Author's note: Please don't let my writing about my beliefs alienate (or bore, or offend) you if you aren't a member of my church. These stories are really about a young girl figuring out who she is and who she loves. We all have to do that in one way or another! :) Thanks for reading!
Where Do You Look To Find Yourself?
I know one place that I look. It’s a little town in Southern Utah and it’s called Beaver. I don’t know why it defines me so. It might be because I spent two crucial, transitional years there, seventh and eighth grade. It might be because my first real interactions with boys took place there. It might be because it’s a small town where everyone knows each other and most are related, but they eventually accepted me as one of them. It might be because of the traditions they have in that little town that are different from anywhere else that I know. The all-out way they celebrate the fourth of July, the way they spend their summers at co-ed 4-H camp and putting on summer plays in a quaint little playhouse, or the way they end their summers with an ice-cream sundae party that turns into a food fight, and then a late night swimming party at the local pool. It might even be that I moved away, and when something ends prematurely we romanticize it until we remember it more wonderful that it even was. But ah well, I like doing that.
J went to the same college that I did. I’ll never forget registration. I don’t think I’ve ever been so overwhelmed in my life. I was staring blankly at lists and lists of classes and it could have been a foreign language. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, or even what path to start down. The excitement of escaping my regular life and embarking on the college adventure was quickly being replaced with cold, hard reality, and bleak, shuddering fear. My parents helped all they could, but it was a little like when the math homework finally got so advanced that they didn’t know how to explain it anymore. I felt distanced from the others that were here with me from Emery County. None of them were someone I’d feel comfortable going to and saying, “I’m in over my head and so afraid.” I didn’t know where to turn for help.
After awhile, we muddled through the actual registration, and then my parents and I left the others and went to campus to sign paperwork for my apartment and some other things. We pulled into a giant parking lot and there, walking just a few feet from where our vehicle was facing, I saw someone so familiar I’d swear I’d known him longer than just this life. It was J. Seeing him was like cold winter nights when I’d put a flannel quilt in the dryer until it was toasty all over and then I’d wrap it around myself and completely shut out the chill in the air. I jumped out of the car without thinking, and called his name. It was a blessing to have run into him on this huge campus, filled with hundreds of people, none as wonderful as he was. Hearing his name called out randomly startled him and he looked in my direction. I ran to him and threw my arms around him in a relieved hug, even with my parents looking on. He reciprocated, startled but happy. After that moment, college stopped feeling quite so lonely.
Now, months later, months of college experience that leave me just as desperate for the dryer heated quilt experience, I visit him at his dorm room. “J, my college apartment makes me feel like I’ve been cast on an episode of MTV’s ‘The Real World’, and I’m the conservative Mormon girl that is pitifully sheltered and naïve.”
J is a great listener. He just turns up one corner of his mouth signaling that he hears me, but also that my dramatics entertain him, which only comforts me because if he thinks the concern is small enough to be amused by, then it must be.
Two of my roommates are from Chicago, and they’re all pierced and tattooed and they like to go to clubs and go dancing. They’re really nice, though they look at me like they think I was not born, but rather just sort of wandered out of a corn field one day. Then I have my Japanese roommate, who cooks huge, foreign smelling Japanese meals for her friends in our kitchen, and fills the room with indecipherable chatter and the sink with even less decipherable dishes that don’t get clean as quickly as any of us would like. I have the roommate who has recently fallen in love with the boy from the apartment across the parking lot, and they are so in love that the parking lot has become too far a distance for them to be separated. At night, he cuddles into her bed, and in the daytime, he stores his milk in our fridge. The roommate I share a room with is beautiful, accomplished and headed in the direction of world domination. I met her when I competed against her at Miss Utah State Fair. What I wouldn’t give to have her confidence. The look in her eye and the shade of her lipstick says, “Bring it on world.” She gives me great make-up tips, fashion advice and life advice, but I feel a little like a small girl playing dress up. There is one other roommate who seems to love the small town life, as I do. She’s less afraid than I am though, and she has a gift for laughing even when she feels like crying. It’s a magnetic trait and I find myself drawn to be laughing alongside her. She’s writing to a missionary as well, and it’s given us a starting off point for a great friendship.
“I don’t know what I’ll do without you when you leave for Australia,” I tell J. He’s received his mission call, and I’m really pumped about the idea of him acquiring an Australian accent.
“You worry too much,” he tells me, and he has a way of making the remark sound like a compliment. “Are you going to make it to my farewell?”
“I wouldn’t miss it!” I say.
It seems like the next thing I know, I am there, hearing his farewell talk and being not at all surprised by its insight, intelligence and humor. Australia is a lucky place, and speaking of places, I spend the rest of the Sunday looking around the small town of Beaver with a dreamy look in my eye. This town is straight out of a storybook… instead of the reality show I feel trapped in. It’s been the scene for a lovely part of my story. Late night high school football games, my young, teenage hand clutched in someone else’s. Night games, one of which ended with me stepping on a rusty nail. My eyes always searching the streets for that shiny, red Toyota truck. My first experiences with the phone ringing and the person on the other end being a boy, calling for me. Hugs that I was sure were more of a thrill than any kiss ever could be.
You know what I’m learning? There isn’t just one place that you’re “meant to be” in. There isn’t just one person that you’re “meant to be” with. We don’t have to go through life searching for the one right answer. We can choose between so many good things, and we can make any of them into a happy life. I used to believe in destiny, but now I believe in pro-activity. I believe we can make our happy ending anything we want it to be.
Dear Elder Leonhardt,
I’ve made a big decision this week. I’m going to spend the summer at home and attend Snow College in the fall. The atmosphere just seems to fit me better. I’ll explain it all one day when you get home. I’ve had some major answers to prayer, and for that I will be truly, eternally grateful. I’ve found that sometimes we have to swallow up our fears and do as it says in Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord and lean not unto our own understanding because even when things are falling apart, our Heavenly Father can comfort us. He knows so much more than I do, I hope I can learn to trust Him and turn my whole life to Him.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Men and Women who turn their lives to God will find that he can make a lot more of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends and pour out peace.” Those are some beautiful promises aren’t they?
There is so much more I want to say, but I’m out of time. I can’t wait for your next letter, sometimes I live for them. I’m so glad the Lord blesses me with your friendship.
Moving can be another thing we experience together, but separate. I’m being transferred to a new area this week. There’s so much to do before I go. I have to pack everything up. It’s like moving away from home every two months.
I pray for you every day. Prayers are so important. I have found that I am nothing without communication with God. I just bought four study guides for the four standard works. I want to know all that I can. I want to become as Jacob is in Jacob 2:2, a man who when he talks, everyone listens, and I see myself slowly doing that.
It’s March Madness right now. I haven’t seen a basketball game in four months, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me at all. Remember when I would make a huge bracket of all the college teams and have a betting pool? You filled one out, and you were a pretty good guesser.
I’ve been doing a little genealogy on P-day. It is really fun. My Great, Great Grandpa Jacob Fredrick Leonhardt was the first to join the church in my family, so the first boy will be named Jacob?
Love, Elder Leonhardt
Jacob huh? Hmmm… let me search MY geneology awhile and then I’ll let you know. ;)