Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I Need a Shower!

Saturday was Sylvia's bridal shower and I really needed that. Being with my old roommates was so therapeutic. We spent almost the whole day together preparing for the shower, talking on the couches before and after the shower, having the shower itself, and going to dinner together that evening. We are all in similar places in our lives (well, except for Sylvia I suppose, but she was there up until recently). With the exception of two guests (one being Sylvia's mother), all of us at the shower were single women in our mid to late twenties (some later twenties than others :-)). It felt marvelous not to feel quite so alone, as I find myself feeling that way sometimes. Bridal showers can often feel depressing, but this one didn't. It was truly a celebration of a dear friend finding love who has faithfully waited a long time for it. It was hopeful.

The decor

The spread

The bride-to-be

The party planners/former roomies

The good times!

I didn't bring my camera, dang it, but Krista was so kind as to lend me her camera and then email me pics so I could have the memories. Thanks, Krista!

*Parabens, minha amiga querida Sylvia! Seja tanto feliz quanto voce e agora para sempre!

*It's rusty, I know...I'm embarrassed because two of my Brazilian mission companions read my blog. But Sylvia and I served our missions together so I had to write it anyway, errors and all!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Flour Nightmares

Last night, I dreamed I was invited to be part of a taste-testing something or other (I'm not sure exactly what was going on). I was led into a room with some of my friends and, sitting on a giant square table, were bowls full of big, fluffy, lemon poppy seed cakes. I initially remembered I couldn't have any because I can't have wheat flour, but eventually I forgot and took a bite. Once I realized what I'd done, I looked frantically around for something to spit it out in to and offended whoever it was who made the cakes. I sputtered a response with my mouth still full.

Later, the cakes turned in to doughnuts. Not sure how that happened. I again forgot myself and had a bite of a glazed one, only to remember I couldn't have any. Only this time, I'd already swallowed. I think transitioning into this new lifestyle is subconsciously traumatizing me.

In other news, this is what I did at work today:

Surprised? Especially coming from me? Well get ready for this: I was the referee! Just kidding. Actually, our basketball team played in the semi-finals during school hours and the whole school came to watch.

Now, the sports world is a whole new one for me. As some of you know, my family isn't really the organized team sports type. We've always been much more involved in the arts--singing, dancing, acting, writing, etc. My dad never watched sports on T.V. when we were growing up. He was all about doing individual outdoorsy sports like rock climbing, scuba diving, hang gliding, etc. Consequently, the fascination with sports and the huge role they play in the lives of many is very new to me, and something I'm learning more and more about.

My entire high school was bussed to the game, free of charge to the kids, so they could support the team. The teachers were required to come along to supervise. I didn't teach a single class today. And we only found out about this less than a week ago, so all plans I had for the day were shot without much warning. I wouldn't have minded so much if it weren't for the fact that I have a festival tomorrow and needed to prepare my younger kids. My mind was totally and completely scrambled over the fact that this was even legal, much less condoned! But it was considered a school-wide field trip and everyone had a blast. I even found myself biting my nails at the end of the fourth quarter because it was so close. We ended up losing by 3 points, but they fought hard. It was a good show.

What made it even more amusing was the fact that we played the high school where all my middle school students now go. Countless of them were at the game rooting for their team. For some reason, I had this vision of me going over to say hello and them bounding toward me with their arms outstretched, overjoyed to see their long lost choir teacher from 8th grade.


I realized really fast that teenagers aren't super in to reuniting with their old teachers from middle school, especially ones who are now teaching at the rival school. They couldn't have cared less when I dropped by to say hello. I made a quick exit when I realized they had no desire to carry on any sort of conversation. As I was hurrying back to my side, I saw one former student who seemed genuinely excited to run into me, but that was about it. The whole thing bothered me a lot more than it should have, but after I put myself into their shoes, I realized I would have done the exact same thing at their age. For them, 2 years ago feels like ten years ago. For me, it seems like only yesterday they were my students.

Sunrise, sunset.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Beginning of a Gluten Free Life

So, I am on day three of take two of a gluten free lifestyle. Some of you may recall a year and a half ago when my blood tested "weakly" positive for celiac's disease. I was told to try the diet by the gastroenterologist to see if that was the cause of my problems. I got about one month into it, became frustrated, decided it had nothing to do with my stomach pains, and canceled my follow-up appointment. Real mature, right? Needless to say, the sporadic abdominal pains continued and a recent week long episode of pain led me to make an appointment again. So here I am, one endoscopy later, with the diagnosis confirmed.

One blessing from the first attempt at a gluten free diet is that I stopped buying bread. I really have never gotten back into the habit since then. I still eat bread when I'm out, but I haven't been buying it as a general rule.

My biggest concern about all of this is that I have a huge aversion to cooking. I'm not sure why. It really intimidates me. And now, being gluten free will require me to be creative or else be really bored with food. Also, celiac's disease is genetic and the likelihood of my future children having it is higher. If that happens, I want to provide healthy but good food for my children so they don't feel like they are missing out on what the rest of the world is eating. It's easier as an adult to comprehend food restrictions I think.

I am REALLY happy, however, to know that there is a reason for my constant fatigue. With celiac's disease, wheat, rye, and barley damage the walls of the small intestine, making it impossible for certain essential nutrients to be absorbed. Therefore, fatigue is a common symptom for those with the disease. For the past few years, I have been exhausted daily, despite getting 8 hours of sleep at night. I get home and take 2 hour naps in order to be alert for the evening hours. Then, I still drop in bed and fall asleep within minutes as early as 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. Now I know I'm not totally lazy on purpose. The fact that I need to sleep so much has really bothered me and made me feel guilty for a long time. After a few months on the gluten free diet, I think I'll see my energy increasing.

So why not just ignore the diet? I've been eating wheat with the disease for at least a few years now and I haven't been hospitalized. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but not eating chocolate chip cookies is really hard for me, people. Well, the thing that scares me the most is that not going on the diet and allowing the intestine to remain damaged increases the risk of infertility, low birth weight babies, and miscarriage. I don't ever want to consciously jeopordize my chances of having children. That sobered me up real fast after I got the diagnosis for the second time. And I have stopped eating wheat cold turkey since then.

So, I know I'm no cook, but here is my first gluten free cooking moment I can share. I needed to make a dessert for a dinner I'm going to today and I have zero gluten free baking ingredients in my house. So, I decided I'd just make a regular dessert and not eat any. I found a (really easy) recipe online for a white cake with chocolate pudding. Bake the cake, poke holes in it with the end of a wooden spoon, and pour the chocolate pudding (mixed with a little powdered sugar) down the holes. Frost the cake with the rest of the pudding. I was pretty bummed I wouldn't be able to eat any of it with my friends, but then I did a little research and realized the chocolate pudding is gluten free. I set aside a little tupperware of the pudding for myself to eat at dessert tonight. I have a serious sweet tooth and not eating dessert with everyone else would be a challenge. This way, I could still provide dessert for people who are not gluten intolerant and eat a part of it myself. I didn't have to prepare two separate desserts. See? I'm learning!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Not Just Any Day

...although it started out like one.

(Names have been changed except for mine. Italics are side notes that were not actually part of the conversation.)

The bell rings for class to begin.

Ms. Houston: Okay, choir, daily story time! (It's first period. I always tell this class random stories. It helps make the transition into starting another school day easier). Only this one is not about dating. It's a medical story.
Michael: You fell in love with your DOCTOR?!
Ms. Houston: I told you, it's not a dating story! So remember last week when you had a substitute because I had to get an endoscopy? (At the hospital they knock you out with something other than anesthesia and put a camera down your throat to look at your small intestine.)
Students: Yes...?
Ms. Houston: Well, they were testing for two things: Celiac's disease and H. Pylori. I had it done a week ago and hadn't heard anything back. I figured I'd just wait until my appointment this coming Monday with the doctor because I wasn't in any big hurry to find out the results. Well, yesterday I was hanging out with my friend and I noticed I had a missed call. When I listened to the message, this is what it said. "Hi, my name is Jennifer Smith and I'm a dietician with Intermountain Healthcare. Your doctor asked me to call you because she thought you may want to schedule an appointment with me to talk about living a gluten free lifestyle."
Max, whose mom has celiac's: Oh, that sucks!! You can't eat anything!!
Ms. Houston: I know, right? I hadn't even been told I tested positive for Celiac's disease and I had to hear it from some diectician. Isn't that so lame?
Students: Yes!
Ms. Houston: If any of you become doctors, promise me you won't ever break the news to your patients like that!
Melissa: You're going to be so healthy! You're going to look like a model! ( does this mean I don't already...?)

Later during the class period.

Ms. Houston: Sarah, are you going to participate with us? (We were working on choreography for a number for our upcoming concert).
Sarah: No. (I noticed she had been rubbing her back)
Ms. Houston: Did you pull a muscle?
Sarah: (Her face looked pained) I don't know what it is!
Ms. Houston: Okay. (I let her sit out for the dancing)

Right when the bell rings for class to get out.

Sarah: Can I use your office to make a phone call to my dad?
Ms. Houston: Sure, go ahead. (At this point, my students for the next class period are coming in. The bell rings for class to begin and I go back in my office for a second).
Sarah: (She's on the ground with her back against the wall. Her voice is panicked). Ms. Houston, I can't feel my legs.
Ms. Houston: I'm going to call the main office.
Sarah: No, don't! I'll be fine.
Ms. Houston: I'm just going to see if they have someone in the building who is medically certified who can come help you.

At this point, Sarah is lying on the ground and starting to moan. I call the main office and explain what's happening. As I'm doing so, Sarah starts gasping and writhing in pain. The receptionist in the office tells me she's sending someone down to determine whether or not an ambulance needs to come. I pick up the cell phone my student has dropped and text her dad who she had just finished texting. I wrote, "This is Sarah's teacher. This may be an emergency." The principal and a fellow teacher come in, along with a couple other people. I find out that this teacher who works across the hall from me is a registered nurse. Sarah is in excruciating pain at this point. She's retching as though she is going to throw up. She grabs my hand and grips it like a vice. The teacher starts touching my student's back and side and asking if it hurts to touch. Sarah gives a little yelp when the teacher hits the place that's hurting. We start speculating as to the diagnosis. Appendicitis? The principal, upon assessing the situation, decides to call an ambulance. The nurse leaves to speak to the medical personnel on the phone about what she has observed. Sarah can only let out a couple words: "My dad, my dad." She is gripping my hands so tightly and starts to put her arms around my neck and pull me close to her, as though she needs someone to hold her because it hurts so bad. In the meantime, someone has gotten my students out of the classroom. I don't know how long it took the ambulance to get there, but it truly felt like an eternity. I was thinking, "Aren't ambulances supposed to be really fast?" The principal talks to my student's father on the phone while I sit with Sarah, holding her hands. The writhing and retching has not let up for one second. When the medical personnel arrive, they take her blood pressure and load her on to a stretcher. They think she may be passing a kidney stone. Sarah won't let go of my hand and starts frantically grabbing for my hair and face and whatever she can to communicate that she didn't want me to leave. I was the only familiar face surrounding her and she is terrified. We walk out to the ambulance and she is loaded into the car. All the while, I'm trying to say anything that I think will comfort her. I have no idea what to say. "You're so strong. I know it hurts but they are going to make it better. It's going to suck here for a little while longer but you're going to be okay. These are the right people to take care of you. Your dad is going to meet you there." I have to let go as they put her in the back of the ambulance. She points towards me from inside the ambulance as if to say, "Don't leave." But I have to let her go.

I slowly walked back into my empty classroom and into my office. My legs were shaking. They were wobbly for an hour after it happened. I dropped to my knees. I needed a few minutes alone before going back to my questioning students.

The day resumed just like any other day. I was more distracted than usual and kept waiting to hear what happened, but it was amazing how everything went right back to it's usual pace. I knew I didn't have a right to ask exactly what had happened. I'm only the teacher, not the parent.

At this point, I know my student is okay (she called to say she was on her way home from the hospital) but still have no idea what caused such sudden and intense pain. I don't know what this means for her future. I may never know. It isn't my business. But I did learn what it's like to be a child's default lifeline in a moment of intense fear. Her parents weren't there and, as her teacher, I was the only one of all the faces staring down at her that she knew and trusted. So she needed me by her side. I couldn't leave her. I wouldn't leave her.

Being a teacher means so much more than teaching facts and formulas. I'm starting to realize that more than ever before. It's definitely more than I bargained for, but I am grateful for it. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think it's the next best thing to being a mom. I am so fortunate to get to experience that since I don't have children of my own.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Time Flies...

Stephen is one lucky child to have a mom like Shelley.

(And I think his mother counts herself pretty dang lucky to have this precious baby boy!)

I sure wish we lived closer to one another.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Great minds...dress...alike?

Or so I'd like to believe. Look how the drama teacher and I showed up to work the other day. Excuse the AWFUL picture...Phaidra was eating and I was trying to get my student to take the picture on my phone from a more flattering angle (she was sitting down the first time...a serious faux pas!!).

In other news, my friend Angela (the band teacher) had two mouses get snapped in traps set in her office in a 30 minute time frame yesterday. We have been sharing mice for a couple weeks who run under the doors of both of our offices and leave little reminders of their presence all over our desks. Truly disgusting. Bugs and spiders...don't bother me a bit. Mice give me the serious creeps.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Day 14: The Love of a Parent

In my experience, the greatest love I have ever known has been the love of my parents. I like to believe that someday I will feel a love that is different, yet equally powerful, from my spouse. But so far, nothing rivals the love they have shown me throughout my life.

Whenever I am sad, all I want is to lay my head in my mom's lap and have her stroke my hair. Whenever I am confused, my greatest desire is to go on a long walk with my dad and talk through all of my concerns and fears.

Over the past 14 days, I have collected data about what love is to me. Below is my very own definition of love based on what I've learned in the past two weeks. As I go down the list of everything I believe about love, point by point, I notice my parents meet every single criterion in the way they have shown love to me my entire life.

1) Love doesn't expect anything in return.
2) Love is persistent. It doesn't give up.
3) Love "looketh on the heart" and sees the beauty within.
4) Love is listening.
5) Love is speaking in the language one understands best.
6) Love is caring for another person's well-being.
7) Love is comfortable.
8) To love someone is to serve them.
9) Love is helping someone be the very best they can be.
10) To love someone is to trust them.
11) Love is in the details.
12) Love is working together.
13) Love is being in close proximity.
14) Love is laughing together.
15) Love is rooting for each other.
16) Love is celebrating together.
17) Love doesn't require answers.
18) Love is praying with and for each other.
19) Love knows no bounds.

I'm saving number 20 for the end of this post because it's extra special. Best for last.

How many times have my parents sacrificed for me without expecting a thing back? I think of all the piano lessons, the rides to and from school, the birthday parties, the family vacations, the clothes, the delicious family dinners, the list goes on and on. I didn't do anything to "deserve" those kindnesses except just EXIST. My parents did all of those things out of a selfless love that didn't expect any kind of reciprocation, even though I try to thank them as best I can. But I can never come close to giving back to them what they have given to me. It's like our relationship with Heavenly Father:

Mosiah 2:21
  • 21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

I believe that parenthood is the closiest thing to Godliness that exists in our mortal sphere.

This post is particularly difficult to write because there is no way to adequately illustrate all the millions of ways my parents have shown love to me. I could give two hundred examples for each of the 19 points about love. I will share just one for each parent that particularly stand out in my memory. It feels like a meager offering, but I hope to spend the rest of my life continuing to let them know how their love has changed me.

When I was on my mission, my mother didn't miss a week writing to me. I know this seems like a simple thing, but I needed those letters and I ALWAYS knew I could count on them. That's one word that comes to mind when I think of my mother: 100% dependable. I should add that to my list. Love is something you can count on. I wouldn't have made it through my mission without her support. Her letters were always positive and loving. I could tell she diligently read and cared about every word I wrote back, even though missionary letters can sometimes get a little long and start sounding the same :-). But to my mom, they were precious.

My dad was my personal math tutor growing up. When I would come to him for help, if he didn't know the answer, he would sit for an hour and figure it out so he could explain it to me. I have always been slightly dramatic; consequently, these math sessions were often characterized by me bawling, insisting he was wrong, complaining, probably rolling around on the floor, getting mad that he was always right, etc. I bet these little tutoring sessions were torturous for my dad. But he NEVER let it show. My dad was the picture of patience and love. He never raised his voice. He guided me through every catastrophe, even though I certainly didn't deserve it with the way I was acting. Again, in these moments his love expected nothing in return.

Mom and Dad, your love is perfect. I want to love like you do some day. Just as I have never felt anything so strong as your love, I have never loved anyone as strongly as I love both of you. You motivate me to be the very best person I can be. You give me the strength to believe in myself and never give up on very fondest dreams because YOU believe in me.

And now, without further ado, here is the final thing I have learned about love. Special thanks to Brad and Celeste for their stroke of genius on this final point.

20) Love S.U.C.K.S.

S- Selfless
U- Understanding
C- Caring
K- Kind
S- Steady

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Day 13: My Love for Ella

In my concert choir, my students are singing an acapella jazz arrangement of, "All the Things You Are." This is one of my all-time favorite songs. The lyrics are poetic but brief and cut to the core.

You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.
Some day my happy arms will hold you,
And some day I'll know that moment divine,
When all the things you are, are mine!

Today, I had the students do a fill in the blank activity mirroring the format of this song. I told them they all needed to pick a subject for the lyrics they would write. It could be a person or a thing. The words didn't need to rhyme. I decided to do an example for them on the board to get them thinking. I thought for a few moments about something or someone that I love so deeply that I could write a song about him/her/it. And guess who came to mind?

One of the first things Ella taught me about love is that love doesn't need to be reciprocated for it to be real. I loved Ella so much before she even made her earthly appearance. I loved her deeply for the 6 months after she was born before I got to meet her face to face. Before she ever knew who I was, I loved her.

Another vital thing Ella has taught me about love is what I wrote in my class example above: Love is boundless. When you get a new little person in your life, love knows no heigths or depths. I can only imagine what parenthood must be like. Whatever capacity you thought you had for love doubles or triples.

There is another song lyric that comes to mind when I think about my sweet Ella Carina: "Every little thing she does is magic." Any time we get a new picture or video of the baby from Joe and Shana, I have to call my mom and talk about how cute she is, how smart she is, and how much I love her. I feel like I'll burst otherwise!

Love only gets richer and sweeter when it is reciprocated. Ella is just now beginning to recognize me, mostly as the crazy aunt who shakes her head around a lot to make her laugh. It is so fun.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Day 12: The Love of All of You

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about my mom and dad. They get to be last because they are the two mortal people who have loved me the very most in this life.

This is a particularly important post for me because it's also a thank you. I never got a chance to tell you how much your love meant to me during a particularly difficult time in my life. And I know that the majority of people who read my blog deserve to hear how much your love sustained and strengthened me when I needed it more than anything.

When my engagement ended, it was 4 weeks to the day before we were supposed to get married. I had already been given two exquisitely beautiful bridal showers. My Utah friends and former roommates threw one in Utah. So many members of my family came great distances to be there. Sister Green and several ladies from my home ward threw me another shower in Santa Barbara. My sister was mostly in charge of one of those showers but I can't remember which one. I will never forget how much love I felt at both those events. These women who I admire so deeply used their time and resources to put on the classiest showers I had ever been to in order to show me how much they loved me. They centered them around my wedding theme, which was red berries. As if throwing the showers wasn't enough to show me how much they cared, what happened after the engagement at the hand of these women was beyond anything I would have ever imagined.

The break-up was a very difficult time for not just me but my parents and siblings as well. It was difficult for them to see me going through so much pain. There were lots of loose ends that needed to be tied up that were very difficult for all of us. First of all, cards needed to be sent to let all my guests know that the wedding would not be taking place. The relief society sisters in my home ward stepped in and took care of that so my mom wouldn't have to go through that process. They ordered the cards and addressed and mailed them to every single person I had sent an invitation to. That was a reflection not just of their love for me but of their love for my mother who has been there for them and their kids during difficult times.

I had also been given some incredibly generous gifts at these showers to begin my married life. Many of the same women who threw me the Santa Barbara shower were the ones to hand deliver those gifts back to each and every one of the women who had given them to me. That can't have been convenient. But I know how hard it would have been for me or my family to have to do it and face all the questions. I was completely bowled over by how many people requested that I keep the gifts they had given. That is not something I would have EVER expected from anyone. When I look around my kitchen 3 and a half years later, almost everything I use are things friends asked me to keep. It would have been SO EASY for everyone to say, "She should have figured things out with this guy a lot sooner than now" and grumble about the inconvenience. They could have spent their time speculating about why we couldn't go through with our marriage. But, no questions asked, they loved me enough to trust that this was for the best and support me 110%. All of these things happened while I was in Utah. I didn't have to ask anyone to help me out. It was already done before I even knew what was happening.

In my Utah world, my friends there were just as supportive. The night I came home after my fiance and I had said our final goodbyes, I was completely devastated. I remember Kate coming over with flowers and a look of deep pain etched on her face. I could see that my suffering was hurting my friends. That was incredibly humbling. My roommates Angela, Brie, Celeste and Kate and I went into my bedroom while I laid on the floor and cried. And then one of the tenderest moments of my life happened. I remember them asking me if I wanted them to pray with me. We all knelt in a circle and Angela said a prayer. She cried. It brings tears to my eyes remembering the love that was in that room. The next day, Violet and my roommates gave me an amazing gift. They set up a "spa getaway" in my parents condo. They lit candles everywhere. They ran me a hot bath. They gave me a pedicure. They rented movies, ordered pizza, and bought ice-cream. And they all stayed with me. I feel emotional recalling these events not because of the pain I felt at the time but because of what a demonstration of love that was. They dropped everything to rescue me when I was in despair. I think they all spent the night there and the next morning, Brie and Celeste returned my cell phone to my former fiance because I couldn't do it.

Most of us have heard the story of the footprints in the sand. Where there is only one set of footprints, that is where the Lord carried us. I firmly believe that because the Lord can't physically take us in His arms when we are desperate for His love, he sends angels to minister. My friends and family were those angels who were the arms of the Lord during that time.

People say you can't live just on love. I beg to differ. I was literally living off the love of all of you for months.

Day 11: The Love of My Second Little Sister

Anna is my treasure.

Ever since she was born, I've always felt like she was partly my baby. I know my mother would object to that statement, but I like to pretend anyway. I was 11 years and 4 months old when Anna was born. She was around 7 when I left for college and about 10 when I left on my mission. We sobbed and sobbed when we had to say goodbye to one another for 18 months. Although we didn't grow up together for most of our lives, Anna and I have developed a very strong bond of love. Growing up, I was always convinced Anna was an angel sent from heaven above to our family. As a child, she never said or did anything unkind to anyone. She was always sweet and never fought with anyone. Now, at 17, she has approximately a million friends because she treats people with love and respect. She's also hilarious, talented, and fun to be around.

Anna and I like to joke that we are the fourth couple in the family. My parents have each other, Joe has Shana, and Tina has Jer. Anna and I are very lucky to have one another. During family trips and the holidays, we stick together. When Christina danced in Europe a few summers ago, Anna and I sat in the backseat while we drove with our parents all over Ireland and England. It was one of the most amazing trips of my life, and so much of that was because of my sweet little Annie Buddah. Together, we did an enormous amount of smiling, laughing, ooing and ahing over the incredible food and scenery, singing, dancing, and taking pictures. Sometimes I am tempted to feel sad that I don't have my own family yet. But I hate to imagine what it would have been like if I had gotten married young and missed out on all these precious moments with my sweet Annie. I wouldn't trade the time we've shared together for anything. It is moments like these that truly strengthen my faith in the Lord's timing. God can make our lives so much richer than we can when left to our own devices.

I always feel loved when I'm with Anna. That is such a precious gift. Here are a few little Anna Anecdotes to illustrate how she does it:

1) I always laugh when we're on road trips together with just the two of us in the back because somehow Anna always ends up cuddled right by my side, despite the fact that there is enough room for an entire seat to be between us. And I love it.

2) Susan, as I have affectionately called her for years, and I share a love for music. When Anna first started developing her love for singing, we used to practice harmony together over and over again on the song, "Oh I Wish I Was an Oscar Meyer Weiner." It is still one of our favorite duets and we perform it nearly every time we're together.

3) I got a text from Anna the other week saying she needed to talk to me. I was immediately concerned and called her right away. She doesn't usually have something specific she needs to discuss with me and I wondered if she was seeking my advice or help. The conversation went something like this:

Katie: Hi Anna! Is everything okay?
Anna: Yeah, why?
Katie: Well you said you needed to talk to me...I was wondering if everything was okay.
Anna: Yeah I'm fine. So tell me about what's going on with this guy you've been going out with.
Katie: Oh, you know, nothing really new.
Anna: Do you like him?
Katie: Well, I have some concerns. I'm not really sure what I think right now.
Anna: So do you see any chance at all of a future with this guy?
Katie: Well, Dr. Phil...

Then we both laughed together for a long time. The whole conversation felt a little surreal. I'm old enough to have a 10 year old child; yet, here was my teenage sister drilling me about my love life. She was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. It was hilarious. It was also a big lesson on love. For a long time, I've felt a very motherly kind of love for Anna. But now the tables are starting to turn and she is feeling a motherly kind of love for me, too! Ain't that a kick in the head?!

I've noticed something that has happened in the past few years. Rather than being exclusively beloved little sisters, Anna and Tina are my best friends. I need them. Everyone else comes in and out of my life. It's impossible not to. That's the nature of our mortal existence: we are all here to learn, grow and evolve. But my sisters are always there, for better or for worse, through thick and thin. They are my biggest cheerleaders when life gets hard. They are the most excited to celebrate with me when things go well.

That's true love.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day 10: The Love of My First Little Sister

It was no secret in the Houston household growing up that Christina and I did not see eye to eye on many (most) things. We are 4 years and 4 months apart. When I was a teenager, I wanted my sister to do everything the same way that I did it. She wanted me to let her be her own person. We clashed on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.

But something beautiful happened when I moved away. I grew up. I started to realize that my way was not the only way or even necessarily the right way to go about things. I could clearly see that my sister had strengths where I had weaknesses. The older I got, the more I admired everything about her. I wanted to become more like she is, instead of wanting her to become more like me.

Eventually, Christina graduated high school and moved to Utah to go to BYU. 6 months later I came home from my mission and the two of us forged an unbreakable bond that grows stronger all the time. Out here in Utah, she is my number one support system (and I would venture to say I am second only to her husband). Christina has come to my work countless times to choreograph numbers for my choirs. She has also performed with her dance partner for my students and will be doing so again in March for my next concert. I am probably Tina's number two customer (second only to my mother) and fan of her crocheted baby apparel. I also love coming to see her dance and never skip an opportunity to tell the world about her beauty, grace, talent, spiritual strength, culinary abilities, and service oriented nature.

I truly aspire to be the kind of wife my sister is. Watching the woman she has become since she got married has been incredible. She is devoted, loving, and responsible. She is creative and works hard. I hope to be even a fraction of the woman she is someday. Life has a funny way of working out. I always thought I'd shrivel up and die if my sister got married before I did. And then it happened and I'm still alive to tell the tale. She has taught me so much about the kind of spouse I want to be some day through her example. I think things worked out the way they were supposed to. Growing up I always thought that between the two of us, I knew best. It has been very humbling in the past several years to realize just how much I needed to learn from my sister.

While I could share a million and one things my sister has done to make me feel her love for me, there is one experience in particular that stands out to me. When my engagement ended, it was a really difficult time for me. Fortunately, I can't remember what that pain felt like, even though I know it was there. I do remember one night, shortly after it ended. My mom was far away from me in California. I was living by myself in my parents' condo. I don't remember exactly why--details from that time are fuzzy--but Christina was over that night. I laid in my bed and started crying and crying. Christina sat on the bed with me, not saying anything, because there was nothing that could be said. I just need her there me. I literally cried myself to sleep that night with her by my side. That's another thing I've learned about love. When you love someone and they love you, their very presence is comforting and no words need to be said.

I love you, Sis.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 9: The Love of my Brother

One of the people who has taught me the most about love is my brother. I remember once getting in an argument with him years ago. I was driving him crazy and he snapped at me, justifiably so. I got really upset and stormed away. Shortly after, he came upstairs where I was sulking and apologized to me, even though it was just as much my fault as it was his. I never forgot that experience because I was so humbled by his willingness to make things right, even if it meant he had to accept the responsibility.

I have never once seen my brother raise his voice to his wife or daughter. Not only that, I've never seen him so much as roll his eyes or say anything demeaning or unkind to them, even in jest. Also, if Joe and Shana ever disagree (which I'm assuming they do, because most people don't see eye to eye on everything), he never says anything negative to me about it. He is nothing but thoughtful, loving, and respectful. Now, I'm not naive enough to think my brother has zero faults, but I know that the way he treats his own little family must be consistent with the gentle, loving way he has always treated me and my sisters.

The story of my Christmas necklace is a good illustration of my brother's love. I mentioned in a blog post just after Christmas that Joe drew my name this year but accidentally left my present at home in Texas. I didn't give much more detail than that. Well, now is the perfect time to reveal the whole story.

First of all, when Joe drew my name, I just assumed Shana would be getting my present, because it's much easier for girls to shop for girls and my sister-in-law has really cute taste in everything. But Shana told me that Joe wanted to pick out my gift himself. She gave him some ideas and they went to Ann Taylor loft, one of my favorite stores. Joe picked out a beautiful long necklace, one of the things I asked for. Then, in the days leading up to their trip out to Santa Barbara, Shana kept asking Joe if he wanted her to wrap my gift while she wrapped other presents for various family members. Every time she asked, however, he insisted that he wanted to wrap my present himself. I thought that was so sweet. Wrapping a gift may not seem like a big deal to most people. But for Joe, it was a simple way that he could show me he loved me and he didn't want to give up that opportunity, even if it would have made his life easier.

The day Joe and Shana arrived in Santa Barbara, I overheard them having a lively discussion about something while they unpacked. It turns out it was about my present. Shana left for the holidays early to visit her family because Joe still had to work. They met up a few days later at the airport to come to California. Because Joe wanted to wrap my present himself, it didn't get put in Shana's suitcase with the other gifts she had wrapped. And then Joe accidentally left for the airport without it.

But guess what. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

Joe could have easily passed the buck and asked Shana to buy the present, wrap it, and make sure it got to California. I know Shana would have done it in a heartbeat, because she's rad like that. And I wouldn't have felt at all cheated because they are married and married people help each other out. But knowing my necklace got left behind because Joe wanted to be responsible for it himself made it one hundred times more meaningful. I much preferred not having it on Christmas day because he forgot it than to have had it on Christmas day because he didn't care about it.

By the way, it came in the mail last week and I absolutely love it. I wore it yesterday, in fact.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Day 8: The Love of a "Secret Admirer"

When I was 14, I was pretty much the same as I am now.

I would watch TLC's "A Wedding Story" for fun. Episode after episode after episode. The show started by interviewing the couple separately and having them share how they met, fell in love, and got engaged. The rest of the show followed them on the two days before their wedding and the actual wedding day. Let's face it: I was a die-hard romantic then and I still am today. Even though I may be a bit more realistic nowadays and my definition of love and romance is a little different than it once was, I still delight in romantic books, TV shows, movies, quotes, etc.

Every Valentine's day from the time I was 5 years old, I would always hope for something romantic to happen to me. Maybe someone would give me one of those Valentines his mom bought in bulk to hand out to his friends but mine would have a message that was more meaningful than the others. Like, instead of saying, "U R Cool" on a picture of a conversation heart, it might say, "Hot Stuff" or something like that. That would definitely be grounds to make my heart go pitter-patter.

One February 14th when I was 14 years old, all my Valentine's Day wishes and dreams came true. On the front porch, waiting for me to stumble across them, sat a beautiful bouquet of red tulips. With them was a card with my name on the envelope. I remember the picture on the front of the card vividly. It was a bear holding a big heart. It said, "Here is my heart." When you opened the card, the inside read, "You are now holding it in the palm of your hand." I thought (and continue to think) that was the cutest, cleverest card I had ever read. Written in cursive underneath were the words, "Happy Valentine's Day!" There was no signature. I analyzed and analyzed that handwriting. But I could never figure out who my secret Valentine was.

Let's be honest: the chances that the flowers came from a handsome, mysterious 14 year old admirer who was pining away for me in all his waking moments are slim. I'm pretty sure it is a rare teenage boy who would go to those lengths and never confess. It is more likely that a loving church leader, family member, or dear friend wanted me to feel loved on that day and gave me those flowers to help me feel special.

Of course, I didn't consider the latter possibility at the time. But really, who cares if the flowers WEREN'T actually from a potential suitor who was too shy to confess his feelings of love and devotion? I'm so glad I never found out the truth, whatever the truth was. Receiving that card and those flowers gave me something to dream about. They made me feel like I was worthy of a boy's attention. The teenage years can be awkward and I often struggled to feel like I was pretty or "crush worthy." But when I got those flowers, I felt like the future was rife with romantic possibilities. It was a moment I never, ever forgot and filled my heart with butterflies for days and months and even years.

For years after the fact, whenever anyone asked me what my favorite flower was, I always answered,"tulips" because of what they represented to me. To this day, tulips bring back such sweet memories.

I wonder if whoever gave me those tulips will end up reading this post. To whoever you are, thank you. Thank you for giving me your love so freely, without expecting anything in return. How selfless it was for you to demonstrate such kindness anonymously, knowing how it would make me feel to receive something so lovely and just for me. Thank you for knowing me well enough to give me a gift that I would never forget.

I love you, too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Day 7: Love for My Students

Tonight I got a huge lesson on love, which is pretty ironic considering this little project. I'm not sure if it's coincidental or if I'm just starting to notice love in my life more often because I've been thinking about it and examining it so closely.

My madrigals and I performed in the beautiful Libby Gardner concert hall at the University of Utah tonight. We sang individually and with two other schools. I noticed the strangest thing happening over the course of the evening, which included a rehearsal with our guest conductor and the performance itself. My love for my students was growing exponentially in a matter of hours. I couldn't quite put my finger on why until after the concert was over and I was chatting with some of the parents.

A couple people made the comment that the kids did a good job focusing on my conducting rather than letting their eyes wander around the room. It was then that it dawned on me. After nearly 6 months, my students and I finally trust one another. The same thing could not be said at the beginning of the school year. My kids were wary of me, my song choices, and the way I conduct. On the flip side, I was unsure of their many traditions and struggled to squeeze my way in.

We did not earn each others' trust in a day, a week, or a month. We built respect for one another through countless hours practicing and over 30 performances. Tonight on stage, something gelled between us. I'm not sure why today was the day my students and I decided we were a team, but we truly became one in purpose.

I recognize now that trust in a loving relationship must be earned. Each person has to show the other that he/she is trustworthy. This always takes time, often requires sacrifice, and isn't always an easy road. But its rewards are eternal.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 6: The Love of a Teacher

I've been thinking a lot lately about my piano teacher, Mrs. Avonell Jackson. I owe so much to her. If it weren't for her loving, thorough instruction and training, I never would have been able to keep up in the music major at BYU. I certainly would not have the skills necessary to be an effective choir teacher. I owe her my career.

Right now at the high school where I work, I teach two beginning piano classes. I have had many flashbacks of my own days as a piano student. This week, we've been learning about musical articulation. One of the vocabulary words I've been teaching my students is "slur." I can vividly see in my mind Mrs. Jackson's slender fingers demonstrating a slur on the piano, by smoothly connecting the notes under the legato line and lifting her hand gently at the end. I knew her hands so well. After 9 years and countless lessons watching and learning from the movement of her fingers across the keyboard, I don't think I will ever forget what they look like.

Mrs. Jackson always had the coolest pens. They wrote better than any other pens in the whole world. I loved watching the ink flow effortlessly from them as she wrote fingerings for my scales and the week's assignments in my warm-up book. She had rad pens in all different colors. I tried buying pens like the ones she had a few times, but without Mrs. Jackson's perfectly neat cursive flowing from them, the pens didn't have the same effect.

As I teach my students, I see the genius in everything Mrs. Jackson taught me. Now, over ten years after I stopped taking lessons, certain things she taught me are starting to click. I'm beginning to understand why she approached music the way she did, and I'm finding myself approaching it the same way with my own students.

So what did Mrs. Jackson teach me about love? She told me I had a gift as a musician and constantly encouraged me to cultivate it. She was never content with mediocrity. If I didn't practice, I knew that Mrs. Jackson would not be happy, and that bothered me. She enrolled me in festivals and had me take theory exams on a yearly basis in order to challenge myself and improve. As much as I sometimes hated preparing for Guild and Certificate of Merit, these kinds of performances forced me to work hard, practice, and study. Although she had high expectations and expected excellence, Mrs. Jackson was never stingy with praise. She would point out my strengths and make a big deal out of them. She praised me to my mother at the end of a lesson while I was sitting right there, which always makes a kid feel extra important.

Mrs. Jackson trusted me. Having her trust meant the world to me. She knew I could achieve greatness if I tried and gave me countless opportunities to prove it to myself.

I have a great love for Avonell Jackson and I know she loved me, too. I love her for pushing me to be a better musician and by doing so, helping me achieve my dreams. Because she loved me, she wanted me to work hard and become what she knew I could be. She saw the good in me and did all within her power to help me cultivate it. That's what love is. Helping the ones you love become the best possible versions of themselves.

Tomorrow night, my students and I are part of a district festival with two neighboring high schools. The schools each sing 3 pieces separately, then sing two songs together under the direction of our guest conductor, Dr. Reed Criddle. I have to accompany one of the combined numbers because I (stupidly) offered "if no one else will." Of course no one else volunteered. I am extremely nervous about it. Until this month, I hadn't disciplined myself to practice in a very long time. But the piece I'm playing has challenged me significantly and forced me to play particular passages over and over again. I keep thinking about how much I wish Mrs. Jackson could be there to hear me play tomorrow. I wonder to myself, would she be proud of me? What have I done with her legacy? Am I honoring the gifts she bestowed upon me?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day 5: The Love of Brad and Celeste

I've been fortunate enough to live with someone who has taught me much about love through the blossoming relationship with her sweetheart over the past 6 months. While they had known each other for several months before I moved in, Brad and Celeste had been on only one date before I arrived. From there, their relationship blossomed and it was exciting to watch it progress.

The older I get, the more suspicious I am of dating based on many discouraging experiences. But, all things considered, it really didn't take Brad too long to get my stamp of approval. There are a couple of experiences in particular that convinced me that Celeste had a keeper.

It was summer when I first moved in. We have a really tiny fenced in yard area behind our townhouse. Every time Celeste would come home, she'd apologize for the "jungle" growing back there. It became a running joke. We were both really busy and weeding seemed to be at the bottom of our priority lists, as I was starting a new job and Celeste was heavily immersed in her work. One day, not long after Brad started courting my roommate, I came home from work before Celeste and immediately noticed our little yard had received a serious overhaul. All of the weeds were gone (and I'm not kidding about it being a jungle before) and the yard was pristine. There was a note stuck in the door that said, "Life is a garden, so dig it!" Brad decided to surprise Celeste while we were at work. We were both in awe. This was the first sign to me that Brad might be a winner.

That was not the only time he weeded for us. He did it again after the plants got out of control once more. After the seasons changed and the weeds all died, the path to our back door where we enter the house became a sheet of ice. Needless to say, leaving the house each morning was a bit dangerous. While we were gone at work one day, Brad chipped all the ice away and salted the path.

Brad expressed his love for Celeste through thoughtful gestures all the time during their courtship. He would come over and make her breakfast when she was running late or drop dinner off on our porch. He'd rub her feet after a long day. He not only told her he loved her, he showed her on a continuous basis. He has created a new standard for single men everywhere!

Something that meant a lot to me in particular was when the heat stopped working in my car. I mentioned to Brad and Celeste that I needed to get it fixed because it was getting cold and miserable. From that moment on, Brad was on the job. He asked for my keys to check out the problem. He diagnosed the situation and, a few days later, came over and got my car, took it to his house, bought the part I needed, replaced it, and brought it back to me. He refused to tell me how much the part cost or receive any kind of payment for his efforts. I was shocked. There are few people who would go to those kind of lengths for their own family members, let alone their girlfriend's roommate. I never felt like he was doing it to impress Celeste; rather, I felt he truly wanted to help out a friend a need.

Brad has always demonstrated to me that a friend of Celeste's is a friend of his and should be treated with love and respect. The two of them always check in with me to see what has been going on in my dating life, how I am feeling, etc. I truly feel like they are rooting for me and sincerely want me to be happy. Their concern humbles me and I love receiving their counsel and advice. Brad and Celeste are the kind of people I'd want to call if I was in any sort of trouble because I know they'd support me in whatever way they could.

Because of these gestures of love, big and small, I have known for a long time that Brad was someone who deserved Celeste. She deserves him, too. They are so fortunate and blessed to have one another. And I am so grateful for what they have taught me about how to love. These lessons will stay with me always.

The best part is that all of Brad's expressions of love paid off. When he asked Celeste to marry him last night, she said yes!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Day 4: The Love for a Fiance

Some of you are like, "Whaaa...?"

Yes, I'm writing about HIM. I would be remiss if I left him out of my 14 days of love anecdotes because, truth be told, some of the biggest lessons in love I learned from him. There was a time in my life when all things BJ were painful to talk about. But what a joy it is not to feel that way anymore. In fact, while I was looking through old emails to help me write this post, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't find anything about the night BJ proposed. After we called off our wedding, I asked my friends to erase anything about him from my email so I wouldn't be tempted to dwell on the past. I wish I had preserved some of those memories a little better.

The only documented thing I've been able to find during the time I was engaged were three journal entries in an old journal that I never kept regularly. I am going to share a few excerpts where I learned what love meant to me.

June 7th, 2008

Last night we were up to Tabiona to spend the night at Celeste's family's home. [. . .] As we were heading to bed, I said goodnight to BJ and went upstairs to my room with Kate. We weren't sure where BJ was going to sleep. After I got ready for bed and brushed my teeth, I went to the landing and leaned over the stair rail to see if BJ was taken care of. I was relieved to see him settled on the couch, reading his scriptures. That was a moment where I realized I was learning to truly love. I cared about him and whether or not his needs were met. It was a simple thing, but it was pivotal to me [. . .].

June 8th, 2008

Last night was a wonderful evening. BJ and I drove to Murray to go to the Cheesecake Factory [. . .]. On the way there, we started talking about the five love languages. I asked him what were some specific things I've done that made him feel loved. He mentioned the little notes/presents I left him on his last day of school. [. . .] He also said it meant a lot when I helped him fold his laundry :-).

(This next one is my favorite!)

June 9th, 2008

I didn't know it was possible to be this much in love...everything about him! [. . .] Tonight we danced together, practicing for our wedding. And it wasn't awkward! It just felt so right. At times like those you wonder, 'How is it possible that anyone else has ever felt how we feel now? Has anyone else ever achieved a love so deep?'"

As I read passages like the one above that I wrote with my own hand, I'm not sad. I don't hurt or feel sorry for myself. I rejoice that I felt something so beautiful once and that I have a chance to someday feel that again for someone better suited for me.

BJ taught me that I was capable of loving. That was a tremendous gift. I always worried that I wouldn't be good at being a girlfriend or a fiance or a wife. I thought I was too crazy or too much of a worrier or too much of a flirt. I didn't think I knew how to love someone enough. But I learned that I was really good at loving someone. I loved him very much and I didn't want to love anyone else. I'm not angry that BJ and I didn't get married. In fact, I know it was right for us to part ways. Instead, I'm grateful for the chance I had to learn to love someone on a deeper level than I knew existed before I met him.

I'm also grateful that someday I get to love someone even more than I loved BJ, which didn't seem possible to me at the time I was engaged. I know romantic love is fun, but I can only imagine how a deep and abiding love after years of marriage must feel. I look forward to someday discovering that facet of love.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 3: The Love of a Friend Who's a Boy

The year before I left on my mission, I had some major discouragements at school. I could never make it in to the Concert Choir or University Singers at BYU no matter how many times I tried. I got horribly nervous every time I had to sing for Dr. Staheli or Sister Hall and always blew my auditions. I was a music major, so it felt really embarrassing to be in the lowest auditioned choir when many of my peers were in the touring group. The year before my mission was my very last chance to be in one of the higher level choirs and I didn't even make call backs. I also auditioned for a girls acapella group, Noteworthy, and made call-backs but ultimately was not picked for the group. It was frustrating. It felt like I was being met with rejection at every turn.

During this difficult time of my life, I would often find pennies lying heads up on the ground just at a moment when I needed it most. I'd always been told that heads up pennies were good luck. Even if it seemed coincidental to someone else, I truly felt like Heavenly Father was sending me a message that He was aware of me and everything was going to be okay.

One evening, I shared the story about the pennies with Dan, a good friend of mine. We were in the same ward when I lived in Hampton Court and he lived with his roommates in a house down the road. Dan and I and our roommates all loved spending time in each others' homes. I had a mad crush on Dan's roommate who was just about the most attractive man I had ever seen in my entire twenty-one and a half years of living (or have seen since...the other day I ran across a picture of this particular roommate and let out an audible gasp at the reminder of what a stud muffin he was.) Dan dated one of my roommates eventually. While Dan and I weren't romantically interested in one another, we had a great friendship and could talk about serious things like my challenges at school and our faith in God.

Some time after we had this conversation, I came home from an incredibly long day at school. As I recall, I left for campus around 7:00 a.m. that morning and had a performance with Women's Chorus that night. I think I'd stayed on campus until the performance to study for and take a big test. I didn't end up getting home until 11:00 p.m. I was absolutely exhausted. Around 11:20 p.m. or so, there was a knock at the door. One of my roommates had a whole slew of boys chasing after her and I was extremely annoyed as I went to answer it. I was positive another one of her would-be suitors would be on the other side and I wasn't in the mood to deal with it. When I opened the door, however, there was a note on the wall facing our apartment from Dan. He knew I'd had a long day and he said he hoped my test had gone well. There was also a sign on the wall by the note that read, "Look Down" with a big arrow pointing toward the ground. On the ground under the sign were about fifty shiny new pennies that had all been placed heads up.

I remember feeling like I had just been handed the moon.

Dan listened to something I had mentioned earlier in a conversation and then remembered it, using it to remind me that I am loved, even when life isn't easy. It was as though Dan was now partnering with God to help me remember that He was aware of me. Just as God is in the details of our lives, my friend Dan remembered something I said that would just be a detail to anyone else. But his actions changed my entire perspective of love and friendship. To love someone is to listen to them. To love someone is to express that love in ways they understand the very best. An array of heads up pennies on the doorstep of my next door neighbor would have been meaningless to her. To me, it was an utterly unforgettable moment.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 2: The Love of a First Love

I had my first boyfriend when I was 19 years old and a sophomore at BYU. I lived with Dana, Erica, and Jen in Casa Dea, an older, run down little apartment complex just barely south of campus with forest green doors. I remember that place with great fondness.

Kirt was our home teacher and my next door neighbor had a big crush on him. Being the loyal friends that we were, my roommates and I made it our mission to get them together. We invited him to all kinds of activities and arranged for the two of them to sit by one another. Our plans backfired slightly and he ended up asking me on a date instead. I'm sure he assumed I was interested in him based on all the attention I was suddenly giving him. I've never been accused of being subtle. I also can't deny the fact that I thought he was handsome and maybe, deep down, all the "help" I was offering was a little self-serving. Doesn't that sound horrific? Luckily, my neighbor was a good friend. I accepted the date but spent hours in agony trying to muster up the courage to tell her. She was very kind and never made me feel guilty for a second. Did I deserve that? Maybe not. But she was a true champ and she's happily married now to someone else, so it all worked out in the end.

Kirt was a wonderful guy. He had recently returned from a mission to Paris and I thought it was dreamy when he spoke French. He sang in the stake choir. He had dimples and beautiful teeth. He was kind and gentle. He hadn't missed a day of personal scripture study since he was 16 years old, except for one time when he went camping and left his scriptures at home. He recited scriptures in his head to make up for it. His only major "flaw" to me at the time was that he was very quiet. At the time, being with someone outgoing seemed like a priority. But I was also 19 and far from ready to settle down. I felt like I had a lot of growing to do spiritually and I wasn't ready to give up having fun with friends. Heck, I had just barely started dating! While I was no where near ready to be a wife, he was definitely ready to move on to the next phase of life and start a family. That ultimately led to the end of our relationship, but it was very amicable. To this day I feel nothing but respect and happiness for him. He got married to a return missionary who was a year or two older than he was and last I knew had three children and was getting his PhD at BYU. I am so glad for him.

But I digress. This story isn't about regrets for relationships past. It's about a moment in time when he taught me something about love that I will never forget. Whether or not we knew each other well enough to be really "in love," we definitely felt love and respect for one another. I remember one evening sitting outside of the Chatsworth townhouse where I lived the spring after I moved out of Casa Dea. It was a beautiful night with perfect porch sitting weather. Our relationship was far from perfect, as I was always so fickle about what I wanted and he always seemed so sure. We broke up and got back together several times before ultimately parting ways. I'm sure we were having yet another conversation about "us." At one point, he looked at me directly in the eyes and said with emphasis on each word, "You are so beautiful." Of course, every girl loves to hear those words, and if a guy is smart, he'll sneak that phrase in often. It was what he said afterward that has stayed with me and given me a mantra to live by. He continued, "I mean, I've always thought you were pretty. But you've become so much more beautiful to me now that I know you."

To this day, I don't think I've received a compliment that has touched me more. I determined from that moment on that I would much rather become beautiful to someone later on than be physically stunning upfront. I wanted to live so that people saw beauty in me through my actions. I realized it was okay not to be show-stoppingly beautiful because there is more to beauty than physical features.

I know the compliment wasn't unique to me. Everyone who grows to love someone sees them as more beautiful as time goes on. But this was the first time that concept had ever occurred to me. And as insignificant as it sounds, it changed my life. Woman can be so ultra critical of themselves. Physical beauty has always been a concept I've struggled with. I've often wished for more than what I've been given. I've compared myself more times than I can count with other women and wondered why I had to be born tall or why I can't seem to grow my hair long. But remembering what Kirt said ten years ago reminds me that I don't have to have the perfect hair or body in order to be loveable. Beauty can be found in the way I live my life if I choose to live beautifully.

He thought I was beautiful at that time based on the person I was. Do I live so that someone would say that about me now? That's something to consider.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 1: The Love of a Mission Companion

It's February 1st today.

I can't help but notice that Valentine's Day is a mere 2 weeks away. In the past, my attitude has varied a bit on this occasion. The overarching sentiment I usually have is, "This is my favorite day of the year." Not because I receive loads of chocolates and valentines but because I LOVE love. I love romance. I love to see people express their love. There have been years, however, when I've outwardly defied it and celebrated it as Single Awareness Day (S.A.D.) with a bunch of my friends. Of course, on the inside, nothing really changed. Don't we all secretly just want to be loved on Valentine's Day? I can't imagine there are many who would consider themselves an exception to this rule.

One of the most cliche phrases in existence is, "Life doesn't always turn out the way you planned it." Have you noticed, however, that cliche phrases become that way because they are true and we have reason to use them often? I will be 29 this year. That's nearly 30 Valentine's Days. Although I've dated some awesome men over the years, it rarely seems to be during the month of February (smart boys, smart). Every year when this day approaches, I always have a similar thought: "Crap, I was hoping to not to be single for this one." Today, I even found myself contemplating whether or not it seemed unrealistic to meet and secure a boyfriend in the next 14 days. Of course, my ultimate conclusion was YES, you idiot, that's a terrible idea. But I won't deny that I considered it.

I've been thinking about how I can celebrate Valentine's Day this year to make it one to remember and look forward to. I thought about petitioning everyone within the sound of my voice to send me a valentine via snail mail. But posting my address on the world wide web seemed risky; besides, petitioning valentines is a little tacky. I considered posting a funny dating story every day until Valentine's Day, but doing so might be a little too incriminating, even for me. I tossed around the idea of posting my favorite love songs, but I could post one every day for a year and still not finish that task.

I finally settled on sharing with my blogging friends over the next 14 days love anecdotes from my life. I want to share the moments I have felt the most loved. Through reminiscing about these experiences, I am going to research the methods people used to show they loved me so I can learn from them. Because these experiences are printed so indelibly on my heart now, their techniques of showing love must have been quite effective! Without further ado, here is my first story.

The Love of a Mission Companion

During the first half of my mission, I suffered significantly from anxiety. I was extremely overwhelmed by the task of being a set-apart servant of the Lord. I was afraid of failing. I felt miserable with imperfections. I truly hated myself for not having the courage to talk to every person I saw about the gospel. It was torturous. Satan worked on me every second, trying to convince me I was totally and completely inadequate. Facing each new day became a huge challenge. I was sad all the time. Being my companion can't have been very enjoyable. During one of the darkest periods of my life, the Lord sent me a Brazilian companion named Sister Machado who made it her sole purpose in life to show me I was loved. She would leave me notes and treats on a daily basis telling me how much Heavenly Father loved me, reminding me to smile, and expressing her love for me. She didn't give up on me. I have no doubt that our companionship was very one sided for most of that transfer, as I was struggling just to keep my head above water. But she never expected anything in return. I can't express how much that meant to me. Her little reminders kept me going when I felt like giving up.

One of her notes to me said the following (and all the parenthesis are hers as well):

10 Reasons to Smile

1) You are so beautiful!
2) You are a daughter of God!
3) You are a missionary!
4) You have a funny companion (I'm trying to decide if this counts or not)
5) You are funny!
6) You are beautiful (did I already say that?)
7) You have a companion that loves you!
8) You have chocolate!
9) Life is good!
10) I love you!

The Lord knows us so well that He plants people in our lives who can help us when we need it the very most. I thank heaven for that.


Two of my tenors from madrigals were present when the popcorn fiasco happened on Monday. They were in my room during their lunch practicing one of their songs for solo and ensemble when the whole thing went down. I made them promise they would not tell anyone it was me.

Well, they took me up on my offer and did one better. They decided to blame it on themselves instead.

Today in my level II choir, a student accused me of being the one to set off the fire alarm. Another student jumped in and said, "No, it was _______ and ________ who did it [insert the names of my two tenors in the blanks]." Then a conversation ensued that went something like this:

Male student: "What? How do you mess up popcorn? You just open the microwave, put it in, and press start."
Ms. Houston: [Silence]
Female student:"They are senior boys. What can you expect?"
Ms. Houston: [Silence]

I ran into them in the hallway after class and thanked them for so generously taking the blame for me. They were quite pleased with themselves. They said they get "street credit" for it (and, mind you, one of these boys has probably never done a bad thing in his entire life).

I thought about telling my level 2 choir the truth. But then I thought again.

I wouldn't want to steal my students' thunder.