31 December 2011

Year End Review

I remember reaching the end of 2010 and feeling completely overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings I'd been given. 2010 was a good year. 2009 was as well, for that matter. I'd gone to England, started and finished my first year of teaching, got a new job and reached the half way point of my second year of teaching - I'd made some incredible, life-changing friendships and had the privilege of performing one of my dream parts on stage. I felt closer to the direction and guidance of the Lord than I ever had been in my life. Things were good.

This year. . .oh this year. My Christmas newsletter write up last year was way too long. This year it looked something like: "Joni worked. . . and worked some more. She hopes next year involves more theater and travel." Two sentences. That's it. I look at the end of 2011 and am quite tempted to spin the clock forward a few hours in an attempt to welcome a new year. 2011 was hard. It was emotionally and physically draining. A year of solid work with very few breaks, even during the summer. No theater. Only minimal travel. A seemingly endless battle with my own emotions and trying to conquer feelings of inadequacy and depression that were almost cruel at times. Not easy. Not fun.

But with all of this not fun-ness and depression comes the opportunity now for me to rest. To stop for a moment and look at how far I've come and realize the hard-won blessings and growth of the year.

For example, I'm learning for the first time in my life to love myself as I am. My talkative and confident public persona often hides a person completely unsure of herself. Combine that with a genetic born desire to please others and you have a recipe for a person easily confused and pressured into doing and feeling things to please others. I don't mean to say that this year has made me more selfish - but I do think I am leaving this year less easily swayed into trying to please everyone around me by being what I think everyone wants me to be. It's a valuable lesson. For the first time in a while, I feel peace with who I am now, not just focussing on who I want to be in the future.

For another, I'm learning to be happy with where I am in life. It is easy - so easy - in this part of the world to look around and feel behind. To feel as though where I am now is less important or valuable to me than if I were to be doing what everyone else around me seems to be doing. But I like what I do. I love teaching. (I love, heaven forbid, being single*.) And instead of seeing these things as temporary or unnecessary or of less worth to me than a life of changing diapers, I've seen the value in embracing the journey I am on, not the one Jane Doe across the street is on. I still have goals and dreams and desires for the future, but not having those things here, now, is no reason to feel guilty about being happy with things I have now that I really do like. I'm done feeling socially guilty.

So, 2011. . .you were a bit of a pain. One of those years that I'll look at years down the road and be really grateful for, I'm sure. But for now, I intend to blow an obnoxious celebratory horn quite loudly at midnight and drink a glass of Martinelli's in honor of your death. Then I'm going to cuddle with 2012 until it succumbs to giving me the theater time I am in desperate need of.

Happy New Year!

*Most of the time. On laundry/cleaning/shopping day, it would definitely be nice to have some help. Also when my bed is a little too cold.

13 December 2011

Ode to the Butterflies

Recently I was asked to Assistant Direct the school musical where I teach. (It's not the same as being on stage, and the show is one that I would do just about anything to be in, but it's a step warmer to the stage than I've been for the last year!) Auditions start today. This particular show will involve approximately 25 people - 1/3rd the number of the show from last year. You can feel the anticipation so thickly in the air you can cut through it.

I remember back when I auditioned for my first school play. I was a seventh grader, seasoned from years of pretending to be various characters in my living room and bedroom. I was sure that the director would cast me. Why shouldn't she? I was, quite obviously, the best choice. I remember watching the clock slug its way on all day, waiting for the cast list to be posted. A mere nine people in the entire school were going to be involved. I knew I was going to be one of them.

Except that I wasn't. My first (though certainly not last) great defeat. I was crushed.

The next year things went better. I managed to scrape by as villager number two and snagged myself three short lines by virtue of the fact that I went to every rehearsal whether I was scheduled or not.

Since then I've been involved in many shows and will, I'm assuming, add to that list. But I am very happy to say that my years of auditioning as a student in high school are behind me. Auditioning in community and regional theater is hard, but auditioning in school is worse. So, so much worse. You can't escape it. If you get the part you want, you're walking on air, but if you don't - and the odds are infinitely not in your favor towards getting what you want - then you watch another person do what you wanted to do, and, if you don't get cast, spend the next several months praying for the show to end so that you can move on. You're surrounded by it. Happiness you so wanted, but won't get. There's nothing worse.

So, dear auditioning students, know that I feel your pain. That I have been there. And that I do not envy you even a little. I too will be auditioning at least twice in the next few months. It's hard. It's embarrassing. (It's addicting.) But it is so, so worth it.

04 December 2011

A Thrill of Hope

I've always had a great love for Christmas music. As a child I don't think I loved any time of the year more than the time when the sounds of The Carpenters, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and Mannheim Steamroller. There is joy and hope in Christmas music. (And a fair bit of annoyance when it comes to songs about hippos and Christmas shoes, but I digress.)

The older I get the more appreciation I have for the hymns of Christmas. What Child is This, for example, paints a beautiful parallel between choirs of angels raising "songs on high" while, at the same time, Mary sings a lullaby to an infant. I love the contrast in that. It's poetic. It's peaceful.

This year, though, I've been thinking about the first verse in O, Holy Night over and over again. I think in the midst of the opportunity for showing off and belting that song usually provides, I've never really paused to consider what the message of that song actually is. Look at the first verse again:

O, holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error, pining,
'Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

It's the last four lines of the song that hit me the hardest this year. Last year I felt was one of tremendous blessings from the Lord. I was given wonderful opportunities, new friends, and some wonderful, merciful experiences that were so perfect that I felt likely to burst out of my own skin. Life was so good that my family finally asked me to stop talking about the parts of it I was so happy about because it was getting on their nerves.

This year has been different. I've been battling challenges professionally and personally that have left me feeling trapped inside my own weakness. I've spent much of the year in great debate over much of what I hold most dear. I've battled against the bonds of depression harder and longer than I've ever done in my life. I've been holding on by the tips of my fingers, fighting to keep myself afloat.

It's hard to live the gospel. It is hard for me to be single in a church that doesn't quite know what to do with me all the time. It's hard for me to watch my friends go to the temple when I can't yet because of circumstances out of my control. It's hard for me to try hard to fight against the foibles of the natural man monster in me. But a friend reminded me recently that I am imperfect but not inadequate. I am full of sin and error, but because of the birth of my Savior, my weary soul has worth and great cause to rejoice. This song, then, speaks to me not just of the hope of the night the Savior was born, but the hope of a new year, the hope of Christmas, the hope of the gospel in my life.