Monday, December 28, 2009

Twelve Gifts: #3 A QUESTION

22 years ago last August, this adorable man asked me a life-changing question that is one of life's most amazing gifts: He asked me to marry him—implying that he loved me enough to want to spend the rest of his life with me...and all of eternity as well. Sometimes I am still in awe of that willingness to commit. Without a moment's hesitation, I answered YES! (I'd actually been waiting for this particular question for MONTHS...much longer than it ever felt to wait for Santa to come!) Somehow I just KNEW he was The One.

I was lucky enough to be working as the editorial art director for a regional magazine at the time, and scored our fashion photographer, Dirk Douglass, to do these engagement photos.

And then 22 years ago today, wearing my mother's heirloom custom-tailored dress, I knelt across the altar from him and whispered a reverent but rich-with-anticipation "Yes!". Our lives have been a series of non-stop adventures ever since.

—Oh, and just for the record, I would STILL say yes!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twelve (more) Gifts: #2 MERCY (in the form of a Candy Cane)

I looked at the clock as I backed out of the garage, and true panic set in. It was already ten minutes later than I’d planned to leave. But if I timed all my stops right, and lucked out with a good parking place, I could still make it to my final in time. I whipped around the corner and was racing down the hill when I saw the lights. Not red and green. Red and blue. I slammed on my brakes (while pretending to be inadvertently fiddling with the radio) and went nonchalantly by. Until the lights spun around and followed me.

I couldn’t believe it. Just a couple of blocks from my house I was being pulled over. Officer Henderson stepped up to the window and introduced himself, requesting my insurance and I.D. While he was back in the squad car doing whatever they do back in the squad car, I texted my husband: “I just got pulled over. If I wasn’t already late for my final, I definitely am now!” And then I sat there and squirmed while I waited impatiently for the officer to come back with my ticket. Hubby texted back: “You got pulled over?! (sad face) Did you get a ticket?”

I imagined all my stressed-out students sitting there wondering where their teacher was, and then imagined the cops getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of taking their sweet time, making sure I was extra EXTRA late in order to teach me a lesson. After what felt like several centuries, Officer Henderson stepped back up to the window. Visions of having to return our kids’ Christmas presents to pay for a speeding ticket danced in my head. Clumsily.

“Here’s your Driver’s License.” I thanked him. Possibly not very sincerely. “Now...going 16 miles over in a residential zone is not safe traveling. I’m giving you this...”

(If you’re not sitting down, I suggest you do so now.)

“I’m giving you this candy cane from the city police department as a reminder to slow down.” My jaw dropped. And then I laughed. “Really?”

“Yep. That’s it. Have a Merry Christmas.” Yeah. You too. Go figure.

I texted Jeff back: “They gave me a candy cane.” His response was "What?"

So it turned out I was about 15 minutes late for my final. But I had an AWESOME story to tell when I got there! --And no ticket.

I loved that gesture of mercy, during the season we most celebrate the true Giver of Mercy. A candy cane that let me off the hook. And the funny thing is, it made me want to extend that same kind of mercy to those around me. To give them the benefit of the doubt and a second chance. (I might even throw in a candy cane.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Twelve (more) Gifts: #1 VISION

Last night we had the rare and humbling opportunity to hear from Stephanie Nielsen, of the beloved Nie-Nie Dialogues (and the infamous plane crash).

And today I cannot stop thinking about this extraordinary person.

She gave every woman in the room the most remarkable gift, my first of the season: Vision.

She talked about how beautiful and amazing we are because we have skin. Skin.
I've actually never been very comfortable in my own skin. I've even found lots of reasons to complain about it (I'll spare you my litany of defects.) The bottom line is, the word grateful never comes to mind when I think of my skin. I've always felt instead like I got the short end of the stick in the Heredity lottery. Yet suddenly Nie-Nie had me marveling at the miracle that own soft, self-healing, waterproof, pliable, wearable skin.

Now ditto that whole paragraph and replace the word "skin" with Bodies. One of my favorite things she said in this gift of vision: "I am not my body." So true. Here we are defining ourselves by our bodies, when our innermost selves—our spirits—may not look anything like our physical bodies. I am not my body.

She talked about Choices. She said she chose to come to earth...and chose to come back after nearly dying. She said the choice and the offer that was given to her felt almost like a bishop's interview, and that it wasn't an easy choice. She was told there would be plenty for her to do on either side, but she thought of all the joyful things she'd miss -- her daughters' weddings, her sons going on missions, and she chose life. She chose to come back. It gave me a huge, larger-than-life appreciation for the chance to spend a series of days and years here on earth.

She talked about Angels. She talked about guardian angels she believes are assigned to her (and to each of us) -- she calls them her "team." She spoke especially of her departed grandmother helping her out of the plane, and remaining with her to this day. That resonated for me, and reminded me of similar experiences I've had...times when loved ones from the other side of the veil have come to comfort, heal, and support me through difficult times. Heaven is so much closer than we think.

She spoke of the Savior so knowingly and lovingly, with such certainty. I found it the perfect way to usher in the season celebrating his hear her testify so humbly about His role in her life, reminding us how important it is to involve Him in all of our decisions, in all of our trials, in celebrating our joys, every day of our lives. It felt truly sacred to be in the presence of one who knows Him so well.

When it was over, I looked right into her eyes and tears welled up in mine as I reached up to give her a hug, and told her candidly how beautiful she is. Her eyes are like crystal pools of light and love, carrying a depth of vision few of us will ever know, as do her words. I hope to hang onto that vision she gave us all Christmas long...and over a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Twelve More Gifts (by way of introduction)

I've been working on your Christmas present for weeks. Seriously.

It has nothing to do with super-cute wrapping ideas or crafting (because I suck at that). But Christmas is about gifts -- culminating, of course, in wise people bestowing precious offerings to the Lord, and God giving the whole world the Greatest Gift of All. So I've been reflecting on all the gifts I've given and received over the years and selected my absolute favorites. And I'm sharing them with you (you can also find last year's selections here).

Some salient patterns emerged as I pondered these favorite gifts. Amazingly, all of them can be shared, in one form or another. And none of them came from The Mall. The other amazing thing that surfaced in my present-ponderings was that I have far more than twelve favorites...complete with the stories to go with them. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. So, as my blog runneth over but my time runneth short, I'm limiting these to twelve. And maybe I'll save the rest for next year!

Here are my twelve favorite gifts, each one my gift to you.
I hope you open and treasure every one.