan the children huddled around her feet and one in her arms. With a puzzled face, she scanned again and then spoke the question that every parent dreads: “Where’s Caleb?” Within seconds, the mother’s face was bloodless and pandemonium ensued. I watched the mother, father, and two other adults disappear into the crowds of people. Watching so intensely myself, I barely noticed my friend and I had moved from the back of the line to the front. I looked at my friend and immediately said, “We can’t go.” I couldn’t leave without seeing the boy returned. But do you know what thought never occurred to me? That he may not return. On this particular day, it’s easy for me to remember that we live in a world full of loss. How do we move on when what we think should happen, will happen doesn’t happen? What do we do when what’s lost is never found? The answer: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

                Though in a different time and culture, Cry, the Beloved Country, (like my story) is about a lost son. Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo must face the reality of his own vanished son Absalom who has gone to the city of Johannesburg to find work and has yet to return. The general truth about the city is now personal for the desparate father: “When people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back. They go to Johannesburg, and there they are lost” (39). But as good parents do, Kumalo will not settle for that and goes to find his son.

                To say his journey is long would be a gross understatement. Kumalo searches far and wide, confronting numerous obstacles and heartache along the way. As the book waxes on, we see the story of Absalom becoming grimmer and grimmer. Kumalo finds his son has committed theft, murder, and abandoned his mistress and child. Suddenly, the glorious reunion Kumalo once pictured is now as heart breaking as the dark jail room it takes place in:  

                ---My child, my child.
                ---Yes, my father.
                ---At last I have found you.
                ---Yes, my father.
                ---And it is too late.

                I won’t give too much away (in hopes that you’ll go read it if you haven’t), but I will tell you that Absalom does not come home. And so my question can be answered. My question is for Absalom’s father – for those who have lost – how do they go on?

                The best answer comes from Father Vincent who assists Kumalo throughout his journey: “When the storm threatens, a man is afraid for his house. But when the house is destroyed, there is something to do. About a storm he can do nothing, but he can rebuild a house” (140). Rebuild. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Will that new house ever be exactly the same as the old? Did Kumalo have the same life without his son as he would have had with him? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean the house isn’t worth rebuilding or that life isn’t worth living.

                The other half of Father Vincent’s advice is that as you rebuild, you don't do it alone. In that painstaking moment when you think you cannot rebuild, when it “seems that God has turned from [you],” find the voice inside of you that “speaks in such quiet and such simple words,” whispering: “There is no doubt of it. [I am] not forsaken” – not by God and not by the people around me. Will it still be hard? Absolutely, but it will not be impossible.

                At the book’s end, Kumalo looks across his small village and sees the dawn coming. To those who have lost, who will lose – whatever form that loss may take – I hope you know that your dawn will come. As you see that you are still in darkness when others are in light, remember “the light will come [to you] also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for thousand centuries, never failing” (312).

Looking from my bus seat on that August day, I saw midst the crowd a small, red-faced little boy clinging to his mother’s side, and I remembered Father Vincent’s words: “Give thanks where you can give thanks. For nothing is better.”

              Please be patient for the time when you truly feel the dawn. You will likely find, as I did, that the time in the darkness makes you much more grateful for the light. There is a reason for the darkness, and “when [your] dawn will come, why, that is a secret.”

Writing Music: “Long Lost Child” by Mindy Gledhill and “You Found Me” by The Fray

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chances Lost Are Hope's Torn-Out Pages

                “It takes a lot to ruin a life,” says my co-worker. Her voice was so casual. She could just as easily have said, “It takes a lot to ruin a pot of coffee.” At first, I was comforted. There is comfort in believing you can’t really mess something up, particularly when you’re a perfectionist like I am. My second thought was that it couldn’t possibly be that easy. Just do what you want and it’ll all be okay? Seriously? I like to believe that my life is slightly more important than a pot of coffee. So, it’s worth asking. What does it take to ruin a life? Or save a life? Or simply change a life? Maybe not even yours but someone else’s. What does it take? The answer is The Seventeen Second Miracle by Jason F. Wright.

                When Rex Conner turns his back as a lifeguard, he learns exactly how long it takes to change a life. Only seventeen seconds and little eight-year-old Flick is fighting for her life. Despite Rex racing to save her and a few CPR attempts, she loses that fight. And Rex is left to live with four words that even I don’t need the book to remember: “You killed my angel.”  Seventeen seconds and more than one life changed forever.

                But the question wasn’t “How long does it take to change a life?” it was “What does it take to change a life?” The story at the beginning of the book seems a little abstract because so many lives were changed in so many different ways. So, shall we turn to a simpler example? Years after the first story…a young teenage Miles tells his girlfriend Kendra why he likes her. When he finishes, a wise mentor asks “Kendra, how long did it take for Miles to change your feelings from insecure to warm and happy?” Pause. Don’t focus on how long. What changed her feelings…? Miles did.

                What changes people? People change people. Maybe not in earth-shattering ways like the first example but often in little ways that can make a big difference. The real trick is allowing ourselves to be changed and learning to perform and see seventeen second miracles instead of seventeen second mistakes. When the seventeen second mistakes seem to abound, we can’t stop looking for the seventeen second miracles. I hope you look a little harder at the next person you get on the elevator with or the friend who looks a little gloomier than usual. I hope you see an opportunity to be a miracle to them, to change their day, to change their attitude…to change their life and to change your own.

Writing Music: “Home" by Phillip Phillips and "Chances" by Five for Fighting

“We would do well to slow down a little, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Thursday, January 26, 2012

If It Makes You Happy, It Can’t Be That Bad…

                As a child, I hated salad. And you know what? I hated that I hated it. I wanted to like it so badly. I knew it was healthy and I was supposed to like it. So, I decided to make myself like it. I forced it down with a cup of soda for every bite. I ate it in public so I couldn’t spit it out. I ate it with tons of dressing then with none at all. I tried everything short of eating it while standing on my head. (Feel free to psychoanalyze me later) That little neurotic experience has never left me and this week it’s been on my mind as I’ve been asking myself, “Can you learn to love what’s good for you?” The answer: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler.

                This book has haunted me for months now. I racked up enormous overdue library fees trying to figure out why it bothered me so much. I'll fill you in on why, but let me catch you up. The main character Macon Leary is a middle-aged man who writes travel guides for businessmen who travel for work but wish to “pretend they had never left home”. He tells them where to find a McDonalds in Italy, what hotel in Spain has the most American-looking bath towels, etc. He's the perfect picture of boring and yet somehow also complex and mentally unwell.

                In the novel, he has two love interests. The first is his wife Sarah who leaves him early in the novel because he seems to be living his life on autopilot since the death of their teenage son. He opens up to no one…not even the reader. Reading it, I often felt like I was watching a person who had no emotion at all. I guess I don't blame Sarah for being completely fed up with him... (That’s probably another reason the book haunted me)

                His second love interest is Muriel who is, to say the least, eccentric. She works about 5,000 odd jobs, is half of Macon’s age, and has “aggressively frizzy” hair. At first, Macon seems annoyed by Muriel, which is exactly what you would expect since his personality is so opposite of hers. He shuts her out just like he does everyone else. But her persistence pays off, and slowly we watch Macon go off autopilot.

                Now, what bothered me so much about this novel? I never decided who I wanted Macon to end up with. I know the “right” answers. Ethically, he should end up with his wife. And yet, Muriel seems to make him happier. What was “good” for him? Logically, Sarah is good for him. She is constant. She's married to him. She's stable and devoted. And yet... SPOILER ALERT: Macon doesn’t choose Sarah in the end. He makes efforts to go back to Sarah. He even breaks up with Muriel near the end of the novel, but he can't deny that with Sarah he returns to his "business as usual" self. He wants to learn to love what's good for him but can't.

                Can you learn to love what's good for you? Macon couldn't. In general, I don’t think there’s a yes or no answer my question. But what I only recently realized is this: Learning to love what’s good for you is much easier if you don’t know what you’re missing. Had Macon never met Muriel, maybe he could have learned to love Sarah again. Had I never eaten a cheeseburger, maybe I could have forced myself to like salad. Maybe that’s why businessmen read Macon’s travel guides. They didn’t want to risk seeing a life they wanted more than the one they had, a life that might not be as “good” for them but was more compelling. But what kind of world is that? Doing only what is “good” for you and not what you really enjoy---what you really care about? Is living life with blinders on really a living life?

                I’m not trying to endorse infidelity or to discourage salad-eaters, but I think it’s worth asking ourselves what is worth the fight. Choking down lettuce to satisfy your vegetable quota probably isn’t worth it. Especially when maybe, if you’re really lucky, there is a vegetable somewhere out there that tastes good and is stuffed with Vitamins A & C, too. One day, perhaps I will have my salad and eat it, too.

“You’ll know the emptiness was there when something comes along to fill it” –Lark Rise to Candleford

Writing Music: “Use Somebody” by Laura Jansen and “Rewind” by Stereophonics