Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My November Valentine

Mt. Tamalpais - November 25, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Blessings of a World Turned Upside Down

I am so grateful for a loving Father in Heaven and constantly in awe of the ways He blesses our lives with what we most need to help us through whatever trials come our way. He sends us love, joy, comfort, smiles, laughter and tears... But most importantly, He sends us others to share it all with. (Facebook post, 11/20/2011)
I have been reading (or trying to read) the same novel for over 9 weeks now. Anyone that knows me at all can probably imagine that this minor detail – while comparatively insignificant in the lives of many others out there – is a huge indication that things haven’t exactly been normal in Jessi-land.

For months now I’ve been fighting an array of medical challenges that have led me to see a number of different medical experts. From recurring sinus infections, to chronic fatigue, to thrush and significant unexplained weight loss, each of these specialists have been looking at their own piece of the puzzle in an attempt to figure out what’s going on. I have been frustrated to the point of tears, exasperated to the point of laughing and hoping upon hope that they would find something - anything - so that I could start improving at least my mental well-being (I'm sure the fact that my job has been really rocky and that my social life has been non-existent have not helped). After weeks of blood work (I don't even want to count how many tubes), testing for anything from celiac to cystic fibrosis, my hematologist (running a routine test on my iron levels) called to let me know that my blood glucose levels were high. Crazy high. News to me: I am now diabetic.

During Testimony Meeting at church two days after my diagnosis, I was prompted to get up and share my testimony about the temple. I’d had the opportunity to be on the temple grounds in Oakland five of the eight days prior to my diagnosis, and on four of those days I was inside as either an ordinance worker or a patron. I can’t think of anywhere I could have been that would have better prepared me for the transition into my new life. I felt quite literally as if I was floating through the whole thing… and I’m not sure that the reality that usually rears an ugly head at some point ever will (although the oral meds they have me on for insulin regulation does really mean things to my already-messed-up digestive system). I know that much of this security and strength is coming through the faith and prayers of others, but I think in some ways even more significant is that a loving Heavenly Father provided me exactly what I needed at exactly the right time.

I found Frost again… and fell in love.

I love Robert Frost. I can’t think of many poets I could read over and over and still see things differently, but Frost is definitely at the top of that extremely short list. That first night after I was diagnosed, I pulled out his collected works and read… devoured. I discovered again through his words that it is only through our trials and pain that we have the ability to comprehend all that is good and beautiful. Several poems of his are still floating through my soul, kicking up memories and thoughts and impressions… helping me remember that it is only through knowing the emptiness that comes with solitude that we are able to eventually feel when that void is overflowing with joy.

One week before my life was turned upside down, the Oakland Temple was open late to accommodate several hundred young single adults (YSAs) in the region that were participating in a mini conference. The temple presidency contacted several YSAs that also serve as temple workers to come and assist during the extended hours. So I went. I was assigned to follow an endowment session with an old friend from high school and one of the YSA brothers on my regular Saturday temple shift. When my mom asked me the next day how the night had been, I told her that I had heard the sweetest prayer I’d ever heard offered during the session by this YSA brother.

That one simple prayer touched me in a way not many things ever have.

A few days later I received a “friend” request (still – and always will be – an awkward statement…) from someone whose name – Jason – I didn’t recognize immediately, but when I clicked on the profile I knew that it was that same brother from the temple. Although we’d worked on the same temple shift for over a year, smiling and waving when we passed each other in the halls of the temple, the first time we’d ever talked was briefly right after that session a few nights before. And he wanted to meet for lunch the following Saturday before our shift… which turned out to be the day after I found out about my diabetes.

That lunch with Jason was my first foray into the land of diabetic eating; a member of the temple presidency who was ordering lunch right behind me jokingly made comment about my ridiculously healthy selection of lentil soup with a side of steamed veggies. (I wanted to tell him what I’d eaten for lunch the day before… which would not have had anything to do with the lentils or veggies! I refrained.) Jason, however, was apparently not fazed by my new-found unintentionally health-nut ways… (which is probably more than I could have said for myself had I been in his shoes... “You seriously picked lentil soup over shepherd’s pie?!?!?”) And in that half an hour I was more comfortable talking to him than I’d ever been with many others I’d spent a whole lot more time around... even years.

Long story short (because, let’s be honest, if I give away all the details it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or suspenseful, right? Plus he’ll probably read this… so, uh… ;0)… we saw each other both Monday and Friday of the following week, and then last week we were together Tuesday, "Black" Friday (for an all-day adventure over on the coast), Saturday and Sunday… and I, for one, can’t seem to get enough. I told him on Friday that one of my favorite things about him is that he is totally fine just “being”… spending that time together, walking along the water front, in the mountains, on the beach, talking about whatever we have on our minds (another favorite part, since I’m not exactly known for my reserved nature). It’s just been an amazing two weeks! I’m excited to see where the road in front of me leads…

Since rediscovering Robert Frost, his poem On Being Idolized has been stuck in my head for days now. The speaker is standing on the beach, firm sand beneath his feet, watching as the surf drifts in wrapping seaweed around his legs. But as the water rushes out, the false-firm foundation is swept from under him, leaving him to fall if he did not take the steps necessary to prevent it. I’ve spent the last 10 months working with the Primary kids at church, so it’s not a far stretch for this to make me think of The Wise Man & the Foolish Man song the kids learned this year… and the parable that it’s based on.

I’ve thought long and hard about how that foundation we build ourselves on truly determines whether or not we dance through the storms that come, but sometimes I wonder whether it’s sand or stone I feel beneath my feet. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but I know that the miracle of the gospel is that sometimes what feels like having the sand undermined by the storm is really a way of getting us to the rock foundation. Sometimes those steps we are forced to take to keep from falling are the ones that ensure our feet end up where they need to be to receive the blessings meant for us. But even better is that when we feel that sand washing away to expose the stone beneath it, during that second of stumbling, of wondering if you’re really going to pull through or not, that’s when the Lord sends someone to catch you.

And Jason caught me.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Runaway Weekend

One of my best buddies from college got married a few weeks ago and he had an Open House up in Oregon this last weekend. I decided it had been way too long since I'd had my own weekend getaway, so I serviced my car, loaded her up and took off first thing Saturday morning.

Here are some of my weekend's highlights:
  • Listening to Jennie Hansen's book "If I Should Die" on CD
  • Spending over 10 hours driving through coniferous forests
  • Not losing any more hubcaps (I lost one two days before I left...)
  • Counting the number of hitchhikers between Redding, CA and Eugene, OR (i.e. a lot!)
  • King-sized bed, all to my self
  • Not getting completely lost in downtown Eugene
  • Losing 1 pound while sitting idly in my car constantly munching for 18 hours (did not know this was humanly possible...)
  • Visiting Kohls, Target and Cabelas without buying anything (again... didn't know this was possible...)
  • Tots and Sippies
  • Listening to Betsy Brannon Green's book "Murder by the Book" on CD
  • Acknowledging that it really does rain constantly in Oregon...
  • Seeing Mount Shasta crowned with clouds and dressed in snow... twice
  • Watching two golden eagles romp and play in some trees on the side of the interstate
  • Being startled by a large goat/sheep/thing (easily 3.5-4 feet tall with 18-24 inch horns) riding in the back of a pick-up truck like a dog
And of course the best parts were:
  • Seeing my happily married friend and getting to meet his adorable new wife and some of his family
  • Returning home with a deeper appreciation of my own cozy bed and quiet evenings with my amazing parents

Monday, March 28, 2011

Don't Forget to Look Up

Quite possibly one of the most interesting paradoxes in my life is that I love to drive, but I hate commuting. There is something about the humdrum 20.3 miles - taking anywhere between 25 minutes and an hour and a half - that has me arriving at work each morning slightly comatose, fuzz-brained and desperate to remember exactly how I got there.

However, on a free day, I love nothing more than to get in my car and "go crazy" (as we call it in my family) - driving wherever the road and my heart take me... which is often to the coast where I can devour the atmosphere of the beach, the mountain top and the dense redwood forest, all within less than 5 lateral miles. And it is not always getting out of my car to enjoy the sights that I relish the most, but simply the drive - windows down, deep breaths, winding roads and amazing vistas.

From the time my sisters and I were very small, we were taught by our parents - in part, I think to keep car-sickness from developing - to look out the windows, watch our surroundings and point out the notable things we see. Now significantly older, we still enjoy a good game of "car bingo" and pointing out the wild flora and fauna that we pass along the road (much to the consternation of some of our friends).

Just two days ago, on my way in to the Oakland Temple, I was watching the hills as I drove through a valley and spotted several small groups of deer and a flock of close to 20 wild turkey. It made me wonder how many of my fellow drivers notice the prolific wildlife that surrounds us, the green of the hills that all this rain has allowed to linger a bit longer than years past or how breath-taking this little valley was, shrouded in mist with the occasional shaft of brilliant light finding its way to earth. It was a moment of peace for me, in the middle of thrumming suburbia. And a few days before that, I arrived at home and asked my parents if they wanted to go and see if we could find the two turkey toms I passed not long before I got home. We found them, both over three feet tall, grazing in the grass outside an office building a few miles away. A few brief moments, a few extra minutes in the car, all for a new exciting memory.

I've realized that in my monotonous weekday morning drives, instead of falling back to the wide-eyed wonder of that once-small child within, I gaze in ambivalence at the gently rounded rear of the vehicle in front of me, apparently trapped in a world of the unexceptional...

I forget to look up.
What moments am I missing?

The times when I am reminded to raise my eyes, usually on my way home, I have noticed a world that was quite unlike the world I thought I drove through
roughly 10 hours earlier. I once came around a bend in the freeway and was briefly blinded by a hill covered from foot to crown in millions of sunlit mustard blooms - a meadow I have driven past hundreds of times and never seen. On another stretch, I noticed a seemingly unlandscaped hill covered in yellow narcissus flowers - a sight my mom (having driven down to visit me for lunch) noticed instantly. When I lived in Utah, I would see the mountains, snow covered and reflecting every color of the sunset. I would see breaches in the inversion, streaming rays through to light up one small community in the valley. And once I saw a bald eagle lift off the edge of a small pond, right off the freeway in American Fork, sprinkled by flitting rays of sunlight.

These moments have become precious to me, moments when I choose to open my eyes and truly see, instead of sitting glassy-eyed waiting for the car in front of me to inch forward. I need to remember more often how quickly one small glimpse at this beautiful world we've been given can change the entire course of my day... To remember that good things, even great things, can be seen, heard and felt when I choose to raise my eyes and take in everything I see before me.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just a Smidgen of Spring...

This picture doesn't even begin to do them justice, but those glowing green hills just make me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Reads

The Heretic Queen (Michelle Moran)*
Voice in the Night (C. Paul Andersen)
Deception (Sian Ann Bessey)
The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan) - Percy Jackson & the Olympians Book 1
The Anatomy of Peace (The Arbinger Institute)*
She Said Yes (Misty Bernall)
The Heart Only Knows (Kerry Blair)
Hearts in Hiding (Betsy Brannon Green)
Perfect Shot (Sonia O'Brien)
Winter's Promise (Janene Wolsey Baadsgaard)
All I Hold Dear (Jennie Hansen)
The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)*
A Train to Potevka (Mike Ramsdell)
The Ruins of Gorlan (John Flanagan)*
Perfect Timing (Michele Ashman Bell)
Dangerous Games (Keith Morris)
Danger Trail (Boyd Richardson)
Divine Justice (David Baldacci)
Stone Cold (David Baldacci)
Edge of Night (Carol Warburton)
Eyes of a Stranger (Carol Warburton)
The Operative (Willard Boyd Gardner)
My Gal Sunday (Mary Higgins Clark)
First Love, Second Chances (Anita Stansfield)
First Love & Forever (Anita Stansfield)
Sam (Jack Weyland)
Charly (Jack Weyland)
Just Take My Heart (Mary Higgins Clark)
The Reluctant Heiress (Eva Ibbotson)
It Only Takes a Moment (Mary Jane Clark)
Mattimeo (Brian Jacques)
Mossflower (Brian Jacques)
The Christmas List (Richard Paul Evans)
The Message (Lance Richardson)
Journey to the River Sea (Eva Ibbotson)
Island of the Aunts (Eva Ibbotson)
Dial-a-Ghost (Eva Ibbotson)
A Bend in the Road (Nicholas Sparks)
Aurelia (Anne Osterlund)
The Secret of Platform 13 (Eva Ibbotson)
Not Just a Witch (Eva Ibbotson)
Which Witch? (Eva Ibbotson)
The Great Ghost Rescue (Eva Ibbotson)
A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy) ... yup, still plugging away...

* CV I R.S. Book Club books...