It’s sweater weather; it’s the kind of day where your nose stings for a good thirty seconds after coming inside from the cold. People on campus pull up their hoods, fold their arms, and hurry faster to class, sometimes scowling.
The cold and its sting don’t do that to me. It makes me smile. It makes me slow down. Most of all, it makes me remember.
I’m coming up on my year-mark for returning home from my mission. It’s really bittersweet. On the one hand, I miss the place, I miss the people, I miss the lifestyle. On the other hand, I’ve been married for almost six months and there is nothing more awesome.
This morning, I was studying Elder Lawrence’s talk, “What Lack I Yet?” and it really hit me that this life is all about progression. Which obviously you and I have heard before, so JAZZ HANDS for stating the obvious. What hit me more directly was that we can really ponder and focus, bit by bit, on becoming a better person. And we can actually DO IT. And in doing so, we don’t have to undertake a massive overhaul all at once — because that is a recipe for failure and a whole heap of self-disappointment — but rather, we can incrementally change ourselves and our lives (and therefore the lives of those around us for better). With some divine help, we have that ability. What a dang miracle!
And finding out, I need to improve at THIS, doesn’t equal, I suck at THIS. It just means you’re moving onward and upward, however bumpy, hilly, roundabout, or small your progress may be. God is helping you, and guess what? You’re doing it! Go you.
Gobble, gobble, here’s some November irony. The answer came quickly and clearly. “Gratitude.”
So I thought about that. I see good in the world. I feel like I say thank you. But I can do more, and Heavenly Father, who loves me, knows I am ready to do more.
I thought about the time in my life when I felt most grateful, or rather today, the sting of the cold on my face reminded me.
My mission was the most consistently soul-stretching and uncomfortable thing I’ve yet to experience, yet it was also the most comforted and peaceful I’ve ever felt.
Sometimes when life is comfortable, when I’ve got my routine, when it’s easy, when it’s warm, I forget.
I forget the peace that comes from accepting I am not in control, and being grateful to Heavenly Father because He is, and that is more than enough.
I forget being bundled up, asking myself, am I grateful enough for the gospel to go out in -20 degree weather and share it despite losing feeling in my toes, fingers, and face even if not one person listens all night? I forget the feeling within, the emphatic, yes! I forget the strength of feeling that yes! over and over again, warming me right to my bones.
I forget wearing four pairs of fleece-lined tights under long skirts with snow boots, being 25 pounds heavier, having no time for nice hair or makeup, showing gratitude for God’s love by confidently approaching anyone and everyone we saw without a self-conscious or self-directed thought, to share that love.
When I’m wrapped up in my to-do list, or my grade point average, or my daily schedule, sometimes I forget the stranger (or sibling, really) next to me. I forget to ask myself, am I grateful enough for God’s love and this person to turn and look in their face, to smile at them, to ask how their day was?
I especially forget when I worry about having time to do things, or being able to do the right things, or about the future. I forget the night when it was so cold INSIDE our car with the heat on that my GPS wouldn’t even register the heat from my finger, and we got hopelessly lost in a suburb of Minneapolis in the dark, in a blizzard. When we finally found a semi-well-lit street to stop on and regroup, although it was one we’d never seen before, we looked up at a little house with bright windows in the storm and knew immediately we weren’t lost at all. And when the family inside opened the door and saw our faces only moments after talking about feeling lost themselves, they knew they weren’t either.
I forget a million days and nights just like that, except completely different, like perfect snowflakes in the best kind blizzard.
I forget sometimes in life’s distractions and my own agenda that the thought, “Oh, I haven’t talked to that person forever” or “they haven’t talked to me in forever” is actually not my own, and instead a reminder to reach out.
I forget the absolute overwhelming beauty of sacrificing for others, only to find they have given you more by being in your life. I forget sometimes the almost incomprehensible gratitude that kind of love brings.
I forget that I can do hard things with His help. I forget that a girl with a prior crazy aversion to the cold and seasonal affectedness can serve cheerfully and happily in Minnesota. I forget that she can wake up to negative temperatures, eager to get out the door. I forget that He can and will enable me with the big things, and the things that might sound silly. Being in the cold made me remember every day.
I forget that the best places I’ve been were humble, even what some would call, “ghetto.” I forget that the most important places to know and visit aren’t always exotic, but rather the lives and homes of those in need.
I forget that when we really love someone, when we’re really and truly grateful for them, that our love and gratitude for them isn’t predicated on being loved back. It’s not loving someone if they contact you often or even occasionally, or loving someone if they let you in their home or their life, or even don’t slam the door.
It’s just loving. Just that.
I forget that ease makes things cheap, and everything worth having cost a beautiful, bettering struggle.
I forget that my best days with people weren’t because of dancing, decor, games, invites, or menu items, but because of genuine love and good conversation shared over a hot meal, sometimes sacrificed by those who would eat only one meal a day themselves.
I forget to see the Savior in others at all times – to remember that when I love them, I love Him, and when I judge, mock, or show disinterest or indifference to them, I hurt not only them, but Him. I don’t always see.
I forget that gratitude for someone in your life isn’t just words, it’s action. It’s undivided attention when you’re together. It’s genuine interest in their story instead of only sharing your own, only wanting to be heard. It’s being completely in the moment with them, not thinking of past hurts or future to-dos, but being grateful for right then, right there.
I forget that gratitude also means faith. It means optimism. It means love.
Sometimes when life is comfortable, when I’ve got my routine, when it’s easy, when it’s “warm” so to speak, I forget what it is to live and see really gratefully.
But when I feel the sting of cold air, I smile, and I remember.
I remember that gratitude is a remembrance of what God has done for you, a life lived in reflection of that, a life and a demeanor that says, thank you. Thank you for this moment and the difficulty and the beauty and the lesson and the whole thing.