Monday, September 11, 2017

The Musings of a 34 Year Old

My 34th birthday weekend was full of unexpected surprises that left me feeling so much gratitude for my life and the people in it.  

Around the beginning of the summer, I decided to start training for a half marathon in Hawaii. Recently, however, I fell off my training program.  I was attempting to get back to running, unsure of whether or not I would actually run the race in October. Lisa and I went for a run on the Monday before my birthday.  She mentioned she was running the Big Cottonwood Canyon Revel half marathon on Saturday, the day before my birthday, and asked if I wanted to join her. If we signed up together, we would get a discount.  In a moment of impulsivity, I agreed, knowing that a) the race was 9 miles downhill and b) I was turning 34 the day after the race.  

We got gloves and emergency blankets to keep us warm in the canyon during the 1 hour wait before the race started.

My time was very slow (about 2 hours and 45 minutes), but I managed to run for the first 10 miles straight and walk/ran only during the last 3.1 miles. My goal was under 3 hours, so I was satisfied. I read something online the morning of the race (when I realized I had no idea what the heck I was doing and started googling "what to know about running a half marathon" at 4:00 a.m.) that said, "It's better to pass people at the end than at the beginning."  Because of that advice, I kept up a consistent, (very) slow pace the entire race, starting from the very first mile.  My students made fun of me when I told them it was mostly all downhill ("I could have rolled down, Ms. Houston!"), but it was still an amazing experience for me. It wasn't easy, and it required me to set goals and push myself. I listened to entire track of Hamilton for the first 9-10 miles and then switched to another playlist of upbeat music. Around mile 11, when the ground become level and things were getting increasingly tough, a song came on by Colbie Caillat that we used on the documentary we made of Anna's GBS.  When the song came on, tears sprang to my eyes as I thought to myself, "If Anna could learn to walk again, I can make it through these last 3 miles!"  And that helped me push forward.  A little later, when I had to stop and walk again, someone was holding a sign that said, "Touch here if you need power." It had a little star for runners to slap as they passed by. I thought those signs were dumb until I found myself in a situation where it was EXACTLY what I needed to give me the courage to keep trying.  

I was 20 minutes behind Lisa, but her sister Maddie was also running the race. She got ill at about mile 10 and had to walk most of the rest of the way.  Somehow, we found ourselves less than a quarter of a mile from the finish line side by side and we crossed together.  It was so cool!

Just prior to crossing the finish line, I saw one of my students there cheering for her older siblings!  This picture was seconds after I finished.
Maddie's second half and the first half for Lisa and me!

We did it for the swag!
    The next day was my birthday. I couldn't walk normally and I was losing my big toenail, but it was totally worth it.  

When I came downstairs in the morning on my way to leave for the tabernacle, flowers, a card, and a Harry Potter drink were sitting on the counter. My roommate has only lived in my home for 1 week and she has already blessed my life greatly!

For the choir broadcast, we sang one of my favorite pieces, "It is Well With My Soul," arranged by our director on the morning broadcast, I reflected how much the Lord has blessed me. I felt particularly emotional as I realized how happy my life has been, despite all the hardships, because of the love and support of my family, friends, and my Father in Heaven.

I decided to keep my birthday low key this year. Last year I did a big party and I decided I didn't want to plan anything this year, even though I've always loved getting people together on my birthday.  Quite honestly, 33 was a rough year for me.  It was also a year of immense personal growth, but it came at a cost, and I didn't feel up to planning anything.  I invited my sisters to come have dinner with me after church and Melissa Thorne invited me to her house afterwards for cookies and ice-cream with a couple of our choir teacher friends.

It was so touching to me to see my little sister Christina bring and prepare an entire meal and a cake while simultaneously taking care of her 9 month old (who is getting tubes in his ears Tuesday because of a continuous stream of ear infections) and her 3 year old (who is in the threenager stage of his sweet little life) while her husband is in China.  They came with me to church and one of my favorite parts of the day was getting to talk to Scotty during the Sacrament about Jesus while his mom was feeding Calvin. His parents have done an incredible job teaching him about our Savior- he knows so much!

My baby sister, Anna, was just called to be the relief society president in her ward. She is also dancing on the showcase BYU ballroom team and finishing up a busy final year of college while applying for grad school.  She drove up from BYU with her roommate to be there with me on my birthday.  Having my sisters there in the middle of their incredibly busy lives meant everything to me.

And little did I know, Anna was spearheading a surprise party with my beloved friends over the past couple weeks.  After we ate dinner, opened presents (I am now the proud owner of a power drill and lots of lovely jewelery- love the miracle of technology that allowed my mom to participate via facetime), and had (gluten free!) cake, Christina was determined to take Cal for a walk after dinner so Scotty could go play on the playground.  Anna was extra excited to help me pick out what I was going to wear to Melissa's house before we left.  I have to give it to my sisters for their incredible acting- I seriously had NO idea they had been planning anything right up until the very day of my birthday.  I even bought the whole "let's go on a walk thing" because Scotty really was bouncing off the walls and needed a place to release all his cute energy.  I cannot believe they (and my friends) kept it a secret for so long! 

When we came back from our brief walk, the house was decorated and there were treats on the table.  Melissa and Anna told everyone to bring their favorite GF treats, which was so characteristically thoughtful.  A group of people who I love so dearly were waiting in the kitchen and yelled, "Surprise!" as I walked in.  My friends introduced themselves to one another and shared some funny memories from our friendship and it was almost an out of body experience to listen and be a part of it. 

As I sit here and write this, it is beyond my comprehension.  I can't believe the sacrifices of my friends and family last night to show one person that she matters. Feeling like I matter has been a struggle for me my whole life; yet, there was no denying that each person gathered in my home last night loved and supported me. I couldn't have received a more precious gift.

I told my family I wanted accessories for my birthday, so I put on every single one that I got,  of course!
Let's talk real talk for a minute.  I mentioned this year has been hard. And it has. My faith has been put to the test.  Sometimes it felt like 2 steps forward and 1 step back as I tried to find my footing spiritually and emotionally.  It still feels that way sometimes.  But God has never left my side.  He has granted me peace beyond what I thought possible.  I am a changed person, this year in particular, because of Him.  He helped me shift my focus, something I never thought I could successfully do, and accept my life for everything that it is, not what it isn't.  And to accept me for what I am, and not what I am not.  I'm obviously not perfect at any of this, but I am so much happier even with the little progress I've made.  The gaping holes I saw where life didn't give me what I wanted are becoming completely obscured by the rich blessings I receive on a daily basis.  And the greatest of those blessings are the atonement of Jesus Christ and my family, followed closely by my friends.

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Preparing for Marriage

A good friend of mine was tasked with teaching the teenage girls at church a lesson on the importance of marriage. Like me, she is in her mid 30's and never been married.  She called and asked me to share my thoughts with her. It made me pause to consider what I might say if given a similar responsibility.

In the course of our conversation, she told me a teenage girl said to a friend of hers recently, "Just shoot me if I'm not married by the time I'm 30." It was startling to hear it said so starkly, but not all that surprising.  Though I probably never voiced it in quite that way, the teenage Katie thought life couldn't possibly hold any meaning post 30 without a husband and children.  I wouldn't even allow myself to consider the possibility of being alone.

When I was in my early twenties, I wasn't too concerned about being unmarried. I was a huge romantic. I constantly dreamed of the day I would fall in love; however, I knew many people in my faith married young, and I thought it wouldn't be too long before I joined the ranks when the right person came along. But as time passed and I entered my thirties, I noticed more and more of my non-LDS high school friends getting married and having children.  The rest of the world caught up and I didn't. Some of my friends even finished having all their children.  Their oldest kids started middle school.

Panic made it's way in to my every day life.  I realized I would never be a young mom. If I ever got to have kids, I'd be an old mom. And I couldn't change that- it was too late.  I started noticing that my body isn't what it used to be- sitting on the floor for long periods of time is a little harder.  My back and neck need constant attention.  I started to wonder if I could I physically handle the demands of motherhood if the opportunity ever presented itself.  My niece and nephews started growing up and I realized I could never provide them cousins their age. Each of these realizations chipped away at the dreams I had for my future.  I had no choice but to create a new reality.  And I realized I didn't want to live a life tainted by anxiety for my future.

So what would I say to a group of teenage girls about how to prepare for marriage?

1) Give it over to God

I had to lay all the fear, anxiety, pride, anger, sadness, and hopelessness surrounding my future at the feet of the Savior.  I decided to trust that if I lived a good life, He would not allow me to miss an opportunity.  That didn't mean that I would magically get exactly what I wanted.  But I gave myself permission to stop worrying about it, because I knew He would take care of me in the long run.  It took me a very, very long time to be ready to do this, and it was a conscious choice to which I committed.  Now, any time a worry about dating or marriage enters my mind, I say back to it, "Sorry, but I gave that over to God. I can't worry about that anymore."  This doesn't mean I've given up hope;  rather, I've given up fear.  I am attempting to accept the timing of the Lord and submit my will to Him.  I wish I did this when I was a young woman instead of 20 years later.  

2) Attend the temple regularly

When talking with my friend, I realized how important the temple is to me as a single woman. When I go to the temple, I help bring families together forever.  Even though I don't yet have a family of my own, I participate in work that allows husbands and wives and their children to have what I hope for someday. That is so valuable to me. I don't have to sit on the sidelines and watch. I get to be part of it.  In the temple, I can more clearly see my life from an eternal perspective. I know that this life isn't the beginning and end of my opportunities.  I feel God's love for me and know He is aware of me.  He knows so much more than I do- that comforts me greatly- and he's promised me blessings beyond comprehension.  If I learn to truly trust Him wholeheartedly, peace will permanently replace worry.  My trust in Him increases as I attend the temple.

3) Remember who you are

I fell into the trap many times of thinking those who married were more worthy of it than I was, more mature, better prepared, etc.  This caused me a lot of anguish.  I realized over time that this was a gross misconception on my part.  As a single woman, I am blessed with countless opportunities that many people will never have. Does that make me more worthy of those blessings? Absolutely not. We are all children of God navigating awkwardly through earth life, trying to make it back to Him.  We will all face challenges and be pushed to our limits.  Marriage isn't a final destination for people who have it all figured out. None of us have it figured out.  When I remember that I am a beloved daughter of God with divine potential, comparisons are completely irrelevant.

I write this as though I have been implementing these things for years.  In all honesty, I came to the majority of these realizations in the past couple weeks.  But I feel relief from many burdens I've been carrying around.  And that makes me hope that maybe, at almost 34, I'm starting to get the right idea.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Daniel of my Heart

Dearest Daniel,

I've been thinking about your 30th birthday a lot this week. The memories I have with you are some of the sweetest I possess. Selfishly, I want to indulge in a few of those in honor of your big day. This will be a bit of stream of consciousness- I want to put down in writing the memories as they come. It may not be a conventional way of doing it, but I don't feel like our friendship is conventional.
Here are 7 of the approximately 50 pictures we decided to take of ourselves one evening 7 years ago. We were babies. Well, you were. We thought we were soooo hot. We probably pretended like it was a joke, but really, we were trying to look dead sexy in those "serious" shots. I think we succeeded, don't you? 

How do you put in to words a unique, bizarre, and perfect friendship like ours? It had such a hilarious beginning. You invited me over for dinner- when I got there, you prepared salads. I wondered, "Who the heck invites someone over for dinner and then makes salads as the main course?!" You do. And I love that about you.

I remember when I figured out that almost all your friends call you Dan and I only ever knew you as Daniel. I was so mad. I felt like that meant we weren't real friends.

I was "so mad" a lot, wasn't I? And you would just laugh at me, with that eruption of laughter that is so entirely yours and always had the power to bring me back to life. It still does.

I vividly remember sitting in your car with our seats reclined in the parking lot of Millrace, just looking at the stars and talking. I remember that one time we belted, "Come What May" from Moulin Rouge at the top of our lungs.  Okay, fine, so maybe that was on a regular basis.

I've always counted on you to give it to me straight. As an old maid in my late 20's, my frequent complaints of, "I'm never going to get married" yielded responses from you such as, "Yeah, you're right. That may never happen. But that's okay." That was never the answer that I wanted, but it was the answer I needed. It was oddly comforting. It reminded me to get over it and be grateful for everything I had.

One time for one of my choir concerts, I was insanely stressed. I asked you to go buy me some makeup because I accidentally left mine at home and didn't have time to go get it. I still use that lipstick.

As I've grown older, many people have come and gone from my life. I remember when I first moved to Salt Lake. Whenever life pushed me to my personal limits and I knew I couldn't deal with it alone, my natural instinct was to call my mom and to call Daniel. All of my jumbled and irrational words and feelings are safe with you. "It's a quarter after one, I'm all alone and I need you now...."

I have always hated and adored your free spirit. I never know how long you're going to stay when we we get together. At any given (random) moment, it becomes time for you to leave. "Well, I'm going to take off now." But I know you will always come back.  I can always count on your unpredictability. If you've been someplace for too long, I start wondering what adventure is around the next corner.

Park City- you are the only person I know who insists on paying for ME when we are going out for YOUR birthday.  You always make up some lame excuse for why it's justified that you are paying for my dinner.  My memory is foggy- I hope I always won that battle, but I'm willing to bet the farm that I didn't.

 We used to walk together up and around the Provo temple all the time when we both lived in Millrace. During these walks, I was always 100% Katie Houston with absolutely no pretense or shame.  I spoke more openly than perhaps ever before.  That was one of the greatest gift you gave me. You helped me appreciate who I was.  With you, I was funny because you laughed at me a lot.  My life had direction because you constantly pointed out the merits of everything I was doing.  I felt like I was someone worth getting to know because you sought to get to know me.

Your passion for physical fitness and eating healthy inspires me, when it isn't bugging me because it's making me feel guilty.  Your fondness for your nieces and nephews (remember the Dorothy shoes?) touches my heart.  You always show interest in the lives of my family members, like inquiring after my sister's pregnancy status on a regular basis.  Your love for Luca Lily is perhaps one of the most darling things I've ever witnessed.   Her two sets of pearls...

When I first moved in to my new house, I got the stomach flu. I was so sick and so alone. I didn't know many people in my ward or neighborhood yet. There was no one I felt like I could ask to bring Popsicles and soup to someone highly contagious with a nasty bug.  Except for you. I knew you would you would never see it as a burden. I knew I could let you see me at my worst. You are one of the most service-oriented people I know. 

I have tried and tried to come up with some way to thank you for the garden.  I've written a few sentences, and then deleted them, putting it off until I could find something more powerful to say.  I wanted to pay tribute to you for it somehow, and let everyone know that angels walk among us on this earth. But I think it's always going to remain a sacred experience in my life that is too sweet to defile with the mortal tongue.  It was what I needed when I needed it and how I needed it.  It was a game changer for me.  I will never forget it.

In your 30 years of life, you have filled the world to overflowing with goodness and light.  You have an incredibly beautiful spirit.  Everyone who knows you is better because they do.  To quote an inspiring boy band, "God must have spent a little more time on you." I totally shouldn't end this tribute with an N*Sync lyric, but I'm totally going to.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

You know your music teacher needs a break when...

Yesterday was the last day of school before Thanksgiving break.  Classes were shortened slightly due to an assembly.  Many kids were absent (presumably because their families went out of town early for the holidays).  The day felt twice its length. The last period of the day felt like an eternity. 

In one of my piano classes, I have a trio of boys who have really tested my abilities as a classroom manager. To be honest, they have taught me a lot (but don't tell them that).  I've had to fight maintain composure when all I want to do is send them outside to reek wreak whatever havoc they want outside the confines of my classroom.

Yesterday, as the class was coming to an end, one of them said to me, "Are you going to miss us next year?"  My answer came immediately: "No."  Well, should I tell the truth or should I lie?  What's the moral thing to do, teachers?

But, feeling guilty for my blatant honesty, I made an addendum to my statement.  "I will miss the times when you guys have accomplished really good things and I won't miss the times when you have made my life miserable." I suppose I decided honesty WAS the best policy. 

As I think about these three amigos and what they've taught me, I have to smile.  One of the biggest challenges I've faced with them is their constant complaining that they are bored (which drives me crazy).  I've communicated with their parents throughout the year and one father suggested I let his son play a pop song.  Of course, my immediate reaction was annoyance because you have to learn the basics of how to play before you can play pop songs, and pop songs have rhythms that are too hard, and blah blah blah blah.  But I gave it a try, because I had nothing to lose.  Once that boy got a hold of the music and I explained a few new concepts to him (much beyond where we were as a class, but he listened intently), he took it and worked harder than he had all year.  Then, boy number 2 wanted to learn the same song. And then boy number three.  And by gum, they all learned it.  And they've heard the song on the radio a million times, so the fact that they didn't understand all the rhythms didn't matter, because they knew how it sounded.  But they still had to read the notes in order to make it happen, so it was a win-win.

So what is the moral of the story for me? Sometimes, I have to let go of control and do something counter-intuitive.  

Are things perfect? No. Do they leave their music home half the time, horse around constantly during class, and ask to go to the bathroom every single class period?  Sure do.  But they are not beyond hope, as I sometimes felt at the beginning of the year.  And are they growing on me?  Maybe just a little. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

To That Person

Being single has a lot of perks. I'll be the first to admit it. 

Naps? Daily. 
Traveling? Sounds great! When does the flight leave?
Dirty diapers? That's mom's job! I'll take play time.
New shoes? Sure, I've earned them! Now...should I get one pair or two?

But there are many irreplaceable things singles miss out on by being one instead of two.  Granted, not every couple has the kind of relationship I am about to describe.  But many do...I've witnessed it...and that's what I ultimately long for.

What I miss is "that person."  The person who is forever in your corner...on your team...the person who is rooting for you every day to have good experiences and be the best  you can be.  The first person you want to tell when you have a personal victory or a small disappointment.  The daily person.  The one you look forward to seeing.  The person who believes in you. And who thinks you're hot, even when you're not feeling your best.  The person who rejoices with you and agonizes with you.  You know...that one person.

I had a moment today where I wanted "that person" to talk to. So, since I don't know who he is yet,  I'll write it down now, just in case I forget.

Dear That Person,

Today in choir, the most amazing thing happened. I have a student who speaks very little English. As a result, she is very quiet in class.  She is also very tiny physically.  I doubt she breaks five feet.  Everyone in the class probably barely noticed her. Until today. We had our in-class performances and she got up and sang "Jar of Hearts" by Katy Perry. I had no idea what to expect and I was stunned.  The amount of sound that came from her small frame blew everyone away. The passion in her eyes was sincere. She was a true performer.  The entire class jumped to their feet with wild applause as she shyly finished and returned to her seat.  I almost cried.  I was overwhelmed by her personal triumph.  I was grateful for what she taught my class- not to judge someone based on their appearance or discount people because they are not like everyone else.  I felt so happy to be a teacher. I couldn't wait to share it with you! It's a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but I knew you'd think it was important. 

When I got to Language Arts class, however, I realized how many gaps I left in my teaching about argumentative essays. I haven't really set the kids up for success on the assignment they are working on now. I wish I could go back and start over, but it's a little too late for this particular unit.  I wish I prepared better, even though my prep time is so limited and always full of a million things for choir.  I hate disappointing the students, whether or not they realize I'm letting them down. ARG.  So this is the best job in the world. And it's also the most frustrating.

Thanks for listening...I needed that.

Your Person

Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer Reunions

One of the best things about summer is the gift of time.  There is time to breathe and spend time with people I don't see often.  Fortuitously,  summer is also when many families go on vacation. Because Utah is a central location for many of my friends who have family in the area, this summer has been full of opportunities to reconnect with many people I love!

 The first of June, Brie was in town for a wedding.  The four of us from Hampstead reunited for dinner at our usual location, Goodwood.  We lived together during the 2007-2008 school year and all graduated from BYU together! When we met, Brie and I were friends and Celeste and Angela were friends.  By the end of the year, we became very close! Brie and Angela even married two guys who were best friends.  They still get together with their spouses whenever they are in town! We are multiplying- there are four children between us and many more to come!

Kate's family moved to Arizona in June and passed through Provo on their way from Wyoming!  Melissa and I got to meet the darling twins for the first time!  It was a quick visit, but worth every second! We missed our Tessa May, but look forward to a reunion soon.  The four of us lived together in 2009 in the Millrace townhouses in Provo.  I knew Melissa from the music ed program at BYU.  Kate and I met our freshman year at BYU and we both met Tessa when we lived in Hampton court a few years later.  Destiny brought us all together for that blissful year!

When I lived in Millrace, I met someone who lived across the street who became one of my closest friends and confidants. His name is Daniel Sowards.  We take an annual trip to Park City to get a picture with the bear (and to celebrate birthdays!).  Whenever my heart is breaking over the difficulties life brings, Daniel always knows what to say.  I can call him, bawl for ten minutes, and then feel better.

When I entered the Music Ed program at BYU, these three ladies started at the same time. We became fast friends in Women's Chorus and enjoyed our friendship immensely as we worked to earn our degrees together. We even had a little notebook of funny stories we passed around between classes.  It was a blast! Right before my mission in 2005, we put on a recital together.  We sang "For Good" together at the end.  It was a wonderful experience. I left on my mission and the three of them graduated while I was gone.  When I came back, I did my pre-student teaching with Emily at Dixon Middle School.  When she had her first daughter and decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I was hired at Dixon.  I love and admire these women endlessly!

 When I was 6, Shilo came to live with my family for a summer as a nanny.  We became bosom friends! She was 18 years old and we were kindred spirits.  Even now, every time we get together, it's like there has been no passage of time.  We even served in the exact same mission in Brazil.  I've always looked up to her- I don't even know if she realizes how much! It was so wonderful to catch up with her and her sweet family.

When Tessa moved to Wyoming, Kate got married, and Melissa moved to Washington to get her master's degree, I stayed at Millrace and had the opportunity to party with these dear roommates!  I knew Sylvia from my mission and Krista and Kelsey were in the ward.  We had so much fun together. I miss those days! Sylvia was in town from Texas and we magically found a time to meet for dinner on just a couple days' notice.  I love being in their presence!

My first two years at Highland, Phaidra was the drama teacher. She is a kind, generous friend and she helped teach me the ropes at Highland!  I miss her now that we work at different schools. We met up this summer to see a former star of our HHS musicals in Twelfth Night at the U. She was playing a leading role as Viola and did an amazing job! Wish I could see Phaid more often.  Coincidentally, she is now the drama teacher at the school where Melissa teaches choir!

Dear Angela started teaching band and orchestra at HHS the same year I started teaching choir there. Even though we began together, I always looked to her as a mentor. She had lots of teaching experience and was extremely responsible. When she moved to Ohio, I realized I was going to have to learn how to function without her organizational skills! I leaned on her heavily the three years we worked together.  We also became great friends and I miss seeing her every day.  She and her husband were back in town celebrating their 4 year wedding anniversary in Park City where they were married.  We had a lovely lunch!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Short Story

The Maiden Flowers
By Katie Houston

Once upon a time, a little girl named Julia resided in a cottage with her family on the outskirts of a town that was part of a beautiful kingdom. The king and queen of the land were genuine, loving leaders.
Each year, the palace had a grand celebration honoring the calendar changing to a new year. It was called “The New Beginning.” Thousands of townspeople gathered outside the palace for the event.  The royal family selected one privileged young lady from each town in the kingdom to represent her village at the ceremony.  The chosen girl recited a speech about the blessings received during the passing year and offered one wish on behalf of her town for the New Year.  The New Beginning ceremony was the most anticipated event of the year and was treated with reverence and honor.  Countless hours were spent adorning the palace grounds with flowers of every color and variety that were picked from the famous royal gardens.    
In addition to the honor of presenting before the entire kingdom, the king and queen permitted the chosen young lady from each town to enter the gardens of the palace once a year and pick flowers for the table of her home.  The flowers from the royal gardens were rumored to bring a spirit of peace and contentment into the home of whomever possessed them.  No woman in the kingdom desired any greater gift than this. 
From the time she was a very small child, Julia dreamed of being chosen to represent her town in the prestigious ceremony.  As her childhood progressed, she and her friends spent many evenings imagining what it would be like. They sketched designs for fancy ball gowns they would wear for the occasion. They debated where in their homes they would place their first bouquet of flowers from the gardens of the palace.  They giggled as they practiced bowing and curtsying in all different manners for hours on end. 
One by one, starting at the age of ten years old, many of Julia’s friends were selected to represent their town in the New Beginning ceremony.  Every year, she noticed an increasing number of beautiful flower arrangements on the hearths and dining tables of her dearest friends.  At each ceremony, Julia happily watched her friends fulfill their shared dream; however, her heart tugged silently with longing for her chance.  But she did not lose hope.  She knew she was up to the task and her turn would come.  As the years passed, Julia practiced writing speeches and delivering them in front of her looking glass. She sought mentors to teach her grace and poise. She learned to weave intricate braids in her hair, which she painstakingly did every New Beginning ceremony, hoping to earn notice of the royal family.  She focused all her efforts on becoming worthy to complete the task of delivering the speech on behalf of her town.  But as each year came and went, Julia began to wonder if this job was really meant for her. 
After a time, Julia was determined not to dwell on the wave of disappointment that came when a new year began and she was not selected.  She began traveling from city to city, tutoring young children in reading and writing.  Though she still longed for a turn to represent her city at the annual celebration, she found purpose in looking outside herself.  She spent less time anticipating the ceremony every year and more time generating ideas to help the children she taught.  She hardly noticed any longer the changing of one year to the next.  There were no royal flowers adorning her table; yet, she felt contentment and peace in her home. 
Alas, there were many girls in the town and not enough New Beginning ceremonies before Julia’s youth ran out and the window of time to represent her town gently closed.  The leadership of the kingdom was eventually passed from the king and queen of her childhood to their son and his bride.  As the years passed, Julia grew to be an old woman with a rich and fulfilling life.  Though she was happy, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret each time she saw a bouquet of palace flowers in someone else’s home.  Despite her own contentment, she couldn’t help but wonder if her life could have amounted to something greater.
One day in late winter, there was a knock at the door.  A palace messenger delivered a letter requesting her presence before the king and queen.  Nervously, she embarked on the two-day trip to the palace, with questions lingering in her mind the entire journey.  Upon her arrival, Julia was immediately brought to an ornate hall trimmed with sapphires and emeralds.  Never before had Julia seen anything so lovely. At the end of the hall sat the king and queen of the land.  “Your majesties,” Julia said, as she carefully lowered her old, aching body to the ground.  To her surprise, she found herself enveloped in the hug of the queen who had risen from her throne and knelt beside the older woman.  “Julia, how long we have waited to meet you!” the queen cried.  “Me?” Julia replied incredulously.  “How do you know who I am?”
The king then spoke. “My parents often spoke of you and your contributions to our humble kingdom.” Julia was aghast.  “I did not think they knew who I was,” she replied.  “I was never chosen to represent the kingdom at the New Beginning celebration, nor have I performed any act of heroism to garner their attention.”  The king offered Julia a chair as he and the queen returned to their thrones.  “Julia,” he asked, looking in to her eyes, “Do you know the process by which the royal family selects the young woman each year to lead the New Beginning ceremony on behalf of her village?”  Julia paused for a moment before answering. “I always assumed the honor must go to the fairest, most poised and elegant young lady from each town.”
The queen then spoke.  “My dear Julia! Beauty, grace, and poise are certainly admired when presenting a speech before thousands, but they do not determine if someone is worthy for the task.  Allow me to explain the process of selection.
“When a young lady is born in the kingdom, her first teardrop is preserved and used to water a seed that is planted in her honor. The seed grows as the child does.  The plant is unique from all others because of the teardrop that waters it in its infancy. When the plant is full of flowers and ready to be picked, the young lady for whom it was planted is chosen to represent her town in the ceremony. Though all the flowers are carefully tended, they do not all grow at the same rate.”
“Julia,” said the king, continuing where his wife left off, “I took a particular interest in your plant many years ago as a child.  The stems were a deep shade of green that caught my attention one day while playing in the gardens.  Every day, I would come check on your little plant.  A couple times, little pink buds appeared, and it seemed as though your turn to deliver a speech at the New Beginning ceremony was fast approaching.  I would bring my mother and father to the gardens and excitedly show them the progress.  But then, shortly before selection, a storm would come and tear the buds from the stem.  I mourned the loss of the tiny buds and worried about the resilience of your little plant.  Miraculously, however, the buds reappeared brighter in color after each storm, eventually becoming a deep, magnificent red.  The stems grew thicker, making the plant more sturdy and capable of weathering the storms that came.”
“During the time the king and I began to court,” continued the queen, ”We took take daily strolls in the garden and observed the progress of the plants.  Together, we noticed something interesting about yours.
“The roots began to nourish the ground surrounding it.  The other plants drew strength from its roots and grew faster and fuller.  Plants that once struggled to bloom flourished.  By the time your plant was full of flowers, it was serving an important purpose.  We did not wish for it to be harvested just yet.”
The king rose and took Julia’s hands in his, prompting her to stand.  “Julia, the time has now come.  Your plant has fed those around it and given them strength to thrive on their own.  It is now ready to be picked.  We wish for you to represent not only your town, but our entire kingdom by giving the opening address in this year’s New Beginning ceremony.”  Julia sank down in her chair and shook her head sadly. “But I am too old now, your highness.  My voice is no longer strong and I cannot stand as tall as I once could.  I am not fit for such a royal honor. I will surely trip and fall or stumble over my words.” As Julia looked down at her weathered hands and began to cry silently, the queen left the room.  She returned shortly with a vase full of magnificent red flowers. “Here are flowers grown from the seed that was watered with your tear so many years ago. Take the flowers and place them in your hair on the day of the ceremony.  You will draw strength from their petals. They will sustain you and enable you to complete the task before you.” 
Julia could not speak.  She carefully took the vase extended toward her and slowly bowed before the king and queen.  Her knees felt strong beneath her as the rose again.
After many years of waiting, hoping, learning, and growing, the day of Julia’s New Beginning ceremony arrived.  She was dressed in an exquisite cream-colored gown decorated with pearls and a crown of deep red flowers fit snuggly atop her graying hair.  Julia felt courage emanating through her body, just as the queen promised.  She looked over the crowd from the balcony of the great palace hall and calmly began delivering her speech about the many blessings bestowed upon the land during the past year. When it came time to beseech the king and queen for one thing on behalf of the kingdom, Julia’s eyes panned the crowd before her.  “My wish,” she began, “is that every individual in our kingdom will trust in the timing of the harvest.  Though raging storms will come that appear to banish hope, we must remember that the ground, firm and steady, will yield fruit in time.” She reached for the crown on her head and tossed it out in to the crowd.  The wreath fell at the feet of a surprised young girl, no more than twelve years of age.  The young maiden picked it up and, grasping it in her hands, looked up towards the old woman standing on the balcony with wonder in her eyes.  “Someday,” she thought to herself, “that will be me.”