Monday, April 28, 2014

What to do on a gloomy weekend

Several months ago, one of my coworkers unintentionally annoyed another coworker by commenting on the beautiful sunshine outside. (Apparently, even the weather can be a testy subject for some people.) The guy then launched into a five-minute rant on why he hated sunny days because they made him feel like he was supposed to be happy and productive.

I had never heard anyone complain about sunshine unless it came with scorching temperatures before, but the guy had a point. I don't like being told to be happy and productive, either. Sure, most of the time I am willing to adopt a cheery disposition and productive demeanor when the sun isn't blocked by rainclouds or an inversion. But sometimes I want to exercise my right to be moody and lazy, regardless of what's happening outside. That's when the yellow ball in the sky becomes that annoying babysitter who talks to you in a high-pitched voice and says that you can have an extra chocolate chip if you put your dishes in the sink, smiling serenely at you as if it never occurred to her that she couldn't sweeten you out of a sour mood.

That ploy didn't work on me as a five-year-old, and it doesn't work now, either. I will find a way to get away from that sunny sweetness, whether it means locking myself in my room or shutting the blinds.

The only problem is, I usually feel guilty doing so. Which, of course, makes me even more mad.

Last Friday, when the subject of weekends came up, I delivered my line "I don't really have any plans this weekend" with as much enthusiasm as the person who said she was planning a family barbecue. Then someone else said the magic words: "It's supposed to rain this weekend."

Since I was in the clutches of a Mad Friday, this was the first piece of news I had received all day that made the corners of my mouth twitch upward. A gloomy weekend was just hours away. This meant that it wouldn't be a fireplace-and-balcony-sweeping type weekend, accompanied by four hours of sneezing. It meant it would be a stay-home-and-watch-TV type weekend, free from guilt and expectations.

Would you like to know what I did this weekend? 

I had a Lord of the Rings marathon. Because that's what you do when it's raining outside and you have to keep the heater on. I watched all three extended versions without any distractions—no cross-stitch, no people complaining about the seven endings to The Return of the King—just 11 hours of pure bliss in the beautiful world Peter Jackson brought to life. 

I highly recommend this immersive experience. You might be a little heartbroken when it's all over, but I assure you it's well worth it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Chocolate and the Atonement

Easter is kind of a strange holiday for me. Probably because I rely on the calendar to tell me when it's supposed to happen. When the date hops around every year, it's a little harder to find that holiday mode.

But Easter is starting to rise in the ranks of my "favorite holidays" list. I like that it sneaks up on me every year, because that means I don't put as much pressure on Easter to fulfill all of my holiday wishes. It comes, and it's a day slightly more special than normal.

There are other reasons to be a fan of Easter, of course.

1. Easter candy. Easter candy is the best of all holiday candies. Especially since it comes right after Valentine's Day, which mass-produces medicine-flavored hearts and tries to pass them off as candy, not to mention it also puts things in chocolate that have no business being there.

2. Spring. I've never had a gloomy Easter, at least not that I can remember. I think it's one of the laws of nature that the sun must be shining on Easter. And this year, spring seemed to blossom overnight, just in time for brand-new, pastel-colored Sunday clothes.

3. Time to reflect on the greatest gift we've ever been given without the commercialization that surrounds Christmas. Don't get me wrong—I love Christmas—but the religious significance of Easter is easier to appreciate.

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ, but this year my focus shifted slightly to the Atonement.

1995, the year I turned eight years old, was my baptism year. Most of my Primary lessons that year factored in baptism at some point, and I remember a couple baptism-themed family home evenings as well. But this was what stuck with me above all else: at seven years old, I wasn't accountable for my sins, but at eight years old I would be. In other words, I could commit murder if I wanted and still go to heaven, as long as I did it before my eighth birthday.

With my eighth birthday just a few weeks away, I hatched a plan. I was going to get all the sinning out of my system while I still could. Then, once I turned eight, I would be a perfect little angel. My teachers had explained the concept of the Atonement to me, but repentance sure sounded like a bother. It seemed much more reasonable to just skip that step altogether. Sure, the world hadn't seen a truly perfect person since Jesus, but I was convinced I would be the second.

That is, after I was baptized. No reason to be perfect until I absolutely had to be.

So I set to work. I didn't do the dishes when Mom told me to do them. I hit my little sister. I refused to go to bed on time. I didn't share my toys.

To my mom's relief, I'm sure, the morning of my baptism finally came. I said good-bye to my sinful past and put on my halo.

My moment of truth came a few days later. Mom was taking a nap, and I wanted a snack. I opened the fridge, thinking I'd maybe have a bowl of applesauce or something. But out of the corner of my eye, calling to me seductively, was the chocolate syrup. Mom had said over and over again that chocolate syrup was only for ice cream, but sometimes I secretly poured some into a baby bowl, heated it in the microwave, and ate it plain.

The timing was perfect. No one was around, and Mom's door was shut so she wouldn't even hear the microwave or smell its delightful contents. As long as I disposed of the evidence, no one would ever know that I had disobeyed.

I should have known that chocolate would be my downfall.

Halfway through my bowl of chocolate, I realized with a jolt that Jesus probably wouldn't sneak chocolate from the fridge while his mom was sleeping. And he probably only ate a respectable amount of chocolate syrup on his ice cream, not the entire river of chocolate I liked to dump on mine.

That sealed the deal—I was no longer perfect.

Rather than feel ashamed of myself, though, I actually felt a little relieved. The pressure was off. I could make mistakes just like a regular person now.

I quickly learned how silly it was to demand perfection of myself in everything, but it took me a lot longer to grasp the concept that I actually needed the Atonement in my life. I thought it was only for the major stuff, like breaking the law of chastity or overcoming addiction.

On top of that, I have this independent streak that makes it difficult to accept help. And suffering in silence for an eternity is usually a more inviting prospect than asking for help.

But even though I'm from the "you can do anything!" generation, the fact is, there are some things I simply cannot do. And I'm not talking about things I physically can't do like roll my r's or sit on the orange slide my nephews like to play on (and, as of yesterday, jump over). I'm talking about the trials I can't overcome on my own. The times when my best still isn't good enough. When the burdens of life are so heavy I have no choice but to pass them on to someone else.

Of all of God's creations, human beings are the most glorious. But we're still, well, human. We can do a lot, but we can't do it all.

That's why the Atonement is more than just a wonderful, selfless gift. It's an essential tool we all need, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. And it's already been paid for by love.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On not being busy

There are few times in my life when I've been able to truly enjoy not being busy. I thrive when I'm challenged; I get bored when I'm not. Time off is always fantastic for about a week, but then the restlessness settles in. And if the restlessness lasts too long, it turns into moodiness and depression.

I think in a way I've used busyness to validate my existence. When I'm not rushing to accomplish 12,000 things a day, I feel like I'm not doing enough. My hermit nights on the couch with my cross-stitch and chocolate aren't as satisfying unless I've paid my dues three times over first. It's one of those uniquely modern phenomenas that definitely applies to me. I don't have time for silly things like meditating or smelling the roses or simply existing; I have to justify why I'm here first.

So my first order of business after finishing my master's is simple: to enjoy not being busy. That means not scheduling every minute of my life. Watching a movie in the middle of the week if I want. Reading during some time other than my sacred bedtime reading hour. Leaving my desk during lunch. Going to ward activities because I have nothing else to do, not because I need to interact with something other than my books and computer.

Those other goals—cooking, practicing my piano, finishing my InDesign projects and starting new ones, writing, learning completely new skills—those can wait. Right now my priority is to slow down, not fill my extra 20 hours a week with new types of busyness.

It was hard at first. I felt a little lost for a few days.

But, while I have a constant need to be entertained/challenged, I also have a lazy side. It's been helping me out. When I feel like I should start setting some piano goals, it tells me to watch another episode of Gilmore Girls instead. When I don't want to make a lunch in the morning, it tells me to skip that step and just go out for lunch, because you're trying to take real lunch breaks now anyway. (However, my lazy side also reminds me that if I don't make myself a lunch, then I'll have to decide where to eat and then walk down four flights of stairs (that or wait for the elevator, which takes like 37 seconds) and out to my car and then repeat all those steps in reverse just to feed myself. There's no winning in this situation, unless someone brings me lunch.)

Normally, I wouldn't indulge my lazy side in such travesties. But for now, I think it's what I need to do to recharge after that crazy year I just had. This recharge period will likely only last for a few more weeks at the most, but I'm learning that sometimes it's okay to just sit back and let life happen.