Friday, December 7, 2012

the gift

Christmas growing up was often a low-key affair. Nearly of our extended family lived across the country, and the impracticalities of transporting a large family need no explanation. So we stayed home. My siblings and I decorated the tree, and Mom (who loves baking for holidays) kept the banana, pumpkin, and zucchini bread coming.

One of my favorite Christmas memories, though, comes from my dad. My love of country music starts with him, riding in the car together and singing along to the radio. Christmas is no different - country radio celebrates the season too. In fact, Christmas is incomplete for me without three particular CDs my dad bought early in my childhood: "A Travis Tritt Christmas," Trisha Yearwood's "The Sweetest Gift," and especially Garth Brooks' "Beyond the Season."

The latter has a song with particular meaning this year. I'm battling with perfectionism anew as I apply for graduate school and consider looking for a job again. Are my efforts enough? I wonder. Don't my weaknesses disqualify me? If I really wanted this, wouldn't it show more?

Worst, perhaps, I question, do I still get to be happy now if, right now, I'm still just me?

But "The Gift," the song from Garth Brooks' album, lends me hope. It tells the story of a poor little Mexican girl who adopts a bird with a broken wing. It's Christmastime, and all of the people in her neighborhood are bringing elaborate, expensive gifts to the church to honor Christ. All Maria has to offer is a bird, so embarrassed, she waits until midnight to bring it, and then kneels at the altar and weeps for the meagerness of her gift. She hears a voice without knowing the source, and the voice assures her that He would like to see her gift. She opens the little reed cage and the bird flies into the rafters, beautifully singing "the very first nightingale's song."

It made me cry today. I often examine what I have to offer the Savior and question the audacity of giving Him something so small. And yet, "by small things are great things brought to pass." If Maria offered a bedraggled little bird, I can offer a graduate school application, a few how-to articles, and a moderately clean house. It isn't much, but with the love of God at hand, my offering can sing too.

Because of Jesus Christ, the gifts I give Him are enough. Even when I am too prideful and faithless to give, I can find forgiveness for it, and again find His love and glory.

The first Christmas, angels sang, new stars shined, and a new age began - but why? Because our Redeemer had been born. We are now free from death, free from sin, filled with joy, and filled with love.

Because of the Man the baby would grow up to be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

nativity


I finally set up our nativity scenes.

On the left, we have one that Chris' parents, a single piece depicting Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I think they brought it back from the Middle East somewhere, and it's carved out of olive wood. On the right, we have the one I received from the lovely Sherron, many years ago, and never had the occasion to set up. The pieces are sweet and childlike, and I especially love the little stable.

This is the full extent of our Christmas decorations this year. No lights, no tree, no ribbons. I'm a little sad about this, but for one, we're going to Texas to celebrate the holiday. For another, I think our pragmatism won this year - meaning, in this case, that I just don't think we can afford it.

Even knowing that, as I look at our nativities, I feel peace in my heart. Our simple home is so full of love, for each other and for the Savior. All the nightly prayers and morning scripture studies have really paid off. I think it's clear, in this little apartment, what Christmas is really about - decorations notwithstanding.

If you'd like to bring a little Christmas spirit into your home today, try watching this beautiful video.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

say wha?



I gave Chris a long look this morning. He was laying on the couch, waiting for me to do a few last minute things before I drove him to the bus stop. I admit, I was dragging my feet a little bit. We'd just had so much fun, making waffles and wrestling and just talking. I didn't want him to go, so the long look was a little sad.

"Hey Chris," I said. "Can I have a hug?"

"Of course." He promptly got up and put his arms around me. 

"You know," my muffled voice came from the direction of his shoulder, "it's too bad you don't like hugs."

"What??"

I looked up. "What do you mean, 'what?' You think hugs are weird."

"No, I don't."

"Yes you do! We've talked about this before! Because you'd always give hugs to your roommates, because it was funny and weird, and I'd complain that you didn't really give hugs to me."

"Well, that's true. But I like hugs. I like hugs better than kisses even."

"What?? You like hugs even better than kisses?? ...Why?"

"I dunno." Chris laughed. "Haven't you realized by now that I'm not the most in-tune with my emotions?"

Oh, but babe, you don't even know how grateful I am for that sometimes. 

Last night was date night, and it being an even number day, I was "in charge." But it was a slow, headachy day, so when Chris got home I didn't have anything planned. I just knew was excited to see him, and I wanted to do something that would especially fun for him, even if I didn't have much energy. We went out to eat, but after that, we were at a loss. I wanted to know what would make Chris happy, but he just wanted to be doing something. And I started getting frustrated.

Because deep down, I have the maturity of a four-year-old.

I stopped myself from making the problem bigger, though. No snapping or storming off -- I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth, successfully warding off any glares or unkind words. I even tried to take a few deep breaths to calm down, and instead two big, fat tears fell down my cheeks. Ugh.

But Chris just smiled gently. "This is the part where Sara wants to get mad at me, but she doesn't, because she's an awesome wife." Not a smidgen of judgment, nor a hair of impatience. Just an observation, a compliment, and that sweet, loving smile.

That's just his personality. I may get impatient with his mellowness, but he's mellow about my impatience, and I'm so grateful. I really wish it wasn't my first impulse to get upset, or at least that I had some sort of poker face while I was telling myself to get a grip! I'm working on it though, and in the meantime, Chris is totally my inspiration. 

Best. Husband. Ever.

Friday, November 30, 2012

moment

I woke up this morning to one of my favorite things.

"Hey, wife?"

Chris and I got to bed later than we meant to, so today, I was the one reduced to monosyllabic grunts. This left Chris to be the one to tell me that the alarm had already gone off and we needed to get going.

Some things about this week have been really hard. As much as we desperately needed Thanksgiving break, school holidays always leave us wondering if it wouldn't be better to plow through to the end. It's hard to regain momentum, and easy to get discouraged.

Other things about this week have been wonderful. I've baked so much that we're out of white sugar. Chris continues to be sweet and self-sacrificing, even when I'm not very good at vocalizing my needs. And I've realized that, perhaps for the first time ever, my pathological perfectionism is waning.

I don't have to look at the whiteboard to know that there are several things I need to do today. I can already tell you: several of them won't get done. As I sit here, listening to Christmas music, it's hard to care.

This morning, I pulled Chris' arm around me as he leaned on the doorframe, looking at something on his phone. I put my face in his neck and breathed in.

"What's wrong?"

I shook my head.

"Nothing is wrong?"

I nodded.

"Okay."

What he didn't know, and what I couldn't articulate, was that I wanted to have a moment to carry with me today. The weight of his arm around me, the feel of his skin on my cheek, his particular scent, the warmth of his love -- no matter how much I get done today, I'll think of that and be grateful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

our story, pt. 6: four little days

The following day was a Thursday. July 7th, to be precise. Chris and I had seen each other every day since Sunday, for as many hours a day as we could spare. And I was pretty hooked.

Not that I was pushing for being in a relationship right away. I mean, four awesome days is still just FOUR DAYS. But I could tell we had understanding at this point, and that was enough for me, at least for a little while.

And then we went to Institute.

I'd been going to Institute regularly. Institute brightened any of my mid-week doldrums by exchanging uplifting scriptural insights with friendly, intelligent people, and Chris was no exception to that. When he came in and made a beeline for the seat beside me, I was awfully pleased.

I remember turning, just slightly, so that my knee was against his. I thought it was a pretty low-key gesture, just reestablishing the broken touch barrier. No big deal. It was fun, paying attention to him and not feeling like I was being completely ridiculous, like so many other times when I'd had a crush on someone and felt like I needed to play it cool. Whatever, I'd decided. This is who I am and if someone doesn't like it, they don't have to hang out with me. I glanced from Chris, to our touching knees, back to Chris. I felt a little smug.

I was not prepared for what happened next. The class had settled into its usual rhythm. Brother Nichols had posed a question, class members were answering. I was content to listen, so I rested my hand in my lap rather than raising it.

And then Chris took my hand.

After the initial reveling, I was livid! What do you mean, 'he's holding my hand??' He DARN WELL better mean something by it! I mean, hello, he's holding my hand in front of my ENTIRE DATING POOL! If he's just messing with me, just holding my hand for fun...oh man. Oh man. I am so mad. So mad. It's time for a Conversation, stat! I wasn't gonna push things, but he is NOT allowed to hold my hand in front of EVERYONE IN THE WARD unless he means business!

Chris and I had already discussed that, after Institute, he would be helping me unload luggage from my  car. I was going to be dog-sitting for the next two weeks, and could use the help. When we were finished, I wasn't eager for him to leave -- we needed to have a Conversation, after all -- so I invited him to come downstairs. "Dude, you have to see their fancy 'man cave.' It's got a giant projector and everything." He obliged.

In their basement media room, we sat on the couch. "It's freezing down here." I scooted close to him.

We got talking, but that eventually devolved into Chris' right arm around me, tickling my right side. I grabbed his hand with my left, but he was undeterred: he started tickling my left side with his left hand. So i grabbed that one with my right hand.

I hope you're getting the proper mental picture here. My arms, crossed over myself, holding both of his hands in a paltry attempt not to get tickled. Flirting 101, my friends, and we were both scoring A+.

But then the silence crept in, and there we were, snuggled on the couch, holding hands. It was no longer about tickling, or even flirting really, but the simple fact that we were that close, and okay with it. The silence stretched thin, and we broke it at the same time.

"So I think we need--"

"I wanted to talk to you--"

We laughed, nervously, and I let go and turned a little to look at him. "Go ahead," I said.

In what has become classic Sara-and-Chris style, we actually got off on a tangent, then, of all times. Something about how funny it was to refer to a conversation as a DTR while said DTR was actually in progress. (It stands for "defining the relationship," in case you didn't already know.)

Then Chris rambled for a while, about how he would only be around for the summer, and he'd totally understand if I didn't want to deal with that, not to mention how he was sure I could do better, and he'd see if I felt like it was a waste of time, but...

I couldn't take it anymore. "Chris. Are you asking me to be your girlfriend?"

He blinked a few times, clearly baffled by this incredibly forward girl he barely knew. The clever, energetic one with the big eyes and the fearless smile. The one he knew was going to be important to him, though he didn't know how or why. "Yes."

"Good, because the answer is yes."

And that was that.

Four days was all it took, and then Chris and I were exclusively dating.

It's a running joke in our marriage now, how I took all of the initiative, how I plowed ahead and didn't look back, how he would have done something if I would have just waited a cotton-pickin' second.

But any of my friends can tell you I'm a terribly impatient person.

I'm just glad that Chris didn't mind.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

our story, pt. 5: texting


As I write this, I realize all over again how important texting was to the early stages of our relationship. I think I'm okay with that, for a couple of reasons.

One, I think dating, in the initial stages at least, is supposed to be more casual. Why would you call some girl you hardly know on the phone when you much more readily text all of your best friends? It's just kind of unnatural, and dating doesn't need any help with the weirdness factor. It's got plenty of that all on its own.

Two, I think that some infiltration of technology into social interactions is inevitable. A few generations back, people probably felt a little weird about getting phone calls instead of hand-written letters. Someday, texting might seem really formal and adorable, the way a hand-written letter is now.

Three, well...texting worked for us! We're married now! I'm sure not gonna complain. Especially because Chris has sent me some really adorable text messages over the last year-and-three-months. The one he sent me the day after our second date probably still ranks as my favorite.

I was at work, and had just finished spilling all of the juicy details of the night before to my co-workers. From the break room, I heard my phone go off.

"That could be him..."

"Go, girl, go!"

They didn't need to tell me twice. I dashed to the breakroom and opened up my phone. Lo and behold, it was Chris. "I've been trying to come up with a good excuse to see you today," the text read, "but the only one I could come up with is that I simply just want to see you today. If that is not too lame of an excuse, please let me know."

Cue freakout. I'm so glad he wasn't there to witness all of this.

"OMIGOSH that's like the cutest thing everrrr! Guys, look at what he just sent me! So sweet! Eeeeeeee! Oh, hey, guys? HOW DO I EVEN RESPOND TO THAT?!??"

Fortunately, after I got it out of my system, I was able to play it cool. "It's an okay excuse, I guess." Wink. (Ah, texting.) I told him I'd be busy prepping the blood drive that evening, but if he wanted, he could come over and use my GRE prep book to study.

So he came over, and, surprise surprise, we didn't get anything done. We ended up on the couch, just talking, again. We shared backstories, intimate information about our lives and histories that would definitely affect our relationship, if we chose to have one. We mourned with each other.

I think I came away from it feeling a little more crazy for how fast things were going, and strangely, a little less crazy too. We weren't perfect, and this would be a lot of work if things kept going, but we could at least empathize with each other, knowing we needed empathy just as much ourselves.

And maybe, just maybe, all this would be okay.

Friday, November 16, 2012

our story, pt. 4: songs

I have about 50 other things I could be doing right now, rather than blogging. The missionaries are coming over for dinner tonight and I haven't even touched the crock pot. I need to move laundry over to the dryer, not to mention load the dishwasher. I haven't even worked on my novel yet today. 

Funny, how a song makes all of that not matter.

Let me start by saying, I'm not a full-blown Taylor Swift fan. I think her style can be a bit...juvenile? And there was a long time when I couldn't listen to any of her music at all because it would just make me sad. However, I think every girl knows there is at least one Taylor Swift song (more likely several) that describes her life, uncannily and undeniably. And something about that just makes a girl feel a little bit better. Those are the songs you play while you do your hair in the morning, or blast in the car on the way to work. They become a part of your Life Playlist.

I found a song like that today, and it reminded me of another special song...

Last July, it sort of amazed me how comfortable I was with Chris, this man I barely knew. I'd already been painfully honest and immensely forward with him. And yet there he was, picking me up for our second date, opening my door, and giving me that perfect dimpled smile. We rode out to the fairgrounds to see the fireworks, and it was kind of a long drive. We chatted as we drove, and his iPod played songs on shuffle.

"I should warn you," I told him, "I almost always sing along with the radio. Will that bother you?" 

He shrugged. "Nah." 

The sense of ease he conveyed stuck with me, and when "American Pie" came on, I started to sing with it. After the first verse, he started singing too, quietly to begin with, but by the end of it, we were exchanging grins and putting our hearts and souls into the refrain: 

Bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry
Them good ol' boys, drinking whiskey and rye
Singing "This will be the day that I die,
This will be the day that I die..."

Sitting next to him on the freeway, belting Don McLean lyrics into the dark, I was a little in awe. I'd been interested in Chris, yes, absolutely. Nothing serious though, nothing with real intention.  

After that, however, the only thing I could think was, "Um. Wow. I really want to date this guy."

Truth be told, it could have all gone south shortly thereafter. As we neared our exit, fireworks began to go off just above the treeline. 

"What??" 

I panicked a little, I confess. "Oh no, I must have gotten the time wrong. I'm so sorry, Chris. I feel really bad!" And, like always, I wasn't so much mortified by my misinformation as worried how other people -- like my date -- would respond to it. Be annoyed? Think I was stupid? Feel disappointed and never quite forgive me for it?

But Chris just shrugged again! "It happens. Do you want to park somewhere though? We can talk until the traffic clears out."

I'm certain I gave him a look that bordered on adoration, mingled with relief. "That would be great."

And that's exactly what we did -- pulled into a little parking lot and just talked. For hours. By the end of it, I was more than a little freaked out.  Does he ALWAYS say the right things? Is he just so good at this dating stuff that he knows what a girl wants to hear? Maybe he's been stalking me! ...Or can he just read minds?! The answer, of course, was none of the above. It's just that I was catching the first crazy inklings of a fact that now defines my life.

He's perfect for me. 

Everything had changed.

I'm so tremendously grateful that I get to spend my life with this man. I am so not good at this marriage thing, not all the time. I feel like I get annoyed with him on a daily basis, which, as I have told him, says much more about how easily annoyed I am than it does about anything he's doing. 

This is the kind of thing I might spend my whole life working on, especially to minimize the adverse effects it will have on our children. For their sake, as well as mine, I am so glad that I married a man who expends his energy on being easygoing -- even if it means he doesn't always have a lot of energy left for his homework. I am so grateful he's the kind of person who can just shrug and say, "it happens." 

Because I'm really not that kind of person, not yet. When I grow up, if that ever really happens, I really hope I am more like my husband. He's the kind of guy that changes lives for the better. 

After all, he sure changed mine.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

our story, pt. 3: the first date

On Independence Day of 2011, work was dead. By mid-morning, I clocked out, and as it neared midday, I reminded myself that I was just trying to be friendly to the new kid, and made a gutsy move.

"Soooooooo...um. I have a thought," I texted Chris.

"What's that?" The response came within a minute or two, which made me smile.

"I actually DON'T work today, and I would rather not sit around the apartment all afternoon by myself. My follow-up thought to that was that you might be bored at home too. Catching my drift...?"

"I think I am," he responded. The smiley face he included was beautifully reassuring.


...And at this point, I think it's only fair to include a little of Chris' side of the story.

Chris thought he was going to do an internship in the summer of 2011, but no dice. As much as he tried, all of his attempts were foiled and foiled again. Chris was bemoaning this to his sister Ruth (they're close, both in age and friendship) and she promptly replied, "Come visit me in North Carolina instead!"

Suddenly, and although he thought an internship was a much better idea, he somehow knew it was exactly what he was going to do.

When he arrived at the townhouse, Ruth (and Jeff, her husband) promptly began haranguing Chris about dating while he was there. Apparently, Ruth even went all missionary-commitment-pattern on him by his second week there. "Chris. Will you ask out a girl in your ward by this time next week? I promise you will have fun and be really glad you got out of the house in order to make new friends."

"Okay," Chris replied. "I have someone in mind." ME!!!!

So basically, if I would have gone for a walk with him the night before, he totally would have asked me on a date.

D'oh!

However, being easygoing and resourceful person that he is, Chris instead took my "drift" and ran with it. Did I want to go swimming? Had I eaten lunch? Did I want to do that, and then come back and play board games with his sister and brother-in-law? I planned on going to the ward activity that evening, right?

"And what's your address, anyway?" he finally asked.

"Well, I still need to finish getting ready, so I'm not telling yet!"

"Tease." He's called me a few times in the last year and a half.  Every time, I'd say it's been warranted.

Teehee.

Anyway. He picked me up at Dani's apartment, where I'd been staying that week, and we proceeded to explore Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, in quest of a place to eat. Over lunch, I learned that Chris was born rather deaf but as a little kid, had this miraculous healing after a priesthood blessing. I thought that was pretty dang cool.

And as for Chris, I thought he was pretty dang cool too. He held doors, paid for things like it was the obvious thing to do on a date, and was easy to talk to. Like, really easy to talk to. The day before had not been a fluke. He was just so...nonthreatening. I liked that, but the absence of obvious threat put me on the alert for less obvious red flags.

After lunch, we went to his sister's. She was normal, and nice, and seemed fond of her brother. No red flag.

We played board games. It was competitive, in a funny way, and they were very patient about teaching me a new game or two. No red flag.

We briefly discussed, and decided we ought to hit the grocery store before going to ward FHE, so that we had a contribution to make to the pot luck. No red flag.

In fact, the scariest thing about the day was at the store, I had to remind myself that I really didn't know him that well, and therefore, probably shouldn't stand that close to him. Just out of politeness, or at very least, social norms. People have a bubble.

But with him, I just felt so comfortable.

We spent most of the day getting to know each other and bantering argumentatively, so it wasn't surprising that I was worn out by the time the ward pot luck rolled around. I admit, once we got food and chatted with the crowd a little bit, I hid! It of course meant my friends found me, though. "Did you come with Chris? Are you guys on a date? Do you totally like him? Where is he, anyway?"

"Yes, yes, and I don't know yet! Cut me some slack, geez. And he was wearing me out, so I ran away!"

Chris patiently accepted my introversion line, again, when he found me later. We sat with Dani and her roommate Laurelin, and when the leadership broke it to us that fireworks were cancelled on account of rain, we all opted to go back to the apartment and watch a movie.

When Chris tried to take the chair instead of sitting with us on the couch, I knew it was time for another strategic risk.

"You're really going to sit all the way over there?" I demanded.

"Uhh..."

"Dude, come sit on the couch!" As far as I was concerned, we were still on a date, and it was just dumb for me to sit with Laurelin and Dani when my cute, charming date was in the room. Duh.

I don't even remember what movie it was now, probably because the end of it marked tactical move number two. I'd been on dates before with guys who were mostly just friends. On one in particular, I seriously considered putting my head on my date's shoulder, just to see what would happen to the dynamic. It's a nice little way of saying, "hey, I kinda like this. What do you think?"

Besides, Chris and I had just spent about 12 hours together. It didn't seem like that big of a deal.

So I did it. I put my head on his shoulder on our very first date. After a few minutes, his arm went around my shoulders and I smothered a smile.

Well, okay then, I thought.

Suspicion confirmed!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

our story, pt. 2: the game night

All through our church meetings that fateful Sunday, the leadership kept talking about the pot-luck our congregation was having that afternoon.  I knew if I were brand-new to the ward, I would want to go, but, not knowing who I'd sit by, I'd be too chicken to actually show up.

So I texted Chris. "Hey, are you going to break the fast?"

The answer was yes. And then we started talking about what we food were bringing to share, and it just kinda kept going. Finally I teased him, "if your blondies bomb, you could theoretically blame me for distracting you. But I will deny everything!!"

"LOL, don't worry, I would never do that! I choose to be distracted, and no matter how they turn out, I chose well."

I didn't even know what to say to that.

After texting each other for a total of three hours, we also sat together at break the fast. All my friends made fun of us for being so wrapped up in talking to each other that we ignored everyone else. This was true to a point -- when they started talking in front of Chris about the game night to happen in a few hours, I noticed, and thought it was a little rude. So I invited him to come, and he did.

We kept talking at the game night, or at least tried. I leaned my head on the back of the couch, drowsy and a little glum.

"Are you okay?" he asked finally.

"Just tired," I told him. "Believe it or not, I'm an introvert, and I've just had too much people-ness today. It makes me feel worn out." I considered, and made a deliberate tactical move, just to test the waters. "Maybe I should go on a walk or something. But it would be dumb to go alone, in the dark..."

"Well, I could go with you?" Hook, line, and sinker. Which was great, but now, it was time for a solid dose of honesty.

"Actually," I laughed a little, "I think it's mostly talking to you all day that has made me so tired!" The man positively gaped at me. "It's nothing personal, I promise! It's just that new people wear me out especially."

"I guess I can understand that."

"I just hope I sleep okay, since I have to work tomorrow. On the fourth of July!" There was a collective boo, hiss! from the group. "Do you have any plans tomorrow?" I asked him.

"Just the ward FHE activity."

I nodded. "Yeah, I'll be there too. There's soccer on Tuesday, as well."

"Soccer?" His eyes lit up. "They didn't mention that at church."

"Oh, no, it was the ward e-mail list. Text me your e-mail address later and I'll send you the link."

Which he did, along with a little note. "Thanks for helping me get acquainted with people from the ward and for getting to know me. You're a Godsend." I remember thinking something along the lines of either this guy just has a way with girls, or I'm a total sucker for flattery.

Maybe both.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

our story, pt. 1: the new guy

Dani and I sat in the cushioned pews of the second biggest room of our church building. Courtney, our energetic and lighthearted Sunday School teacher, had just invited the class (basically our entire congregation!) to get into small groups to discuss a question she'd posed.

We exchanged knowing glances with the people sitting nearest us. You'll be in our group, the looks said. And then guy I'd never seen before ambled over to our huddle and asked if he could be in our group. He said his name was Chris.

I'm the type of girl that always sizes up new guys, so this was no different. He was tall with dirty blond hair (my favorite combination.) Though he seemed a little reserved, he wore a slight smirk that belied either a slightly arrogant streak or an ironic sense of humor.

I decided I was going to be his friend.

The next week, Dani and I caught Chris sitting by himself. "Hey! You're not allowed to sit by yourself. Come sit with us. We don't bite." The reserved smirk appeared again, dimples and all. Dani and Chris got chatting. Dani is charming and thin and pretty and perky, after all. So I just shrugged it off.

The week after that, however, I invited Chris to sit with us again. I was still determined to make him feel welcome. "I know what it's like to be the new kid," I told him, handing him a hymn book. "We'll be your friends."

We sang "Love One Another," and I tried (and failed) to smother an appreciative grin. "As I have loved you, love one anothow," Chris sang. His speech impediment was adorable. And later in Sunday School, he shared the most insightful comment. I quickly pulled out my journal and wrote it down, adding a few thoughts of my own. By the time I was done, the lesson was wrapping up, so after the prayer I turned to Chris. "Thanks for sharing that comment. I really needed to hear that."

Our conversation from there was so engaging that we hardly noticed the room emptying around us. "It's just challenging," I concluded, "since I feel like I've spent my whole life taking care of everyone else, and now I'm at a point in my life where I can't. I have to let other people take care of me, and I'm still learning how."

"That's interesting," Chris replied, a little disbelievingly, "because I feel like everyone has always looked after me, but now I'm finally at a point in my life where I can look after other people. He hesitated. "So, I mean, if I can do anything for you..."

It was the sort of thing someone would say, somewhat insincerely, to a person they already mostly knew. Not what a guy would say to a girl he just met. Not unless he meant it.

So I believed him.

"Actually," I laughed, "I'm in charge of this blood drive on Friday. If you wanted to come and offer some manpower, that would probably be really helpful!"

"Yeah? What kind of stuff would you want me to do?"

"I'm not sure, to tell you the truth." I grimaced apologetically. "Tell you what, why don't you give me your number, and I'll let you know what kind of help I'll need?"

"Sure." We pulled out our phones, exchanged numbers, and a little sheepishly, parted ways to arrive very late to our separate classes. As I walked away, I couldn't help laughing a little to myself. Technically, although I didn't really mean anything by it...

I just got a guy's number.

Monday, November 5, 2012

our story, preface: the new girl

I've changed wards several times in my life.

As I've gotten older and accumulated more practice, I've learned there's a few key points to making it a successful transition.

One, go to everything. Every Sunday meeting, every weekday activity, every service project. Seeing new people many times helps them feel less new (and scary,) and with the familiarity comes confidence and opportunities to strike up conversations.

Two, befriend the leadership, whether that's the bishop, Relief Society president, Sunday School teacher, or best yet, all of the above. These people are the people who know everyone, plus it's part of their job to be friendly. Their smiles and enthusiastic how-are-yous and introductions will help you maintain a minimum level of socialization while you find your niche in the ward.

Third, and related to the second, is to ask for a calling. Service is an excellent way to address loneliness, as it takes your focus away from your own needs and allows you to serve with others, thereby building the relationships and making the new ward feel like home.

My belief in these concepts solidified in the spring of 2011, and have served me well ever since. I had graduated from BYU-Idaho a few months previously, and I missed interacting with people my age with increasing desperation. Even though the women who had been my mentors growing up were just as friendly and helpful as ever, it just wasn't cutting it.

So, I started going to the singles ward. Within a few weeks I didn't feel much like "the new girl" anymore. I felt like I'd be missed if I didn't show, in part because I had responsibilities, but also because (faster than I could have hoped!) a circle of friends had formed around me. For being new, I felt awfully blessed.

This translated toward a magnanimous spirit as other new people came into the ward. Dani (the new new girl) and I quickly became officially-unofficial-best-friends, for the sake of having someone cheerful and sympathetic to sit by.

At the end of June, our sweet, perky Sunday School teacher invited us all to get into small groups to discuss a passage of scripture, with the idea that we were going to share the best insights from our group from the class. It's a very typical setup, and honestly, what happened next is pretty typical too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

my brilliant plan

Hello, faithful readers!

Firstly, happy Halloween! I hope you're enjoying the menagerie wandering through your neighborhoods, and saving some of that candy for the critters at your door instead of eating all of it, like we all know you really want to.

As for me and my house, I think we're buying a couple of bags after they go on sale tomorrow, because man, am I going to need it.

Why, you ask? Well, if you facebook stalk me happen to notice my posts in your facebook news feed, you may already know that this month, I am participating in NaNoWriMo. You can check out the website here if you like, but the short version is that in the next 30 days, I will write a novel (50,000 words, to be exact.) Hence the need for candy.

While this is awesome and exciting and ambitious, I imagine that writing a novel won't leave a whole lot of time -- or mental energy! -- for blogging.

But I've been doing so awesome at blogging regularly since I got married! And you all love reading it! And my blog is probably one of the biggest reasons I have the momentum to even THINK about writing a novel in 30 days! I can't just throw that all away with no sense of loyalty whatsoever. And I know you're all out there, nodding your heads in agreement.

So I've concocted a brilliant plan.

The plan is that I'll be writing up our love story, mine and Chris'. Not the love story you get to hear about every time you read my blog because I just can't help but brag about how awesome my husband is. No, I'm going to tell you how it all got started, from the spring soul-searching to the summer lightning flash to the autumn move to the winter heartbreak, to the way spring always seems to bring people back to soul-searching again...

I'm not sure if I'll be posting less often but the same length, or sharing our story in short daily bursts, but either way I'm excited to finally have it down on (virtual) paper. It's not even in my journal, not really, mostly because I thought it was too good to be true and didn't want to jinx it.

I'm superstitious like that, I guess.

Anyway, keep an eye out in the following days for the beginning of our story, back in April 2011 when a certain girl finally decided to start going to her North Carolina singles' ward...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

so punny



Chris and I sat at breakfast this morning, slowly chewing on our yummy oatmeal and talking about how I filled the "assignment" Chris gave me to check out the other side of the river from where we took our walk.

"Oh, so I didn't tell you before -- the trail in the other direction, away from the lookout point, is really boring."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. It's mostly just buildings and powerlines and cornfields, and since it's past harvest those are nothing to look at anyway! There was a bridge not far from where I finally turned around, but even that  was kinda boring. I got excited though, because right after that, an unpaved trail splits off of the paved one. I followed it -- it's twisty and forest-y. The trail gets sandy, and then you realize it's lead you to the waterfront. Which is cool, until you read the sign that says something like 'THIS COULD BE REALLY POLLUTED. YOU ARE PROBABLY GOING TO DIE, and you start to notice that there's sand in your shoes, and it's probably eating away at your foot and giving you cancer."

"So, you could say it's literally eating away at your sole?"

Heh heh. Oh, husband.

To be honest, the best part was that I didn't get the pun initially.

Heh heh. Oh, me.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

just so us



"I love trees."

I hung over the railing, the view from the bridge awash in greens and autumnal yellows, thick trunks extending toward the sun only to create their own shade in a glory of foliage.

"Why?" Chris asked. I've said it so many times that it was a fair question.

Because they're pretty might seem like the obvious answer, and probably the kind of answer I've given before, but this time my instincts told me there was so much more to it than that. "I honestly don't know," I told him after a few moments of brow-furrowing. "I know why I like rain, but not trees."

"Fair enough." A classic Chris answer. Demanding is just not his style.

We continued across the bridge, hand-in-hand, feeling our noses grow chilly. I acted as tour guide on this particular date night, which he didn't mind. We circled through the train station, then down the long walking path that is now familiar to me. I wondered out loud what kind of tree a certain one was, and Chris responded by using his smartphone to take a picture and run a Google search. I kept walking backwards to listen to Chris with ears and eyes, not to mention holding both his hands.

"I want to show you something in particular," I said. "I like aimless meandering fine, but I thought you might appreciate having an actual destination."

My chosen landmark was the underside of the car bridge, where someone has painted a mural. Two green, dragon-shaped longboats (and one whimsical car) convey amorphous people over the river, while in the background, the sky fades from night to day over a city. It's well-executed, with vague enough symbols to warrant conversation. Chris did not disappoint, and we lingered there for several minutes, hypothesizing about the passage of time, industrialization, and how the cityscape was obviously Lafayette. (That part was news to me.)

I looked back, as we walked away, and smiled, my eyes soaking in the bridge. "I think," I said suddenly, "that I love trees for the same reason I love bridges and stairs and doorways."

"Bridges and stairs and doorways?" Can you hear the incredulity?

"Yes. They're...passages. Like the wardrobe in Narnia. You never really know what's on the other side. Of the doorway, or the bridge, or that line of trees. And...I think finding out comes with a sense of...privilege."

"Because you've been granted passage?"

"Precisely!" I smiled, gratified that I was being understood. "I think that's what a writer is like. We see what's through the threshold, around or underneath, or we want to. We're fascinated. Sometimes that's to my detriment, because I don't see what's obvious and on the surface - but it's sure fun."

He just nodded, content to mull it over, while I basked in the joy of having finally verbalized what I had always felt and never said. We stayed silent to watch the train go by.

That walk was so uniquely us. We have these moments that are saturated with our particular way of interacting, with Chris being really him and me being really me, and it really works. It's like being married to him is the most obvious thing in the world.

And yeah. I guess it is.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

morning jog


I woke up this morning with a mysterious pain in my hand, and an equally mysterious asperity in my heart.

"Are you okay?" Chris asked over breakfast.

"Hmm? Yeah, just not awake yet."

But by the time we were ready to get out the door, Chris leaned against the counter and said, "I'm sorry I'm trying your patience this morning."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you're acting like your patience is being tried."

I paused, and sighed. "I think it says more about my short supply of patience than anything you're doing. I'm sorry."

"It sounds like your patience is being tried by the fact that your patience is being tried. Sounds counterproductive!"

We laughed, but he had a point. "I think I feel a hard day coming on," I told him.

After I dropped Chris off at school, wishing (as always) that he didn't have to go, I sent up a little prayer. I've been avoiding the usual dramatics of asking why do I have so little emotional energy to give? why do I have to be so fragile in this way? because those questions are not far from asking why me?! and there's just never a good answer to that. So instead I asked, What can I do to make things better? How can I have a good day, so that Chris doesn't have to worry, and I can still give to him the way I would like to?

In answer to that prayer, the thought to turn left, toward the park, instead of going straight, toward home, appeared in my mind. Despite still being in the clothes I wore to bed, I didn't question it. I just went to the park, grateful for the subtle guidance of the Comforter.

Tapawingo Park is quickly becoming my favorite place in our new town. The approach has an appealing sense of urbanity, with a view of the bright morning sun hanging over downtown as you cross the bridge. Like the other times I'd gone, I left the bridge in favor of the tree-lined, paved path below. Unlike the other times I'd gone, I did it at a jog rather than the usual sightseeing amble.

As I progressed through the park, I felt the stiffness in my joints and muscles loosen. The tension gave way to a pleasant fluidity, all the more enjoyable in contrast to the burning tightness in my throat. Over the sound of my panting, placid thoughts slowly filtered into my brain:

I never thought I'd be the early morning jog type, but here I am. I am active. I am strong. I am beautiful. And, perhaps most importantly of all, I am grateful.

I covered more ground than I had on my previous visits, so the pliancy in my joints eventually gave way to a twinge in my calf, a tiny pain in my right side. But, in the cool, purple shadows beneath the still-green leaves, I realized, it's just one more thing to remind me that I am alive. My tranquil thoughts continued on that strain, a steady mantra to accompany my rhythmic footfalls:

I'm alive. I'm alive. I'm alive.

And what a wonderful thing that is to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

math


I'm studying for the GRE lately, and it's stressful. Not only do I have to muster the discipline to sit down with my study book, not only will this determine whether or not I can go to grad school in the near future, not only do I take it in less than two weeks....

...But I also have to do math.

Math has never been my strong point. I've never loved it or had any real curiosity about why it worked the way my teacher explained. The extent of my math skills were to memorize the steps to a process and actually get the requested result, given enough practice.

And there's the clincher. With my last math class being 5 years ago, I am definitively out of practice, and yet must demonstrate enough quantitative reasoning that they won't throw away my grad school app at a single glance. True, my field isn't really dependent on critical thinking in the context of numbers, but I have to at least prove I'm not a moron.

That felt like exactly what I was proving this morning. Actively fighting tears, I lamented, "I just hate the idea that we spent $170 on a test just for them to tell me that I'm bad at math and I can't go to grad school anyway."

Against every "how do I fix this??" instinct of his male, scientific brain, Chris just frowned. "Can I give you a hug?"

It got so much better from there. We decided that these questions are more like logic puzzles than math problems, and then Chris got to have fun with it too. "Now, can we try something? I want you to apply the dimensional analysis we just learned--"

"The thing with the units?"

"Yes, the thing with the units. Apply that to this problem here."

"Okay. Hmm...oh, uh-huh. So...um. Mkay. Like that?"

"Yep! Congratulations, you just derived the Ideal Gas Law. It's something like what I have to do on my math."

"Cool! I did engineering! ...Chris, is that attractive?"

"You have no idea."

I decided this math stuff isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

waffles

My husband has an as-yet unexplained addiction to waffles. Maybe he wasn't loved enough as a child? Maybe the little squares, four cozy walls surrounding a pocket of flavor, make him feel safe? I have no idea. Regardless, he loves them with a passion rivaled only by whiteboards, technology, and...well, me.

Our current favorite waffle uses wheat flour, with plenty of dark chocolate chips mixed in, and a generous spoonful of cinnamon. Chris would eat these every morning if he could, I'm certain. I, on the other hand, really don't want that much sugar all the time, so I've been trying to change things up now and then.

Clearly, that was my first mistake.

I think every other incarnation of waffles I've made, Chris has been disappointed. Sweetly, kindly, gently, of course. But disappointed. He'll make a perfectly reasonable suggestion for improving them, and add, "these are still good though! Thanks, wife." He'll smile, and take another bite. Then his face will cloud with nostalgia. "But I think I still like the chocolate ones best."

After a while, this got old. Who wants to disappoint her husband every morning? So yesteday, I pulled out the big guns. "Tell you what. Tomorrow I'll make nutella waffles."

His eyes were so alight I thought he'd spontaneously combust. "Promise??"

"Promise. Nutella waffles...with strawberries and whipped cream."

Accordingly, I spent a few minutes this morning googling around before I found a recipe that called for nutella in the batter. Three-quarters of a cup of nutella.

"You've gotta be kidding me..."

But when a wife makes a promise, she really ought to keep it, so I cautiously proceeded. A smidge less nutella there, a little butter substitution for fruit puree there, and suddenly, we had waffles. Ones that I was pretty sure weren't going to send me into a sudden, unprecedented diabetic coma.

Chris ambled out of bed when I told him waffles were ready, and watched with interest as I dressed them up with the strawberry sauce I'd made, and whipped cream. We prayed; he took a bite, chewed thoughtfully. And said nothing.

I wasn't going to stand for that. I quickly prepared my plate, sat down, and placed the first delicious-looking square into my mouth.

I rolled it around my mouth, tested it with my teeth, savored the fruit and cream. It was lovely! And then, right there at the end, I caught the faintest chocolatey-sweet whisper:

Nutella...

"I like how it makes you slow down and figure out the flavors," I told Chris, grasping at optimism. He just nodded and took another bite. We proceeded with breakfast, mostly silent like we usually are at eight in the morning. Finally, I had to say it.

"I think the nutella flavor really gets lost when you mix it in the batter."

His relief was like another presence in the room. "I agree. I think with waffles it's just really important to have chunks interspersed, instead of things incorporated in the batter."

"I wish it would have worked better! It called for so much nutella..."

"Yeah." Chris took another bite, sadly smiling.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson there, but no. I had to be sure. So I whipped up spice waffles, thinking pineapple juice and ginger/nutmeg/cloves would give it a gorgeous, cider-y taste.

No dice, my friends. Mostly they just taste like plain ol' waffles. I anticipate there will be a day that the knowledge that waffle mix-ins must be chunky, no exceptions, will save my marriage.

But only if it's chocolate.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

be(come) happy


Life has been overwhelming the last couple of days, and I'm not sure why.

My ability to handle situations seems to flow and ebb, with no more reason than the passage of time. I'm sure that's normal, but it never ceases to catch me off guard and leave me wondering what on earth I did wrong. Discouragement mounts as I realize that the problems I'm facing are not ones I currently have the tools to fix, and that I doubt that I have the character strengths to acquire those tools.

In short, I don't always know how to be happy.

I sure try, though. Generally, step one is admitting that something is amiss in my thinking if my thoughts are along the lines of "this is impossible." After all, "there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). I will never confront a challenge that I cannot overcome through Christ. He doesn't often make things easy -- when would I ever learn, if He did? -- but He does make things possible, and offers the perspective I need to joyfully make sacrifices.

So I talk things over with my sweet husband. Chris gives me a hug and reminds me it's going to be okay, that he's proud of me and he knows I'll get things figured out, that it's perfectly okay to stop and just breathe. When I take that first real inhale, it seems to knock things loose, and the exhale is a prayer, still full of questions, but also newly full of faith.

And things always start to come together from there.

Instead of feeling discouraged, I begin to recognize that I don't have to fix everything all at once. Instead of feeling worried, I start to acknowledge that there are a lot of solutions we haven't tried yet, and they're all within our control. Instead of getting depressed, I remember that God is good, and it's okay to connect deeply to what's going on in my life. It may not be fun, but I will always make it through because He is at my side.

So no, I'm not quite certain why I'm in a slump lately. (It could be any number of things, including side effects from my new birth control.) Regardless, I have the privilege of seeking out joy in whatever way works best for me, and I don't have to feel guilty about it. Today that means getting taking a hot bath, listening to fun arrangements of hymns. I might get a haircut, and I will almost certainly ignore the large sinkful of dishes since I gave the apartment a thorough cleaning yesterday anyway.

And that's perfectly okay. I have a responsibility to be joyful, even if that means not getting a million things marked off my to-do list. My goal at the end of the day is to greet Chris with a smile and a kiss and an idea of what's going on for dinner. That's it. And if I manage that, well then, today has been a great day.


Friday, October 19, 2012

missing pieces

A face, a mom, legs with a face floating above them, a daughter,  a face with a heart, and a son. 

You've all seen them -- the row of cutesy stick figures, each representing a member of your family.

So what's the story here????

Thursday, October 18, 2012

wedding picture sneak peak

*A very special thanks to our photographer, Shallyse Gastelum of Fresh Poppy Photography. You can check out more of her work here and here!



Exactly 2 months and one week ago, I married the love of my life.


I look at pictures now and think, wow, we really are this happy. I love seeing the bit of awe -- reverence even -- on our faces.


Then again, it's hard for us be serious for too long.


In a way, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. All we knew was that I loved him....


He loved me...


And God loved us. And for us, that was enough.


In the meager handful of weeks since the wedding, I think we've both had to take a long, hard look at ourselves. "I really need to grow up and get focused," we say, and "I can't believe I get mad so easily," and what seems like a hundred-thousand times, "I'm sorry."


They're hard, but we always come away from those moments more in love, more committed, more sure that we've made the right choice.


We know we're here to stay.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

how to be a domestic goddess



It's all about the presentation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

two months

I knew that marriage was going to teach me faith in the hard moments, but I had no idea it was going to teach me faith in the very very best ones.

Today marks two months since Chris and I got married. It's been drifting in and out of my attention all day, but as I type it out in introduction to this blog post, I'm honestly tearing up. I knew all along he was a fun, smart, sweet, funny guy who suited my personality well. But I had no idea just how good he really is.

Last night, we lay in bed, planning the next day on (of course) a pseudo-whiteboard. Chris' day was cut and dry: class, study, dinner, test. Mine was less so. I'm a wife; there's plenty of things for me to do, but after a day of feeling like I'd wasted my time, I was discouraged. "What's the point of planning it if I'm not going to do it anyway?

Chris gave me a long look. "Take the day off."

"What?"

"Take the day off. You need it."

I hesitated. "I'd actually been thinking about that - that I don't so much have a full-time job as an all-the-time job. That's kinda depressing."

"Yeah, exactly. So take a break."

I felt a lump rise in my throat. "But I don't feel like I deserve it..."

He held me for a moment, while I held back my tears. "Tell you what," he said. "If you do more than two productive things tomorrow, no Skype date tomorrow."

I gave him a watery smile. "What if I'm doing productive things for fun?" I asked, thinking of the writing I could do.

"That's fine, but if you tell me you did the dishes for fun, I won't believe you."

I love this man so much.

I can't believe I have someone who is willing and able to share the burdens of this mind and heart I've been given. Chris' two-month present to me was a guilt-free day, one I could spend writing, researching, reading, and catching up with a few friends. I don't know how I could possibly top that, and it would probably be foolish to try. (Especially because his day is really full...he's actually off taking a big test right now, for which he spent all day studying.)

I keep thinking that I already know how much I love him, that I "get" what this whole marriage thing means. I'm discovering how naive that is, even beyond the fact that we haven't been married long. It's like saying we know how much we love Jesus, knowing that He is going to save us anew, every day, in a way that is going to make us love Him more.

Marriage is like that, I think. I know my husband has a good heart -- one of the best, in fact. Times like yesterday though, when he comforts me in my moments of greatest vulnerability and does it in exactly the way that I need, provide a glimpse of who he is beyond the goofiness (which makes me so happy) and the brilliance (which I think is just so attractive). I see the honest, humble man, who just wants to help other people be okay. And I get to have him in my life every single day.

If that's not evidence of God, and His complete adoration for me, His often confused and frequently fearful little girl, then I don't know what is.

Happy two months, babe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

industry and peace



Having just dropped off Chris, the apartment is silent, save the usual refrigerator hum. The morning light illuminates both the sky and the yellowed trees outside my window. Autumn is setting in, with its jacket-weather days; the vibrant summer-blue is fading from the sky. I sit, thinking. Drinking hot water with honey and lemon. Staring out the window. It's an application of one of my newest thoughts, a principle I've always needed to learn:

When I am stressed, I should take a break to reconnect to why I'm working so hard and thereby find peace.

It's so easy for me -- for all of us, I think -- to run from one project to another. I'm frequently dissatisfied with my progress, wishing I'd made time for X, Y, and Z, feeling like I should have made the time. My anxiety mounts as I harangue myself for not doing what I said I'd do. I rush through my chores, thinking if I can't trust myself to keep my word, how can expect the trust of anyone else? or I stay home all day, and I can't even manage to get that done? I really must not deserve this life.

This is not the way to find joy.

I'm trying to find a happy middle ground between stress and idleness. Days go by when I do spend most of it in that moderate, balanced place. Praying makes a difference, certainly, as does studying the scriptures. Daily devotionals soften my heart, so that I can proceed with the daily business of an orderly home with a methodical sort of joy, instead of dropping hours of my time into the abyss of the internet, and running around like the proverbial decapitated chicken.

It's much less dramatic. The lack of drama is less emotionally stimulating, but it leaves me the energy and peace of mind to do the things that really matter. Besides, when I entrust my heart and hands to the Lord and His work, one step at a time, I find at the end of the day I have made a huge investment. The emotional -- and spiritual -- payoff is so much greater if I sacrifice the dichotomy of anxiety and procrastination for simple, steady industry. And that industriousness is so much easier to attain when, as I'm starting to get stressed, I take an interlude to remember the goal:

Men are that they might have joy.

After a sandpapery sort of morning, I needed that. I'm pausing to seek peace. I'm not getting much done, but I have set aside my to-do list for the moment. Now, I'm prepared in all facets to work with a softened heart and an open mind.

Now, I can not just work -- I can do so with joy.

Monday, October 8, 2012

purpose in Christ




So, I don't know if you know this but...

I'm a writer.

I know, I know, you're thinking, "uh, Sara? I follow your blog. That means I'm reading words that you -- wait for it -- write."

And that's certainly true. I try to channel my joyful living into this little corner of cyberspace, filling it with stacks of words and even the occasional picture.

I've been studying my purpose, though, particularly in this season of my life. Happily married, to someone perfectly willing to provide an income so that I don't have to, and with (theoretically) hours and hours of time to fill -- that begs for a mission, a purpose, some grand scheme to strive toward. So I've been pondering that.

First and foremost, I am a disciple of Christ. I'm still wrapping my brain around this one. It's so over-arching, yet so powerful. My discipleship leads me to set aside negativity, impatience, and judgment, leaving no place for it in my head or heart. As a follower of Christ, I have to replace that with hope, longsuffering, and charity. If I'm really paying attention to this, this purpose can take up a lot of my thoughts and energy in a given day. It makes my days sunshiney and delightful, because I am full of Christ and feel Him pouring His grace into my motivations and into my heart, providing tenacity and peace.

With that kind of relationship with the Master, every other purpose becomes easier. I am a wife, meaning that no, I don't get an income, but you'd better believe I have a job! The best job in the whole world: making my home a pleasant place, full of order and peace and safety. I work every day to make this little apartment a haven for Chris, this amazing man that I so deeply love. (Some days, it goes beautifully. Other days, like today, not so much. That probably explains why I'm up at 11:53, frantically blogging so I can say I put in my 15 minutes of writing today.)

When I was a teenager, and facing a bit of an identity crisis, I plead for guidance and was told "thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much." That still holds true. I am a writer, though perhaps not an accomplished one, or an experienced one, or one who knows enough about it to teach it. But I am a writer nonetheless. In the end, I "labor diligently to write, to persuade [others] to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God." Heavenly Father has planted that emblem deep in my heart these last few weeks, and I'm trying so hard to live up to it.

Today I can say that I wrote for 15 minutes, like I promised myself I was going to do every day from now on. It's 479 words, and counting, that didn't exist in the world before. I hope that someone, somewhere, will find them and believe in Christ. He's the reason for the words, the hope in my heart, and the only way to lasting happiness that has ever worked for me. He gives me purpose and strength, whether that's because He brought my husband to me (and believe me, Chris provides so much purpose, and strength) or just because Jesus loves me, loves all of us, and wants us to know it.

Today, stress and imperfection and totally messy apartment aside, I know that He loves me.

And so, tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

fail



I felt pretty good about starting laundry today.

But this is what happens when I don't finish it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

sidestepping



The sign pictured above has stuck with me for hours now, after my long walk this morning. It doesn't warn of a fork or a dead end, just that the path curves a little. Its presence implies, "this road may require a bit of sidestepping, but please, by all means, continue on your way."

My life has been full of sidestepping moments lately. Not moments where I've had to make some sort of life-altering choice, or moments when I've had to stop dead in my tracks and turn back, reevaluating to see what I've done wrong. No, instead they have been moments where I've been able to adjust my course just slightly and still stay in motion.

Take this morning, for instance. Chris doesn't have his early class on Thursdays, leaving us time to sleep a little longer, have a leisurely breakfast, and prepare a little more thoroughly for the day in general. When I dropped him off on campus, the weekly farmers' market was not yet in full swing, so I "sidestepped." I went to the park, and spent a blissful hour exploring the winding paths and autumn-bright trees.

When my hour of free parking reached its end, I drove back to campus to find parking for the farmers' market. None of the usual free spots were available, and instead of getting frustrated about it, I "sidestepped" and found metered parking a short walk away. My dollar got me an hour of parking instead of the 20 minutes the free spots allowed, so instead of rushing through the farmers' market so I could leave again, I paid for my eggplant and made my way to my husband's office to say hello. I'm so glad and grateful that I was willing to slightly change my methods in order to still reach my original goal.

After all, I'd pay a dollar for a kiss from my husband any day!

It's just a small example, but a telling one, I think. As we are open to joy, instead of only thinking of getting things done, the love of God seeps into our lives in ways we couldn't have pictured.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

unauthorized





I always wondered what would happen if you just plopped down a candy machine in someone's store.

Now I know. 

The tape reads "this machine is UNAUTHORIZED," with some fine print at the bottom.

When I first saw it, I thought it was just some gimmicky "candy so good it's daaaangerous!" kind of thing. But no!

I think anything that requires a double-take justifies taking a picture.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

real life



I know someday you'll get tired of hearing about it, but...

I love my husband.

Not in the least because he is a giant goofball and just makes me laugh. I think his favorite thing about being married is that he can come home and know there's someone who catches the majority of his movie references. Unlike the people at school. I think he should just stay home and hang out with me! I'm way more fun than grad school anyway...

But I digress.

Yesterday was an awful day for me -- I become inexplicably, painfully, miserably ill. After a beautiful morning walk with sights like the one above, I went home for a little nap...which turned into sleeping from probably 10:30 to 1, followed by shivering on the couch in a blanket until 2:30. At that point, I finally felt well enough to even look at the dishes.

So, I made some yummy, spicy rice (anaheim peppers have become a staple food at our house, I think) and picked up the apartment a little...but by the time I picked up Chris from campus, I felt pretty incapacitated.

And you know what? One look at me and he pulled me into a hug.

"Can we go home?" I asked in a tiny, worn-out voice.

"Of course." And just like that, we left, though he was mid-homework problem. He drove, treating it like a no-brainer when I asked him to, and then interrupted himself multiple times for my benefit. ("Wait. Never mind. It's not important right now, you don't feel good.") He got some medicine for me and asked what he could do to help with dinner. By cooking and seasoning the chicken, Chris gave me with 30 beautiful, guilt-free minutes to soak in a near-scalding bath. All in all, he made me feel so much better. And then proceeded to give even more, too.

"Chris, will you humor me for like five more minutes?"

"Um. Sure? How am I humoring you?"

"Well." I laughed. "Mostly I just need to you to smile and nod."

Which he did, beautifully, as I read him my writing for the day. He's constantly explaining his field in layman's terms for me, so it's awfully sweet of him that he'll allow me to do the same. I love that he's involved in my work, to whatever degree he can.

And then, just before bed, we read scriptures. I picked Ether 12, thinking of a conversation we had earlier in the evening about weaknesses. But once I hit verse four, I had to stop.

"Chris, what would you say your anchor is?"

Chris reminded me I have a talent for asking vague questions.

I tried again, handing him the Book of Mormon. "Well, it says here that faith and hope are an anchor to the souls of men, making them sure and steadfast. I'm always talking about how 'steady' you are, and it made me wonder how you do it."

"James 1:19." His prompt response surprised me. I looked it up, and smiled, marveling that I get to be married to him. 

Chris is definitely swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. He'll also be the first to point out that he does get angry -- in fact, that's exactly what he did next. He was annoyed with me that morning, not understanding where I was coming from and feeling like I was being illogical and frankly, a bit ridiculous. But he didn't say anything. Chris went on to attribute this to eternal perspective -- in the grand scheme of things, it just didn't matter much.

"I guess that makes sense. I struggle with that. A sense of proportion."

I also struggle with humility, and judgment, just by the way. But not my husband -- oh no. No "yeah, you really do stink at that, ha," no air of condescension, not like I would have done. He just nodded sleepily and asked if I thought that was a sufficient spiritual thought for the night.

It was, so we prayed.

And by the way, only is my husband eager to serve, insightful, funny, and steady...he prays for me, too.

I am not making this stuff up, people! This is my actual life! I am absolutely shocked that I have it this good. Chris just makes me want to be better...and I'm going to have to get better, just so I manage to keep up with him!

It's exactly the way marriage is supposed to go, I think.

I just didn't know that "the way marriage supposed to go" and "my life is pretty much a fairy tale" was the same thing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

charity 101

"Sometimes I write. I'm trying to do a lot better about that these days. I blog about every other day now, and I'm working on a story right now."

"Yeah?" My new friend sounded excited, so I went on.

"Yeah. I haven't done anything with it in years though. I decided a long time ago that I needed to know what it was like to fall in love for keeps first, so I could have the experience to draw on." I paused, smiled. "Now I know."

Her eyes filled with warmth. "What's it like?"

"Well, first, let me say that, in our religion, we believe that marriage is forever. None of this 'til death do you part' stuff, so long as we are sealed under the proper authority and we let our sincere love of Christ truly guide our actions."

She nodded. We had talked about the priesthood before.

I gently touched my ring. "That said, I don't know what eternity means. Not with my mortal mind and experience. But I'm excited to spend the rest of my life finding out, with Chris. He's really my rock. He's steady and laid-back and sweet and patient. And he loves that I'm genuine and enthusiastic. I couldn't ask for any better than him."

---

Sometimes I say things like that, and then, never very long after, I realize just how sure of that I am.

I got pretty ticked off at Chris this morning. (Yes, believe it or not, even perfect-for-each-other newlyweds do that, too.) It was irrational, and I know that. But that didn't change how I felt in the moment. The waspish words did not escape my lips, but nonetheless left a prickly trail of irritation in my wake as I disappeared into the kitchen.

Chris followed after a moment and stood behind me, just waiting. I turned away from the stove to face him, though I wouldn't meet his eyes. And then his arms were around me.

What kind of guy treats a girl that good?

I'm ashamed of myself for how quickly I forget how wonderful this man is. He really is trying his best to give me what I need, and to show how grateful he is for what I give. Moments like this morning show me starkly that yes, this marriage will work, but it definitely won't be just because of me.

It will be because of Chris, just trying to be like Christ, even when I'm not. Chris, telling me to take a deep breath, though I'm tired of trying to be nice to him. Chris, forgiving me when I realize what a punk I am.

He held my hand the whole way to school like he loves me as much as ever, if not more for the exercise in charity.

What kind of guy treats a girl that good? The Savior. And my husband. That's who.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

gryffindor socks

"Gryffindor socks and orange shoes?" Chris asked in his best little-kid voice.

"...Only if you wear long pants."

"YESSSSS!"



Oh husband. How I love you.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

sister missionaries, pt. 2

A year after those dark days of frustration and understimulation and anxiety, I'm starting my life anew, again.

It's not nearly so bad this time, thank goodness. After all, I have Chris and spend every day realizing just how lucky I am. So no dead-end relationship to speak of.

However, I am new to the area, again. Jobless, again. Social interaction is pointedly lacking, especially with women my age. Again. I'm grateful for my long-distance girlfriends, of course, and rely on the smile in their voices when I call. The warmth of their long-cherished friendship is my lifeline, much like it was a year ago, and I couldn't ask for better. I miss them every day.

Missing people doesn't actually help you get anything done though, or get you established in your new home. I've already learned that -- the hard way. I needed to get out of the apartment, expend some energy, and find new ways to serve that were fitted to my unique gifts and needs.

And, just like that, my new family ward was assigned sister missionaries.

I love Sister Stanford and Sister Hill already. Chris and I signed up to feed them dinner before we'd even met. When they walked in the door, I offered to shake hands. "Oh no Sister Hagmann," they said. "We give hugs here."

What's not to love about that?

In the days since then, I've sat with them at Relief Society functions, attended investigator appointments, and chatted on the phone with these women. We've gushed about weddings and homemade tortillas and the absolute pleasure it is to serve side by side. They're allowing me to love this life I have because they alleviate the expectation that one setting, one person, has to fill all of my needs. As a multi-faceted, dynamic person, a single-faceted, passive life was never going to be enough anyway. And they do so much to make that okay.

Then, of course, there is the radiance of sharing the gospel. Offering answers to questions, contributing my personal witness of Christ, engendering trust of Mormons by the simple fact that I really do know this is true...it's almost too much. I love watching light come into the eyes of the women we're teaching, as new understanding and new ideas envelop their hearts. So many people are genuinely searching for truth. They crave it, knowing their missing something they've wanted their whole lives. And here we are, and here God is, ready to give it to them as they continue asking for it in Christ's name.

He just loves us so much.

It makes me miss Emmilee and Anne. Emmilie served a mission, where I am certain everyone she met adored her for her quirky, gentle sincerity. Anne is in Brazil now, but not for too much longer. Her passionate nature, full of instinctive and energetic charity, will endear her to thousands. And then there's Megan, who was my roommate immediately after her mission and whose genuine interest in others is still an inspiration to me.

We women have such strength to offer each other, and to the kingdom of God.

I'm just grateful I get to be a part of it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

sister missionaries, pt. 1

I moved back to North Carolina just before Christmas of 2011.

When I'd come home for Christmas in the past, I could impart all the fervor my personality has to offer for a few weeks, and then whisk back to school before I started to lose steam, and started to miss my life in Idaho too much.

But that wouldn't be the case this time around, and I knew it. I graduated in mid-December. BYU-Idaho had given me everything it had to give, and now it was time for me to face the next steps on my own. From the time my summer internship ended, I knew that if my life was a house, I was watching it burn to the ground.

I sat in the ashes in the drab winter months that followed, unsure of what to do. By the end of February, I still hadn't found work. I missed my friends from school desperately yet was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to branch out. The relationship I'd been pouring my energy into just wasn't working out like I'd hoped, and although I was living with my parents, I felt a long, long way from home.

I went as far as to approach my parents about getting me on medication for the mounting irrational anxiety that I no longer knew how to surpress. They were dark days, and I needed a way out.

That's about the time that Sister Gallego and Sister Felton were assigned to my family ward. These sisters, with their fresh faces and little black nametags, passed around a sign-up sheet, inviting sisters to help them teach people investigating the church. Even in a fog of disillusionment, I recognized the opportunity. I had an inordinate amount of free time, and my need for young, single, female, in-the-flesh socialization was growing frantic. Perhaps, finally, here was my chance!

So I signed up. We three women braved the ghetto of Durham together, in my fire-engine red, sporty Pontiac, and laughed until our sides were sore. These missionaries brought enthusiasm back into my life, a source of joy and sense of purpose that I had been floundering to grasp ever since I graduated and left BYU-Idaho for good.

Sister Gallego, our "little brown sister," was such a spitfire. From California, she had a little ghetto attitude of her own that (honestly) made Sister Felton and I feel a little more safe traipsing through Durham. I still admire her lack of inhibition and the way she enjoys who she is, no apologies. After all, there was nothing to apologize for.

Sister Felton was beautiful in a gentle yet spunky way. Every time I saw her, it seemed like we had a new reason to turn to each other and say, "we're, like, the same person!" with wonder and delight. She had been studying History and English before the mission, after all, and her Utah upbringing gave her a sweet and matter-of-fact attitude about the gospel that I could relate to easily.

These women were living sunshine. In a way, although I was supposed to be helping these sisters save souls, they were actually saving mine. Saving me from a place of discouragement, loneliness, and inaction. Their vitality and action-oriented love of Christ got me going again in a moment when I never could have done it on my own.