Entries in Deep Thoughts (45)

Sunday
Jul122009

My First Svithe: Give Place

Two things: first, this post is all about my faith.  I treasure both my areligous readers and my readers of faiths other than my own.  If you fit into one of those categories and/or aren't in the mood for a religious post, feel free to skip this one and come back in a day or two.

Second, I recently met someone who came up with the portmanteau "svithe" from the words "seven" and "tithe."  He (and many of his friends) often post things of a spiritual nature on Sundays.  I think this is a lovely idea, and hope he doesn't mind that I'm adopting it, at least for this week.  I'm speaking in church today; the following svithe is from what I've written to say.

Before we had children, I knew I wanted to find a way both to write and to be a attentive and devoted wife and mother. I confided my dream one day to an older, wiser, very accomplished woman. This was a person who had pursued a Ph.D., taught at the university level, and written many scholarly works--all while raising six children, supporting a busy husband, and participating actively in the Church. I knew that if anyone had the secret to reaching my goal, it would be she. I’ll never forget the advice she gave me, though I regret to say I have not always followed it.

She said, “Once you take on a new project—a degree, a book, a quilt—don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll just ‘fit it in somehow.’ Assess exactly how much time, attention, and energy it will take. Then decide very deliberately what you will give up in order to fit the new project into your life. Once you start, don’t look back and flirt with what you have left behind. When your sacrifice is well-informed, conscious, and non-negotiable, success in your endeavor is assured.”

We all have been called to the discipleship of Christ, and we all have responded to one degree or another. We can look at the task of developing a Christ-like attitude as a project, and we can approach that project either with the “just fit it in” strategy, or we can do as my friend suggested: assess, decide, commit fully, and stay the course.

An attitude is a position, a manner, or a posture expressive of an emotion or state of being; therefore, a Christ-like attitude is a position, manner, or posture expressive of Christ-like emotion or state of being. Having a Christ-like attitude means we see as he sees, we feel as he feels, and we choose to behave as he chooses to behave. Developing such an attitude is a life-long endeavor of consecration, and we cannot assume we will just fit it in somehow. However, we know that it is a worthy project, one rich in rewards both in the process and in the result.

It is also a project that we cannot complete on our own. In fact, I believe the bulk of the work will not be ours but the Savior’s, and that a Christ-like attitude is largely a gift of grace. We, though, are granted the privilege of participating in its creation and development. Our part of the work consists of three actions: awakening, arising, and giving place.

The first two are often linked in scripture. Lehi tells his sons:

"Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust." –2 Nephi 1:23

Moroni, Nephi, and Jesus himself all quote Isaiah’s exhortation:

"Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion." –Moroni 10:31

Though they are companions, awakening and arising are two distinct actions, as I realize often when lying in bed in the early mornings, wishing to put off the inevitable. Let’s consider them one at a time. First, awake.

Sometimes we go through life on autopilot, allowing the urgent to eclipse the truly important, being merely busy instead of anxiously engaged. Sometimes instead of turning to the Redeemer with our sorrows, griefs, and inadequacies, we seek to anesthetize our spiritual pain through addictive behaviors, turning to excessive food, exercise, television, the computer, or other pursuits.

Note that all of these sources of potential anesthesia are good and important things when used properly. But when we set them up as gods, looking to them for escape, we are not hearkening to Jesus’ quiet request to follow him. We are spiritually asleep. And those who are asleep often mistake their dreams for true consciousness. Have you ever had that happen, have you been in a dream and been convinced that what you were experiencing was reality? Likewise, when we are spiritually asleep, we may assume we are awake, when that is not actually the case.

We need to awaken to the heightened awareness the Holy Ghost will afford us (if we allow it) and focus on what we really want. Examining our habits and how we spend the bulk of our time and mental energy reveals to us what is truly important to us, as opposed to what we say and even believe we want.

We may be shocked to realize that our desires for the things of eternity are not as strong as we thought they were. But being awake and aware of the state of our souls is not enough. The good news is that our weak, conflicting desires can be redirected and magnified. But for that to happen, we need to arise—arise from the dust, as the scriptures exhort.

The dust is a metaphor for our earthy and carnal tendencies, the Natural Man or Woman in each of us. The dust is good; God organized it and created our bodies from it. However, it is not meant to be our permanent state; we are not to wallow in it. We are asked to arise, unite our agency with the Lord’s, and become something more than dust—something eternal and incorruptible.

"To arise" in the gospel sense means to take action, to stand and go forth. We must shake off the chains that bind us—and our chains are unique and custom-made—and make use of the gifts the Lord has given us. Taking the journey from testimony to conversion means to build on the spiritual impressions we receive; merely receiving them is not enough.

So—we have awakened and arisen. Having done so, we must guard once again against mere busy-ness, or “zeal without knowledge,” as Hugh Nibley called it. This is where the third part of my recipe for a Christ-like attitude comes in: we must give place.

Alma teaches us about giving place when he gives us the parable of the good seed in Alma Chapter 32. Once we have planted the seed, or the word of God, in our hearts, we need to give place, or in other words, make room. Think back to my friend’s plan for successfully completing a new project. A crucial part of the plan is deciding what to give up in order to make room.

Giving place shows we are actively concerned, it means we are consciously surrendering. We realize our priorities must change, and we put our heart where our mouth is, if you will excuse my adaptation of a secular proverb. If we do not make room, Christ will find no place to put the gift of an attitude like his.

Elder Neal Maxwell said, “We ‘cannot bear all things now,’ but the Lord ‘will lead [us] along,’ as we ‘give place’ in our thoughts and schedules and ‘give away’ our sins, which are the only ways we can begin to make room to receive all that God can give us. (D&C 78:18; D&C 50:4; Alma 32:27, 28; Alma 22:18.) Each of us is an innkeeper who decides [whether] there is room for Jesus!”

There is a scripture from Isaiah that I love, one that is so well known that it is difficult not to sing:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. –Isaiah 40:3

The Lord amplifies and clarifies this passage in the Doctrine & Covenants:

Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. –D&C 88:66

We often interpret these verses as exhortations to do what it takes to build up the kingdom of God—we see our service in our communities, ward, and families as paving the way for Christ’s millennial reign. And this is an appropriate interpretation. But we can look at these scriptures on a more personal and intimate level as well, and perhaps find new meaning thereby.

What if the wilderness is my soul, and the desert is my heart? When I put myself into the metaphor, I hear the Spirit crying within my soul from time to time, asking me to make straight in the desert of my heart a highway for the Lord—a path for him to travel, a place for him to abide.

Preparing the way for the Lord in our hearts means doing what needs to be done. It means showing up, even if we don’t feel like it sometimes. When our daily routine consistently includes the small and seemingly inconsequential things God asks us to do—praying, studying and pondering, practicing kindness and patience and unselfishness and forgiveness—we show Him that He can trust us. Our behavior is a manifestation of what our covenants mean to us, and it helps us give place within ourselves for the riches of heaven.

The quest to develop a Christ-like attitude—the vision, emotion, and behavior of the Savior—is not the easy, broad path of the world. But as Catherine Thomas says, “We set aside the lethargy of the Natural Man. We cultivate enthusiasm, even when we are tempted to be too tired for spiritual things.”

Brothers and Sisters, as we heard in the Sacrament Prayer today, to begin, all we have to do is be willing, and even with that, God has promised to help us. We have everything that is needful to awake, arise, and give place.

Let us gather up all that impedes us from doing so and set it on the altar at Christ’s feet; let us make the sacrifice the Lamanite king was willing to make, that of giving away all our sins in order to know, to see, to feel, and to behave as Jesus.

Wednesday
Jun172009

The Quids and Quos of Blogging

Once upon a time, before I knew anything at all about blogging, I found this blog and fell in love. Here was a woman just like me—only taller, a much better photographer, possessed of half the number of children, and British. I wanted to be her friend. Craved her approval. Wished I could meet her.

I read through her entire archives, treating myself to a month’s worth at a time as a reward for chores well done, but didn’t dare comment for ages. She received well over 80 comments per post; she was famous! Surely there was no way she’d notice me. One day, though, I gave in. I agonized over each word: was my comment pithy? Non-groveling? Grammatically pristine? I eventually hit “Submit” and got on with my life.

The next day, I received a gracious reply from her via email. I was over the moon. After that, I grew more daring in commenting. I also started my own blog and tried to be as much like Jane as I possibly could.

As I started blogging myself, I found I wanted to read more than one blog. I started cruising aggregator sites, and I eventually developed another blogcrush. Here was a woman just like me—only funnier, more pragmatic, possessed of an adopted child from China, and unapologetically herself.

As I read through her entire archives a few posts at a time, I learned something new. Pezmama readily admitted to not enjoying reading books, especially fiction. Whaaaa?  That she could write such outrageously honest things about herself and retain her avid readership was a revelation to me. I resolved to be more like her—I mean, more like myself.

Pez has moved on beyond Planet Blog, and indeed from the internet in general, but our friendship has progressed. We write actual letters to one another with pens and paper, if you can imagine that.

After meeting Pezmama, I blogged along, finding my voice and developing lovely friendships along the way. I attended a couple of online blog carnivals and generally felt I’d discovered everything this strange new world had to offer.

One day, however, I had my bloggy socks knocked off yet again. Here was a woman just like me—only younger, with greener eyes, possessed of the most objectively beautiful children mankind has ever produced, and popular.

I couldn’t parcel out reading the archives this time; I binged on them the way I do a new Stephen King novel. Brillig had only been blogging for roughly the same amount of time I had, but she had far more readers (and for good reason: her every post is pure genius).

And I’d gotten to the point in my bloggy career at which, when it came to comments, I craved not only quality, but also quantity. I resolved that Brillig must not only become my friend, she must also teach me all the secrets to her huge readership and become my Blog Guru. Brillig the Blogguru? Brilluru? It sounds like something from H. P. Lovecraft….

Anyway: Feedcrack. I coined the word when I was getting to know Brillig and many of her cool fans; I probably should have pulled a Pat Riley and trademarked the term back then. Comments, input, interactive readership: whatever you call it, if you blog, you want feedcrack.

Non-bloggers don’t understand this. How comments are the currency of Planet Blog, to paraphrase the brilliant Charrette. How once you have put yourself out there in the ether, it’s very difficult not to wonder (obsess over, fixate upon, check fifty times per day) what others think of what you have expressed.

One day I was instant messaging back and forth with my Guru on the subject of feedcrack and its "quid pro quo" nature. Quid pro quo: an equal exchange. You read me, and I read you. Like the Mosaic Law.

I admitted to my Guru that I read three or four blogs unrequitedly: I left daily comments, but got almost none in return. Granted, these were hugely popular sites; there’s probably no physical way their authors could reciprocate all the comments they were receiving.

“Ditch ‘em,” the Guru commanded.

“But they’re so articulate,” I whined. “They inspire me.  They write the kind of posts I want to write.”

“If they don’t show their appreciation, you need to break up with them. Give your love where it will be valued. I promise: they won’t miss you, and I’m pretty sure you’ll end up not missing them, either.”

I obeyed. I always obey my Guru, even when she starts waxing eloquent on arcane topics like site meters and pingbacks. I nod intelligently (though I know she cannot see me) and do my best to follow her counsel.  And I've found that she's always right.

I’ve wrestled with the need for feedcrack. At times I’ve taken blogcations and have contemplated giving up the pastime altogether. I don’t like feeling dependent on anything other than my faith and my family. I’ve found, though, that if I work hard to keep my life in balance, feedcrack’s hold on me lessens to a very manageable degree.

And I can’t deny that my life has been dramatically enriched by my adventures in blogging. I have made treasured friends who live literally around the globe. (Hi, Ellen; hi Syar!)  I have formed valuable connections with peers and mentors in the world of writing. I have a rich resource of support that has borne me up through difficult times.  I hope I have been an influence for good.

So here I am again, with a pretty makeover and a fresh set of rules for a new start. I’ve been posting off and on for almost three years on a wide variety of topics as I’ve tried to figure out my blog identity. Mommyblogger? Foodie? Fantasy Writer? Grammar Authority? Essayist? Faith Promoter? We’ll see what survives the streamlining process; in the meantime, it looks like I'm here for the duration.

What about you? Have you had any blogcrushes? Do you follow anyone unrequitedly, or are you strictly a “quid pro quo” blogger? How do you handle your need for feedcrack? 

Tell me I’m not alone, people.

I’ve always been able to count on you for that.

 

Tuesday
Apr282009

It's not you; it's me.


"Oh, no," some of you are thinking. "I've heard those words before. I know what they mean." And you're partly right.

I've just gotten back from a ten-day trip Out West. I'm still re-adjusting to Eastern Daylight Time, not eating in restaurants at least once per day, and being a mom to more than one child. As I do so, I'm mulling over all I learned.

David Farland's Professional Writers' Workshop was worth every penny and minute invested. Dave is a guru, coach, talespinner, and incisive yet kind critic. I acquired much information that will improve both the quality of my storytelling and the quantity of my output. I got to know a group of writers whose skill sets, needs, and goals are very similar to mine, and I look forward to extensive interaction with them in the future. I left Saint George burning to closet myself and write, write, write. But of course, things are more complicated than that.

The garden needs to be planted (and weeded, oh yes, my precious). Baseball and lacrosse seasons are in full swing. We have concerts and recitals and birthdays, oh my! In other words, my real life is full and runneth over. How to fit in a bit more fiction writing time?

It's time for another round of streamlining of my daily schedule. Clearly I can't cut back on kid time or Patrick time or scriptures or exercise. The calling and the yard won't tolerate much skimping, either.

That leaves you, dear blogosphere. Both my reading and my posting have been erratic since Anne was born, so you've already gotten used to much less of my time and attention. I won't be gone forever, but don't expect a whole lot in the near future. This will be easier for you than it will be for me, I'm sure. I'm betting you won't even really notice.

Monday
Jan262009

The Parable of the Kevlar

We didn't have much money when we first got married. Patrick was teaching school at first, then began law school at Columbia the next fall. Our financial situation was of great concern to Patrick's grandfather, who I'm sure imagined us scraping out a miserable existence in some little hovel on the edge of Harlem. Grandpa would send us packages of vitamins on a regular basis; he was very worried about my health, as well as that of his future great-grandchildren.

One day, a package from Grandpa arrived that was much larger than usual. We found inside not the usual bottles of pills, but a double bed-sized bedspread. Grandpa explained in the accompanying note that he was worried that we would not be warm enough at night in the winter to come. He'd seen this very warm and durable bedspread on sale and had thought of us at once.

(Little did Grandpa know that nearly every night of our 11 winters in Manhattan, we slept with the bedroom window open at least a crack. Energy-conscious officials should put addressing the chronically overzealous radiator heating systems of New York City's apartment buildings near the top of their lists when looking for ways to cut consumption and costs.)

Warm? Yes. Durable? Without a doubt. But also: the most hideous thing I had ever seen? Absolutely.

The bedspread is a denim grayish blue, one of my least favorite colors in the spectrum. It's spattered with little black and white and gray splotches, sort of Jackson Pollock-style, just not as cool. It's machine quilted with that transparent, stronger-than-the-cords-of-death nylon thread. And it's got thick black piping running all the way round the perimeter.

(Patrick would insert here that it's not that bad. He's not mistaken very often, but in this case? He's dead wrong.)

But we didn't have a bedspread, or really any substantial blanket-type bed covering, so we used it. I was grateful to have it, and don't worry: I thanked Grandpa profusely for it and his thoughtfulness on more than one occasion.

I thought we'd surely replace it after law school, one P was pulling in the big lawyer salary and we had our own bed out of storage once more (the married student housing in which we lived was furnished). But somehow in the years that followed, there were always other things we needed, and the bedspread hung around.

Once I tried to throw it out, but I discovered that my analytical husband has a bit of a sentimental streak. "It was a gift," he protested. "It was from the heart." I couldn't argue; I have hung onto plenty of stuff over the years purely because it reminds me of the giver. Then Grandpa died, and getting rid of the bedspread altogether was no longer an option.

For a long time, it lived in the linen closet and only emerged when we needed something to put on the futon when guests stayed over. Once we got the cat, though, it enjoyed both a second lease on life and a new name: The Kevlar.

Goldberry, like most cats, enjoys attacking things that move under cover--like bare, vulnerable feet, for example. Having a brain the size of a small bran muffin, Goldberry can't differentiate between feet moved in play and feet moved innocently in sleep at three o'clock in the morning. I don't think she bears us or our appendages any malice, but her claws are razor sharp, and she is very, very strong. Her midnight ambushes did little to foster bonds between owners and pet, to say the least.

I can't remember how we discovered that her claws couldn't penetrate Grandpa's gift, but once we did, the bedspread rarely left our bed. We could waggle our ankles and Goldberry could attack to her heart's content, with no one getting hurt in the process. I believe it was Patrick who, with the cat furiously biting and rabbit-footing the blanket surrounding his legs, cackled gleefully, "It's Kevlar, cat; knock yourself out."

I've contemplated recovering the Kevlar, making some sort of duvet cover for it out of fabric I actually like and wouldn't mind seeing on the bed. Doing so is low on my project list, though; it seems like I always have ten things more urgent to accomplish. Though I still find it hideous, it evokes fond memories every day when I make the bed, and it remains much-needed protection from nightly feline aggression. After nearly nineteen years, I've made my peace with the Kevlar.

We don't choose much about our lot in life; sometimes our circumstances seem unappealing indeed. But with time, we often find that those things we'd most like to change turn out to be the things that are most useful in difficult circumstances. Patience and faith can grant us a new perspective on even the ugliest of gifts, if we will only cultivate them.

Tuesday
Apr222008

Ask Not What Your Earth Can Do For You...


This post is brought to you by the hellebores and muscari in my yard.

Today is Earth Day. I'm not going to preach to you, since half of you are in the 'choir,' and the other half don't care to be. Instead I'm going to give you some practical (and hopefully non-controversial) ways, big and small, that you can commemorate this world holiday. I'm sure that even the busiest among us can fit one of these into our schedules in the next several hours.

1. Clean up a local public area with your family. Members of our church did this on Saturday; many families, including ours, went out with safety vests and garbage bags and picked up hundreds of pounds of trash along a popular bike path near the chapel.

2. Buy reusable grocery bags and keep them in your car so that you remember to use them.

3. Figure out your local walkshed and enjoy using it instead of driving at least once a week. Thinking about moving? Figure out your potential new neighborhood's Walk Score. Our neighborhood is only average, getting 52 points out of 100. (Our old neighborhood in Manhattan scores a whopping 98.) That said, nearly everything I need on a weekly, nonexceptional basis--namely, the grocery store and the library--is within a half mile of home.

4. Buy and eat locally grown food. Find out where the nearest farmer's market is. Join a CSA. Patronize producers of grass-fed Real Milk. You'll make new connections in your community, and your taste buds, your waistline, and your local farmers will all thank you.

5. Read the fantastic book Food, Not Lawns, by H.C. Flores. Then plant a garden, even if it's just a couple of tomato plants in a bucket on your patio.

6. Read Michael Pollan's essay "Why Bother" from last week's New York Times Magazine.

7. Check out the funny, informative, and inspiring blog of Colin Beavan, a.k.a. No Impact Man. Colin is Walking the Walk, my friends; it's pretty great to witness.

8. Subscribe to Grist, the free online environmental news and commentary site.

9. Don't just recycle it; take steps to reduce the junk coming into your mailbox. Pay $1 to the DMA's Mail Preference Service to get off undesirable mailing lists. The Big Three credit bureaus have an opt-out function for the deluge of credit card applications many of us receive on a daily basis. Join Green Dimes! This service is terrific.

10. Just say 'no' to more stuff. Set at least a 24-hour 'time-out' period in which you consider whether you really need that new (fill in the blank). Use your library more. Share yard tools with your neighbors. Downsize your wardrobe and donate your excess to a responsible charity. To quote Emme, a prominent simple lifestyle blogger, "Living simply does not have to mean sacrifice or hardship. It means focusing on the things that are important to us and in our lives." Amen, sister.

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