Friday, June 27, 2014

All the Pennies.

Life, for me, progresses at full-speed ahead.  There is always something to be done.  There is always a project to finish.  There is always a big, looming goal that seems just beyond my grasp.  I live life in constant anticipation of that next big moment — the moment I graduate from college; the moment I get that raise; the moment I find the person I love; the moment I can relax and travel.  I think to myself, "Life will be perfect once these big moments come."

But life was never meant to be lived in such a way.  My life is perfect now.  My life is perfect amidst the good times and the bad, the bumps in the road, the unexpected changes in course.  I'm finding that life is beautiful, good, and perfect when I take the time to notice all the pennies, the small and precious moments that make up eternity.

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

The other day, I saw a little boy splashing in a fountain.  He was clutching a fistful of coins, and I noticed that they were all pennies.  I asked him why he only wanted the pennies, and he said, "Well, somebody's gotta love the small ones!"

Two darling girls in my neighborhood were excitedly playing with a refrigerator box.  It was a blazing 110 degrees, and yet they carved out a door, windows, and a peephole for spying.  They spent hours playing "house" in a cardboard structure barely big enough to fit a child.

Kristin is expecting a baby boy, and she went to Utah to visit my family.  My mom told me that Kristin felt a flutter of movement in her body.  The baby is healthy and active.  New life is beautiful.

A stray dog accompanied me during my morning runs at Mesa Riverview Park.  He was filthy and emaciated, but sweet, well-behaved, and loving.  He adored belly rubs, and whenever I paused to catch my breath, he waited, his tail flapping wildly behind.  A rescue team picked him up, and they put him down.  For months, the poor thing suffered from internal damage, but nobody could tell.  He acted like a puppy — free, joyful, and excited.

I was at a friend's house, and I was humming a primary song to myself.  It was late at night, and one roommate wished us "good-night." He shut himself in his room.  I could hear the mattress squeaking as he flung himself into bed.  And then...I heard singing.  He was softly singing the same primary song, but it sounded like the voice of a sweet child.

On a very early Sunday morning, the sun rose.  Brilliant colors stretched across the sky in warm pinks, oranges, and yellows.  The moon was faint, but it rested in a gorgeous expanse of radiant hues.  These beautiful sights are Heavenly Father's gifts to His children.

Temple trips are always sweet, especially when you have the dearest friend to accompany you! One of the temple workers radiated love, joy, and warmth.  He took my hand and said, "I always try to make people laugh.  It calms the nerves.  You just giggled, so my job here is done!"

How can you NOT love this girl? What a sparkling soul!


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

The truth is... there are so many beautiful sights, sounds, and sensations in life.  Slow down - pause a moment - take a deep breath -  enjoy the ride.  And take a cue from the little fountain boy — look for and appreciate all the pennies.  If you don't, then who will?

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Perfectionist Preaches.

My boss asked me the other day, "Is it possible for your greatest strength to be your greatest weakness?"  Of course.  I, Rebekah Michele Hood, am living and breathing proof.  I am a perfectionist, but more like a perfectionist on steroids.

This is embarrassingly accurate.
I hold myself to a high standard, and while my work ethic has ensured success in my endeavors, it has also become a curse.  I am accustomed to being told that my work is excellent.  I don't mean to sound snotty, but it's true — my mom is proud of my accomplishments and tells me so; my childhood "award" book is bursting at the seams; my school teachers keep my work as models for future students; my sister went as far to tell me that I was like Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way."  As you can imagine, the pressure was on.

While I'm flattered, and I appreciate the endless support, such praise has, in a way, doomed me.  I am far from perfect, and yet, I strive for perfection because I feel as if that's what everybody else expects. For the longest time, "Be ye therefore perfect" meant be perfect or you can kiss celestial glory "goodbye!" Even now, what others might deem "good enough," to me, means failure.  But because I am an imperfect being, disappointments and frustrations come often, as it is impossible for me to reach my unrealistic standards.  

So, what can I do?  How can I convince myself that my best effort is good enough?  I found council and hope from Elder Neal A. Maxwell's talk, "Notwithstanding My Weakness."  I know that I work diligently.  I know that I strive to serve...to be a good person.  But like Elder Maxwell says, I "have recurring feelings of falling forever short."  I know that I stand before no more harsh a judge than myself.  Turning to the scriptures, however, shows us gradual growth.  We see the gradual growth of our prophets, great leaders we desire to emulate, and even our Savior who "received not of the fulness at first, but received grace for grace" (D&C 93:12).  The invitation to become perfect is a long journey, filled with many pitfalls.

C.S. Lewis writes, "God's demand for perfect need not discourage you in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures.  Each time you fall, He will pick you up again.  And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.  On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal."

We cannot achieve perfection in this mortal existence, and our Savior is aware of this truth.  But he does not condemn us for our failure to achieve perfection, nor does he shun us.  On the contrary, he expects our best, and when we fall short, he "can lift us from deep despair and cradle us midst any care." Satan would have us believe that we will forever be inadequate — he encourages self-contempt, self-pity, and self-disdain.  If we operate under this mindset, discouragement will be our constant companion.  Our motivation to do good will be destroyed.

The Savior shows us another way — a path that is empowering and hopeful.  While we must continually make efforts to improve ourselves, let us acknowledge the progress we have already made and our personal growth! When we truly give our best, we must remember that this effort is all that is asked of us.  The widow cast in her two mites, and while the monetary value of her contribution was not substantial, it was all that she had, and therefore, she lived with satisfaction knowing that her best effort was gratefully accepted by the Lord.  The Savior encourages paced progress, and he acknowledges that "following celestial road signs while in telestial traffic jams is not easy." If we try to go too fast, we'll stall and break down.  While we strive for perfection, we must remember that it's a process of becoming.  We are constant Christians, rather than instant Christians.  If we can remember these things, if we truly give our best, if we realize that we are adequate...precious, in fact, in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, how sweet the day will be when we stand before our Master, and he declares, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21)!