March 24, 2014

Maple Weekend

Our family outing to the Arnot Woods to celebrate NYS Maple Weekend was just what my soul needed. Wandering in the woods always fills me and on this day especially it was such a feast for the senses. The gurgling snowy stream, the squelch of mud beneath our boots, the wind that roared through the treetops.
That wind carried the laughter of friends and the delightful smell of wood burning stoves and maple syrup reduction. The maple syrup cotton candy Ellie purchased with her very own money melted on our tongues and left a wonderfully woody, sweet taste in our mouths.
We strolled across bridges and traipsed up wet trails while the sun peeked out at us intermittently. The whole world on the verge of awakening - my spirit hungrily lapping it up. There is such promise in this time of year. Knowing there will yet be snows flurries, it is nonetheless thrilling to see the tiny buds on trees and watch the returning birds fly through the skies.
This weekend I learned that it takes the alternating freezing and thawing weather to swell the trees and let the sap flow. So too, I feel a stirring in myself at this time of year: Content at times to sit and sew but also needing desperately to wander in the woods, to have an adventure - to hear the birds and drink in the breeze. I feel so lucky to share this magical life with Joe and the girls. They are such examples to me of discovery and enjoyment of ordinary pleasures.
On this trip, Wren was the greatest explorer of all. Outfitted with her boots and and hat and binoculars, she wandered to her heart's content. And the sound of her songs (from the Frozen soundtrack of course) rode on the wind; landing in my heart already bursting with gratitude.
Let it go!

March 12, 2014

Colored Pencil Case

Ellie loves to make art - it's one of my favorite things about her. My other favorite thing about her is that when her preschool teacher asked her if she'd like to be an artist one day, she confidently answered, "I'm already an artist." Love that girl and her confidence!

I was so excited to make this colored pencil case for my little artist - and I'm thrilled with how it turned out. I got the instructions from an amazing book called Last-Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts. I just knew this book was made for me because "Last-Minute" is right there in the title. It's a beautiful publication with so many great projects in it. I'll be sure to share other projects from this book on the blog - it's really one of my favorite titles on the shelf right now.

If you want to make a colored pencil roll-up case you can also google it and find a lot of great tutorials like this one. It's a simple concept that can be used for crayons, knitting needles or whatever other tools you can think of that you'd like to roll up and take with you. I personally loved working with all these bright fabric scraps in the dull days of winter and even though every single pencil is now scattered around the house, I still get a little thrill each time I match up the colors, roll it up, and stash it away for another day. Happy making little, Ellie - I hope you continue to love creative pursuits as much as I do.

P.S. Don't you dare color on this fancy gift I just finished for you!

March 6, 2014

On Faith

Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.
Mark 9:24

There have been a number of times I've wanted to write how the loss of my mother has affected my faith. But this topic is daunting to say the least. My religious tradition is a large part of my life and identity and it's something that's been drastically impacted by the events of the last couple years. My faith journey is difficult to write about because it never seems to be finished. I don't know how to tell the story of my heart - the one that continually shifts. My beliefs that were once a solid bedrock have become something very fluid, and I sense changes in them almost daily. A few months ago I was asked to speak in church - the first talk I had given since Mom's passing. And so, it seemed as good a time as any to try and articulate exactly what my faith looks like. I would apologize for the length of this post, but it is a long story - so it deserves all the space it takes to tell it.

There are a number of General Conference talks referenced in this talk. I've left links to them within the text.

November 2013

Today I'll be speaking on what it means to have a living faith - one that changes with time. That is the only kind of faith I feel qualified to speak on now, because I am currently in a place where my faith looks quite unfamiliar to me. It is shifting and changing and not anything like what it used to be.

My mother was sixteen years old when I was born. She and my father divorced when I was three and life continued to be a succession of moves and marriages and divorce and dysfunction. Growing up, there was never a religion that we stuck with - we attended very few churches with any regularity. I was intensely curious about spiritual matters as a child, and I would often check out books from the religion section of the library to see if I could find the answers I was looking for. When I was eleven I tried to read the bible, but didn't get past the book of Numbers. At twelve I was baptized Lutheran and spent a little while in that church, thought I still had questions that I didn't find answers to even during my Confirmation process. Another move to another state found us church-less once again and I just resolved to try my best to be a good person; to be a Christian - whatever that might mean.

I was fourteen years old when the missionaries knocked on our door. Mom had been brought to her knees, praying for a miracle - for her life was again in complete disarray. Mormon missionaries were not the answer she was looking for and so she sent them away. She returned to her prayer only to realize what just transpired. She chased the Elders down the street, made an appointment, and we had our first discussion that very night.

I remember the moment I gained my first testimony of the restored gospel. The missionaries had just presented the Plan of Salvation and for the first time in my life I felt peace about where my life was going and what would happen after I die. I felt the Spirit testify to me that I had just heard Truth. When Elder Racey looked at me and asked what I thought about the Plan of Salvation I said, "I've never head anything like it, but it seems so familiar."

I remember the feelings I had at my baptism - the overwhelming sense that I had just embarked upon an epic journey. I felt a sort of emptiness, a strange sadness as I said goodbye to my former self. And then a might rushing wind filled me. My cheeks burned hot all that night as I greeted those who had attended my baptism. I truly felt a fire throughout my body and I realized that this choice I had made to be baptized was a real turning point in my life.

At that point I entered the phase of my life I like to call "the years of prosperity." I fit into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like a perfect little cog. My life was centered around Young Women's activities, seminary, fulfilling callings. My family life continued to disintegrate in many painful ways, but being a part of the Church gave me the stability and safety I had always craved. I thrived with the loving support of so many kind people and the very structure inherent in the church setting. Throughout high school my mother's mental illness and addiction continued to increase in intensity, so when I graduated I high tailed it to BYU as fast as I could. I continued to fulfill callings that stretched me in new ways and my life revolved around church activity. Family heartache was always a trying part of life, but during that time I felt that every struggle had meaning. I was in a constant state of growth and development. There was purpose to my trials and I felt very connected to my faith and my God. It was during these years that I met Joe. We were married and Ellie was born to us while living in Provo, UT. We moved to New York City for work and welcomed our second daughter, Wren, at the very end of 2011.

On the evening of April 2, 2012, I received a phone call that my mother had died of an overdose. I knew immediately that it was suicide. It's hard for me to even express the feelings I experienced at that time. Crumpled to the floor in the kitchen, it literally felt as though my world came crashing to a halt. In the hours following that phone call, my heart was wracked with the most intense grief and sorrow I ever could have imagined. In the days and weeks that followed, there were moments of clarity and tenderness and whisperings of the Spirit within my heart. Even amid my pain I felt an exquisite sense of meaning and purpose. There was intense sorrow, but there was also sacredness in the suffering.

In the months following Mom's death, however, there was nothing.

A huge, crushing nothingness.

I fell into a depression so deep that it threatened to consume me. The sudden death of my mother pulled the rug out from under me, and the floor along with it. I was free-falling into an abyss and though I flailed in every direction, I could not seem to grasp anything to slow my descent. "Where was God?" I wondered. Why did He abandon me in my time of greatest need? My prayers felt unanswered, my heart felt unhealed, and a I began to feel that my previous faith was unfounded.

I spent a long time (many months) feeling abandoned and angry. I was out of touch with my faith and utterly lost - and not for lack of trying. How I prayed to know if God was there! And yet, I felt nothing. No revelation, no calming confirmation of the Spirit; none of the things I had believed would come to me in my time of need. I always thought that if I did what God wanted, He would protect me. Not that He would keep bad things from happening, but that it wouldn't hurt so badly when the very worst thing happened. To find myself in this time of grief feeling totally alone and unsure was very upsetting to say the least.

I began to feel anxious. Do I still belong here in this church? Can I continue doing all that is required of me when I don't feel a thing? Do I fit in amongst all the believers surrounding me? I started to feel pressure within myself to get my testimony back - to arrive at the same answers I had once known. Why wasn't it coming back? What does it mean if God doesn't answer my prayers? What can I believe about this Father who seems absent when I need Him most?

Around this time we moved to Ithaca. There's nothing like birthing a baby, losing your mother, and moving to a new town all in a matter of months to throw these questions and anxieties into hyper-drive. I was not coping well. And while I learned to function in a physical sense and began the journey to finding my emotional health, my spiritual life remained a giant question mark - an empty place inside me.

In the last few months there have been moments of light. I've had small realizations and brief moments of spirituality that have helped me to remain here at church. The first of which was Elder Bowen's talk in the October 2012 General Conference. His story of the heartache of losing his son was the first time I remember any general authority really discussing what life was like before the faithful resolution of a trial. Sometimes conference talks seem to fast forward through the suffering, which gave me the impression that suffering was not an acceptable part of the process. Somehow I had internalized the belief that a faithful person experiences a trial, quickly feels the spirit comfort them, and then everything is OK. Elder Bowen's discussion of the anger, guilt, and loneliness he battled after his son's death helped me to feel less anxiety about the fact that I haven't yet reached a happy ending to my great trial.

I've also been thinking a lot about the parable of the sheep. For the first time in my life, I find myself really relating to the lost sheep. I understand now what it feels like to wander in the wilderness and not feel the love of the shepherd who searches for me. Perhaps Christ has been searching for me, but as a lost sheep, it's not possible for me to know or feel that while I wander. Along these lines, President Monson's address to the Relief Society in October of 2013 comforted me greatly when he said:

"There will be times when you will walk a path strewn with thorns and marked by struggle. There may be times when you feel detached—even isolated—from the Giver of every good gift. You worry that you walk alone. Fear replaces faith."

"My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes... It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there."

Small and simple experiences like these helped me to feel peace about the unsettled nature of my faith. And the more acceptance I had for my situation, the more things began to improve, bit by bit. Still, this is not a linear process. There are small forward steps and backward slides. In fact, this faith journey feels more like a sideways spiral motion - I'm often revisiting the same issues from a different perspective. It's not the line upon line simple gathering of knowledge I experienced when first joining the Church.

It's not as though one day I woke up to find my prayers answered and my belief restored. It's not as though the darkness completely dispersed the day I started taking an anti-depressant. But I made a conscious choice to keep showing up to life, to keep my heart open to feeling anything good that may come and to allow myself the time to work through this difficult process, without any pressure to arrive at "the end."

My faith has been tested in the most extreme sense in recent years. At times it has felt I have no faith at all.

Yet, as I reflected on the story of my conversion and baptism for this talk, I was able to feel for the first time in a long while that Someone truly was watching over me. I know that my life is better now than it was before I was introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know Someone answered my prayers then. I remember feeling loved and guided and blessed.

And if I cannot always feel a connection to the Savior today - well then, that is when I hope for things which are not seen which are true. (Hebrews 11:1, Alma 32:21)

Today I cannot stand in testimony meeting and say that I KNOW things - not in the way that I could before. The list of things I know is very short. But there are a few things that I believe and many more that I hope for.

I know that the world is a beautiful place and I'm grateful for every day I have.
I know that we all have divinity within us.
I know that grief has made my heart tender and humbled me in ways I couldn't have guessed.
I know that charity never faileth.
I know that my life has been blessed for following the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe that keeping covenants brings peace to my life.
I believe that grace is a real power in my life - that I am just beginning to understand how to live with grace each day; how to truly rely on it.
I believe in prophecy and in personal revelation - that the Spirit can touch our hearts and guide us.

Oh, and the list of things I hope for - it is long indeed.

I hope to one day feel a personal relationship with Jesus Christ again - to really KNOW that He is my savior.
I hope that this church is led by living prophets, and that as a living, breathing organization it will continue to grow and change in a direction that brings all of us closer to God.
I hope there will be a day when all wrongs will be made right, when the sorrows of this world will be washed away.
Most of all, I hope that my offering of a sincere and questioning heart will be acceptable to my Heavenly Parents.

This is my current testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

March 5, 2014

You Make My Heart Glow Valentines

Even though we were sick on Valentine's Day, we had a stroke of luck when freezing temps and ice canceled Ellie's school on the day of the Valentine's party. We used our winter break to recoup and then had a chance to make some awesome cards for her class party. This was the greatest project for she and I to work on together: just enough structure for me and plenty of freedom for her. I thought I'd share the process for anyone else interested in making valentines like these.

Materials Needed:
- construction paper
- oil pastels
- scissors
-washi tape
- glow sticks

Draw hearts on sheets of construction paper.
Color in the hearts with different designs (this was Ellie's job - that girl LOVES oil pastels).
Cut out the hearts and cut two slits for the glow sticks to slide into.
Write a message and attach it to the heart with washi tape.

This project was super simple and we were both thrilled with the results. I've started a Pinterest board called My Hands Made where I'll pin photos of the various projects I complete. I hope you'll follow along! I love Pinterest and the creativity it has allowed me to tap into daily. I'm quite proud of my boards and welcome you to follow them if you'd like. (search Whitney Hardie under pinners)

I'm excited for this new venture on my blog. Hopefully it will help me document my projects more and who knows - it may even lead to more blogging!