Monday, December 27, 2010

The Reason for the Season

I continued my Christmas tradition this week of attending the Christmas services of a church besides my own. I love Christmas and the feeling of unity with all of Christendom as we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I love the images of Christ, the beautiful music and the sermons and sharing that special spirit of Christmas, even with perfect strangers. There were a couple of things that really stood out to me at the service that I would like to share.

The pastor spoke (of course) about Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, their search for a place to stay and the birth of Jesus Christ in the stable. And then he gave a beautiful metaphor, one of my favorites. From Luke 2: "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger". A manger, or a feeding trough for animals. One of the most humble places imaginable, and yet perfectly symbolic of the Savior. Jesus himself said (John 6:51) "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." The baby Jesus was laid in the feeding trough, seemingly unfit for the Redeemer of the world, and yet incredibly fitting. He is indeed the Bread of Life; only by partaking of him and his grace can we be saved.

And then were uttered the seven words I never expected to hear at a Christmas service:

Jesus ISN'T the reason for the season.

In all fairness, I didn't completely disagree with what came next. It was just missing the crucial element.

He relayed a story about a British couple in Africa who had adopted a baby hippo and explained how when that hippo grew up, it couldn't be released back into the wild because it had quite literally forgotten how to be a hippo. This part is important. He said that Jesus isn't the reason for the season: We are. He taught that humankind had forgotten how to be hospitable, tolerant, compassionate; in short, human, and that Christ was born to teach us and remind us how to be all those things.

It's clearly not untrue. Christ is our ultimate example for all good things: He teaches us love, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, charity, hope, and faith. He taught us how to pray, how to fast, how to treat our neighbors. But the prophets taught these qualities and attributes as well (although of course Christ is the perfect example). He was indeed born for us, but not just to teach us how to be hospitable and compassionate. Saying that this is WHY Christ came to the earth ignores his primary purpose. In Mark 8:31, Jesus taught the disciples that "that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Christ did for us what none of us could do for ourselves. He suffered the pains of hell and died on the cross that each one of us might be able to have eternal life with our Father in Heaven. The Atonement of Christ is the real reason for Christmas. Perhaps this sounds more like Easter than Christmas, but the two are inseparably connected.

I am grateful for this knowledge, that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of the virgin Mary. That He taught us the way to perfection, that He was our exemplar and our elder Brother. But most of all, I am grateful to know that He died for all of us collectively and for me individually, that through his grace I may be forgiven of my sins and that through his mercy I may be succored in all my weaknesses and infirmities.

Happy Christmas.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Speaking of adulthood...

About 6 seconds after I published the last post, I remembered an article I read last night called "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" And of course I laughed, because it turns out that apparently I fit into that 20-something "I'm-terrified-of-growing-up" category. There have been a number of articles, even books, written on the topic in recent months and years and everyone (Psychologists, sociologists, politicians, church leaders and especially our parents) asks the same questions: What's going on with the 20-somethings? Why are my friends and I leaving our budding careers to go "back to school" or to travel the world for a few months? Why are we still single? Are we just spoiled, self-indulgent adults who are shying away from real responsibility? Why do we need so much time to "find ourselves"?

From the above-mentioned article: "The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life. "

I really wish I knew the answers to all those questions. Mostly because I'd probably win some sort of Nobel Prize if I could sort out all our issues (and I hear that comes with quite a chunk of change), but also because maybe then I'd have more insight into myself. This is a rather expansive topic and I don't want to write a book on the subject (why do you think I picked a Masters program that doesn't require a thesis?), but I want to look at the 5 milestones our author isolated that represent our transition into adulthood.

1. Finishing school. High School. Check. Bachelors? Check. Masters? Give me a couple years. The reasoning behind this one makes sense. We've been in school since we were 4 or 5, so it's logical that once we're done, we've reached adulthood. But what about those of us who finished school, worked for a few years and then went back to school? Is that a sign that we couldn't handle the responsibilities of being an adult? Maybe. A lot of our parents have stuck with their first post-college jobs for 20, even 30 years. So why can't my generation stick with it? Why the rush to "go back to school"?

For me, I decided that when I woke up every morning dreading going into work and secretly wishing for mono just so I could stay home sick for a month, it was time to do something else. I don't think that our parents just magically all loved their jobs. But we've convinced ourselves that our jobs should be entertaining, lucrative and emotionally rewarding and since a lot of us aren't married (see #4), we have the luxury of going back to school or switching careers in search of something that's a better fit. By the time my dad was 25, he had 1.5 children and quitting a job to go back to school would have been a much bigger hardship than it is for me.

And, lest you think I'm trying to rationalize all our behavior, partly I think we go back to school because we're simply indecisive. There are so many opportunities out there that we don't want to commit to just one. Sure, I like my current job, but what if there's something better? What if being a teacher is more rewarding than engineering? Shouldn't I give it a shot?

2. Moving out. Done. Except for a summer after my freshmen year of college and 6 weeks after I graduated, I pretty much moved out of my parents house the August after high school. I don't ever plan on moving back, although I am grateful that the option is still there if I ever needed it (I'm assuming at least. Mom? Correct me if I'm wrong?). I'm not sure if having the "i could always move back home" back-up plan disqualifies me from adulthood.

3. Financial independence. Again, a pretty obvious indicator of adulthood. I have friends that hit this one as soon as they graduated from high school and a few more friends who I suspect will never make it there. If you read my last post (yes, I'm spending far too much of my last day of freedom blogging), you noticed that a lot of the surprising/depressing realizations about adulthood were financial.

4. Marriage. I wish I knew. Like most of the intelligent, beautiful women that I associate with, I do want to be married someday. To be honest, it strikes me as quite remarkable that compatible people ever find each other at the right time, etc. etc., but I have faith and hope that things will work out, that the Lord knows me better than I know myself and that he will guide this one.

I do want to answer probably the most frustrating question I've gotten: "So, are all the women in DC like you, moved out east to pursue a career instead of getting married and settling down?"

The cynic in me replies, "Yep, that's it. And we especially like it when people accuse us of wanting to be eternally single." But I realize that's probably not the best answer. We 20-something women out here did NOT come here to avoid marriage. Believe me, there are thousands of cities all over this country with negligible social scenes if that was our goal. Most of us came here because we are single and because we saw that single-ness as an opportunity to improve ourselves and make a difference in the world. It's not that we're choosing careers over marriage and families. But I think we would all agree that a happy, productive individual is much more pleasant that someone who whines about being single all the time.

I will agree, however, that marital status is an enormous dividing line, especially in the church. We are designated as "young single adults" and then "single adults". More thoughts on that later. But yes, despite careers and education levels, etc., it seems that my friends who are married have been accepted into the church's "adult" club much more readily than we singles have.

5. Children.
No way. Not happening until after #4.

I reiterate: I have no real solid answers. I do recognize how easy it is to get self-absorbed in this current situation and I know in my own experience that I'm considerably happier when I'm actively and "anxiously engaged in a good cause" than when I'm trying to figure out my life. I also, however, entirely agree with the author that we all feel the "30 Deadline" creeping up on us faster than we'd like. I'm searching for a way to feel content with my current situation in life but to continue progressing and reaching my goals. And although it still scares me a little, adulthood has its perks, right? I'd love your thoughts.

When did I become an adult?

It really hit home this weekend.

A friend and I wanted to take a quick trip to NYC to see a show, but we didn't want to pay for a hotel, so we caught a 3:30 am bus out of DC. It dropped us off at Penn Station with just enough time to grab a quick breakfast before hitting the theater to pick up our tickets. (Being a student is the best - second row seats for $27!!) We spent a couple hours just wandering around Central Park before our matinee, which is when the sleep deprivation started to kick in. In my anxiety to not miss our ridiculously early bus, I hadn't slept the night before, and I definitely didn't sleep on the bus. Luckily the show was fabulous enough that I stayed awake, but I was more than ready to crash when we boarded the bus back to DC at 7:30 pm. A couple big discoveries: First, a trip like this would have been no big deal in college. I didn't sleep much for those 4 years. Now, it was a little painful. Second, I love that I have friends that will still do crazy things like that with me, even if we pay dearly for it afterward.

Worth it? Absolutely. Bernadette "the BP that isn't destroying the planet" Peters and Elaine Stritch were brilliant in Sondheim's "A Little Night Music".

Other recent "Whoa. I'm really a adult" moments:

  • Dealing with identity theft
  • Actually owing taxes for the first time
  • Getting called "Ms Chamberlain" every day for 3 years
  • Choosing to stay home on a Friday night because I was too tired from the week.
  • Replacing all the tires on my car
  • Road tripping to visit college friends with 2+ kids
  • Someone asked me last night how long I'd been playing the piano. And I realized the answer was TWENTY years. Holy cow.
  • I am a "former" teacher
  • Cody's wedding & Michael's graduation
  • Paying for my own insurance
Maybe going back to school will make me feel more like a kid? Here's hoping...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reasons I love my life this week.

10. Gianduiotti made their way back into my life. If you're not lucky enough to have ever tried these little nuggets of joy, think Nutella. But in bar form. Thank you Luigi and Janine for passing them on. If you ever get a chance to eat one of these, don't think, just do it.

9. My new room is finally going to be all put together. I moved 3 weeks ago to a little basement apartment about half a mile from my old place. With Emily's help, I got my desk moved over to the new place and I finally get to unpack the final box!! Pictures to come when it's actually finished.

8. Watching (or re-watching) some really beautiful movies & documentaries with my roommate. On the list this week: God Grew Tired of Us, Il Postino, The Red Balloon. I would highly recommend God Grew Tired Of Us, about the lost boys of Sudan. It's heart-wrenching and life-changing.

7. I'm getting really excited to start school in the fall. I'm starting some prep work for one of my classes this week and trying to remember how to study. Any suggestions for reading "The Federalist" ??

6. I survived the dentist.

5. Paid unemployment is one of the best things on earth. I get to spend my days reading, shopping, working out, cooking, watching movies, etc. I honestly don't know how I ever had time to work with all the other things that are going on!

4. D.C. has really awesome things to do in the summer. Case in point, the US Air Force Band Summer Concert Series. Every Wednesday and Friday night during the summer, the USAF Band (or different variations of it: the Singing Sargeants, Airmen of Note, etc.) plays a free concert at the Air Force Memorial here in Arlington. The band is incredibly talented and the view of the city is breathtaking.

3. Marvin Hamlisch directing the NSO with Idina Menzel singing the acoustic/Glee version of "Poker Face". This is maybe one of the more ridiculous musical scenarios that I could even imagine. But it was indescribably fabulous. Thanks to the girl who managed to tape at least most of the song. Youtube clip here .

2. I have amazing friends. People that inspire me to be better in so many different ways. Intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Love you all.

1. In just 3 days (plus a few hours) I'll be heading home to Eagle to spend two weeks with my wonderful family! Camping trip, plenty of yardwork and a WEDDING. Wow.

Monday, June 7, 2010

"I teach high school"

In just over two weeks, I won't be able to say that anymore.

For the past 3-ish years, those four words have been a huge part of my identity. Countless hours of small talk at evite parties, ward functions and chatting with new folks in my parents' ward has been consumed by me explaining what I do, where I do it and why. But being a "Teacher" isn't just a talking point. I am constantly in teacher mode - how can I teach this principle? How can I model appropriate behavior? I can't shut up when I'm with friends at Arlington Cemetery or about 3 dozen other sites in and around DC. And not 30 seconds ago I corrected a friend's spelling (though in my defense, she asked). I am a teacher.

So what happens when the label "Teacher" has been removed? Don't get me wrong, I'm not rethinking my decision to quit and go back to school this fall. I'm just searching for a way to re-identify myself, to explain why after only 3 years in the profession I'm leaving it for something else. Am I a "former teacher"? I feel too young to be a former anything. Am I just someone who needed the "inner city experience" for a few years to feel good about myself? Am I giving up too early? I don't want to be any of those things.

On one hand, I will always be a teacher. It has become a part of me. I apologize in advance to those of you who hang out with me at a museum or another particularly teacher-y location. I will continue to explain the history behind whatever monument / event / person we are visiting - I just can't help that.

And clearly, there are other things that define me. I am a daughter of God with limitless divine potential. I am a Chamberlain, the oldest daughter of wonderful parents who have set a high bar for their children. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm an Idaho girl trying to make it in the big city. I will shortly become a student again and that just thrills me. I'm a daughter and a sister and a friend and I love each role that I play. But I think that despite how frustrated I am currently with my job, I'm going to miss the role of teacher a whole lot.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Roommate of the month award... (and a confession)

This post is going to be a little less introspective than the last, but maybe just as revealing.

I have always prided myself on not being one of those squeamish girls. We all know the type. The girl who jumps on a desk and hikes up her skirt whenever a mouse scurries by (yes, I have seen a grown woman do that. best day of my life). I have no problems dissecting a frog or a fetal pig and on one occasion picked up a black snake to show my (slightly less adventurous) inner city students.

I do have a couple standard phobias. I really don't like heights, especially if there's actually a physical possibility of falling - for example, the ferris wheel in Chicago was considerably more traumatizing than the Ledge at the top of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. I'm also not a huge fan of bats or rats (mice are ok, rats are not).

The latest inexplicable and frankly embarrassing phobia that I've discovered is of this little guy:

(Ewww. It took all the self control I have to search for and post a picture of that thing. And to be honest I might take this post down simply because I can't handle looking at it. )

A few of these charming little creatures have found their way into our bathroom in the past few weeks. Not only are they actually very large bugs and ugly as sin, but they JUMP. I can't think of anything more terrifying while you're using the bathroom or showering than one of these jumping on you. I heard about the first one because Callie had strategically placed a toilet plunger over the cricket to keep it in place until we could get someone to kill it for us. After the first , she got brave and killed the next couple herself. I was sorely disappointed to learn that I am a little squeamish after all.

So. Roommate of the month award goes to my dear camel-cricket-killer-Callie.

And now the confession. A week or two ago as I was washing my face, I noticed a large blackish spot on the wall that wasn't usually there. When I put my glasses on and discovered what that blackish spot was (suddenly in focus and VERY close to my face)... I grabbed my toothbrush and avoided our bathroom for about 24 hours. I should have dealt with it, I know, but I just couldn't. Next time, Callie, I promise.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


How exactly does one become a happy person?

I'm not saying that I'm unhappy. But I want to be more consistently happy with who I am and the things I'm doing with my life. I want to feel like my efforts are adequate and acceptable to God.

Every once in a while I catch glimpses of this woman that I want to be. She wakes up on time every morning, really studies her scriptures before leaving for work and starts out every day with a positive attitude. She is alert and productive at work. She manages to not only keep her classes under control and teach about the Treaty of Paris, but also nurtures students that desperately need it. She comes home from work, chats with her roommates and heads off to the gym for a challenging, stress-relieving workout. She spends her evenings reading or volunteering or practicing the piano and hanging out with friends. She keeps the gospel of Jesus Christ at the forefront of her mind throughout the day and consciously bases her decisions off true principles of the Gospel. She remembers that everyone is a son or daughter of God and treats everyone she meets as such.

I struggle figuring out how to actually become that person all the time. I realize on reflection that even the people who seem "perfect" have days where they feel like they've fallen short. I just want to feel like this amazing woman more often than I do. So how do you balance striving for perfection with the knowledge that perfection is unattainable? It's our end goal in this life, definitely, but that means that for the next 60 or so years, I've got to deal with failure. And unfortunately, like most humans, I am terrified of failure. I'm trying to change my vantage point. I'm trying to develop the courage to pick myself up when I've fallen, to move beyond my failure and to choose to be happy. I had no idea that achieving success and happiness would take so much courage.

I made a list a few weeks ago of things that make me happy:

  • crossing things off my to-do list
  • a clean house
  • reading a good book for hours on end
  • starting / working on a new creative project
  • sitting at the family piano on sunday afternoons and singing with my family
  • camping
  • waking up first on a camping trip and having the dawn all to myself
  • long walks, alone or with a close friend
  • singing along with the radio at the top of my lungs
  • phone calls from old friends
  • experimenting with new recipes
  • walks in the rain

In creating this list, however, I've discovered that sometimes I have a hard time actually doing the things that make me the happiest. This makes no sense. Why would I not jump at the chance to become happier? Again, I think it goes back to courage. It's easier, more comfortable to take a lackadaisical approach to life, to just let things happen instead of proactively seeking out opportunities for self-improvement. Happiness takes effort. Achievement takes effort. Perfection takes a whole lot of effort. And I have to convince myself that it's worth it.

So here's the best part:
Jesus Christ already prepared a way for me (us). He knows exactly the challenges that I face. When I choose to rely on him, I can receive the strength that I need to get me through life's challenges, even if the challenge is simply being happy.

Elder Richard G. Scott wrote in a talk entitled "The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness" the following:

"True, enduring happiness, with the accompanying strength, courage, and capacity to overcome the greatest difficulties, will come as you center your life in Jesus Christ. Obedience to His teachings provides a secure ascent in the journey of life. That takes effort. While there is no guarantee of overnight results, there is the assurance that, in the Lord’s time, solutions will come, peace will prevail, and happiness will be yours."

I'm striving to make this my new mantra. I could use your support as well.