22 April 2012

Gratitude and Eternity

I will be the first to admit that I resemble Veruca Salt in far more ways that I would like. I often forget to be grateful. I focus on what I don't have and not what I do have. I often get so focused on not having the job I want now that I forget how blessed I am to be employed at all, and to be able to mostly support myself on the wages from that job. I also have the opportunity to occasionally substitute at a middle school, which is great. But I focus on what I don't have that I want.

Lately, I've had trouble of a different sort. I've started not to be able to celebrate others' successes. I see people moving forward in their lives through a myriad of ways like career advancement, marriage, having children, buying houses, etc. and it is getting increasingly difficult to wish them well in their happiness. Some of it is the envy that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of in his talk in General Conference this month. Some of it is simply feeling left behind. It has been fifteen years since I graduated from high school, ten since I graduated from BYU. I've watched successive generations of friends move on with their lives that I still haven't. They have careers, families, foundations. I'm still working dead-end jobs that have nothing to do with my degrees, single, and nomadic as ever. I've learned that my friends' successes, while amazing for them, mean a separation for me. Our friendships don't end, but they move on, move forward, move away, move into demanding spheres of responsibility that have less room for me. Our lives simply don't overlap as much. And while their moving forward brings them into contact with a widening social circle, mine seems to shrink and require me to go out and work to build new friendships. None of this is bad, but it is difficult and somewhat lonely. I'm not an extremely social person by nature, so I find the work it takes to build new relationships rather exhausting and not a little unfair.

This is where my Veruca Salt-ness directly confronts my faith. Do I believe in the blessings of eternal life? Most definitely. I'm grateful for it everyday. I'm grateful for it every time I think of my mother, every time I wish I could her on the phone, every time I think of my grandparents and aunts and uncles who are no longer with us. I'm grateful when I think of my brother, when I see my niece's disappearing scar from open heart surgery, when I think of my nephew who will be joining our family this summer. That is not in question. Rather, do I have the faith to endure if all the blessings I want in my life don't come until eternity? I was reading in Isaiah today during the Sacrament and came across this verse in chapter 51:
 For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.
These words are full of comfort to those in midst of figurative and literal waste places, wildernesses, and deserts. They are to inspire hope. As I pondered them, my Veruca Salt-ness came raging back, asking if I was prepared to wander in those waste places, wildernesses or deserts if the blessings I want don't come til eternity. I want to say yes. I want to conquer my inner Veruca. I want to be grateful for everything in my life, not just focused on what I don't have. Yet there are days when I can't help but envision a future of watching my friends and loved ones move forward and, often, away while I am consigned to watch like a starving Dickensian orphan peering through a window at a Christmas feast. And that just seems impossibly hard. 

08 April 2012

I No Longer Feel Like Hibernating All Day, Every Day.

Spring has sprung, sort of, in Bellingham. The sun actually shone for 3 whole days in a row, which feels like nirvana after never-ending months of rain and unseasonable cold. That is one excuse for not blogging, as nothing was happening AT ALL, because I was either grudgingly at work or curled up under a blanket. Although I had lots of pertinent half-thoughts and suppositions that could have been turned into a thoughtful blog if I had taken any time to write them down. My second excuse is that I've been busy. I've been juggling working at the property management company and substitute teaching, sometimes both in one day, and by the time those days are over, I am brain dead or punch drunk, neither of which are particularly useful for blogging.

The state of non-blogging would continue if it weren't for a promise I made to myself (and requests by supportive people in my life) to post some pictures. See, a little over a year ago I was facing the prospect of having buy new clothes in a larger size, which is the worst possible reason ever to have to go shopping. Also, people were posting pictures and tagging me on Facebook and I hated every single one and only my pride at not being vain (yeah, I know it makes little sense, but stick with me) kept me from untagging myself in them. The pièce de résistance of this unholy collection was this:

This is not a flattering picture. I think if Angelina Jolie were slouched like that it would not be a flattering picture for her, and she has the same girth as a young birch tree. However, it wasn't the only picture taken from the summer of 2010 that told me there was a problem. Here I am at my brother's graduation from UW that same year:

Something had to be done. It didn't happen until I finished my student teaching and felt I actually had time and energy to do something. So, March 2011, I joined Weight Watchers. And miraculously, I stuck with it. The first 30lbs dropped off in five months, but I decided I wasn't going to celebrate it in any public way or write about it until I had dropped 40lbs. Which took the next seven-and-a-half months. But, yesterday, I finally managed to lose 40lbs. Here is me today, in my new Easter dress (which is actually coral, not pink, despite what it may look like in the picture, lest you think I've lost my mind and embraced pink as a thing).

I still have a ways to go, but I feel like I've accomplished something. I'm happier and healthier and, oddly, less concerned with how I look and what people think of me. The most unexpected part is how much more spiritually healthy I feel. I hear those horrible voices in my head that question my worth a lot less. Not because I am a smaller size, but because I have accomplished something through hard work, because I'm taking care of and loving my body, not hating it. 

As I sat in church today, listening to and pondering Easter messages and teaching my eight and nine year-olds in Primary about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it struck me how integral our physical bodies are to our spiritual well-being. As a woman who spent the better part of the last 20 years both obsessed with fashion magazines and struggling with weight issues, I became increasingly disassociated from my body. It was something I didn't want to deal with or think about but spent quite a bit of mental and emotional energy doing both. The mindset I was stuck in kept me from moving forward and weighed me down. As I've become physically lighter, I've also become mentally, emotionally, and spiritually lighter. As I shed pounds, I also started to shed other unhealthy things in my life that had no relation to my weight. And isn't that what Easter is about; the opportunity to shed the unhealthy, the bad, the sinful, the dark, the sorrowful, and the failings and frailties of human nature and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ become better than we were and be perfected in Him. It is the opportunity to become lighter and lighter until we are filled with light. I hope we all take the opportunity to shed something that is dragging us down and to move forward lighter and brighter than we were before.