Monday, November 24, 2008

Perfect Light

Looks like I'm speaking in sacrament meeting on Sunday. I started to look through some old talks of mine today to see what I've talked about in the past. I talk about light and faith a lot. I came across this one I gave six years ago. I really like it and I think it's appropriate for the season. And since I have nothing else to write about, I would like to say amen again to this.

September 15, 2002
Hidden Valley 5th Ward

When Edward L. Hart wrote "Our Savior's Love,” it was culminated as a reverent prayer to the Father. The hymn has three verses: the first speaks of the Son, the second speaks of the Holy Ghost and the third speaks of the Father. Analyzing a hymn is like analyzing a poem. Poets use words in their utmost meaning. Each word bears tremendous significance because in poetry each word must be chosen carefully making the meaning all the more eloquent and powerful. Another beautiful thing about poetry is what may mean one thing to one person, might mean something completely different to another. For me, the overlying theme in "Our Savior's Love" is about contrast, and how once we see how our life can be with the Savior up against our life without Him, the better choice is clear.

The hymn also illustrates the well-known simile comparing our Savior to light. The scriptures are full of verses and phrases that pair Christ with light: Jesus is the “light” of the world; knowledge is often referred to as the “Light” of Christ. In Doctrine and Covenants section 14 Jesus Christ describes himself as a light, which cannot be hid in darkness. The prophet Isaiah said:

"The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."

As I was preparing this talk, the scriptures I read and the things I pondered reminded me of a paper I wrote in college. The paper was about a small painting by a Northern Renaissance artist named Geertgen tot Sint Jans. I'm showing you two pictures here for the purpose of comparison and contarst: The first is by Robert Campin and the second is by Geertgen tot Sint Jans.

The Nativity is a common theme depicted by artists and was especially popular during the Renaissance. All the paintings depict a similar scene: a stable, Mary, Joseph, an ox, an ass, adoring angels and, of course, the Christ Child. But for me, Geertgen's painting stood apart from other Nativities our class studied. Most of the artists depicting the Nativity at the time chose to set the scene during the daytime. The sun was out and everything was uniformly lit. In many scenes you could see unrelated figures in the background. But Geertgen's piece struck me as the Holy Family was shown in the stable at night amidst the darkness.

Not only does this comparison between a daytime setting and a nighttime setting illustrate the literal contrast between light and dark, but it also explains the metaphorical contrast as well: the world before Christ came, and the world now that He has come.

In Geertgen's painting, The Christ child is the only source of light. The artist shows us the contrast of light entering a world of darkness demonstrating a moving metaphor. There is no sunlight; there are no lanterns, only the emanating light from the Savior. Each figure paying devotion to the Savior is illuminated by His radiance. It is because of His light that the viewer can even see Mary, Joseph, and even the angels in the scene. The simplicity of the painting parallels the simplicity of the message. If you take the Savior out of the picture, the painting is virtually extinguished.

I see this as being similar to what happens if we are to take Christ out of our lives. The choice is obvious. A life without the Savior and his love is a life of darkness and confusion. Meaning and purpose would be lost.

The first verse of “Our Savior’s Love” reads: "Our Savior's love shines like the sun with perfect light." The simile comparing the Savior to light is not a new one. But this lyric goes a specific step further comparing the love of the Savior to perfect light. What is perfect light? When I think of perfect light I think of it being pure, clear and unobstructed. All three of these words can be used to describe the love our Savior has for us: His love is the purest love we can find, it is clear, and it is unobstructed - or for the sake of a better word, unconditional. He offers it unconditionally and it will always be waiting for us. We don't even have to ask for it.

The second line of the hymn reads, "As from above, it breaks thru clouds of strife." The love of our Savior can penetrate any conflict, rebellion or dissension. President Monson once advised us to: "Look to the lighthouse of the Lord. There is no fog so dense, no night so dark, no gale so strong, no mariner so lost but what its beacon light can rescue."

Many say blessings follow tribulation. We are saved shortly after we're at our lowest, our darkest of hours. Maybe that is because seeing how awful things can be prepares us to accept and appreciate how wonderful and miraculous things can be.

You may have read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. At the end of the book, the Count addresses Maximelien in a letter and says something that has stayed with me ever since I read it in high school:

"Here is my secret of conduct toward you: there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss."

That is a noble perspective to have when trials begin to overwhelm us. When things get difficult, when bad things happen to good people, it is not because the Savior has neglected us or has ceased loving us. It doesn’t have to mean punishment for something we have done. The law of cause and effect doesn't work with love in the truest and purest sense of the word. Our Savior's love is one of the few things we don't have to earn.

Crawford Gates wrote the music to this hymn. He said that for him, the melody does not seem to tire easily. I believe the same can be said for the love our Lord has for us. It has always been there and it will always be there. His love and blessings are granted to everyone. It's what we do with that love that makes the difference.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Things that make me go "WOW!"

That was the theme for the Reflections Contest this year.

If you aren't familiar with the Reflections Contest, it's an arts recognition and achievement program put on by the PTA that most schools encourage their students to enter. I remember I entered it a couple times.

The first year I entered I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and the theme was "What Sparks My Imagination." I didn't win anything. I remember seeing my picture displayed way up high on the wall in the kiva at Sunrise Elementary. If you're familiar with art history and "salon style" hanging, that means my picture was really bad. The good stuff is at eye level -- and typically hangs on one line rather than several rows above and below it. It was a poster board sized picture of a rainbow with a pot of gold and a leprechaun.

The very next year, I believe my sister Lisa was in Kindergarten and she entered the Reflections contest. I don't remember what the theme was, but she entered a picture of a rainbow with a pot of gold and a leprechaun. She won a prize.

When Lisa was in 5th grade she decided to enter the music category. She doesn't really read music, but she was always good at sitting down and plunking out little tunes and melodies. The theme that year was something like, "If you could choose your favorite time..." and then you were supposed to create something that answered the question. Lisa's answer to that question was a little song that she could probably still play for you called "It would be Spring." I think it's hilarious that the title of her piece is a literal answer to the question, but not knowing what the question was made the title all the more poetic and abstract. Anyway, she won a prize.

I won't tell the story of when she was in high school and her photography teacher offered extra credit to his students to enter the contest. I'll let her tell it in the comment box if she wants, but long story short, she won a prize. She also broke into the school library and took it down off the wall when the winners were on display. We'll just leave it at that.

My brother Carter was a very good artist and I think he won the Reflections Contest more than once. I wish I had pictures of those. One was crazy with flying cars and cats climbing on buildings.

Anyway, this year I was asked to jury the visual arts category for an elementary school in Kaysville. They split it up into three different grade levels: K-2, 3-5 and then 6th grade. I looked at a lot of things that make kids go "Wow!"

It was interesting how much more boring things got at the higher age levels. You could tell after the 2nd grade kids start to learn how things are supposed to look and be drawn and so all the imagination and whimsy starts to dwindle. There were a couple pictures of rainbows and leprechauns, which made me realize my idea in grade school wasn't all that original.

Here are descriptions of my favorites:

A Kindergartner had a big piece of paper that was all blotchy with black, blue and green colors. It was very minimal. Every now and then I would check the back of the piece to see what they called it. So I looked. "Space."

This one second grader painted a picture of dogs in a field. On the back there was an explanation, "I like my dogs and I think this painting is fantastic because my flowers look so real up against the mountains" -- this kid is basically saying, "I am awesome."

One of my favorites was a picture of three aliens. Each had six arms and was pointing up at the sky: One said, "It's a bird!" Another, "It's a plane!" and the last, "It's my cousin."

Speaking of aliens, check out this picture my 5 year-old niece entered into the Reflections this year:

One girl got a green piece of paper and then drew the word "Wow." She didn't get high marks. Neither did most of the 6th graders. In fact, we didn't even recommend any of the 6th graders' sculpture for advancement. One was a mediocre looking popsicle stick house. Very boring, and how does that make you go "Wow"?

Then there were a couple pieces that were really lame. Remember how you would get the tissue paper squares, wrap them on the head of your pencil and glue a bunch of them on a piece of paper to create a picture of something?

Well one was a jack-o-lantern. On the back the sixth grader (sixth grader!) said, "I chose a jack-o-lantern because I think they're cool." No you didn't. You chose a jack-o-lantern because it was a class assignment and then your teacher said you'd get extra credit if you entered the contest so you used what you already had, irrespective of the year's Reflections theme.

If I were a parent, I'd encourage my kids to enter the dance category or film, or music. MUCH less competitive. And the criteria for interpreting the theme is probably more lenient. In fact, the music judges were working the same time I was. I still have that "variations on twinkle twinkle little star" in a minor key in my head...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dear Ilene

I’ve been meaning to write you a thank you note for a couple days now, and then I got your comment on my blog yesterday and so now this has evolved into a thank you / apology.

I am sorry I didn’t call you when I got home to let you know I arrived OK. To be honest, when you said that to me as I was leaving, I thought you were kidding (given the first paragraph in my most recent Grandma Durham post). I did think to call you when I got home but it was kind of late and I figured I’d talk to you soon enough. Oh, and I never got your text asking if I was dead. Did you get my text last night telling you I was, in fact, alive?

By the way, did you see me turn the wrong direction as I pulled out of your driveway? I hope so because I thought it was hilarious seeing how you asked me if I knew how to get back to the freeway and I said yes. Maybe that’s why you were worried about me getting home OK.

And I was thinking as I drove off that I should have offered to hang out longer and watch your kids while you picked up Dan and Jackson at church so you didn’t have to load them in the car again. And then I could have said goodbye to everyone. I’m a bad friend sometimes. It was fun going to church with you again, just like we did in college. With you sitting next to your husband this time and me entertaining Tommy, I did feel somewhat of a sister wife, but somehow it was still like old times.

On to the thank you: I had the best time with you this weekend! Thanks for being such a hospitable hostess (making me meals, buying me lunch). You’re so grown up to have a “guest” room where I can stay. And it was amazing to arrive only to see you making chicken noodle soup from scratch.

Your boys are adorable and Jackson was such a good boy to set the table. I miss playing hot and cold with him and I miss holding out my thumbs to Tommy’s fists so he could attempt to climb up on me all the while calling me “mama”. I’m also going to miss overhearing you answer Dan’s questions only to have you realize he was talking to the voice in his blue tooth – not you.

I miss holding baby Laura. She is so sweet and I love that she has dark hair. She is going to be a knockout in the red dresses we picked out for her! She looks good in red, brown, and yellow. I can’t wait for pictures. There isn’t anyone I would rather share my name with.

Visiting you this weekend has inspired me to do the following:

Buy a Le Creuset pot
Slice bell peppers in my Cuisinart (I found my slicer/grater blade)
Take pictures of the pretty food I make
Sew valences for my windows
Buy pillows from Cynthia (did that yesterday)
Seek out my celebrity double so I can shadow her fashion choices
…and burn half the pictures of me in college (I think you were right, how we escaped college unmarried is clear)

And you can tell Dan I’ll think about cable some more. I loved how he had to pause the DVR so we could talk about it.

You are a wonderful friend. You have a god-given ability to love and accept me for who I am and at the same time inspire me to be a better person. You remind me of all the good things I want in life. It’s no wonder I’m willing to drive half a day to spend two days with you. Some day when I have a family I’m going to make sure we have enough rooms so you can all stay with us.



P.S. You can also expect a card in the mail.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Extra Work

When you’ve had the same job for as long as I have (seven years) it’s likely the novelty of being a grown up has worn off. What used to be exciting and just as enjoyable as your “non working” hours becomes nothing more than work. And that’s when you start to wonder whether it’s time for a new job or maybe you’ve just been doing this so long you take it for granted. I ask myself these questions all the time.

When I’m feeling down on my job I’ve learned the best thing to do is not necessarily look for another job, but rather add extra “little jobs” that make me feel like I’m doing something different. I’ve been through this exercise a few times in the past four years; the most recent being my work as a culinary assistant at Sur la Table. I love to cook and I love discounts on kitchen stuff so it perked up my regular work funk like a charm. Extra jobs can be fun.

But my first moonlighting gig was working as an extra for Knightstar Media. It began about 4 years ago. This guy in my ward was in Napoleon Dynamite and probably got a bunch of commission for getting several of us to pay $30 and sign up as an on-call extra. It was exciting because I love movies and television and being around film crews energizes me.

I think I only worked a total of four jobs for them. It’s hard when they need you to dedicate a full day to be on call and you already have a full time job. I only did the Saturday jobs or the ones when the call time started after 3 PM. That was the only way extra work could outpay my regular work. But I had to turn down a lot of requests. They kept calling me because I was a good extra. What makes a good extra? It’s simple: if you’re reliable they think you’re a godsend. Apparently a lot of people out there don’t keep their word, they’re chronically late and they don’t do what they’re asked. Crazy.

My first job was for a drive-in movie scene in the WB’s Everwood. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Everwood, it was a WB show filmed in Utah. They needed teenagers or people who could get away with looking like a teenager. My friend Jon and I went together. I got paid an extra $10 for allowing them to use my car. Just like people, they’re picky about their cars; it had to be a midsize and it couldn’t be white, black or red. It was kind of cold that night, but we all stood out in the cold for about 3 or 4 hours while they shot the scene. That was an easy $75.

I also did a scene at an office. I had to drive up to Ogden for this one. It was in an old building – that’s all I remember. It was only a two hour commitment so that was another easy $75.

The most fun to shoot was a scene where I was actually on camera. I was a nurse at a hospital and I was instructed to walk past the actors with my clipboard. I did it a few times, each time I did it a little different. On the third take the assistant director yelled, “Laura, you’re a genius!” I’m not sure what I did different that time, but I felt like I really earned my $75 that day.

At some point, I stopped opening the email requests from Knightstar and began turning down every request from my agent. Being an extra became less and less appealing. With the exception of the guy who said I was a genius, they treat you like crap. It’s pretty humbling actually. It doesn’t matter how important you are or how much respect you’re entitled to at your day job. On an extra set you are not a hardworking, intelligent college grad who actually has better places to be. It doesn’t matter what your name is, how hungry you are or how cold it is outside. While the actors sit in their heated trailers you’re standing outside in 40 degree weather wearing a linen skirt and short sleeves because in TV land it’s supposed to be July.

Would I do it again? Probably not – because when you’re actually treated with respect and consideration by people in other aspects of your life, it’s hard to go back and allow someone to squash you without even caring to glance back (literally, in some cases).

Or maybe it’s because the show was canceled.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sushi and Chicken Pot Pie To Go

I woke up this morning to my phone ringing. I kind of guessed who it was before I checked the ID.

“Hi Grandma.”
“I have been worried sick about you!”
“I know, I'm sorry I forgot to call you, but when I got home I immediately went out with friends and I got distracted...”

You know when you leave someone's house and they say something like, “Drive safely, and will you call me when you get home?” I've never been good at that. I always forget.

I left Grandma's house around eight o'clock last night. The last time I spent an evening with Grandma was back in January. We talked on the phone last week and she said she wanted to buy me a top and take me to dinner. She said, “I don't do Christmas or birthday gifts for my grandchildren so I like to treat you when I can. Do you know how many grandchildren I have? Do you know how many great grandchildren I have?” And then she goes off on stories about her great grandchildren. “Do you know Matt and Mary Margaret?” She actually asked me that twice during our 20 minute conversation. “Oh right, Matt's your uncle isn't he?” Actually, he's my cousin, but some things you let go.

When I got to Grandma's she asked if I wanted to drive my car or if I wanted to drive her car.

“Let's drive your car. It's a lot nicer than mine,” I said as I opened the door for her.
“Because this is a Lexus and mine is a Chevy Prizm.”

As I pulled out of the driveway she started to give me a tour of the neighborhood. She noticed the man raking leaves across the street.

“Oh, be careful. Stay away from that man. He does not like me at all.”
“Why doesn't he like you?”
“Because I brag about my children. He tells me everyone thinks their children are the best. He is NOT a nice man. And this is where my dentist lives. He is a nice man. What do you think of his house?”
“It's nice.”
“It's a monster.”

We got to the boutique she wanted to take me to. It's called Frolics. The lady there knows her well. Grandma said she wanted to give me $100 and see what I could do with it. Half the stuff in there was over $100 but I managed to find a very cute shirt.

“Well that's only $65...” she said.
“I know. Good deal huh?”
“Don't you want something else? I have $100.”

I didn't know I was on the Price is Right. I looked around for something else while Grandma chatted with the owner. I ended up with a necklace. Grandma handed over her VISA debit card but it was declined. The owner politely asked for another card.

“No. I don't believe in owning more than one card.” Grandma preached.
“Well,” the nice lady patiently continued, “Let me try it again.” Again, it was declined.
“I'm sorry, it's not going through” she repeated. I'm glad no one else was in the store when Grandma said,

“That's impossible. I have thirty thousand dollars in my checking account.”

I hid my face in embarrassment while Grandma explained how she manages her finances, which is totally ridiculous if you ask me and just about anyone else in our family. Grandma ended up handing over two fifties and then looked over to me and said, “Looks like you're gonna have to get dinner.”

Grandma wanted to try this place called Organics in Sugarhouse that doesn't really exist. She said it was on 2100 South and 800 East. When we approached 8th East she looked over at the Original Pancake House and said, “Is that it?”

What we did find was a place called Au Naturale which I think is what she was thinking of. We decided to go through the drive thru and take it home. Strange place. Any place where chicken pot pie and sushi are on the same menu has got to be weird, right? Anyway, that's what we took home with us. Grandma had her heart set on pot pie and the tuna roll looked good to me.

When we got back we set the table and she asked me if I wanted a fork. “No, I'll just use these chopsticks they gave me.”

“Show me how you use them.” I picked them up and grabbed a piece of sushi and put it in my mouth. “Well, aren't you talented” she said.

Dinner conversation consisted of her asking how everyone in my family is doing and if I'm still in the singles ward and if there are any interesting people there. Then she started talking more about my dad.

“Your father said he and your mother eat out too much.”
“Yes. But your mother loves to cook doesn't she?”
“I guess so.”
“Does she pack him a lunch to take to work?” I don't think my mom has EVER packed my dad a lunch for work. The very idea made me laugh out loud. If she's reading this and I'm wrong, she can correct me.

“Then where does your father eat lunch?”
“I don't know Grandma.”
“Well aren't you curious?”

And that's when I realized a fundamental difference between her and me. She is curious about EVERYTHING which is why she asks me about EVERYTHING that is going on in my life and the lives of everyone around me. I don't think about where my dad goes to eat lunch. Maybe if he told me about going somewhere for lunch and then snuck off somewhere else, THEN I'd be curious about it. But I really never cared. Sorry Dad.

After dinner I set her clocks back for her. I showed her that the microwave has a digital clock and isn't supposed to say 0:00 all the time. We watched an episode of Seinfeld, some MSNBC and then I was on my way.

I don't visit her often enough. I better write a thank you.