Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Just Tell Them It Was A Big Mistake

"Do you play the piano?"

I chuckled my awkward chuckle.

"I know there have to be closet piano players in here."

"Well, I've been thinking I should start playing again - but it has been years since I played." I said, knowing immediately it was a mistake that I said anything at all - should have stuck with my awkward chuckle or a sweet smile and nod.

"Great, I'll give you the pressure you need to practice! I'll be in France for the next two weeks and we need someone to play in Relief Society."

"Ah," was all I got out.

"Don't worry, they can't fire a volunteer. I'll let them know you'll pick the songs."

-------------------------------------------------------------
So, I started practicing.

Let's just be clear. I took piano lessons more than 15 years ago for about 5 years, that was my parents required time length. I got out a little early because I also started playing the flute, and I was so over scheduled in high school that they made me a deal, letting me off early for good behavior.

Let's also be clear about this - when I say it's been years since I played the piano, I mean years. Maybe three times, mostly at Christmas time, over the past 3-5 years I've sat down and played a song on the piano. It's been at least six years since I played while anyone sang. [NOTE: for those of you who don't play the piano, it's a whole new ballgame to play once someone starts singing!]

On top of that, even when I did play, I can count on one hand the number of time I made it through a song while people sang without a major mistake [read people are singing while I'm not playing because I messed up so much and/or no right notes are played over multiple measures].

I decided to be brave, and I played while people were listening, and a five year old came in to listen to me.

"What have I done?" I asked him. "What was I thinking? I don't think I can do this."

He just looked at me, confused.

"The problem is, when people start singing, it goes like this," I said, then put my hands down on lots of random keys at the same time. I told them I could play the piano, but I really can't."

"Just tell them you made a big mistake, that you can't do it" his sweet, open face looked up at me.

I was tempted to do just that. Surely someone else could play.

Later he told his mom how when I play and people sing, "it goes like this" and he air plopped his hands on piano keys. "I told her to say it was just a mistake."

"That's right, it's okay to make mistakes," she told him. She was talking about the mistake of not playing the right notes, not the mistake of having volunteered.

She is right. It is okay to make mistakes. And all the cliche sayings about it not mattering how many times you fall, it only matters that you get back up one more time than the number of times you fall - they are all true, too.

I did it. I only played the top hand of the requested song. And I did not play it well. But I did it.

I was reminded that doing hard things is hard, but also empowering. And it makes doing other hard things easier.

My advice: volunteer for something hard. And if it doesn't go well, remember, it's okay to make mistakes, even big ones.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Mother's Day Talk

I was asked to speak on Mother's Day. In a congregation of single people. I was nervous. At the end of the service, one of my friends said, "Well, it's done."

"Not really," I responded, "once it's out there, it's never done - you can't take it back."

If it's "out there" I figure I may as well put it out there here, too.

-----------------------------

Everyone has a story. We only see a small sliver of each other’s stories, and usually it is the sliver the person has chosen to portray - like today. You hear about me what I want to tell you. And whatever you can read between the lines of what I say and do.

Who am I? A question I am still trying to figure out.  I am more than a sum of my parts. I am unique and contradictory. When I first joined this ward, Bishop Carslie told me, "You have a bit of an unconventional life, don't you. And I think you kind of like that." It's true.

To some of you, I am new. I've been in and out of this ward since October. But for others, I've known you a long time and you’ve seen slivers of me since I first came in 2007 for graduate school. One sliver I’ll share today is the basics - things included in most any initial introduction: for me, this includes my very common name: Nicole Smith. Being the oldest child, with three younger brothers. And how I value my alone time - thinking time. Some of my favorite activities include reading books (and copying down quotes from them), doing jigsaw puzzles, knitting and baking.

One of the most shocking facts about me: I'm allergic to chocolate. A sliver of information that surprises and saddens many people.

Surprising people by the things I’ve done makes me feel like my life is on a good trajectory. Recently I was talking to a new friend in this ward, she told me: "I feel like every time I talk to you, I think, 'I didn't know that! Really, you did that?'" Mission accomplished.

I am also a storyteller. A consumer of and collector of stories. I love random little things - I believe in really looking at the things and people around us, in seeing the beauty in the everyday.

There is another large sliver of me that has always wanted a very conventional life. When I was in second grade we made a book of fill in the blank sentences about ourselves. We were assigned to both fill in the blank and draw a picture. They were things like: "My favorite animal is _______" and one was: "When I grow up, I want to be ________." My answer? "a mother" My picture shows a girl with blond hair and blue eyes holding a baby standing next to a crib. That dream and goal has never gone away.

On days like today, there are painful reminders that that goal is still unfulfilled.

It makes me think of some song lyrics by Michael McLean:

There will be days so sweet
Blossoming like a rose
There will be days complete
where happiness overflows
........
There will be days so tough
You’ll wonder why you chose
Taking a path so rough
And trusting that heaven knows
And when you’ve had enough
Of climbing the rocky roads
You’ll know on that day
You’ll hear yourself say
This day is one of those

There’ll be days that you feel
You could just do without
Other days that you want more of
Days of answers and hope
Days of questions and doubt
Days when you never knew you were loved
............
There will be days you’ll swear
God’s inspiration flows
There will be days in prayer
You’ll ask him why it goes
There will be days he cares
More than you suppose
.....................
This day is one of those


Days like this also remind me that people are more similar than we realize. Often, we focus on the differences, specifically the differences that allow us to keep our current perspective. 

It is tempting for me to look at those women who are mothers and envy what they have. Or to look with envy at those who are smarter, prettier, or funnier than me. Those who are more put together, better at making friends, have a fulfilling career. People who have a plane ticket to the place I want to go, those who read faster than me (and thus read more!), anyone who lives close to the T, - the list goes on and on.

But, I've also learned the saying, "The grass is always greener on the other side" is true for people on both sides of the fence.

One day in New York, I was talking to a colleague at a work event. We both needed to leave the celebration early. Her son needed to be picked up from daycare. I needed to finish packing for a weekend trip.

"Man, I wish I could travel as much as you do!" she told me. 

I smiled, "Man, I wish I had a husband and children to go home to."

We laughed and talked briefly about how we saw each other’s grass as “greener on the other side” in the sliver of each other’s lives we focused on - and I was taught again that the grass is only greener on the other side if we allow it to be. If we do two things, it can make a big difference. 

First, we have the chance to cultivate the grass on our own side. Water and fertilize our own grass to make it greener. Plant flowers. Or a garden. We have a chance to live our life. And to build that life with the help and guidance of a loving Heavenly Father and people in our lives who love and support us.

Second, we have a chance to come to know others better, to see beyond the mirage of green grass as we come to see some of the weeds and bare dirt in their lives. 

I had cultivated a friendship with my colleague where we knew things going on in each other’s lives. And beyond that to talk about things like seeking joy in our own situation instead of spending time envying the best things in others’ lives - the perceived green grass on their side. This allowed me to see both good and hard things in her life, and she in mine.

I have come to truly love that our lives are all different. Different from each other. Different from what we planned. And I have spent a lot of time thinking about how this fits into God's plan.

In the Self-Reliance class I am taking, we were looking at scriptures that teach about faith a few weeks ago. One of the scriptures referenced in the book was the story of Daniel in the lion's den. 

This is a powerful story. Daniel is put in the lion’s den because he choose to pray in contradiction to a law against praying designed specifically to harm him.

In Daniel 6:5 Daniel’s enemies said: “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.” so they counselled together and brought a proposal to King Darius: “... make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.”

King Darius liked the idea of people petitioning only him, he took the flattering bait and made the decree.

Continuing in Daniel 5 “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”

The men saw Daniel praying, and they went and told the king, remember, you said no asking a petition of anyone but you for thirty days, right? Well, Daniel is still praying to his God three times a day.

Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him.” but he couldn’t contradict his own decree, so “the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.”

Daniel had the faith to follow God's commandment to pray even in the face of what must have looked like certain death. Reading this story leaves me thinking that publicly doing what God asks, even if it could lead to death, is how I can show faith.

But there is another scriptural story that presents a contradiction.

In the Book of Mormon Alma and his people were in very challenging circumstances. They turned to God in prayer and were told by their captors that if they prayed they would be killed. So, following the example of Daniel, they looked death in the face and said, "fine, throw me to the lions if that's what it costs, but I'm still going to pray." Right?

Wrong.

They obeyed the order - at least on the outside. They prayed in their hearts.

And you know what? God still heard their prayers.

Here is the account from Mosiah 24:

10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.

11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.

12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.

13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.

Just like Daniel was saved from the lions den, they were saved from their situation too. Daniel was saved overnight by closing the mouth of lions until he was removed from his challenge in the morning. The people of Alma were saved one piece at a time. 

First their burdens were made light. Their circumstances did not change, but their physical ability to handle them and their mental perspective were changed. 

Then over an undisclosed amount of time, they exercised faith and patience until eventually they were removed from bondage.

Sometimes I need other people around me to help me know and see truth. On a tough day, wondering why (or even if) I had chosen a path so rough I called my parents with a concern that had been swirling in my brain for some time.

In a moment of enveloping insecurity, and with deep trepidation, I asked my parents, "Are you disappointed that I am not married?" I had been fighting feelings that they were.

"Well," said my dad, "if you didn't want to get married that would make us sad, because we want you to have that happiness. But I don't know that either of my married sisters are better off than my unmarried sisters." We talked a little more about my aunts’ experiences and about how my parents were glad that I had found joy in my journey of life so far.

Having finally built up the courage to ask, the answer brought me peace. Relief filled my mind and soul. I felt in that moment that what my earthly and Heavenly parents wanted for me was my happiness. Both happiness now, and to make choices and have opportunities that would contribute to my future happiness.

For each one of us the situation and applications will be different. But the principles will be the same. We are expected to develop faith. To turn to God in our times of need. To remember that no matter what the day is - good or bad, This day is one of those where God cares more than we suppose.

God loves all of us. Each one of His children. Individually. He sees our acts of faith. He knows our hearts - our dreams our sorrows. I know that God sees all the slivers that make up our whole self at the same time. His direction leads us towards happiness with our whole self and our eternal potential in mind.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Lending Talents or Efforts


This morning I made time to go to my church choir rehearsal. Singing with a group is something I enjoy doing. It allows me to be a part of something bigger than myself. And, truthfully, it allows me to rely on and often hide behind the other voices present. That is a place I feel comfortable.

Plus, I was asked to speak in church next week and figured if I might have to follow a beautiful musical number, I may as well join it. 

When I arrived, two minutes early, there were only three other people in the room. When it was time to begin, there was one more person, but I was the only second alto there. I was reminded how limited my skills and confidence, are immediately when we started by working on my part. 

You mean you want me to sing alone? With people listening?

Where is my bushel to hide under when I need it?

I survived. And was incredibly grateful when more people trickled in and when we started singing with accompaniment. 

We ended the rehearsal with a closing prayer. The choir member offering the prayer, who has one of the best voices in the group, prayed in gratitude for those who lent their talents and efforts.

He lent his talents

I lent my effort 

Sometimes a little is all we can give. But often a little from a lot of people is enough.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What is the value of a life?

On a recent LONG international journey I watched a couple movies that dealt with making life and death choices.

One was Kidnap, about a mother who was pursuing her kidnapped son.

*Spoiler Alert!* She made choices that led to others (innocent and not so innocent) being hurt, and possibly dying, in an effort to save her son. Conversely, there was also a time when she risked her own life to save an innocent woman from being hit by a car. How do you choose who's life is more important?

This movie left me with lots of unsettled feelings and thoughts. To distract myself (and pass more time :) I decided to watch another movie: Dunkirk.

Throughout the movie, there were soldiers who would do just about anything to try to save themselves. Then there was a pilot who risked everything to increase the odds that other Allied soldiers would survive. In the end, he runs out of fuel, safely landing on the beach just to be captured by the enemy. He decided that his life was not more valuable than those he could potentially save.

All of this got me thinking about intentions. We don't know what is going on in people's hearts, but in general I find it to be helpful to assume people are doing the best they can with the resources and information they have.

It also made me think about my own intentions.

A conversation I had with my brother after he watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi in Germany also came to mind. He shared a moment in the film where someone's intentions focused on good when they could have been driven by hate or anger:

“I saved you dummy. That's how we're going to win. Not fighting what we hate; saving what we love.”

The same thing can be done with very different motives or intentions, and I find that my intentions have a huge impact on me before, during and after I do things. I hope to choose to save things and people I love (and pray I don't find myself in many situations where I have to make life and death decisions!!)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What am I capable of?

Over the past few days I've been contemplating what I am capable of because of things I read in two different books.

The first was A Criminal Defense by William L Myers Jr. It was a fascinating read, but got me thinking about what kind of evil I am capable of. Could I accidentally kill someone and then try to cover it up? If someone asked me to help them do "whatever it takes" would I do so?

The second book was The Land of Stories: The Enchantress Returns by Chris Colfer. This is a fun series that gives a new perspective to fairytale characters - both hero's and villains. In this book, one villain tells a hero (paraphrased by me): "You're just like me, and one day you'll look in the mirror and see that and it will terrify you." To which the hero responds: "I'm nothing like you!" In the very next book, the hero finds the villains words to be true.

Between these two books, it's made me look at my life and think about some of my bad habits and best intentions gone wrong, to the detriment of others. And it made me wonder: "Am I capable of that?"

The answer: Yes, we are all capable of great good and great evil.

The real question is: where do we spend our time, our energy, our thoughts? What safe guards do we put in our life to keep us moving in the direction we want to go?

This has to include both limits/restrictions on our behavior - things we will not do/consume, places we will not go, people we choose not to associate with, etc. AND it has to include proactive things we will do. Bad habits can't be replaced by a void, we must fill our time and mental space with positive things.

That reminds me a of a concept that President Boyd K Packer taught that has stuck with me over the years.

"When temptation comes, you can invent a delete key in your mind—perhaps the words from a favorite hymn. Your mind is in charge; your body is the instrument of your mind. When some unworthy thought pushes into your mind, replace it with your delete key. Worthy music is powerful and can help you control your thoughts." (see Prayer and Promptings)

Very reassuring - I can use the power of my mind to influence the choices I make with my body. And I have the power, and responsibility, to adjust my thoughts - literally deleting things I don't want to be on the stage of my mind, replacing them with good things that are more powerful.

This also made me think about what I've learned from the scriptures on this topic, and two scriptures came to mind:

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other." (see Matthew 6:24)

And


"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves." (see Doc & Cov 58:27-28)

In pondering on this subject, I feel that it is often from moment to moment that we choose which master we are going to follow. We can continue to make new choices in the following moment, hour, day and week. And as we fill our lives with positive thoughts followed by positive actions we will grow to love and more fully follow God. As we are "anxiously engaged in a good cause" we remove the time in our lives and the space in our minds for anything else.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Life: Sometimes it Sucks

“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)

I truly believe that scripture is true. But I also know that life isn't one joyful moment after another – there are a lot of not so great moments sprinkled in that come with great pain and heartache attached.

Right now is one of those times when the fact that life isn't fair is 'in your face' and joy seems distant.

Flying out to Utah with the Knight family for a funeral for their 12-year-old daughter Madi, who just passed away from a brain tumor, I heard some lyrics from a song I love. However, these words hit a little too close to home today:

Call it a feeling, call it a premonition, things are about to go my way....some see a cancer killing me, I see a couple I.V.'s that I'll use then I'll beat...”
      - Looking Up by SafetySuit

Except when it doesn't, like this time.

More song lyrics come to mind:

Words fail...words fail.”
      - Words Fail Dear Evan Hansen

But, I'm going to try to use a few words to process what I've been feeling.

A few weeks ago I listened to a TED talk about the power of emotion that has been on my mind since. One of the big take aways is that there is danger in false positivity. I find this to be both powerful and comforting. We can, and should allow ourselves to feel emotions, to express them. We can, and should, “...mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort...” (see Mosiah 18:9). And that is hard, and it hurts, but doesn't mean not having hope or seeking for peace.

A reminder for how, and where, to find peace came in one of the most spiritually powerful moments of my life. There were about 30 young women and their adult leaders who came to sing to Madi. The spirit in that room was so powerful, it was palpable. Many cried as they sang or heard the repeated words:

When there's no peace on earth, there is peace in Christ.”
      - Peace in Christ

I am grateful for the kind of relationships in this life that make us hurt when bad things happen to people we love. Not that I want bad things to happen, but that I want to care about people so much that I do hurt when they hurt.

I am also grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I am grateful that He came to earth and gave His life to make it possible for all of us to return to live with God after this life.

While it doesn't make the pain go away, there is great power in knowing that we are eternal beings and our family relationships will last beyond the grave.

Praying for peace in Christ for the Knight family – and all those who love them – at this time when there is not peace on earth.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

There's a Hole In My Bucket

I've been thinking about the difference between identifying problems and solving them.

Lately I feel like a natural at identifying problems. The other day I even caught myself saying something like, "I don't have a solution for it, but..." and launching into a complaint about something I wanted to have go away.

When I looked back at that moment, I didn't like the way it made me feel. Identifying problems is all well and good - but I found myself dwelling on them. Feeling stuck - not mulling over how to solve them or what I could do to make the situation better.

All this brought to mind a song, and a specific time I used it to solve a problem.

The song: "There's a Hole in My Bucket" which catalogues Henry's woes about his bucket with a hole in it and Eliza's attempts to resolve each problem (lyrics below).

The story of how I used it to solve a problem:

I was babysitting while in grad school and the little girl had thrown a fit and chucked markers around. Once she calmed down, I explained that she needed to now pick up all those markers she had thrown. Of course she wasn't happy. She started whining to me that she couldn't do it: there were too many, one was under the couch and she couldn't reach it, it was too hard for her to do by herself...and on the list went.

For each excuse I offered a solution: I could help her find them all, we could get something long to help us reach under the couch or move it out...

As we kept going in circles, it made me think of the song. So I started singing it. We were both laying on the floor and her sullenness melted away as the song went on and on.

Now, I doubt that this 4-year-old girl had any idea the connection I had made between the current situation we found ourselves in and the song, but she loved it. So much so that when the song was over she asked me to sing it again. So I struck a deal - I'd sing it again if she would pick up the markers while I sang. (Full disclosure: I knew that this little girl loved songs, and I was pretty sure that singing would help calm her down and distract her :)

There are times in life when I will be Henry - cataloguing my woes, complaining to someone else and throwing another probelm in the face of every solution they profer me.

There are times in life when I will be Liza - listening to each problem and offering a solution no matter how many new problems come up.

And sometimes I might even be both.

----------------------------------------------------

There's a Hole in My Bucket

There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

        Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

        With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

        Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

        With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

        Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

        With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza,
The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

        Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

        With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza?
In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

        In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
        In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.