Yay for me! And for Kar! And for Dad’s wallet!
But just slightly.
Everyday, upon returning home from a long day of sitting under florescent lights in front of the luminous glow of a computer, I peek in on our hanging baskets filled with fuchsias. We’ve struggled with hanging baskets in the past–they need daily watering since they’re not in the ground–and we are determined that this year’s blooms will live.
The broccoli is about to take over the world. The spinach is so green, Oz is envious. We lost one lettuce, but the other three heads happily add their crisp, sweet crunch to my daily turkey sandwich. The carrots have finally sprouted, as have the squash. Our cucumbers are coming back to life and the tomatoes–well, the tomatoes continue to climb and tease me with notions of what will soon be born from their blossoms, then cradled in their branches. They know they’re my favorites and they grin at my impatience, soaking up every ounce of my adoration, like water from the spigot.
On to the flowers, mixed with strawberries and herbs. I dote and weed as though they were one in the same. I can’t help but tell them how lovely they are, how happy I’m that they are growing, and what a wonderful job they are doing at it. I gurgle over the sprouts just now emerging from the soil, so precious and new. A few are struggling so I make certain I stoop to take a bit of extra time, encouraging, massaging the earth, coaxing them upward, promising them that there will be no greater joy than in filling the measure of their creation.
Finally, I stop at the wisteria and breathe her sweetness. Her blossoms in bunches, like grapes on the vine, fill my dreams with purple. I carefully wind her wayward vines back into the lattice, giving them direction, stability, and promise.
Yes. I might be slightly obsessed. But I cannot “help but grow wise with such teachings as these.” For in this garden, I see–my own beginnings, my growth, my falters, my renewal, my trellis, my direction, my purpose.
These days, I cannot get enough of our garden.
I cannot get enough of my life.
After quite the Saturday morning, I spent the rest of the day preparing to speak in Church Sunday morning. I learned a lot in preparing for my assigned topic and thought I would share. If you have any personal insights, please offer them!
One of my favorite books is The Highest In Us by Truman Madsen. I received it as a gift in college and was immediately drawn into the truths Elder Madsen proposes. In the preface he writes, “The nightmare is all about us. And as we peer out at the world, whether by the aid of television or not, there is much of horror and of corruption. Yet, on occasion, quiet voices remind us, again all evidence to the contrary, that there are overwhelming possibilities locked within mankind.”
Have you ever thought about the possibilities locked within yourself? The abilities and achievements and contributions YOU could make to the world? To God’s eternal plan?
I, personally, think often about this. What will I contribute? Who am I becoming? What am I going to offer as my life’s work? What is my mission here?
I have always believed I had something important, something great, to do here in this life. And I have always believed the very same thing about those around me.
One day (July 24, 2004 according to the post-it note I wrote this experience on) as I sat thinking upon this belief–how and what I was to do–the Holy Spirit came to me and spoke to my heart, “Great things are accomplished by making yourself available to the Lord.”
Now this is not a deeply hidden mystery. It almost seems like common sense really. But on that day, at that point in my life, this truth was magnificent. Let me share it again. Great things are accomplished by making yourself available to the Lord.
Since that day, there have certainly been times that I have neglected this truth, allowing myself to be sidetracked by my own plans, wants, desires, weaknesses, and sins. But I have begun again (I love that we get to do that!) to try to live what I learned that day as I’ve recently felt an intense desire to better understand God’s plan for me, and how I can make the most of the time I have on earth.
So if great things are accomplished by making ourselves available to the Lord, the question then becomes, how do we make ourselves available to Him?
I believe the answer to this question is the key to unlocking what Elder Madsen called the “overwhelming possibilities within us.” The answer to this question is what Sister Elaine Dalton, General President of the Young Women organization of the LDS Church, asked us to return to. The answer, is what President David O. McKay said is worth more than our lives.
I believe the answer, is Virtue.
The word virtue comes from a Latin root meaning strength, courage, and excellence. Today the word virtue means moral excellence, goodness, chastity. It also means an effective force, power.
Such interesting definitions, wouldn’t you say?
Let’s take a look at the very first definition, “moral excellence.” To be moral means to understand the distinction between right and wrong and then live by those rules of right conduct, rather than on legalities or customs.
To be excellent means you possess outstanding quality or superior merit.
So to be morally excellent, or virtuous, means you have the outstanding quality of living by rules of right conduct. It means you have a superior understanding and ability to make choices based on the distinction between right and wrong rather than on legalities or customs.
Sister Dalton described it as “‘a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.’ It encompasses chastity and moral purity. Virtue begins in the heart and in the mind. It is nurtured in the home. It is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions.”
So what does this mean for me? Or for you?
First, let me ask, what are the patterns of thought and behavior by which you live? How do you treat and speak to your family? How do you serve in your Church capacities? Are you an honest employee? What media and entertainment do you partake of and bring into your home? What sort of language do you use? How do you respond to counsel? What do you do when a prophet or apostle, or God for that matter, asks you to do something?
May I share a recent personal experience? I love music. I love all different genres and styles. But I’ve felt a prompting of my conscience for a while that I needed to clean out my music. Now don’t jump to conclusions that I had an iPod full of smut. I don’t, and didn’t. But there were a few songs, that I loved to run to and to dance to, that had a great beat, melody, and production, but they insinuated immoral situations lyrically that I shouldn’t have been listening to. But I kept avoiding the prompting…because well…I liked my music. And change is hard.
Now simultaneous to these thoughts about cleaning out my music, Frit and I began training for the triathlon. Anyone, who has trained for a physically brutal event like this can attest to the fact that it consumes your life. We ate, drank, and slept triathlon. And as I trained, whipping my physical self into shape, I found a greater desire to do the same for my spiritual self. I was stepping it up in my exercise and nutrition plan and felt my spirit asking, almost begging, for the same stretching and pushing. Additionally, those thoughts of life and accomplishments and making myself available to the Lord began to appear in my mind.
So, I put together a spiritual training plan similar to my physical training plan. It’s a difficult plan, one that stretches me and forces me to make this aspect of my life a focus. One element of the plan is to read, listen to, or watch, one General Conference sermon every day. In preparation, I downloaded the most recent Conference onto my iPod.
Well, last week as I was on the train to work, I was listening to music and the screensaver on my iPod appeared. It’s just the generic one, where album covers from your playlists bounce around the screen. Different artists bounced around, and then Elder Holland’s face appeared, and then LL Cool J, or Nelly, or someone. And I felt immediate discomfort—discomfort knowing that those two things couldn’t exist in the same sphere. I couldn’t live in both worlds. I couldn’t, and can’t, expect to enjoy the fullness of the Spirit and some of the music in my iTunes library. But change is hard. And I said to myself that I’d clean it out soon, but not that day.
Then Frit and I completed the triathlon. It took me two and a half hours to complete the course and the experience was physically excruciating at times. At one point I really didn’t know if I could keep going. There were killer hills on the bike route and the run and I’d never trained on hills (which is a whole other gospel lesson in and of itself). But as I ran past the finish line with everyone screaming for me and knowing that I’d done it, I knew that I’d never again be able to say, about anything, “I can’t do this.” Because I’d just done that race.
So when I sat down in front of my computer this weekend staring at my iTunes, making a list of the dozen or so songs that needed to be deleted, feeling ridiculous that such a task was as hard as it was for me, I thought of my race. I thought about the finish line. I thought about that moment when my legs were shaking at the top of a hill and my lungs couldn’t find enough air and I turned to Frit and said, “I really don’t think I can do this,” and she said, “Yes you can.” And then I did. I thought of my belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I thought of Elder Holland’s face and how it’s his world that I want to live in. I thought of all the other right choices I’ve made in my life and how I felt after making them. I thought of my Savior and how much I love Him, and how much He loves me. And I remembered that I’ve done hard things before. And I pushed delete.
In the last General Young Women’s Meeting, Sister Mary N. Cook said, “You must establish patterns of virtue that will keep you on this path throughout your life.”
Patterns of virtue. Patterns of making choices based on what is right. In a special pamphlet for LDS youth called “For the Strength of Youth,” which is just as much for me as it is for the teenage girls I teach every Sunday, it says, “Have the courage to walk out of a movie, turn off a computer or television, change a radio station, or put down a magazine if what is being presented does not meet Heavenly Father’s standards.”
Elder Madsen, later in his book, writes, “One supreme compliment to a member of the Church is, ‘He is active.’ But so are falling rocks and billiard balls. The word the Lord uses, and the question derived from it is, ‘Are you a lively member?’ Are you alive? It is no longer a question of whether you have been through the standard works, but whether the life and light in them has somehow passed through the very skin of your bodies and enlivened you. It isn’t whether you say your prayers in a proper fashion and position and time, but whether you open up honestly what is alive and more or less dead within you to the Source of live and stay with it and with him until the return wave of life enters you.”
It is Virtue that makes us lively. It is right choice upon right choice, based on right motives, that enlivens us and transforms us into a vessel through which the Lord can work mighty things and great accomplishments.
We do not live in a world of grey, although the world would tell us it is so. But matters of morality, honesty, chastity, modesty, gender, and integrity are black and white. Period. And Virtue is the power, both literally and figuratively, to make the distinction between what is black, and what is white.
“Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength. They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost. President Monson has counseled: ‘You be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow. There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness—and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so’” (Elaine S. Dalton, A Return to Virtue).
What can each of us do to return to virtue? As Sister Cook said, “the course and the training program will be unique to each of us.” But as I’ve looked at my own life, a particular article of my LDS faith has played and replayed in my mind:
“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
I have since begun to measure my music, my literature, my movies, my work ethic, my desires, my Church service based on those qualifications. And if it doesn’t measure up, I have begun to delete it from my life. (Please note, I am not perfect at this.)
But it is what ends that article that stands out to me most. Those last five words: We seek after these things. I have come to understand that it is not just what we rid our lives of that makes us virtuous. It is what we seek after.
And that which is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy will not be found on Access Hollywood or in the pages of Cosmo or on primetime television. Please don’t misunderstand. There is absolutely a place for entertainment and enjoyment (and believe me I have plenty of favorites) but not at the expense of our personal Virtue. Just as Virtue is gained by patterns of right choices, it is lost by patterns of bad choices. And each pattern begins with one choice.
In closing may I read another excerpt from Sister Cook’s talk? She says, “It is the cleansing power of the Atonement that makes it possible for us to be virtuous. We all make mistakes, but ‘because the Savior loves you and has given His life for you, you can repent. Repentance is an act of faith in Jesus Christ. … The Savior’s atoning sacrifice has made it possible for you to be forgiven of your sins. … Determine to partake worthily of the sacrament each week and fill your life with virtuous activities that will bring spiritual power. As you do this, you will grow stronger in your ability to resist temptation, keep the commandments [remain clean], and become more like Jesus Christ.’”
May I encourage you, as the Lord has encouraged me these last few weeks, to make yourself available to Him by cleaning out that which is unvirtuous and seeking after that which is lovely and of good report. In doing so, He WILL help you accomplish great things. He WILL help you live a life of value and worth and strength. That is my witness.
I have tried to write this post a bazillion times since Saturday. But I write and then I delete. I write and then I delete. And I’ve got nothin’! No creative way to tell you about the excruciating, exhilarating event THAT I FINISHED on Saturday. I’ve got no metaphors, no similes, no alliteration, no onomatopoeia.
All I’ve got is this:
I Am A Woman of Steel Triathlete.
Yep! That’s right. I am a triathlete. Tri … athlete. Tri … athlete. Holy crap that feels good to say! I am so. Proud. Of. Myself. I am, a TRIATHLETE.
Saturday began for Frit and I at 5 a.m. The night before we had packed the car, packed our bags, and packed our bikes. So all we had to do was throw on our suits and eat a good breakfast. It was thrilling (and frightening) to pull out of the driveway, before the dawn, knowing we were finally headed to the race we’d been training for for weeks.
On the way, we talked about what we were excited about and what we were worried about. But mostly we talked about how happy we were that we’d decided to do this (and how glad we’d be once it was over so we could have our lives back).
We arrived at the race site just after 7:00 a.m. and each of us set out to find our assigned transition spots, lay out our gear, tag our bikes, secure our timing chips to our ankles, and get a little jittery.
At 7:30 we were to be at the pool for rules and the national anthem. At 8:00 the starting alarm sounded and we were off. Well. Not really “off.” Line-up is based on self-seeding and since neither of us are professional, we were near the back–which was great in so many ways. Since we had to wait, it allowed time to calm down, relax a bit, and make some friends.
I entered the pool at 8:50 and finished the swim in just over 9 minutes. And then it was off to the bike! Miles 1 and 7 were mega hills and I struggled. I was so slow. And it was hard to keep feelings of discouragement away as people, who I knew were on their second lap, passed me. But I kept peddling. It was all I could do, and I just tried to remember that I didn’t care how fast I was–I was only in this to finish. After an hour and twenty-five minutes, the 12.4 mile bike ride was behind me. I was tired and my legs felt like burning, rubbery, lead noodles.
Frit was waiting for me at my second transition. She had just finished the race and I was so proud of her (SO proud) but I was bugged (REALLY bugged) with myself for being so slow. She tried to encourage and cheer me on, but I was in no mood. I started toward the route start (read “stomped” toward the route start) and saw she was following me, ready to run the run again, beside me. She has a habit of doing this as some of you know. But, like I said, I was in a mood–a bugged, mad at myself, let-me-throw-myself-a-pity-party-by-myself mood. So I told her to go away (even though I was really grateful she was there). Sometimes I’m a brat like that and luckily she knows me well enough–she stayed. (Frit, thanks for always staying. I love you with all my heart.)
Now, if any of you have ever done a triathlon you can attest to the fact that the transition from bike to run is brutal. BRUtal. And the entirety of the run’s first mile was uphill. I tried to make my legs go, but I could barely get my feet high enough to clear the pavement. They would not go. And so I walked. Slowly. I was so tired and annoyed with myself and mad at my legs. And even though I thought I had cried all my tears out on the bike, I broke down as we neared the top of the hill. I mean really broke down. A sobbing, snotting, can’t-catch-my-breath breakdown. I looked at Frit and with all honesty and certainty told her, “I don’t think I can finish this. I really don’t think I can do it.” (Even now, typing that makes me tear up at the memory of how I felt at that moment.) I really didn’t think I could take one more step. And she looked at me, and with all honesty and certainty said, “Yes. You can.”
At this point, I was pretty sure I was in last place. Which sucked. I mean, my only two goals going into this were to 1) finish and 2) not be last. But somewhere in the middle of mile 2 Frit turned around and noticed a couple women walking behind me. This helped me pick up the pace just a bit–I didn’t want them to gain on me. And in picking it up, I ended up passing the woman in front of me too.
By mile 3 my legs had un-noodled, lightened a bit and I was running! We were SO close to the finish line and I felt so good. So tired. But proud and grateful and overwhelmed. At the last turn I saw a familiar blonde waiting with her two boys. She saw me at the same moment and screamed my name, jumped and cheered, and I lost it. I hadn’t known she was coming and there couldn’t have been a better surprise. She and her boys fell into line beside us and the five of us ran toward the finish together. As I entered the “grandstand” area, they all fell back as I took those final steps alone. Time seemed to slow.
If I close my eyes, I can still hear, in the far corner of my mind, the announcer at the microphone, “Here she is! Number 143! Let’s cheer her in everyone! Way to go #143! You did it!” The colors and faces are a blur, but I can hear their cheering, their clapping, their yelling, their encouraging. And there it was, three final steps and I was done. #143. Two hours and 29 minutes.
On the other side of the finish line a fellow-racer (a complete stranger!) wrapped her arms around me as I sobbed with relief, accomplishment, weariness, joy and pride. “You did it. You. Are. Amazing. You did it.” she kept saying over and over. And then there was Frit. Smiling and laughing and proud. Ready to squish any air I had left in me, out. I highly recommend that everyone find a best friend.
I might be in the slow lane.
But in t-minus 36 hours I should be crossing the finish line.
In the last few months I have learned so much about myself.
I have pushed my limits farther than they’ve ever been pushed.
I have cried.
I have laughed.
I have heaved.
I have cheered.
I have realized just how many insecurities I carry in my heart.
I have, on some occasions, been beaten by my fears.
But on others, I’ve socked it to ‘em.
I have built callouses on my bum bones (finally!).
I have come face to face with spandex (that was not pretty).
I have new shoes, a new bike, new sunglasses, and a new helmet.
I have stronger legs.
I have run more,
and biked more than I ever have.
I have a deeper desire, and stronger willpower, to become better.
So no matter how long it takes on Saturday,
and no matter what I look like when it’s all said and done,
I will know,
that I have,
accomplished something great.
Pregnant with dreams and ideas and aspirations and hopes and needs and wants, I feel as though my shell can’t hold it in anymore and it’s all about to spill out in living color.
Petal by petal unfolding, breaking the seams of fear and pride and uncertainty–I feel change coming.
And I know that it is time.
It is time, to bloom.
2. Throw on some cozy sweats, a little mascara, a touch of lip-gloss and set off for the local nursery. No, not the garden center at Wal-Mart. I’m talking about the place down the street with all the charm and real gardeners who can tell you about your soil and which flowers bring butterflies.
3. Come home with pallets of bloomin’ green goodies.
6. After a bit of mozying and puttering around the house, go to the grocer … in flip-flops, capris, and T-shirt, letting your wet mane air-dry with whatever curl or wave it pleases. Wander the produce, tossing every fresh, colorful piece that sings to you into your cart.
For this example’s sake … choose fresh, raw shrimp.
9. Heat some Alfredo.
10. Saute your shelled shrimp in garlic-infused olive oil
(this doesn’t take long … maybe 2 minutes on each side).
11. Slice a kiwi fruit.
13. Take your meal to the patio and eat in the midst of your newly-planted garden
and the setting sun.
And that, my friends, is how to have a delicious Saturday.
I had the best of intentions. I always do. I was going to go to the greeting-card store and spend two hours reading every card until I found the perfect one—just like she does for every card-warranting event. In fact I remember when I was seven, lying on the floor of a Hallmark, gazing up at her legs, certain I would die if I had to wait five more minutes for her to “find the perfect card.”
But as usual, busyness got the best of my best intentions, and two days before Mother’s Day I found myself pulling out the generic stationary on which I send “thank-yous” to clients. Scrambling to Google a quote with some ounce of meaning, I carefully wrote:
A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. –Tenneva Jordan
Thanks mom, for always giving up your “pie.” Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.
A week later I received an e-mail from her. It simply said:
I got your card today! It made me cry! I enjoyed the quote and your sweet note! Life’s short . . . eat “PIE”! Have a great week! Love, Mama
My mom’s life had already been on my mind when I got that e-mail. Not that she had been sick or anything tragic. But she had just turned fifty, and I felt like that should have meant something. She had just sent her last child to college. And I felt like that should have meant something too. To me, I mean. I knew it meant something to her. Now that there wasn’t anyone except her and dad to eat pie, I wondered if she remembered what flavor she liked best.
I speculated for days trying to understand the choices she made years earlier, choices between big cities and bright lights, and having me. But speculating was futile. I haven’t had to give up my pie yet and to be quite honest, it’s me who usually takes the biggest piece. I decided to just ask her and so I sent an email. All her reply said was:
Sweetie, YOU were my pie.
To all you wonderful women out there—you who are mothers and daughters and sisters and friends—Happy Mother’s Day. I hope you know how much you are loved, and how invaluable you are.
But mostly I hope you are enjoying every bite of your pie.
I love giving gifts. I love thinking about the person and the gift, picking it out or (and especially) making it, wrapping it, and watching people as they open it. I believe taking the time to give a gift is time best spent. And the ability to give good gifts–now that is a talent.
I personally have been the recipient of many good gifts in my life.
Here are 5 of the Best:
1. The angel broach my dad sent to me for Christmas when I was on my mission.
Usually dad lets mom do the shopping and he just signs the card. But on this particular occasion, when I was so far from home, he went to one of my favorite artisan shops (by himself), picked out this particular piece of handmade jewelry (by himself), wrapped it (by himself), and mailed it (by himself) separate from all the other presents that came from home that year. It meant the world.
2. My great-grandmother’s silver dessert set, given to me by my grandmother. A lovely antique and family heirloom. It doesn’t get much better than that.
3. The surprise birthday party Frit threw for my 30th birthday. SO many people I adore came. Most often, the best gift is time, and on that particular night I was overwhelmed that that many people would come to spend time with me and celebrate my life.
4. My Sunday School teacher in middle school, Judy Safay, gave me a journal filled with letters of love from the members of our congregation. As a young and unsure 14-year-old, it was impossible to then doubt how much I was cared for after receiving that gift. I still have that journal. And I still read it. And I remember all the people who helped me become who I am today.
5. I can’t choose! … there’s the silver necklace my Primary teacher at Church gave me when I graduated into the Young Women program. The engraved napkin rings from my mom that she and dad received at their wedding. The handpainted ceramic plate Kaycie made for me when she was 10. The clay turtle Cooper made for me. The little gold necklace from my first “boyfriend” in 4th grade. The bottle-cap earings my dad gave me in 4th grade (the only other gift he’s picked out himself). The birthday card Karly gave me one year–it was particularly funny, but oh-so-sweet. My first set of scriptures when I turned 8. It’s a toss up.
All I know is that the best gifts are often not elaborate or expensive. Sometimes they may not even even have much meaning. But they’re special because they hold a memory and were given with love and time and thought.
Do you have a favorite gift? Do tell.
by Pat Conroy
Few writers move me more with their imagery than Mr. Conroy.
All Over But the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg
Originally recommended by my dad and subsequently stolen from his shelves, I read this every day while running on a treadmill. Any book that can keep me running for hours at a time, all the while crying and laughing and feeling deep down to my toes, is one that will find me in its pages over and over again through the years. Superb.
The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
I LOVE this book. But it’s the interview with Ms. Kidd at the back that made me fall in love for life. Her use of language is bliss.
Bridge to Terabithia
by Katherine Paterson
Someday I will write about the first time I read this. I was in elementary school and stayed up all night with a flashlight. It was an experience I will never forget and one that I treasure. As it was the first time I recall feeling the power of “words” and “story”. It was there that this love affair began I believe.
The Scarlet Ibis
by James Hurst
This is actually a short story, not a book, that I read in 9th grade … but was memorable enough that it tops my list of poignant experiences with the written word. It’s tragic but beautifully written.