Monday, January 21, 2013

more than words

As I dried my hands from washing the dishes, I noticed - all at once - that dusk had fallen.

An hour before, the afternoon light poured in through the sliding glass doors, filling the room with yellow brightness. Now there was a wan, blue glow, and the sky was turning pink around the edges, like a shy blush. I sat on the couch for a few minutes to take it in. I stretched, trying to mollify the tension in my shoulders. My eyes were still sore from my tears this morning; the ache made me weary and pensive.

It did not, however, make me melancholy.

In the dusk, I reviewed the morning mentally, as though I was rolling a morsel over my tongue. Though parts were bitter, and occasionally peppery, it only served to give complexity to the overall sweetness.

Briefly, I thought of laying in the morning darkness, grieving and confused, as I listened to Chris' soliloquy on why exactly he's finding life so hard these days.

Mostly though, I thought of the way he'd carefully cleared away my confusion, assuring me that it wasn't my fault. I thought of the way he kissed me as we sat on our bed, surrounded by used tissues and tender, renewed hope. I remembered the thought that flashed through my mind as we made breakfast together: it's so good to have him back. I thought of the sound of our water glasses clinking as we toasted "to better days."

I thought of the purposeful light in his eyes as he snatched up a whiteboard marker and readjusted his days to reflect the new understanding he gained of his priorities. "I love you more than I know how to say," he'd told me afterwards, putting down the marker and holding my hand.

I know just what he means. We've discussed in the past how I (like many people with English degrees) tend to use 10 words where one would satisfy. I want to make accurate statements, and often feel that means giving the whole picture instead of just the most representative piece.

So maybe that's why I blog. Hundreds, thousands of words later, I'm still just trying to say how much I love this man.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

hot stuff

This, my friends, is my super-hottie husband.

We went clothes shopping for him the other day, to pick up some things for winter, so that he wouldn't die of cold or boredom. Who wants to wear the same layers day after day?

He insisted that I help him pick out a couple of sweaters and a new heavy coat. "After all," he said, "the only one I care about impressing is you."

And oh man, am I impressed. It's more than the rich colors and sharp lines. It's the way he carries himself because he knows he looks good - confident, yet relaxed.

I hope to help him feel that way all the time. Sometimes it's difficult because we get frustrated by how much the other person has to learn. At the same time, when we reveal a weakness, it means that we trust each other enough to hope that we will be loved anyway.

I wish I could remember to see it that way more often. I love this man more than I know how to say, and being married to him is the highlight of my life. I'm so grateful that he's on my team, and aspire to be the best teammate possible to him. After all, my love can lift and build confidence, as well as create a safe learning environment.

When he feels encouraged and safe, he gets to be the very best version of himself possible.

One with those nice broad shoulders, and that killer smile.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

safely trust

By 9 a.m. this morning, my husband was already having a hard day.

Adulthood is hard. Things like insurance and taxes and getting out of bed every day seem so normal form the outside, but from the inside, they're strange and weighty and nerve-wracking. Add graduate school to that, and all of it gets multiplied by a billion.

This morning, I hugged Chris, trying to hold him together while a sense of overwhelm and inadequacy pressed down on him in waves. We sat in the car for a long time. We prayed. When he finally got out of the car, his head still hung low and his shoulders slumped. We signed "I love you" to each other, like we always do, and I drove away.

It's so hard to see him like that. I see him desperately wish for skills and strengths that he doesn't currently have, and I see him diligently take care of me in ways I never thought possible. He helps me so much to be brave, to be patient, to laugh it off when life gets hard. During times like this morning, I ache to do more for him. I want to do more than just hold him, and talk to him, and encourage him to turn to the Lord, and manage his home. I get frustrated because I just...can't. There isn't anything more to be done that what I already do. It breaks my heart a little.

At that point, I remembered Dad's advice to take the car on the freeway, for the sake of charging the battery. So I went home, and then took the stretch of highway toward Indianapolis, just because I'd never taken it before.

There's something about driving a little too fast, with the music up a little too loud, that cleans out the cobwebs from my soul. It's like a huge stretch, after my spirit has been sitting in one place for too long. By the time I got home, my hope was restored and I felt ready to accomplish excellent things today - even if it meant needing to bolster up my husband all over again.

After all, that's what I'm here for. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in [a virtuous woman].

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

coming home

It's been so fascinating to compare the return from this vacation to the return from the last one.

As mentioned, Chris and I went to Texas for Christmas. We partied with the Roberts clan, wandered at the zoo, caroled on the river, and constructed gingerbread houses. And I got to play with a handful of the little cousins. Or were they nieces and nephews? Either way, it was so. Much. Fun.

Over Thanksgiving, we also took a little trip. We intended to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and their four little boys. They're a rowdy crew, as we learned on our last visit with them, but man do we love them. Chris wrestled with them (or maybe they wrestled with him!) until they were all completely tuckered out. As for me, I got a few special little moments of feeding baby Jacob, comforting sensitive little Miah, laughing out loud at Jadon's endless energy, and catching a glimpse of the old soul looking out of Jon's eyes.

A repeat of that experience was not to be had for Thanksgiving, however. One of the boys got sick, placing the whole gang under quarantine. But, we pouted, we've practically already left! We tried to make it work, we really did. In the end, we reluctantly decided it wasn't a good idea to go see Jen and Bob and the boys. Chris simply couldn't risk getting sick with all that he needed to do for school.

And so Plan B began to form.

Chris' best friend, Josh, lives in Madison, Wisconsin, right between where we live in Indiana and where Jen lives in Iowa. We were already packed, we reasoned. We already budgeted for gas and food, we mused. Josh probably deserved a little harassing, we decided. So, we called.

"Of course you can come visit!" he said. It's so fun how excited he gets about things. "I uh, just bought a house though. So I'm going to be painting all week. And will probably put you guys to work. But yeah, you should totally come!"

And that's exactly what we did. It was an incredibly different week than Christmas was. Completely unstructured, meals at strange intervals, plenty of manual labor, and plenty of cold. Still, we LOVED being there, and when we got back to our apartment, I cried.

I remember snuffling into Chris' shoulder. "It seems like I should be excited about being here again," I said, "but I'm not." It's only now, after the holidays are done, that I realize why I was so upset.

I was exhausted.

The first semester of graduate school is just plain hard. So are the first couple of months in a new place. So are the first few months of being married. We had needed a break from "real life" so badly that I was scared to go back. (And I wasn't even the one in school!)

Contrasting that to where we are now, I feel so richly blessed. We survived the first semester. We know each other better now. We know what to expect - and what it's best to just ignore. We are better, happier people than we were a few months ago. Our focus, organization, and drive is growing. Our goals and subgoals are becoming more clear.

In short, after Christmas, I actually felt like I was coming home. No longer overwhelmed by the newness of it all, I could finally soak in this life that we've come to love. I realized, hey, we're getting the hang of this! And that's a wonderful feeling.

That said, I'm sure that new challenges are on their way. They always are. But I also know that  together, we can face whatever comes our way.

After all, that's just what we do.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

fear & courage

Mirrors in the dark scare me.

When I was a little girl, probably 8 or 9, I slept over at a friend's house. Like all of my close friends tended to be, she was the adventurous sort, and thought it would be fun to try summoning a spirit. So we snuck into the master bath while her parents were sleeping. We stood in front of the big mirror, with the door open behind us for a quick getaway. "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary," we chanted, staring into the mirror and squeezing each other's hands. Aislynn chickened out first and ran away, leaving me staring into the mirror in the darkness. Something moved, and I ran out. To this day, I get a shivery feeling down my spine, so when I get up at night to use the bathroom, I always turn the light on, brightness be darned.

Heights scare me.

I can remember sneaking out of my house as a 6-year-old while my mother was napping. The neighborhood was quiet, and I was still in my Minnie Mouse nightgown. Two houses down, I climbed on top of one of those nondescript metal boxes that have something to do with the power company. Looking down, I thought about jumping, but instead, I sat down and slithered off the side and went home. Even through college, I hated climbing to the third floor of my apartment complex, with its exposed stairwell. It wasn't until two years ago that I figured out it wasn't so much hitting the bottom that scared me, but all the nothing in between.

Being imperfect scares me - probably scares me more than anything else.

I remember a time when a former friend unexpectedly and unabashedly called me all sorts of mean things. While the most lasting hurt came from the ferocity of her critique, at the time I mostly grieved that she might be right, that what she said about me might be true. Chris can attest to how deeply that worried me, since he was the one to hold me while I finally cried about it. He's always reminding me, one way or another, to have hope and see who I am holistically.

Today at church, we briefly discussed how the Holy Spirit influences us to value the things that matter most. My thoughts went immediately to my very messy apartment, and the harried feeling I got every time I look at it. It doesn't particularly bother me when it's messy, but I do worry about what it says about me that my home is in such a state of decline, and what other people might think. After that short comment in Relief Society, I told myself once and for all that the only reason it was messy this week was that I'd been working so hard to find a new apartment for Chris and I in the fall, and that was that. No blame, no guilt, no anxiety or fear.

And that is the power that the Atonement has in our lives. Yes, we are meant to become perfect, and yes, we have a lot of work to put in until we get there. Rather than wanting to give up, though, swallowed up in fear and impatience and the exhaustion that corresponds with both, we can turn to the Savior. Jesus Christ is perpetually ready to comfort and strengthen us in our efforts to be like Him.

Look to me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. D&C 6:36

Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. Joshua 1:9

Thursday, January 10, 2013

business and busyness

It's been a busy week.

Chris and I are looking at apartments, so we can beat the rush for fall housing. I love our little apartment, with the beautiful sunset view and the in-unit washer and dryer and the cheerful newness of it all. Plus, it's our first little love nest. What's not to love?

That said, it's also more expensive than we can technically afford. We didn't have much choice in the matter - Chris' stipend is hundreds of dollars less than we were expecting - but it would be so nice to feel like we were living within our means.

So, we're apartment hunting. A flurry of phone calls, hours of website perusing, and many a conversation to update Chris on the latest insights. And this week, apartment tours began. I have high hopes to find something not too dingy, but honestly, we lived in West Valley City, Utah. Clearly, we can handle something less-than-pristine.

I've also been doing the final rounds of meeting with professors. I'm not sure who is on the applications committee, but since I mention professors by name in my personal statement (due to commonality of research interests) those professors might as well know who I am. It's been delightful to meet with such helpful, interesting, intelligent people.

Chris and I have also had a few fascinating conversations as a result, like this morning's talk about whether literature ought to invite sympathy or empathy, and why an author or reader might favor one over the other, and how one might achieve either. I've always loved  Chris' intellectuality, and today was one of those happy moments that reminded me of that. Especially because I don't think the conversation is done yet. Goodie!

We got back from visiting Chris' family for Christmas not too long ago, too, and it was a BLAST. The thing about fun vacations, though, is that it's always hard to get back into the swing of real life. Chris can tell you that I was not excited to let him go back to school, and that I am also unenthused about the perpetual clutter in our apartment, or about the extra 10 pounds of stocking candy and restaurant food I have lurking on my figure. Still, we loved spending time with Nancy and Bruce and all the rest of the clan, so we wouldn't trade it for anything.

I'm also still working on a lingering writing project for I've written several articles already for pay (yay!) but need to edit a few of them. I also plan to write more. The only payment for those will be the joy of being published, but I'm okay with that. At least it will mean I'm maintaining my resume, right?

Tomorrow marks 5 months since Chris and I got married. Even in that short time, we have learned so much and come to love each other more and more. Just when I think it doesn't get any better than this, Chris reminds me how important my happiness is to him and does something small (and wonderful) to contribute to it. I'm a million times grateful for this man and all he adds to my life -- purpose and confidence and patience and security. 5, 50, and 500 months later, I know he'll still be making me laugh, making me think, and making me the luckiest girl in the whole world.

Sounds like a pretty good life to me.

Monday, January 7, 2013

the hardest thing today

There are few things I really love to do. I can do many things tolerably well and enjoy that I know enough about them to get by. But as for things that I love, things that define who I am and how I spend my time, they're few and far between.

Teaching is one of those things, though. I love chattering about the knowledge I've acquired, and seeing understanding and hope dawn in people's eyes. Epiphanies are exciting things, and facilitating one is one of the best feelings in the world.

I especially enjoy teaching the gospel, though. Nothing can replace the sense that a classroom full of Christians are unified, building each other up and teaching each other about the Redeemer of the world. The peace in the room clears the cobwebs from our souls - a breath of fresh air and a sweet brightness enlivens our hearts. That just can't be beat.

So, you'd think that I'd be really, really excited about my new calling. I'm a Sunday School teacher after all, and since it's Gospel Principles, I get to deepen my love of basic truths. Pretty fantastic, right?

You'd think so. Except I'm teaching in the Spanish branch.

It's so humbling. Every gringo in the branch seems to have served a Spanish-speaking mission, or gotten their education in Spanish, or practiced hard for more than a decade, or all of the above. Then there's little ol' me, with a couple of years in high school and a couple of semesters in college, and just happens to be, somehow, willing to use what comparatively minuscule knowledge she's got.

So yesterday, I taught Sunday School, in Spanish, for the first time. This must be how a missionary fresh from the MTC feels. I depended almost completely on my written lesson plan, as well as smiling and nodding (though my eyes had all the glaze and fear of a deer in headlights) through the comments I couldn't understand. Which was most of them.

My class was very forgiving, though, and we mostly just laughed it off. Chris helped to fill in the blanks in my vocabulary. Most importantly of all, the Spirit was present, giving me a layer of composure and purpose - as well as teaching my class what they needed to hear, I assume.

And the Spirit did teach me, as well. Yesterday I learned that doing really hard things makes all the little annoying things seem like nothing at all.

"No matter what else I do today," I told a friend, "it couldn't possibly be harder than that!"

It was a joke, especially considering that Sundays definitely aren't "hard" days for me. In retrospect, though, I wonder how else to apply this principle. Most of the troubling things in life right now are interconnected "little annoying things." Things like cleaning my kitchen. Budgeting. Not getting enough time in a given day with my husband.

That, of course, leads me to rejoice. And wonder how on earth I got it this good.

Today, I will probably miss Chris terribly. It's the first day of the new semester, and therefore the first day in weeks that we will spend more time apart than together. This is guaranteed to be the hardest part of my day. But I take comfort.

It sure makes washing those blasted dishes look easier by comparison.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

grad school application

Today, I submitted my first graduate school application.

To some, this is mundane business, but for me, it's the culmination of probably three years of work.

My undergraduate degree was stressful, calling for more commitment and more focus than I thought I had. I got through it through, because of -- and sometimes in spite of! -- a set of supportive, entertaining friends. With this in mind, it was easy at first to ignore the glimmers of desire I had to pursue more education. I'd never be able to get a Masters, I thought. Look at how hard it was to get this degree! I just don't have what it takes for graduate school.

Yet the desire stayed. Through tumultuous relationships and cross-country moves, doubt and anxiety, there was still an ambition in my heart that I wasn't brave enough to face.

Then, I got married. Having Chris in my life has changed everything. Or, at very least, it's enabled me to actually be who I have always been. Chris is teaching me to love that I get disproportionately excited about things, or as he puts it, to love my "exuberant antics." He helps me to realize that it's okay to get upset with people sometimes, because there's such a thing in the world as gentleness and forgiveness. He also supports and encourages me on a daily basis, without which today never would have been possible.

Based on a steady trickle of personal revelation on the subject, I believe that getting more formal education is going to make me a better mother. My heart swells at the thought that, even now, Chris and I are working to give our children the kind of life and home that will give them the best possible chance of happiness.

In addition, it's the pursuit of our own dreams and ambitions that will give them that. I'm so grateful that I don't have to choose between them. If I am patient and work hard, every dream can and will come true, ranging from a doctorate to motherhood to, I don't know, learning to play the cello. God loves me, and wants me to be happy, and put a very special man in my life to remind me that every day.

See? Dreams really do come true.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Today, I...

Got up at 5am. It's part of my new year's resolution to establish a healthy lifestyle.
Unpacked from an awesome trip to see Nancy and Bruce, Chris' parents. It was fascinating seeing his family dynamic for ten days. I can definitely see where my husband gets some of his traits, from the snarky sense of humor to the gentle, matter-of-fact generosity.
Narrowed down my writing sample for my grad school app to three possible essays. I need to figure out if the longest one suits the requirements -- and be realistic about whether or not I can quickly lengthen the other ones.
Started a poem.  Something about astronauts and gravity and promises and love. My notes are scrawled all over the mirror in the bedroom. Gotta love whiteboard markers!
Planned meals for the week. I love having enough staples that I only need to pick up few things, having a stockpile of recipes we know we like, and having someone wonderful to cook for! Check out upcoming posts where I'll share a few of our favorite recipes.