Monday, February 17, 2014

Change Courts

Several years ago my family invented a new way to play tennis. Since we're silly people on occasion, and not gifted athletes, we found it entertaining to switch courts if the ball bounced out of bounds. We would simply move on to the next court and try the game using a different playing field as we chased the tennis ball. Changing courts added a dash of excitement to what would have been a boring time of retrieving the ball each time it bounced out of the appropriate zone.

I'm sure we all have moments when we feel a sense of security from remaining in a comfort zone. We get used to things being a certain way and we are comfortable with that. Then one day, change forces us to explore boundaries we had no intention of experiencing, and to adapt to a new state of being.This change can be the result of physical or emotional challenges, job relocation, or perhaps the loss of a loved one. Regardless of how it happens, all of us will find ourselves "changing courts," whether we want to, or not.

I teach a teen Sunday School class and this month we're focusing on the Plan of Salvation--the knowledge of who we are, why we're here on earth, and where we are going . . . someday. In preparing these lessons, I probably learn more than anyone else. I've found myself pondering some of my heroes from the Bible lately, people like Joseph (most people add "who was sold into Egypt," to clarify who we're talking about). So, consider how life must've seemed to Joseph. He was a favored son of a loving father--his life was pretty much mapped out in what was a common way to live back in the day. Then he found himself in a different court--quite literally. His own brothers, people I'm sure he loved, sold him into slavery. He became a servant in a culture that was alien to anything he had ever known before. To make matters worse, he eventually landed in prison, accused of something he didn't do.

I'm sure it was a difficult time for Joseph. For a while, he may have figured his entire life was ruined. Most of us know how his story turned out. He didn't give up. He made the best of difficult circumstances and despite challenging obstacles, he managed to flourish. Joseph blossomed into a great leader among the Egyptian people and later saved his own family from starvation during a drought. Joseph the caterpillar became Joseph, the mighty butterfly--all because of dramatic changes that propelled him into an environment of growth and learning.

I suspect that is one of the main reasons we're here in this mortal world. We weren't sent here to find a cozy corner and drift along in a state of perpetual bliss. We were sent here to gain a body (some of us aren't overly thrilled with the model we inherited, but I digress) and to prove ourselves. At one time, before we came to this world, we knew that we would be tested, challenged, and stretched. I wonder if we fully understood how painful that process would be on occasion. ;) In my own life, I have come to realize that the best educational moments have been a direct result of challenging trials that forced me to make difficult choices and to stretch myself beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving.

Someday, when I change courts permanently, and I'm reviewing the video of my life (something I'm sure will be a combination comedy/action adventure story) I will probably more fully appreciate the lessons that were learned along the way. Hopefully I will have progressed from caterpillar mode into the butterfly I hope to eventually become. Pulling myself out of comfort zones and exploring other courts will be a big part of that process, I'm sure. Consider this--water that sits in a quiet pool becomes stagnant. The best water is the kind that has been purified through motion. Change is often hard, but it is the launching pad that will propel us into who we are meant to be.

Monday, February 3, 2014

It Truly Is The Little Things That Matter

The past couple of weeks as I've tried to keep up with life (is it me, or do things seem to get crazier as the years go by?) I've found that I often have to pick and choose between good items. At the end of the day I sometimes ponder how effective I've been in accomplishing goals. There are moments when I concede that perhaps I wasn't as organized or efficient as I could've been.

From time to time I'm asked by varying individuals if I plan to write future novels. I never know quite what to say. I have started three new manuscripts, all very different stories--but my life has changed in recent years and I don't always have the time I used to spend on manuscripts. That may seem odd to some, since at the height of my writing career, I was a busy mother of three growing sons.

I loved being a stay-at-home-mom, and was always grateful that I could help provide a few extras (like braces, trips, sports equipment, etc.) for our family with something I could do at home . . . for the most part. Some of our family trips were planned around book-signings. This gave us a chance to travel and see new places. One summer we made arrangements to fly to California and take our clan to Sea World. I had been asked to do a book-signing in Las Vegas, and we figured we would combine these adventures into one trip. As we were making plans, I received a very strong impression that we needed to invite my mother to go with us. So we did, and we had a great time together. I didn't know it then, but that trip fulfilled two of my mother's life-long dreams: she had always wanted to fly, and to see the ocean. How grateful I am that we were able to make those things happen before her health took a downward spiral.

There are other treasured memories--like the readers I have met, and the author friendships that developed along the way. And once in a while, experiences took place that touched my heart forever. An example: I received a phone call one morning from a woman who lived in another state. She wanted me to know that one of my books had given her granddaughter the courage to turn her life around for the better. I was overwhelmed by the story she shared that day. It has always been my desire to write books that might make a small difference in this troubled world. I'm not sure I've always succeeded, but I have tried. Since I have written primarily for the teen market, I've always felt a great responsibility to share uplifting messages and story-lines that teach the importance of making good choices.

Another afternoon as I sat twiddling my thumbs at a very slow book-signing in southern Utah, an older woman walked into the store. She wandered around for several minutes, then approached me. She explained that she had been praying and fasting that day for a troubled granddaughter, and had received an impression to come to this LDS bookstore. As she had walked around, she felt like she needed to talk to me. We were both in tears as she finished her story. She bought one of my books and left, hopeful that something on those pages would touch her granddaughter's heart. I spent the rest of that afternoon offering a similar prayer.

I could probably fill a book with experiences like these that motivated me to continue writing. It was not always an easy thing--balancing the writing world with other responsibilities--and the health challenges I face on a daily basis. (Type 1 diabetes & rheumatoid arthritis.) And there were some aspects that I didn't care for too much. I loved meeting up with author friends on occasion, but I often felt out of place at the lavish events that were sometimes held by our publishing company and others like it. I suppose it's because I will always be a shy, country girl at heart.

One year as our family was traveling to Utah for a fancy banquet, a rare tornado touched down in the heart of Salt Lake City. (August 11, 1999) We were on the freeway at the time it happened, and narrowly avoided an accident with several other cars that had slammed on their brakes. We exited the freeway as soon as possible, and drove to my mother's house in nearby Clinton where we received word that the banquet had been cancelled. So we spent the night at my mother's house, ordered pizza, and watched funny movies. In short, we spent a relaxing evening with loved ones and enjoyed it very much.

I'm convinced when this life of mine is through, I will not be asked how many books I wrote or managed to get published. Instead, I believe that what will matter most are the acts of service and love that were rendered on behalf of family, friends, and those in need. It won't be awards or worldly acclaim that will count for much--but how I treated others, and how I used my talents to help those around me.

One of my favorite scriptures is found in the Doctrine and Covenants: "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."  (D. & C. 64:33) In other words, it is the simple acts of kindness and service that will help to change this world into a better place. It is the hours spent helping others, raising families, teaching children, serving in our callings and in worthwhile causes in our communities that will make important differences. So on days when you are feeling like you're not accomplishing much in the way of greatness, consider the scripture I just shared, and realize, as I have to do on occasion, that what is valued on a worldly scale, differs greatly from what is most important in the eyes of our Father in heaven. It truly is the little things that matter.