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Friday, September 21, 2012

Positive Self Talk

I lay awake this morning thinking about the day.  Like so many days lately I have a lot of things I’d like to do, and a lot of things I’m obligated to do.  I sighed and started in with the postitive self talk.  It has taken years to train the positive self talk into my mind.  It wasn’t something that came naturally.  How could it when advertising is more than ready to tell you you’re not good enough as is and you’re constantly trying to live up to someone else’s benchmarks?  I have, however, for the most part succeeded in maintaining a constant flow of positive self talk… Yep, that look of pleasant idiocy as I stare off into space is just me listening to my own pep talk.

I recommend cultivating the habit of positive self talk.  Here’s why… Guess who I have to spend ALL DAY with?  Yep.  It’s me.  And seriously I don’t want to spend all day with a complainer.  You know the type.  You don’t need an invitation to their pity party because they’ll just bring it with them wherever they go. And could you imagine being stuck in a room for hours with a worry-wart?  They’re worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet (might I add, that they’re usually not taking action to make sure their worries don’t come to pass because they’re so busy standing on the sidelines wringing their hands).  What about Missy Negative.  Isn’t she the first to point out my blemishes and faults?  Would I want to spend all day with her?  Nah.  Best to cultivate the habit of positive self talk so I can spend the day with someone I actually enjoy being around.

So after reviewing my day this morning I determinedly stated “You can do it.”  But I can’t.  I mean who am I kidding?  Have you seen my house after running all week?  No way can I accomplish the impossible tasks others are requiring from me.  I can’t do it.  The real answer is I can’t do it by myself.  But the positive self talk sets in and I review my day again, realizing it is full of righteous desires and goals.  Heavenly Father will help me.  We can do it.  Boy, oh, boy does that infuse some power into your day.  I mean, you can go at it alone… or you can accept help.  The longer I know my Heavenly Father the more I see that he respects my agency.  He’ll let me kick against the bricks as long as I want to.  He’ll wait and wait until I come crawling to him, shins and feet sore from brick kicking.  All I have to do is ask for help with the brick wall.  If he doesn’t knock it down he helps me over or around it.

I know I’m bumping around a lot here this morning but I have places to be so my mind is a little divided.  This morning in my scriptures I read:

"...because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal bandof death, which death is a temporal death.
 14 And then cometh the judgment of the Holy One upon them; and then cometh the time that he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still." (Mormon Chapter 9)

I had to read it twice.  Looks like happy is a skill we learn here, and we take that skill with us to the eternities.  Yep, better master that positive self talk.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fun Facts about "Table for Two"

            I like Stefanie Meyer’s Twilight series.  I’ll admit it.  I don’t like that I like it, but I do.  I loved the way Stefanie Meyer laced her novels with chemistry. Clean chemistry. I don’t really admire Bella, and for the record I’m “Team Jacob” (Yikes, feels like talking politics.  Them’s fighting words to those ice cube lovers).  So when I acquired a case of pneumonia topped with mononucleosis I had nothing to do in my months of convalescence besides read. About this time our neighborhood and schools were full of young ladies who had their noses buried deep in Stefanie Meyer books.  My twelve year old wanted to read it.  I know they marketed it to a teenage crowd… but eek!  What if my daughter came away with the idea that having a handsome, super cool guy in your bedroom all night would lead to nothing but sleep? I didn’t want her to resent me for not letting her read it.  And there was that catch twenty-two, “Why can you read something I can’t?”  So I compromised.  I read it to her.  The whole series, except the last book. I’m glad I did.  The books spurred many conversations about chastity, ungoverned good intentions, passion without thought, loyalty, and what to really expect from the poor boys her age that were holding the reigns to their own burgeoning, sometimes unwieldy, hormones.

            My daughter was mesmerized, and I had the idea that I could teach my children through fiction.  I could teach them about really eternal things instead of rocky vampires.  I had her whole attention as I read that novel to her.  So as I sat in bed I thought of my favorite personal parables (those things that had happened in my life to cement gospel principles into my heart) and I turned on the computer. When I was done I gave a bursting three ring binder to my Sister-in-law, Holly, and asked her to read it.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it other than teach my girls, but I wanted some validation that writing 125,000 words and living in a complete daydream for three months wasn’t a waste of time. She didn’t read it.  She didn’t read it…..she still didn’t read it…(She’s a successful photographer and time was precious).  I gave up on her reading it at all then she called me in the wee morning hours one morning, bouncing off the walls.  She loved it.  She told me to submit it for publication. That was a test.  Everyone my whole life has said your first book would never be published.  My degree is in finance.  I stopped working on literature and English after that horrid career day in high school when the novelist told us “fat chance publishing in the real world.” I decided if I was going to do this, I was going to shoot for my favorite publisher of all time: Covenant.

So, here we go:
Table for Two: I named this book “Shallots” after Alex’s restaurant. Covenant thought that sounded like a cookbook.  A shallot is a tiny little onion with a lot of flavor. I thought it was clever but I’m not a sentimental person, so when they wanted to change it I was accepting.  When I learned it would be Table for Two I laughed, because to me that sounded like a cookbook.  Now, after time and editing, I really like the new name of the book. It’s perfect.

Funniest edit: “What that had to do with the price of tea in China I couldn’t figure out.”  It changed to the price of rice in China. I’d never heard that phrase before, but after some research found that it is in common use (as is “the price of beans in Albuquerque.” I guess Mormons and tea don’t mix.)  It was a challenge to write about a character that had been reared in the church when I had no idea, other than almost twenty years in Primary, what it was like to grow up in the church.  I looked at my kids and gave a really good guess at what their lives are like. My editor was very important in making Jana actually seem like she was reared in the Church.

How long did it take?  Figure three months to write it, three or four more for Holly to read it, a little longer in test market than planned.  Then I got the most stunning, have to sit down hard and drop my drink email I’ve ever gotten on September 11th 2009: “Sheryl, Congratulations! We have reviewed and discussed Shallots, and have accepted it for publication at Covenant Communications. We are intrigued by the story; it's a fun romance, but has such a different setting and storyline than most of the traditional romances we receive and publish. The characters are interesting, and the premise is inviting. We are already scheduled out quite a way in our fiction line; your book will be published sometime during 2010, likely in the summer, but we won't know for sure until we nail a few other things down.” Add more time for the ups and downs in the economy, push a quick edit with the most wonderful editor in the world, Samantha Van Walraven, and we’ve arrived at release: July 2012.  Shhh, don’t tell them, but to be a Covenant author, I would have waited another ten years, and been happy to be on their “publish someday” list.

Jana: Jana is a marriage of all of the Molly, upright, wish-I-was-them, Mormons I grew up knowing.  See, I didn’t grow up in the church.  I didn’t know I was God’s daughter.  I was fascinated by those girls who seemed to know it, who stood tall and steady no matter what came.  Like Jen when I was 13.  There was a party with the hottest guys in the neighborhood and we teeny-boppers were invited.  Only there was alcohol in the punch.  I didn’t want any but the older kids were applying peer pressure to get us to take some.  I never did have a problem with drugs or alcohol, having witnessed the struggles of some of my beloved family members.  But still those gorgeous boys were pushing cups at us.  Luckily for me Jen had more of a brain than I did.  She, the bishop’s daughter, put her dainty little nose up in the air and declared, “We don’t drink.” With head still regal and nose pointing to heaven she marched out the door.  Everyone needs a friend like that.  I looked into their dreamy teenage eyes, stuck my nose in the air, gave my own little “Humph,” and followed Jen out the door.  She had decided who she was and what she stood for long before that party.  It was easy for her to leave.

Then there was Brenda.  By the time I knew her God had picked me up and put me in the church, complete with undeniable witnesses that the Church was true.  I was firm by then but I loved Brenda’s example.  I used to work at the Post Office doing data entry with a group of the most wonderful Latter Day Saint young adults in the world. We would visit and joke 8-10 hours a day.  We loved work… yes, at the Post office there are occasions where “Loved Work” isn’t an oxymoron.  One of the neatest things about Brenda is she would never say a negative word about anyone.  Your name was safe with her. Your secrets were safe with her. Plus, she baked good cookies. Enough said.

In an earlier version Jana was going to get in a car crash before the wedding.  While under anesthesia in surgery, she was able to meet Vanessa, who asked her to take care of the Steadman family.

I just took everything I loved about all the fantastic men I knew and tossed them together. I added my husband’s knack for banter and Patrick Dempsey’s hair. I’m not a Patrick Dempsey fan.  Well, I am until he opens his mouth, but that’s as far as I go. However, he has some really great hair. Alex’s crow’s feet are from my husband.  I love those crow’s feet because if I can see them he’s smiling, and I love his smile.  My husband is a good cook, as are his brothers and father.  So a man doing the cooking wasn’t hard to imagine.

Stan Borrowman: My dad was absent for most of my life until the end of his.  When I joined the church and met so many faithful dads, I wanted one too.  So I made Stan.  My father-in-law is sweet and loveable, like Stan.  I hit the jackpot with the in-laws.  It is almost a sin to call them in-laws.  I added in the kind of father my husband is to our children and voila!  A big, loving, “teddy bear” of a dad.
Rachel: I’m an only child.  I wanted a lovable sister, so I combined the bright, fun personality of my Sister-in-Law, Holly, with the banter I often have with my mother, and the tenderness I have with my best friend, Angie.
Brad: I’ve had some problems with dense, persistent men in my life. It can be very frustrating and more than a little scary to have one in your life.  The Brad you read about in Table for Two is a milder Brad than the one I submitted to Covenant.  I’m afraid that in an earlier version he chased Jana around the house wielding a knife, until Alex hits him with a golf club.  The test market advised that my book was too sweet and introspective for violence, so the scene was removed.
Abigail Borrowman:  My mother hunted me down while I was doing dishes, Table for Two, in her hand. “Sheryl, you didn’t base her off of me did you?”  I had a jolly laugh over that.  Abigail is nothing like my mother.  I’ve only met one nosey, meddling mother like her in my whole life.  But I know they’re out there because I hear people complain.  So no, Mom, she’s nothing like you.  Not even from the same planet.  You trump Abigail Borrowman any day.
First Person: Why not?  I mean Stefanie Meyer did it, right?
The Wedding:  My most common complaint (mind you the book’s been out for only a week so I’m sure to get more) is that after I made Jana and Alex wait a year, made readers suffer through Jana’s wishy washy reluctance, I didn’t give a wedding as a payoff.  I’m not romantic.  I know it sounds silly because I seem to be going down the road of being a romance writer.  I barely showed up to my own reception.  I didn’t want it. I took my bridesmaids to the mall, shoved money at them and a color swatch and told them to meet me in an hour with dresses they liked that matched(ish) that color.  I’d dated my husband so many times in the temple that I just got married in the same temple dress I always wore to marry him.  My wedding ring is a gold thirty dollar band and I’ve never missed the diamond. I like cheap carnations more than roses.  I forget our anniversary all the time…. So you see the torture it would have been to include a reception?  I’ve repented, and am writing one into my next book, “How to Love Tyler West.” I didn’t realize how important that wedding was to readers. Just remember how many books Stefanie Meyer made readers wait through for a wedding, and be thankful I finished it in just one. The most important thing in Table for Two for me was the sealing together of the family of God.  That was the crowning event of the book for me.
*Update: The most common 2 complaints are now "I wanted to strangle Jana. She put Alex through too much." and "There's a dragging part while we're waiting for Jana to come to her senses." The dragging part is my mistake.  There was a scene where Jana had a secret meeting with Brad to forgive him and Alex was mad, mad, and more mad. My editor helped me see that Alex was too lovable to be that angry.  Instead of cutting the associated scenes out I only cut out Alex's anger.  I should have cut the scenes too.  As for the Jana being frustrating I just smile because I remember wanting to strangle Stefanie Meyer's Bella.  (But still, sorry.)
I’ll add more quirks as I think of them.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Friend to Yourself

I need to work on my real blogging.  I say real blogging because I have an alter-ego named Granny Enchanted and she blogs all the time.  I suppose there’s something about being able to market something else besides myself that is comforting.  Isn’t that the case with everyone?  It is so much easier to see the value of someone else, but when we, especially women, look at ourselves it’s such a hard thing to find what makes us valuable.

I was imagining myself walking beside my Savior on a beach.  Perhaps He’d pick up a rock and admire it before setting it down and moving on.  I know I’d stop and pick up that rock.  I know I’d keep it in my pocket and treasure it because it was something my Savior had loved and admired, even if only for a moment.  I know, sisters, that He loves us so much more than he could love a rock.  He died for us and atoned for our sins because he loved us so dearly and wanted us beside Him forever.  How precious and dear we must be to Him.  Yet, am I as good to myself as I would be to that rock?  I would never look at that rock and call it ugly, stupid, or inadequate.  Rather, I’d turn it over in my hands and study it, striving to see what the Savior had seen in it.  What does the Savior see in me or you?  He has the benefit of knowing our full potential.  Though we cannot know that full potential, can’t we guess at it?  We are divine daughters of a Heavenly King.  We are the offspring of Heavenly Parents.

If a kitten grows to be a Cat and a puppy matures to be a Dog, doesn’t it stand to reason that the sons and daughters of God would mature to be Gods?  It is a staggering potential.  And though we aren’t near our full potential at the moment, we are precious treasures in His eyes, for He knows our true worth.

I know that the Lord would never catch me treating ill even a rock He had admired for the shortest of moments.  How would He feel if He did?  What if he caught me with chisel and hammer, beating away at the rock He’d admired?  I wonder about that when I catch myself mentally berating myself.  What am I doing?  How would God, my Father, feel about me treating one of His daughters in such a way?  How would I feel if I found my own daughter on the ground, huddled under a barrage of insults?  I would be very displeased and upset with whoever treated her in such a way.  Do I displease my God when I demean myself, when I demean someone He loves?  I believe I do.  So despite my displeasure with myself, freckles and all, I remember who I am, who loves me, and what my potential is.  I hope you know who you are.  I hope you remember who it is that loves and values you.  And I hope remembering this brings you to a happy place in life where you can be a friend to yourself.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

President at Our House

I was sitting in a Primary Sharing Time one Sunday when I saw very clearly what I should do if I were Primary president. I furrowed my brow, a little worried. My thoughts didn’t usually run that direction. Indeed I can say they ran away from that direction as much as possible. Perhaps it was the Spirit telling me I would be president. I sighed in relief as I thought about it. Though our sweet Primary president was moving, I knew I was safe. First off, I have to be the least reverent teacher in Primary. Second, my husband was already Elder’s Quorum president. I’ve been in Primary for nearly seventeen years and have held all the callings except for three; One of those being Primary president.

When the Bishop called me into his office and said, “I’m sure the Spirit has already told you what this is about.” My mind sped through a tunnel of memories to that day in Sharing Time. Surely I would be a nursery leader or secretary… only I know what I saw. For a split second in that Sharing Time I saw a big view of what I should do. I leaned back, “Not Primary president?” I squeaked, trying to dissolve into the back of my chair.

He nodded, assuring me they’d put it off as long as they could but it was the answer they kept receiving. I argued that I wasn’t reverent enough to hold that calling and he kindly said, “Call reverent counselors.” That’s the beginning of the story and the end isn’t too long after it. I’d held the calling for a week when I woke at four in the morning and sat straight up in bed. I clearly saw how I was to organize everything for the next President. I needed to work like there was no tomorrow to be ready. Hmmm, what could I possibly do in the future to be booted out of my calling so soon? I shrugged. A revelation is a revelation. So I pushed up my sleeves and started organizing down to the tiniest details.

The mystery was solved a few weeks later when over the pulpit the new handbook was introduced and two presidents in one house became a solid no-no. I stood up as the sacrifice because, unlike my husband, Heavenly Father had already told me I was to prepare for the presidency change. Okay, let’s be honest here. We both jumped up and down, shoving the other out of the way, saying “Me! Me!” I just won, that’s all. He’s still got a few good years in him.

The new Primary president turned out to be wonderful and the change was made with little fanfare. Aside from being the quirky organization tech, why would I have a short calling like that for just a few months? To liberate women everywhere, that’s why. Ladies! We are living beneath our privileges. We all have a mountainous mansion of personal revelation to live in and we’re choosing to live in the garage. When I was president, Heavenly Father helped me see the problems that were coming. I’d have them dealt with before they arrived. I knew that no matter what, I couldn’t screw up this calling because it was His work. I had unwavering faith that my efforts were consecrated and He would amplify my natural talents and abilities. The key to my constant stream of revelation for my calling was unwavering faith. I knew that I was doing what Heavenly Father wanted me to do. I knew I was doing His work. I knew in my little corner I was building the kingdom. I knew I wasn’t all that great but Heavenly Father would make it work out anyway.

Today I want to talk to you about using the power of faith at home. When I was released I asked if the Bishopric counselor could set me apart to be a mother, wife, and homemaker. He laughed nervously, wondering if I was batty. Some of the power I had was because I was set apart to do my calling via priesthood power. However, the bulk of the power Heavenly Father shared with me was from faith.

The week before I was released we had a Primary function to plan and execute. I knew by then who the new president would be and I’d been working with her to get ready to hold the reigns. Everything just went screwy for that whole Great to be Eight presentation. I pulled her aside and asked, “Do you think, perhaps, that you have the mantle of the calling right now, and not me?” I asked because before that everything had gone my way, or rather HIS way. Everything was easy. The way was prepared before me. I needed only to stand ready to serve and he made the path smooth so long as I obeyed his will and the revelations he was giving me. Why, all of a sudden, was everything going so…I can’t say wrong, but it was downright average compared to earlier perfection?

I had lost faith in my position and my mission. For whatever short time I had left I was president. Through some sincere prayer and supplication it became clear to me that the power was in my faith. For the last few weeks of my calling I reminded myself often that He was there helping, guiding, and making the way smooth. I reminded myself that it was His business I was about and nothing could go too wrong. Through the last day, everything went fine.

Sisters, how much more important than a Sunday calling is our calling at home as mothers, wives, and homemakers? Are we not on the Lord’s errand as we change diapers? Are we not caring for His little ones and building His kingdom? How much confidence do we have in our callings at home? Do we trust that our work is divine? Do we acknowledge a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to succeed in building His Kingdom and will therefore assist us and amplify our natural talents and sincere efforts in the HOME?

Do we fret about our problems after we pray or do we trust that He will help us where we need it as we stand ready to serve? In my office hangs a sign, “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength.” Do we worry that we are inadequate in our duties? Do we beat ourselves up because we cannot reach our ideals in our service to family and home? If you do, I will tell you plainly, you have forgotten your God. You have forgotten that it isn’t about you at all. You are on His errand. You are His angel. It is not by our own abilities that success in the home will be achieved. This calling is too large for that. We must let Him make us more than we can be when we lean to our own understanding. He will let us see His vision for our families and homes and He will help us bring that vision to fruition.

With confidence plant your feet firmly as a divine daughter of God. Know that you are about His business. Know that He will amplify your talents and efforts for the sake of His children, for the sake of His kingdom. That confidence is faith. That faith will pull down the power of heaven to assist you in the great work you do within the walls of your homes. His work. Stay close to Him and He will not let you fail on His errand.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Plucking Away at Eternity

Years ago my husband and I mastered companionship prayer and scripture study but our children were getting to that age where we could no longer ignore the commandment to have Family prayer and scripture study.  How did you do that with shorties when only a few could read?  Prayer wasn't too hard.  You did that with one eye open so you could grab them by the ankle when they crawled away, diaper rustling and giggles gurgling. 

But what about that scripture thing? After the children faked death from boredom as we read our regular amount of verses to them I wondered, how did people do this?  Needing an example, I pulled out the handy dandy ward directory and set to work picking brains of families who had children similar in age to ours.  If you don't have an example, go find one.  The more I studied and interviewed the sisters in my ward the more frustrated I became.  Nobody used the exact same method.  Some did it one way, some another.  I decided it was like a recipe.  You just have to make it.  Go through all that work.  Use all those ingredients to see if you like it. 

Some families only read from the Book of Mormon Stories with illustrations. Some read through an entire  Book of Mormon chapter every night.  Some listened to one parent read.  Some did only a few verses each.  Some taught a lesson with each chapter and only read key scriptures. Most of the families didn't have scripture study together at all.  All I had to do was try something and I'd be ahead of the curve.  Whoo-Hoo!... Not that we're racing or anything, but it was kind of a rush.

I won't illustrate all of our failures but I will say we had to fail.  Failing was an essential part of our scripture study success.  We had to see what didn't work to find what would.  And what works changes over the years.  My first discovery was that for little kids the Book of Mormon Stories pictures were good.  The children didn't have the attention span for the words.  I would have the children talk about the pictures and notice details. I'd tell them stories with my eye's wide and animated.  As time went on and attention spans grew I would read the captions under the pictures and have them choose their favorite part of the story.  We would look up those verses and I'd read them so the children could hear them in scripture form.  That evolved into the children reading the captions themselves when they could. 

Now we read the actual scriptures.  We purchased several missionary copies of the Book of Mormon.  We use Post-it notes to mark the verse we're on each night so everyone starts in the right place the next day.  Everyone reads three verses because that's the attention span capacity of the smallest child. We read in order of age. In the middle of study we've been known to set the scriptures down and talk about important concepts or ask "Do you understand what is happening here?"  We've even gotten out the Legos and built our own Nephite cities where armies are holding us captive but Lo!  Someone is lowering weapons over the wall.  Won't those stinky ol' Lamanites be surprised in the morning when we're in charge again?

So how do you do scriptures study with a family?  You just begin.  The only wrong way to do it is to never start.  I guarantee you if you can push through for two weeks the children won't let you forget after that.  We have a whole routine built around scriptures now.  Brush your teeth at 7:45, scriptures at 8:00, followed by prayer, then Dad reads a chapter from a novel the family is working on while I color with the shortest shortie.  It's not for everyone, but it's ours. It's unique and I know if I called around today I'd still discover every family has a right way just for them.

Elder Howard W. Hunter said, “Families are greatly blessed when wise fathers and mothers bring their children about them, read from the pages of the scriptural library together, and then discuss freely the beautiful stories and thoughts according to the understanding of all.” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 64)

Family prayer and scripture study blesses our home.  Is it post card perfect?  No.  Are we all great readers? No. But we can feel the Spirit here even on giggly nights (The nights where half of us are speaking in a Brittish accent and the other half are saying "A moron" instead of "Ammoron").  The children understand the stories and they're hearing our testimonies of how this story or that applies to our lives or things we know. 

It's a together time the children will always remember.  Some nights it's little ones on our laps and the sound of a clock ticking in the background.  Some nights we have to sit on the children, or between them.  On those nights I close my eyes a moment and picture myself in the Celestial Room with my grown child, nodding my head, thinking no matter the type of night, it was worth it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Parable of the New Shoes

I love claymation and I Love a good English accent. Years ago, before the Wallace and Gromit enterprise was as renowned as it is now, there was a special showing of one of their films in Salt Lake County. It was a perfect double date for that hottie I would end up marrying and the fellow who would come to be our best man. Because the movie wasn’t widely distributed in the United States we had the pleasure of driving into town to see it in an antiquated theater, complete with red velvet curtains and light bulb trimmed marquee.

We parked and walked down the wide sidewalks, joking and laughing in the late afternoon sun. I can’t explain what I was feeling as we walked toward the theater other than to say I felt normal. I didn’t feel special in the least, only happy to be with my companions. That is until we reached the threshold of the theater. I stepped through the doorway into the fine trimmed lobby and something left me. I didn’t make it three steps into the room before I stopped and looked around. It was as if I’d been clothed and I was now exposed.

With my brow knit in frustration I stepped back outside. I felt secure again, protected, and wrapped in comfort. Though I hadn’t noticed feeling that way before I entered the theater, I knew that somehow I had always felt that way. I bit my lip, staring at my husband who was waiting for me inside. I gingerly stepped over the threshold, feeling again exposed and alone. Testing to see if I was actually crazy I did a little dance back and forth across the threshold. My husband sighed heavily and closed his eyes, patiently extending his hand for me to come to him. I was embarrassing him. However, I learned what I wanted to know. On the outside of the threshold I felt comfort and security. On the inside of the threshold I felt exposed and vulnerable.

As we walked deeper into the theater I looked behind me at the light coming from the entrance. I knew what had left me when I stepped inside. The Holy Ghost was waiting out there for me. He wouldn’t come in. The message was clear. If I went in, I went in alone. I explained to my husband the Holy Ghost wouldn’t come in and asked what he thought was wrong, but he only shrugged, not experiencing what I was. I watched the movie, glancing around often, worried about what kind of a place I’d entered that He would not come into. I couldn’t see anything untoward and tried to focus on the toothy grinned characters.

The most frightening thing about the theater was using the ladies room. It was clean and nice but the dim hallway was long and I was alone. All alone. More alone than I had ever felt before. I was unprotected and exposed.

As we passed the ticket counter on our way out my husband stopped me and pointed to videos behind the counter. There for rent was an amazingly large collection of pornography. Mystery solved. As soon as I was on the other side of the threshold I felt the Holy Ghost with me again and I basked in the feeling of it, reveling in the security and warmth. Once we were alone in the car I expressed my amazement that I’d never noticed the Holy Ghost was with me until He was so obviously gone. I talked to my husband about my conversion and how strongly I felt the Holy Ghost when I was first coming to church. When had I stopped noticing the Holy Ghost? How could anyone stop noticing that sublime feeling?

There are moments in a dating relationship that mark a man as marriage material and here is one of those moments. He told me about his mission. At the beginning of his mission he was on fire with the Holy Ghost, feeling lifted and inspired at every turn. He was excited about the work he was doing and shone with the glow of that excitement. Sometime late in his mission that feeling ebbed for him and he became frustrated, remembering how constant the feeling had always been, he wondered if he was doing something wrong because it wasn’t there anymore.

His wise companion then shared with him the parable of the new shoe. I will be sharing this parable for the rest of my life. When you buy new shoes and wear them the first day, or even the first few days you are very aware of them. They aren’t worn in. The contours of the shoe are new to you. You step down and a message is sent to your brain that something’s different. For a few days you’re thinking of your feet when you walk. But in no time at all, the shoes feel right on your feet and you think of them only when you put them on in the morning and take them off at night.

Feeling the Holy Ghost is like that pair of shoes. When at first you feel Him with you, the feeling is marked as different than your ordinary awareness. At times His presence is stronger, particularly when we’re learning a new truth or in the presence of a great good. However, so long as we stay worthy He’s there silently beside us, completely unnoticed until we leave His side. For He will never leave us. It is always us who chose to leave Him. He will wait patiently for us on the other side of the thresholds of life, constant and true.

In hindsight I erred by entering the building. His companionship is more valuable than entertainment. The price of having Him not with me was too high. And in the end I own many, if not all, of the Wallace and Gromit claymations anyway. We watch them in our home and I feel comfortable, warm and safe. I look around sometimes during the movies and smile, knowing the Holy Ghost, though unseen, is there with us. I wonder if He likes claymation as much as I do.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Last Waltz

"The Last Waltz"  by G.G. Vandagriff was a pleasant surprise. The book was recommended to me by a dear friend. Because I enjoy fluffy, fun stories most of the time, an uber thick (591 pages) historical romance made me bite my lip, doubting I’d take pleasure in it. My friend, however, loved it. I’m pretty sure her IQ is several notches above mine, and she probably paid attention in History class. I, however, did not.

I did love this book… but to explain why, you must first meet Mrs. Henry. Mrs. Henry used to live one street over from me. She had five children. She home-schooled her older children, and always had a baby on her hip. I admired her greatly. I sat at the opposite end of a couch in her living room, a pile of clean gym socks and underwear between us, her folding, me not daring to touch someone else’s undies. She’d educate me on motherhood as she matched socks. I placed a hand on my growing belly, the baby inside me kicking my palm. This was my second child. It gave me hope to see her happy and surviving with five. Surely I could handle a scant two. I leaned forward as best I could, so the whole house wouldn’t hear the sacrilegious question I’d come to ask her that day. “How do you love another baby?” Luckily she knew just what I was asking about.

I did not have a particularly happy childhood. I was sickly in high school. I was too serious in college. My first real dose of sustainable happiness came when I discovered the Savior. My second came when I married. He was mine, all mine, forever!! And how dear he was. I wore a sappy smile that first year we were married, before the baby came. But the baby… oh, there was nothing like the joy she brought. I still have days where I joyfully cackle like a haggard old witch because of the sheer ecstasy of motherhood. To toss a child in the air, spin with them in your arms, rub your cheek against theirs, watch them grow into adulthood. There is truly nothing like it.

I sat before Mrs. Henry, my heart full to bursting with joy of husband and child. How would there be room for another? How did I love someone less to fit one more? It seemed wicked and unfair to have another child when I had nothing left of my heart to give away. Mrs. Henry, wise old soul that she was in her pretty, young body, narrowed her gaze at me, thinking before she spoke. She reached over the pile of laundry, putting her hand on mine. With an understanding smile she explained, “Your heart is a muscle. It is a strong, strong muscle. And like other muscles, it can grow. I’m not saying that it won’t be a painful experience. When a muscle grows it tears and aches, but becomes larger nonetheless. There will be room. Your heart will always make room.”

And so it did. When they handed me my second daughter it was love at first sight. I had plenty of room. The ache came with two children in diapers, sleepless nights, and learning how to juggle both their needs when they were completely opposite in their wants. After many years I’ve learned that the kind of heart-growing love that hurts most is the temporary separation caused by death. It awakens the heart, increasing love with a rush of memories and longing. That rush stretches the heart muscle, maturing the soul, sweetening memories, and cementing the departed into a more permanent and larger place in the heart.

In “The Last Waltz” Amalia Faulhaber has a growing heart. The reader follows the delightful and painful growth of her capacity to love, until, as a mature woman, she governs her choices with her wizened loving heart.

I count this as three historical romance novels. It spans World War I to the beginnings of World War II. Amelia has three loves in this book, and she is faithful to all. Her first love for an idealistic young doctor is born of chemistry. I applaud that the author, G.G. Vandagriff, doesn’t put this love on a pedestal as the begin-all and end-all of love. Chemistry happens, but it isn’t love. Love is a choice. Love is a verb. Chemistry is a longing, a blush, a thrill that can fade with time. Though Amalia’s first chemistry encounter doesn’t fade with time, it is too weak to overcome the pride of youth.

Amalia’s second love is born of duty. Despite finding herself in a nearly loveless marriage, she stretches her heart until she understands her husband and his motivations. A love born of compassion becomes serviceable for a time as romance that sustains them until his death.

Amalia’s strongest love is a love born of choice. When she chooses to marry a man she respects, she backs up the choice with loyalty and dedication. This love defines her. This love creates her. This love is her strength. And though she is enticed repeatedly to abandon this love, she does not. When presented with the chemistry of her youth once more, the feeble flicker of it cannot hold temptation compared to her love of choice, and the life she has built around it. Now she has practiced duty. She has mastered commitment. Chemistry for her chosen love grows of its own accord, stronger because of dedication.

The Amalia that ends the book is different than the one that begins it. Watching the growth of this character was an absolute delight. G.G. Vandagriff masters character development as well as setting and historical significance. The settings themselves become characters as we watch a pristine 1913 Vienna lose its spiff and shine in days of war. The ideas become characters as we watch ideals become the clashes of history.

After setting the book down I felt to infuse my love with duty, loyalty, and dedication. Amalia’s struggles to become what she knows she must be, her own ideal, take the reader on a rare journey of growth and introspection about how a woman should handle love and how choosing it can cement the surest happiness into a growing heart.