Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Christmas Gifts

There was always a little bit of a bite when I stepped outside to begin the walk home from campus, but today it was more of a surprise then usual. Guess this is what they meant when they talked about Illinois winters, "you'll need to wear two coats" a friend told me. True to form, my phone came to life - buzzing in my pocket, reminding me that someone had called while I studied deep in my office in the performing arts center. Today my sister in law Rachel left today's message.

"So, now that's Thanksgiving is over, I'm starting to think about Christmas, and I just wanted to see what kinds of things you needed, so we can get it for you."

It's been years since anyone in my family has tried to surprise me. For the past few years, my mom just deposits money into my account and lets be buy my own presents, sometimes even wrap them. It all stems from the last time they surprised me:

I wanted a bird.

Well, really I wanted a cello.

But I wanted a bird, mostly because my parents said they couldn't afford a cello.

I was certain I was going to get a bird. I even thought I heard it chirping in the basement.

The whole family was excited to see my face when I came running down the stairs and saw what was now my cello lying under the Christmas tree.

The only thing I saw was that there wasn't a bird there, and I cried.

As I sat on the stairs, it never occurred to me that my parents had probably searched far and wide to try and find a cello, and how they had probably cut into their own Christmas present budgets a little bit to be able to afford it. It didn't occur to me that they were so excited to have gotten something for me that was really going to surprise me, or how hurt they would be if they knew I wasn't happy with it.

I just knew that it wasn't a bird.

I still have that cello, and I have used it for years. Every time I pull it out, I am reminded of the work that my parents went through to get it for me, and it becomes a little more important, a little more valuable than just a student cello. It becomes a symbol of my mother and father's love.

The cold chill cut through my wool coat as I crossed the street into my neighborhood. I pulled my scarf around me a little bit tighter to keep the wind out. It was probably the oddest scarf that I own: red, blue, and white yarn hand knitted to an disproportionately long length. A middle aged women in Italy knit it for me. She made one for me and each of my five friends - missionaries for the church that she chose to join while were there. It was her Christmas present to us. She made mine long because she knew I needed a long scarf to be able to put it around my neck the way I liked without choking myself. I can't imagine the number of hours that it must have taken her to knit all of those scarves for us. But every time I wrap that scarf around my neck, I think of her and the wonderful time spent together that Christmas season.

In fact, many of my favorite gifts tie back to the circumstances in which they were given: The roadside emergency kit from my sister and brother in law that sits safely in the trunk of my car, the elmo doll that my niece grabbed from her toy pile and asked her mom to wrap it for me on Christmas eve, the book of favorite family recipes that my mom made for us, when she couldn't afford much else.

Its funny how as we grow older, the what in Christmas giving matters less and less, while the who matters more and more. It is less about what my family and friends give me, and more that they gave me something that reminds me of them, and lasts long after the Christmas season is gone.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

His Eye is on the Sparrow

In church today, the primary subject was about finding inner peace. The speakers gave all sorts of wonderful ideas about finding peace: acting righteously, serving, trusting the Lord, etc. As usually happens in church, my mind wandered in its own direction pretty quickly, but I usually let it go, trusting that the Lord is guiding my mind into areas that he thinks are the most important.

The launching point was when I thought about the times in the past when I have felt a little bit of unrest. Of course, my mind went directly to the past few weeks where I have been unceasingly worried about whether not I was even going to get into graduate school. I had been given a verbal acceptance at my audition, but it had been over a month and I still hadn't received verbal acceptance from the University. I had begun looking for jobs, thinking that they simply had decided I wasn't worth their time. The job hunt was equally bleak, and I wasn't sure what to do. I was really worried about what I was going to do with my life, and I have to admit that I was a little bit frustrated. After all, I felt like God had given me a pretty strong prompting that Illinois was where I supposed to go, I had even canceled other auditions because the prompting was so strong, but I still hadn't received that ever important letter. Every time I prayed about it, I begged that I would get the letter that day, or at least that God would help me know that everything would all work out. The only answer I received was "You haven't learned the lesson yet..." My response was, "Let me know what I'm supposed to learn, and believe me I'll learn it!"

Well he did. I was talking with my professor one day during my lesson, we had already talked a lot about my concern, and of course our conversation had migrated towards the still absent letter. He stopped for a minute and then said "Prepare for the life that you have planned." A little confusing? I thought so...apparantly my face thought so as well. So he tried going about it a different way. "Don't go looking for a window until the door is actually closed." That made a lot more sense. I felt like I had made the right decisions, I felt that God had strongly encouraged me to make a career out of conducting, and I felt like He had guided me in my decisions concerning Graduate school. So why was I assuming that the proverbial door had been closed? Why didn't I trust that God had it all worked out and that everything would be taken care of. After all, wasn't that the lesson I was supposed to learn?

Not quite.

I went to walk home from my lesson and ran into one of my friends who lived a few houses down from me. She asked me what was up, and I told her. I told her about how I had gone to Illinois and felt so strongly that it was the place where I was supposed to be, I told her about how miraculous things had come into line to make sure that everything worked out. I told her that he had verbally accepted me in my interview. Then I told her how worried I was that I hadn't got an acceptance letter from the University yet. Most people respond by saying "Didn't he tell you that you were in? What are you worried about?" This friend approached it differently. She asked "Didn't you feel right about it? What are you worried about?"

Now there's a real lesson. It brought to mind a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants: "Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?" (D&C 6:23) I feel strongly that God had been very clear to me that Illinois was the place where I should continue my studies. If that is the case, and I really do believe, than why I am I worried about whether or not I will get in? What could possibly get in the way if that is God's plan for me?

Then I started to think about all of the times that I feel like God has really taken care of me in the past while. The times where I know that he has been watching me, helping me, and guiding me, because the cause that I was working toward was so incredibly important to Him. I felt Him prompt me in my own life to make decisions that would help me to be a better person. I know that He is deeply involved in what I am doing. I know, however, that there is nothing that would make me more important than anyone else, so if He's doing it for me, I'm sure I'm not the only one.

What greater peace could I be given? What greater lesson could I learn from the late letter? Quite simply that God is watching out for me, that He knows what I need, and that the things that he has planned for me, are ALWAYS for my good. That is peace which passeth ALL understanding.


Well...who knows how this is going to turn out, my ponderings are definitely not prolific yet, but here's hoping that they will be. I created this blog because I wanted to have someplace where I could put my thoughts and ideas, as I hope that they will be a lot more interesting than a journal entry. I want to have someplace where I can just talk about my thoughts without any pretense of formal writing, although I certainly hope that it will work out!! Happy ponderings!