Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Better Me

My grandma had a plane ticket to come to my wedding in Seattle.  She never came.  Just one month before my wedding, she passed away.  The night before she died, a cousin of mine spent the night in her home and later recorded the last known conversation she had had. She mentioned several things but among them, she brought up my upcoming wedding and that I was too young to get married.

Little did anyone know at the time how much this haunted me.   

I didn't want to make a mistake.  I was young.  I had no idea that my grandma felt this way about my getting married.  In fact, she was the very first person I told about our engagement and the first to see my ring.  She had lived through a horrible marriage and knowing that she felt this way made me question whether I was doing the right thing.

I wasn't "looking" to get married at 20.  I had some other plans!  But I was raised in a home where my parents loved each other.  Through example, I was taught that commitment to one another through a marriage covenant was sacred.  I had also been taught that marriage was ordained of God; that it was important.  Although I was not looking to get married so young, I knew what I wanted in life at a young age.  When I married, it would be for good.  I had no interest in a single life full of freedom and flexibility.  I had also decided to live a chaste life and believed in complete fidelity. I had no interest in a casual relationship.  In this world, there are not many who believe the same.  So I was caught by surprise when I met my husband my sophomore year of college.  We had so much in common (beginning with our last name!) and he became my greatest friend.  As our relationship progressed, I realized that I did not want to live my life without him.  But I never expected the opportunity to come around when I was so young. When I think of it now, I can't believe how young I was!  Yikes!! I have a daughter who will be that age in 10 years!

Ultimately, after a couple weeks of some soul searching, I felt total peace and assurance about getting married, despite the way I knew my grandma or anyone else felt. I had had friends telling me this was crazy.  I stand today able to say that it was the best decision I have yet made in my lifetime.  I have no regrets.

From the get go, we decided to pattern our life and our marriage after a document distributed by the President of our Church.  Here are some of the teachings we are trying to follow:

"Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities."  To read the entire document, go here.

Today is our 13th anniversary.  We have learned so much over the course of our marriage.  One of the things many of "the critics" said about marrying so young was that you can't really know you so young; "discover yourself before you find someone to share your life with..." is what I'd hear the experts say.  I specifically remember an episode where Oprah made this point very clear.

Maybe this is good advice, generally speaking. I didn't know everything about myself then and still don't, but at twenty, I knew who I was and what I wanted in this life.  I also know that because of my husband and our last 13 years together, I am a better me.  I wouldn't trade that for any plans I had before we met.  And I am confident that if my grandma could talk to me now, she would tell me that undoubtedly, I made the right choice.

Because I am a Mormon, I believe in marriage.  I believe it endures beyond death. I believe it makes our society better.  It has made me better.  My husband is my very best friend. How lucky am I, to have found someone at such a "young age".

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Symbol of Life

As a child, I could always distinguish between a Mormon church and any other Christian denomination's building.  Our buildings were often constructed with the same red brick, the same architecture and the same well-groomed grounds.  But what clued me in the quickest was to look up.  If there wasn't a cross, most often it was one of ours.

Christians the world over use the cross as a symbol of their Christianity.  I understand and respect the significance of the cross as a symbol of others' outward expression of what is sacred to them.  But I do not use this symbol for the same purpose.  In fact, it is discouraged among members of our church to use the cross as a symbol in any building, temple, home, book or even a necklace!  The cross represents the crucifixion and death of the Savior of the World.  It was a common form of punishment in the day of Christ.  Many people were killed by the cross, not just Jesus. 

We choose to celebrate the Living Christ, not His death.

I love Christmastime.  The whole world seems to be singing songs of faith, family, doing good to others, and Jesus Christ.  We honor His birth by remembering Him through song, story and service.  There isn't another month in the year where so many focus on such good things. 

We've all heard the story a million times...Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the wise men, the shepherds, the angel...It is good to hear it each year and I love that my children can now tell the story as well.  But I want them to know so much more than the story of His birth.  I want them to know that He lives.  And because He lives, we can overcome sin, sorrow and death.  Because He lives, our lives have more meaning and purpose than we can ever know. Because He lives, we are loved. The prophecies of His birth flood the pages in the Bible.  Historically speaking, because of the prophecies, the Jews were awaiting a King to be born to come and rule them.  They were looking in the wrong places. They did not anticipate Him coming in the humble way He did.  (Likewise, we are often searching and hoping for something and miss it because it doesn't come in the way we expect.)  The Jews ended up killing their long awaited King.  Sadly, they did not recognize who He was.  Even more sadly, so many do not know Him today or recognize His mercy and love. 

I know that Christ came to the earth as a baby in Bethlehem; He lived on the earth, He was killed (foretold by prophets who lived long before He came), and He was resurrected three days later (also prophesied).  He lives today.  I have read His words in the New Testament, I have read the prophecies in the Old, He is the Savior of all men.  All the songs we sing are in honor and praise of Him as the Redeemer of the World.  He was not just a great man, He is the Son of God.  I do not comprehend all things, and I can't explain most things, but I believe He is real.

When former President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, was asked by a minister of another faith why he didn't see a cross in any of our temples, President Hinckley said, “The lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”

Because I am a Mormon, the symbol of my faith is not the cross.  Hopefully, it is the way I live my life in an effort to emulate the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I hope to wear that around my neck all the days of my life.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'll always have a friend.

We were married 6 weeks before Brandon took off for the entire Spring for work!  In a perfect world, I would have gone with him, but I was in the thick of my college courses and was trying to be responsible and finish my degree.  So while he was basking in the sun (ha!) in Palm Springs and Kauai while filming a movie and then enjoying the sights of Wales while shooting a documentary, I was a student at BYU.

And I was alone.

Before we married, I lived with four other girls--some of my favorite people in the world! There was never a dull moment.  There was never "alone" time. There was always something exciting going on and then suddenly, I found myself with a "married" social status and a "single" social life. I didn't have any married friends around me. It is challenging to fit in with other married couples when your significant other is gone for months at a time. A few times, I went back to the old apartment and hung out. Although I loved my friends, I realized I didn't fit in with the single scene.  In my new ward (the congregation I was assigned to based on the location where we lived), each Sunday every pew had a couple sitting together. I sat by myself.  I'm horrible at making new friends, and I just didn't.  I've always been blessed with many friends--many different circles of friends! But I was terribly lonely and I found myself checking off the days on my calendar until my semester ended so I could join Brandon in Hawaii for a couple of weeks before my Spring term began.

Pathetic, I know.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an organization for women called Relief Society.  It was restored in the the mid-1800's by the Prophet Joseph Smith and today, it stands as the largest organization of women throughout the world.  The purpose of the society is just as its title suggests: to help the poor in spirit and administer relief to those in need.  When I turned 18, I was automatically inducted into this organization because I was a baptized member of the church.  But when I was 18, this meant very little to me.  I didn't ever think of "relieving" anyone's burdens and I certainly didn't recognize I was a member in the organization. Within this organization, there is a program called Visiting Teaching.  A pair of women is assigned to visit a sister or two (or sometimes 3 or 4 depending on the needs of the area) and each month, a visit is arranged so that the women can assess needs and deliver a short message of encouragement and hope. If there is a need, service is rendered, meals are brought in, help is given.  In short, an assignment is made to be a friend.

In this new married ward, I was first assigned to visit teach with a girl who recently moved to the U.S.  She had joined our church, gotten married and left her entire family in Korea.  Her new husband was in graduate school at BYU and she was trying to adjust to marriage, a new language and a new country.  I could not understand a word she said.  Here I was, desperately needing a friend, and they assigned me to someone I couldn't even communicate with? Month after month, she called and arranged the visits with the women we were supposed to visit.  We took turns giving the short message.  I struggled to understand her, but after time, I learned to appreciate her so much. I quickly realized how grateful I was for her! She was an amazing person with an incredible story.  She loved me and always came and found me at church and linked her arm in mine. She made me little gifts that meant so much to me.  She was my friend! Not necessarily one I would've sought out on my own, but exactly who I needed.  One time during one of our visits, she brought her guitar along.  She sang a song and I understood every word she sang. It was beautiful.  I was taking a guitar class at the time and she helped me with some technique.  I found myself better communicating with her and after awhile, I absolutely loved her.  She was my only friend in that ward until my brother and his wife moved in. We only lived there for a couple of years and I have no idea where this woman lives and what her life is like now.  I wish I could remember her last name so I could look her up. 

Any time I have moved to a new area, my first friend is my visiting teaching partner.  Shy people like me find it hard to make friends; it takes time.  I'm just not the outgoing type and I'm okay with that. There are 12 million plus members of my church in this world and I know that no matter where I live, I will find a friend through visiting teaching. For some reason, it always seems to be the right person for me at the time.

Because I am a Mormon, I am a Visiting Teacher.  Right now, I am assigned an amazing companion and three women who I love, pray for, learn from and look forward to visiting each month.

And I will always have a friend.