Autumn

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Growing up in Las Vegas where there are only two seasons (blazing hot oven and sort-of bearable), moving to Utah opened my eyes to what seasons could really be. And ever since the moment I looked up on my way home from class and the mountains had started changing colors and the cold nipped at my nose and ears, I have loved autumn…until this year.

For whatever reason, I was NOT ready for fall this time around. Summer is about rest and adventuring. Fall is about returning to school and friends and setting goals, and for whatever reason, I was not quite ready to be responsible just yet. I didn’t feel ready for the balancing act of homework on top of work work and social responsibilities. It’s not that I didn’t want it to come, I just wasn’t ready for it to come quite so soon.

But yesterday, a fellow autumn-lover taught our lesson at church. The topic was the sacrament, which normally makes you think about spring and Easter, right? But she shared something I didn’t know about fall. You see, if all the trees didn’t turn bright orangey-hues and let go of their leaves, they would die. They wouldn’t be able to survive the winter and they wouldn’t be able to generate new growth in the spring. Fall and the sacrament is about shedding our burdens and growing deeper roots so that we can get taller and be green again.

If you’ve ever had a time in your life when you’re just kind of living day-to-day and weren’t sure what you were doing or if God was even that interested, and then something subtle jumped out at you and you were like, “This! This was for me! This is what I needed to hear right now,” that was me during this lesson yesterday. Not only did I need to hear about the sacrament, but I needed to hear it in terms of something really personal to me. As stupid as it sounds, I think God knew that my negative feelings about fall were bugging me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and why something I normally love so much, was bringing me the opposite of joy. And so He reached into my heart and gave me a new reason to love this time of year.

People always say that God is in the details of our lives, but sometimes I don’t give Him enough credit. Happy Autumn everyone!

 

The Gift of Writing

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It doesn’t really make sense that I became a writer.

I never knew a writer growing up. My grandparents’ careers included pianist, dentist, model, president of a local arts organization, stock broker, and real estate appraiser. My mother is a dance professor and my father is a physical therapist.

I’ve always attributed my passion for the written word to be the result of my insatiable appetite for books as a child, but today I think I found a different answer.

Today is Mother’s Day, and like many individuals I received a letter from my mother in the mail. This letter made me cry. It made me grateful. It made me love my mom even more. It helped me see things in my life differently. It helped me see myself differently.

I was blessed with a mother who has a gift for letter writing.

As I read the letter I received today, I remembered the countless letters I have gotten from her over the years. Letters that started from as soon as I could read. And I remembered how formative they were. Somehow the fact that they were written out made everything she loved about me more real and I wanted to be all the wonderful things she said I was.

Since those early experiences, writing has become a core part of my identity. I was a bookworm all through middle school and high school. I majored in English in college, and a large part of my current job involves writing.

Looking back, I think my mother’s letters have subconsciously shaped every aspect of my life. Because learning to read and write was never just about doing homework or even telling stories. It was about making people feel loved and connected. Writing was a powerful tool that I wanted to learn how to use because my mother had shown me how much good it was capable of.

This is kind of a strange way to express how much my mom has impacted my life and how grateful I am to her, but then again it’s not. So much of who I am is the result of her love and example, even if I don’t always realize it.

A Feminist Binge-watches Hallmark Channel

I am a self-proclaimed, feminist. Which is why my next statement may seem a little contradictory or unexpected. Although I hate to admit it, I love cheesy romcoms. Those made for TV movies that have a 2 star rating on Netflix. I’ve seen them all. And I love them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re terrible. The writing is downright painful at times, and the plots are beyond predictable, but deep down I’m a hopeless romantic and these feed my desire to see a happy ending.

I think there’s this fallacy that feminists can’t be romantics. That they have to do everything on their own and resent all men. While there are women who feel this way, and some are feminists, that is not an inherent tenant of feminism.

No, feminism is about the equality of men and women, and when it comes to relationships it’s all about partnership. It doesn’t get more romantic than a mutually supportive team that wants to take on the world together…hence the hopeless romantic in me.

Well, having seen most of the romcoms that are out, I’ve been looking for new material to watch on Friday night (don’t judge my life). So I turned to the one true source of romantic film-making (besides Nicholas Sparks who, for the record, I’m not a fan of). Hallmark.

It started with one Hallmark movie, and then grew into stress binge (yay grad school!) and before I knew it I’d watched 6 or so in a little over a week. (I should note that I generally don’t take a full two hours to watch these. I fast forward through anything that makes me feel awkward which is a pretty decent percentage of the movie.)

Besides the lack of diversity on the entire channel, and the reinforced gender norms at every turn, the most disturbing thing about these movies was how much they were trying to teach me what a woman should want or expect out of a relationship, or rather how much of that was superficial: $20,000 wedding, huge engagement ring, lots of flowers, immediate attraction, super fast commitment, and someone who’s job title is veterinarian, philanthropist, or romance novelist.

Seriously, if any guy is out there reading this and wants to know how to woo me, watch some Hallmark channel, write a list of everything you see, and then title it “How not to date Tracy.”

So if these are all so abhorrent to me, why couldn’t I look away. Why did I keep watching movie after movie?

I think the answer is hope. The movies helped me keep hoping. Hoping that despite my insecurities I can also find someone who thinks the world of me and that I’m excited to see every day. The hope that maybe I’m just at the beginning of my own romantic comedy and “the one,” as they often call him, is going to bump into me tomorrow.

But I think the real truth is, it makes it seem easy. I don’t have to be vulnerable when I watch Hallmark because there’s a formula and it always works out. I don’t have to sacrifice anything with a Hallmark story: the man is too good to be true, and even though the protagonist probably has a tragic past, she doesn’t have much emotional baggage. #totallyrealistic

What we really need more of are movies like About Time. Stories that keep going after the wedding, and cover the infuriating conversations about which dress to wear, and freak outs because the toddler just shredded your presentation, and how to move forward after the death of a loved one and watching people you love struggle.

Hallmark is a cheep imitation of these movies. Movies that remind me of why I still go out there and try to meet new people despite the fact that it’s often a painful experience. Moves that remind me that I want to find someone to be vulnerable with. I want to find someone who isn’t the perfect cookie-cutter man, but a real person that I can share my life with. And even though he likely will not be able to travel through time, we can still work towards building a life worth living over and over and over again. A simple and beautiful life.

So, although I have some fundamental issues with Hallmark’s storytelling formula, and believe it’s a cheep imitation of a good imitation of something wonderful (aka true love), I’ll probably keep on watching the terrible shows because they help me keep hoping, and that’s worth never letting go of. Happy Early Valentine’s Day everyone!

The Birthday Questions

I think my first birthday with the official birthday questions was on my 20th. I was just home from studying abroad in London and had moved in with the women who would quickly become a second family to me.

Now, every time I  answer them, they remind me of those days sitting at our kitchen table under the florescent lights and sky-patterned, crepe-paper ceiling  when it seemed as if everything was possible. So in honor of my recently celebrated birthday, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect with the help of the official birthday questions (Thanks Jessie!).

What was the best part of the last year?

The best part of the last year has been seeing how much more I am capable of than I even realized. A year ago I was still an intern who wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do. In the last year I was hired full-time, helped out on some high profile projects, and was accepted to graduate school.

But even beyond all of that, I think that the biggest growth has come in my Church callings. I love thinking about who needs a visit or a meal or a hug and then being the person who brightens another’s day. While these aren’t unnatural responses for me, my natural inclination is to talk to people I already know and stay home on Friday night with a good book. Knowing there are people I want to meet and reach out to has helped me overcome that and build more meaningful relationships.

Something I hope I take away from this experience is that I don’t have to be in a specific calling to minister to the people around me. So much of what I’m doing now, could be done by any member of the ward.

What is a piece of wisdom you’ve gained over the last year?

Keep moving forward and don’t freak out too much. It’s going to work out.

In retrospect that seems so easy to say. That I shouldn’t have been freaking out when my internship was ending and I didn’t have a job, or when I decided to do an MBA and didn’t know what schools I should apply to, or when I had a disagreement with someone and thought we could never recover our friendship.

Thinking about the big decisions and problems and how they could effect your life is almost paralyzing, but stopping for a second and thinking, “What can I do about this today?” has helped me continue moving forward despite the overwhelming stuff that I know needs to be resolved. And it often puts me in a better place by the time the resolution need to be made.

What are you most looking forward to in the next year?

I’m excited to go back to school (minus the lack of sleep, homework, and tuition). I like being stretched intellectually and can already see it applying to work situations. I know it’s going to push me and help me become a better contributor and I like the idea of having more capacity and skills. And surprisingly, I’m excited to meet new people (that’s big for an introvert.) Especially new friends that are outside of my normal Church employment/ward circles.

Fear and Faith

Every mission has its challenges, and every missionary has their challenges. One of my challenges was street contacting. In Poland, a staunch Catholic, post-Soviet nation, we didn’t have a lot of investigators, or members to visit, so we spent the majority of our time on the street trying to find people to teach.

This entailed walking up to strangers, trying to start a conversation, and bringing up things like their relationship with God, their hopes for their family, and what role religion played in their life, an intimidating task without a language barrier.

This turned out to be significantly more difficult for me than I’d anticipated. Every time I saw another person, an internal battle would rage inside of me about whether or not I was going to contact them. I knew it was the right thing to do, that I had flown half-way across the world to do just that, but every muscle in my body told me it was too scary, too awkward, and I wasn’t very good at speaking Polish anyway.

Then, after I would walk past them, I was filled with guilt for not following through. I mean, I even had a companion right next to me to help me out if I stumbled.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy at first, but what became even more difficult was the fact that it didn’t get better with time. Months went by, and it was still a terrifying battle just to walk on the streets or sit next to someone on a bus. I didn’t understand why God’s response to my struggle to serve Him wasn’t to help me out.

I arrived in Poland at the beginning of Fall, and during one of my first weeks there my companion and I were going for a walk with a member named Ania. On our walk, Ania bent down and picked up one of the buckeyes that were all over the ground in the park. She explained that they were lucky, and that many Polish people would take them home and keep them on shelves, in drawers, and in their pockets. So, of course, I picked a few up and put them in my pockets.

What this meant was that every time I was having one of my internal battles about whether or not I was going to contact a person, I was clenching the buckeyes in my pockets. In order to talk to a person, I needed to let go, take my hands out of my pockets, and open my mouth.

Every time I let go of the buckeyes, it was an act of faith. Of letting go of my fears and trusting God and trusting myself. Of allowing myself to make mistakes. If I could just let go of the buckeye, I would have the courage to take my hands out of my pockets and talk to the person passing by.

I have some good news and some bad news about how this story ends. The good news is that I survived my mission and met some of the most amazing people, several of them by street contacting.

You see, over months and months of missionary work, I trained myself to let go of the buckeye as soon as I saw a person. But that didn’t mean that it was any easier or that it didn’t take just as much faith. I remember contacting on the very last day of my mission and consciously realizing that I had just as much fear and anxiety about contacting as I did at the beginning of my mission, and yet it was my automatic response. Why?

For starters, my desire to do it had increased because I had seen the impact of the gospel in several people’s lives. And once I got passed the initial contacting phase of the conversation, meeting new people and learning about their lives was one of my absolute favorite things about my mission, even when they decided they didn’t want to learn more about Mormonism. Although the fear never really went away, I was still able to move forward and have good experiences.

A few months ago I was taking a walk during my lunch break and when I looked down I saw a whole bunch of buckeyes on the ground. It made me smile. Being from Las Vegas, I’d never seen them in the United States before, so naturally I knelt down and picked one up.

It’s funny how it somehow made its way into my pocket on days when I had to teach a lesson, a big meeting, or the day I started graduate school. Every time I put my hands in my pocket, it reminds me that I can do scary things, that I can trust the Lord even when I’m afraid, and that I can’t let the fear of making mistakes stop me from moving forward with my life.

So here’s one of my stories of fear and faith. What are the buckeyes that have given you strength to succeed in your life?

A Year of Change

Denver #templeselfie.

A photo posted by Tracy Allen (@tracy.na) on

A year ago, I came to work every day as an intern and sat in Intern Alley with Marinda and Kristen as we chatted about life and clicked away at our keyboards.

A year ago, I lived with two stressed out roommates who were applying to graduate school.

A year ago, I was feeling the overwhelming pressure to figure out a real job and was sending in applications every day, but still not exactly sure what I was looking for.

A year ago, I went home to Vegas for Christmas with a brother who had just gotten back from Ukraine and the prospects of a new sister-in-law.

A year ago, everything was on the brink of change, and you know what happened this year? The change came. When I look back at the last 12 months and think about where I was, it frankly makes me stop in my tracks. But at the same time, it was so natural that it’s difficult to imagine being back where I was a year ago.

This year, I have a full-time job I love. Marinda isn’t my co-worker, she’s my roommate. My best friend’s in Chicago. My brother is married (along with two of my dearest friends). And I’m about to start graduate school in less than two weeks.

That sounds like a lot of change, but at the same time, a year is a long time. There are 365 days to dream things up and work on projects and go on adventures and meet new people. So yes, a lot has changed this year, but it doesn’t feel that extreme because it didn’t happen in a day. Each day I woke up and chipped away at the changes I wanted to see in my life and made a little progress toward decisions that needed to be made and eventually they transformed my life. It’s the strange and wonderful thing about life. We’re constantly changing, but we can take it one day at a time.

 

 

 

London

#milleniumbridge in #London. #stpaulscathedral#europeallenvacation

A photo posted by Tracy Allen (@tracy.na) on

I moved to London 7 years ago this week for a 4 month study abroad, but I had no idea that a little part of my soul would always miss it. Is it strange that I’ve only spent a small percentage of my life there, but in so many ways, I feel more at home there than any other city?

Whether it’s strange or not, it’s true. There’s just something about it that makes me feel alive and free. Every corner is lovely and interesting and I feel like I belong in the multi-cultural mix of pedestrians on the street hurrying to their destinations.

I really love living in Utah, but as I drive home each day, I miss the architectural beauty of living in a city, a big city, where you rarely escape the press of skyscrapers, except in the parks that interrupt the busy streets.

Which is why visiting for a few days last month was a dream. It felt like coming home.