Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tis the Reason......

I love Christmas. I always have. The bright colors, the lively music, the smells of vanilla and balsam, the harried yet happy faces of fellow shoppers. I love searching for the right gift, and the exhilaration of successfully finding it. I love playing Secret Santa, imagining the delight the recipient is sure to feel upon finding the colorfully wrapped gift on the porch. I love the family parties, the shrieking of children's voices as they dash through Grandma's house in pursuit of one another, the family photo montage put together by Uncle Mike. I love our gaily decorated Christmas trees, and Daron's Christmas Village. I love the traditional foods: cashew brittle, pecan bars, homemade fudge, soft sugar cookies with cream cheese frosting and m&m's. Almond Roca! Candy canes! Those neopolitan candies Brach's makes that I can't find anymore. Pizza on Christmas Eve with a side of my husband's homemade French Onion soup. I'm salivating!

I cherish my memories of the Christmases my mother used to create, on a limited budget, for 8 children. She made everything magical. I don't know how she did it, but, somehow, she always managed to scrape together whatever was necessary to provide each of us with something special under the tree from the jolly fat man. Daron and I have been fortunate enough to always have the means to provide our children with whatever their little hearts desired for Christmas, within reason, but I'm not sure if I've provided them with the same caliber of memories I hold most dear.

One tradition that we've carried over from my childhood is the retelling of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. Our children dress up, using towels and blankets, to play the parts of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, and various animals. Even at their ages, they still consider that an essential part of our celebration, and insist on acting out the story as recounted in the New Testament narrative.

The past couple of Christmases have been a challenge for me, as I am the one who narrates the story as the children play the parts. As my beliefs have come into sharper focus, I've struggled to read aloud a story that I'm not convinced with any degree of certainty is factual. Last year I stumbled through the telling, choking on my words, blaming my difficulty on the memory of our beloved Grandma Henrie who had passed away the prior Christmas. Authenticity and integrity are vitally important to me, and I didn't want to appear to give credence to an account I no longer felt sure was based on anything more than legend. Neither did I want to spoil Christmas Eve for my loved ones, who cherish the story as they cherish their own testimonies of its Star. So, I muddled through, quickly moving on to my favorite story of the evening, "The Night Before Christmas", by Clement C. Moore. Now that's a story that warms my heart!

As this season has progressed, I've pondered for many hours the story of the First Christmas. I've spent considerable time this year studying the history of the New Testament, discovering that what I had always believed was an inspired retelling of actual, historical accounts, was merely the memories of relatively unknown spectators of the times, recorded decades after His death. They weren't even contemporaries of Christ's, as they lived years after He had exited stage left. They were recording the story as it had been retold to them, passing through countless sources, the number unknown to us. And the study of contemporary events has shown that many of the most cherished facets of the narrative have no basis in fact. They cannot be corroborated by historical events that are known to have occurred. And the two recordings of the Nativity, found in Matthew and Luke, contradict one another in significant ways, contradictions that cannot be easily reconciled. They cannot both be true. One or the other got it wrong. But which one? The story as we know it, the one shared in church services and homes throughout the Christian world on Christmas Eve, is an amalgamation of the two, meshing the narratives and creating a beautiful picture of a divine birth, attended by animals in a stable, and noted by shepherds abiding nearby, later by kings of noble birth bearing gifts.

Written history comes to us through the lens of the writer, with his or her unique perspective influencing the telling of the story. It's a rare writer who can relay pure fact, without revealing something of their motivation in recording a particular story. So it is with New Testament writers. They each wanted to portray the life of Christ in a way that supported their own beliefs about who he was. And when their writings are analyzed, their own agendas are revealed. As I've become aware of the nuances present in the scriptural retelling of the Nativity, I've attempted to uncover the message each writer was trying to convey. And, for me, the underlying theme, no matter the details each presented as fact, was love. Pure love. Divine love. Love meant to motivate and elevate us, and most of all, to inspire us.

So this Christmas Eve, I'm going to narrate the story of the birth of Christ as usual, acknowledging that it is an important story, a story that inspires us, and lifts us. And I'll focus on the thread woven throughout the narrative that tells of love, both divine and earthly. The love of a Heavenly Father, who, because He loved the world, gave His only Begotten Son, that we might live forever with Him. The love of Mary, who, though still a child herself, accepted the role assigned to her, with all its inherent difficulties, and became the mother of the Savior of the world. The love of Joseph, Mary's betrothed, who, because he loved Mary, accepted her story of divine conception, though it flew in the face of everything he knew to be true, and stood by her side as she gave birth in a stable. The love of the Savior Himself, our elder brother, who came into the world as a tiny baby, and grew into a man who exemplified love, teaching us to care for one another as He cares for us. Though I don't believe in the literal historicity of the account, I believe in the message. And that's what I love the most about Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Boy Meets Girl

Wanna hear a great love story? Boy meets girl. Girl doesn't like boy much. Boy asks girl to marry him. Girl says, "Yeah, why not?"

Okay, so maybe it wasn't quite that simple. There may be a few details I've neglected to include, but you get the gist of it! Basically, 23 years ago this month, I met an amazing gentleman (and I don't use the term lightly), we dated briefly, we were both hit by one of the strongest spiritual lightning bolts we'd ever felt, and we decided to align our destinies and make our union legal. There you have it. And, though every day hasn't felt like a fairy tale (well, maybe Cinderella on occasion, sweeping up ashes and soot, or Beauty and the Beast, though I'm not telling which one of us played which role....), we are living our happily ever after. He is the milk to my cookie, the cheese to my macaroni, the frosting to my cupcake.... forgive me, I'm hungry! The point is, while he likes to tell me that he feels lucky to have me, it is I who won the lottery all those years ago.

My best friend's daughter and my daughter's best friend (they are one and the same) is getting married this week. She's only 19, so young to be making a serious commitment. And I fear for her. One day, she may wake up and find that not only does she not know the guy whose head rests on the pillow next to hers, she doesn't like him. It's a common tale. Happens all the time. She hasn't known him six months, and from what I've observed, the attraction is very strong, and very physical. And I realize how judgmental I'm being, and hypocritical. I knew my husband 3 weeks before we got engaged. 3 weeks. We got engaged on our third date. However, I was 28, he was 32, we'd both been around the block a few times, and we had learned a thing or two. At least that's what I tell myself.

The reality of it is that we got lucky. He could have turned out to be an axe murderer. I could have turned out to have really bad housekeeping skills. Oh, wait, that one's actually true. Nevermind, the point is that we knew next to nothing about each other, and we rushed our engagement so we could have sex. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's the truth. We knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, and we were physically attracted to each other, and we wanted to marry in the Mormon temple, which meant no sex before the big night. So, a little over 3 months after we met, we were married. And, as it turns out, we became really great friends. There is no one on earth I'd rather spend an afternoon with, no one else I'd share my french fries with (hungry, remember?), nobody else I'd trust with all of my secrets. He is my best friend, my pal, my one true love, my density (see Back to the Future). He's the syrup to my pancakes. Alright, I'll go eat something!

So, how did we get so lucky? My parents recently celebrated 55 years of marriage, and my mom and I have had many conversations on this topic. She also feels lucky to be with my dad. She says blessed, I say it's semantics. Blessed, lucky. I guess it depends on one's philosophy of life. I have a hard time calling it blessed, knowing the implication that God intervened and that's why I ended up with such a great marriage. If that's true, why didn't God intervene in my best friend's courtship and tell her that her intended would turn out to be an a**hole? That he would break her heart after over 25 years of marriage? That he would leave her financially and emotionally devastated and run off into the sunset with his girlfriend? Why? I know I'm not more deserving of a good man's love; I'm not a better person, not kinder, not more spiritually fit. The religious answer, at least the Mormon version, has me somehow earning a better life by my pre-earthly choices. But I'm not satisfied with that answer. At all. And I don't have a better one to offer. The truth is, I just don't know why. Lucky, I guess.

So, as young Sarah joins her life this week with whom I hope is the love of her life, I wish for her luck. Luck, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, generosity. And a guy who will run out to the store and buy polish sausages and fresh Lee's buns for dinner if that is what she craves. Like my guy did tonight. He's the best, and I'm the luckiest girl on earth.

Addendum: Hyperbole is a useful tool when attempting to illustrate a point. It becomes a hindrance to communication when the person to whom it was applied reads it, and objects on the grounds that it paints a picture that isn't representative of their reality, or their side of the story. For this, I apologize.
However, I stand by my original point. Many people claim a supreme being brought their love into existence; I still believe it's luck. And sometimes that luck is bad. Which doesn't mean the two people involved were bad, but that maybe they were not as good a match as originally believed.
In other words, God doesn't deserve the credit, or the blame, for love gone wrong. We do that all on our own.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My friend, Carole

I love to travel. I enjoy the adventure of it, the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and see how other people live out their dreams. In particular, I love car trips, whether I'm driving or a passenger. It's fun to look into other people's cars as we pass one another on the road, speculating as to where they've been, where they are going, and what is the relationship between the occupants of their vehicle. Are they just carpooling home from work, or a family on vacation? If the latter, are they enjoying themselves, or just enduring the ride until they reach their destination and can answer that ubiquitous question: "Are we there yet?" in the affirmative? (BTW, we love how Daddy Incredible answers that question with, "We'll get there when we get there!")

We had the opportunity last summer to take a road trip up the East coast, from Charlotte NC to Washington DC, for a family wedding. We'd rented a van which came equipped with a GPS system, which we named Carole. With an e. She just seemed like a Carole, with an e. And Carole became the seventh member of our family on that trip. We loved how well informed she was when it came to traffic patterns, helping us navigate around DC's early morning rush hour by directing us to surface roads that were moving along at a more brisk pace. We loved her ability to think fast, coming up with alternate routes when we missed a turn. Which happened fairly often. She seemed to be very patient, like a loving parent dealing with a frustrated child attempting a difficult math assignment. Okay, bad example. More like the loving parent I wish I could be, dealing with a frustrated child! Carole had a very calm voice and an easy-going manner that gave us the confidence to explore a bit, knowing that if we got lost, Carole always knew where we were and, if we provided her with a correct address, she knew how to get us back on track. We loved Carole, and we were very sad to let her go at the end of our trip.

Because we had Carole, I felt very comfortable volunteering to drive to the Baltimore airport to retrieve family members who had flown in for the wedding, which was at the Washington DC temple. I simply plugged in the destination, and Carole not only knew exactly where the airport was, but she directed me straight to the parking lot designated as a waiting area for arrivals. My son rode with me, and we chatted happily for the half hour or so that the drive took. I enjoyed having the time with my son, and didn't worry about getting lost because I knew Carole would take care of me. And she did. We picked up Uncle Steve and Aunt Donna, and started the trek back to the temple. It was rush hour and, true to form, Carole directed me around the traffic and got us speedily on our way. Uncle Steve was very impressed, as he had his own GPS with him and had turned it on, plugging in the address of the temple, only to be directed straight into the heart of rush hour traffic. I told him that I had complete confidence in Carole, and would be following her directions unwaveringly so he could just put his own GPS away for the duration of the ride! He complied, and commented several times his wonder at the ease with which I was able to get us to the temple, as neither of us was native to the area. It was Carole, I told him. My friend, Carole. I loved her comforting presense, her confident voice, her knowledge that seemed to have no limit. If machines do end up ruling the world, I hope they are all as nice as Carole!

Later that night, after the wedding and post-wedding dinner, Uncle Steve and Aunt Donna were looking for a ride back to the airport. I and my family would be headed in the opposite direction, but another relative was on her way to New Jersey, so it made sense for her to drop them off on her way. Uncle Steve was unhappy with the arrangement, however, as he'd developed so much confidence in my ability to get wherever I needed to go. Misplaced confidence, I told him! Without Carole, I'd have wondered hopelessly, much like the Israelites under the direction of Moses! Uncle Steve sent Theresa, his new driver, over to my table to get explicit directions back to the airport, concerned that she had never been there before and would not be able to find the way. She asked how I'd gotten to the airport, to which I replied that I'd followed Carole's instructions. She then asked, with a hint of frustration in her voice, "But which freeway did you take, the 95 or the 495?" I laughed and told her that I had no idea.... I really didn't know. Theresa must have thought I was a complete idiot. She quizzed me for a couple of minutes, trying to help me remember something about the trip. I couldn't. I'd had such confidence in Carole that I hadn't paid attention to my surroundings at all, completely missing the sights along the way, not even knowing which road I was on. In my defense, I had also concentrated on my conversation with my son, which I wouldn't have been able to do had I been trying to figure out which way to go on my own. But, if anyone were to ask me what Baltimore looks like, I'd have to say that I don't have any idea. I was there, yes, but I didn't see anything. I missed the journey, though I arrived at the destination safely and on time.

Back in my younger days, I spent a few months working in Boston. Carole would have come in handy there, as the city streets are based on the cow paths that meandered along in pre-revolutionary war days. What an adventure I had trying to find my way around! Once, on a sight-seeing trip, my fellow-travelers and I circled Harvard square three times trying to find the way out of Cambridge. On another day, I was taking some visiting friends back to the airport and became hopelessly lost. As I drove through downtown Boston looking for the route to the airport, the driver behind me flashed his lights and honked. I pulled over, thinking I'd made him mad, becoming very concerned when he pulled over behind me and got out of his car. I thought maybe he was going to come beat me up for my idiotic driving! But no, he came up to my window and very kindly asked if I was lost. I asked what gave him that idea, to which he replied, "The map on your steering wheel." Oh, yeah, that. He gave us directions, then, seeing the still confused look on my face, offered to guide us to the airport himself. We followed him as he successfully got us to our destination. My friends and I have laughed about that for years, marveling at the kindness of a stranger who went out of his way to help us find our way. If I'd had Carole, I'd have missed out on that experience.

I recently reconnected with an old friend, and found that she is sharing my current spiritual path. In an email earlier this year, she confided: "I'm finding it interesting how many decisions I have let the Church make for me in my life. It is a little overwhelming to make decisions based on what I think instead of what the Church tells me to think. It is freeing - and frightening. So many things I am rethinking, and it will take time to figure it all out. It is nice to allow myself to think...... I have a strange mix of ideas and feelings." When I read this, I thought of Carole and my trip to Baltimore. Having the Church dictate to me the path to righteousness and salvation was, in a way, easy. Make one decision, that the Church is true and it's leaders inspired, and the rest comes fairly effortlessly. I realize that I'm oversimplifying the situation, and my experience in the church is not, I repeat NOT, everyone's. But, for me, plugging in the address (exaltation and eternal life with God), then following the Church's directions, was safe and comfortable. If I follow the directions, I'm assured that I'll reach the destination. No independent thinking required. Again, NOT everyone's experience. But that is how it felt to me. And I think I missed a lot along the way. Instead of enjoying the adventure of the journey, I was too focused on the destination. I don't want to get to the end of this life, and not recall the sights, the sounds, the sheer joy of mortal life. I'm relishing the opportunity to figure this stuff out for myself, to decide what makes sense, and how I want to express my spirituality. Yeah, there is a risk that I'll get lost, but there is also the chance that I'll meet some interesting strangers and have funny misadventures that will amuse me in my golden years.

I miss Carole, and sometimes I miss the simple assurance of 'knowing' my post-mortal destination. On the other hand, I feel freer to look around now, to take my time, and experience what life has to offer, to meet kind strangers who may or may not know the way but nevertheless will have something interesting to add to my journey. Next time I'm in Baltimore, I'm looking around!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Husband, My Father, My Son

There was a man in my bathroom today. A grown man, studying his reflection in the mirror, massaging his stubbled chin indecisively. Was he presentable enough for church, or should he shave off his emerging beard? I sat on the bed, studying him, this grown, stubbly man who has invaded my space. This great, big, overgrown boy. And for a moment, I saw Norma's little boy, her sweet, earnest, curious, precious baby boy.

My mother-in-law was one of the most loving people I've ever had the pleasure to know, and she loved my husband unconditionally, purely, unabashedly. He was her baby, and I don't think she ever really saw him as anything else. I was resentful of that love at first, maybe a little jealous. He was perfect in her eyes; she could so easily have become Marie Barone! Norma, however, was not a conniving, jealous woman. Because her son chose me, she chose me, accepting me without reservation. And over the years, I came to understand the gift she gave me, this compassionate, loving, gentle man who loves me unconditionally. She took a little boy, lovingly raised and nurtured him, and gave me a man.

My father is also a kind, loving, compassionate, gentle man. But he wasn't raised by a mom like my mother-in-law. My father's mother, my grandmother, was a bit flighty, selfish, maybe a little narcissistic. She left him when he was but a boy, only to return a few months later to snatch his big sisters away from him, taking his childhood innocence as well, leaving him with his cold, unfeeling father. How he turned out the way he did is one of life's biggest mysteries. He and my husband are a lot alike. There is a softness in his face when he looks at my mom, affection evident in every glance. He is genuinely interested in his family's lives, always looking for ways to strengthen the ties that bind. He is one of my heroes, one of my favorite people on the planet.

I have a son who has inherited many of his father's and grandfather's best qualities. When he was born, I held him in my arms, and marveled at the sweet, gentle spirit he possessed. Here was man as God intended him to be, unspoiled by the world, pure and perfect. As a young man of fourteen, he is still a gentle soul, with a big heart like his dad's, and a love of family like his grandfather. He has a special relationship with his little sister; our plan was for him to be our last baby, but after he was born, we knew there was another child for us, and that it would be a girl. We are convinced that he invited her to join us! And his big sisters have come to value his broad shoulders and tender heart. At the viewing of a friend recently, it was to his arms that his sister turned for comfort, and he gently held her as she cried. He is a good kid, even in his worst moments.

But being his mother has not been easy. He is easily overwhelmed by anxiety, and takes out his frustrations on the person closest to him: me. As much as I see the good in him, I struggle to provide for him that unconditional love that my husband's mother so freely gave to her son. I am not the mother she was; neither am I the mother my grandmother was. I find myself somewhere in between. I've never been tempted to run, but I have found myself looking for a place to hide! He pushes my buttons like no one else ever has or probably ever could. Nevertheless, he is my son, I am his mother, and there is great power in that relationship.

Harry Potter's mother is one of my favorite fictional characters. She gave her life in an effort to protect her son, and that act gave him the power to withstand the greatest evil in Harry's world. I've always said that I'd take a bullet for my son, that I'd stand between him and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, that I would go down fighting before I'd let anyone touch him. Easy words, sitting here in my family room with my son safely beside me. What's not so easy is loving him unconditionally through the monotony of everyday life, through the ups and downs of teenage angst. Letting him have the last word. Remaining calm as his emotions escalate and his temper rages. Being Norma in the face of his Jeckel and Hyde impersonation. Giving him the protection of my love before sending him out to face the evils of the world. My husband knew such love; my father did not. And they both became kind, gentle men who bless the lives of their families and communities.

So, in the end, does it matter, this mother's love? Maybe not to my son, maybe he'll be okay regardless, like his grandfather before him. But it matters to me. I'm a better person because I got to be my son's mother, my father's daughter, my husband's wife. My three gentle, loving, compassionate men love me back, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brussel Sprouts, Anyone?

I've had many opportunities this past couple of years to talk with people of faith, particularly Mormons, about my own lack of faith. Some of these conversations have gone better than others, but they all generally have that moment when the person to whom I am attempting to explain my journey looks as if they are trying to swallow brussel sprouts. No offense to the sprouts. But you know the look, as if they are choking down something completely distasteful. Like me with stewed tomatoes! And on some level, I do understand the reverence these people hold for their beliefs, the sacredness of the topic of faith. But what I don't get is why, how, and when their view of me changes and they start to see me as someone who is ignorant, stupid, or just evil. (See Kathryn Shultz on the subject of wrongness).

I like to think of myself as a thoughtful, intelligent person, and I would think that most of the people who have gotten to know me over the years would see the same. I've had many conversations about religion, beliefs, politics, education, books, movies, people, ideas; conversations that have gone on late into the night and at great length, attempting to figure out what this life means and the purpose of our existence. And how others view the world and our place in it as humans. I've always been very interested in understanding where ideas come from and how people attempt to explain their views and their reasons for believing as they do. I've sought out different opinions and have enjoyed reading books, particularly biographies, that tell of lifestyles vastly different from my own. The point is that I don't consider myself to be ignorant of the world and the many philosophies that exist. And I don't think I'm stupid; I did graduate from Utah State University, Summa Cum Laude. And I certainly don't feel evil. I asked my husband just last night, "How can the feelings of peace and happiness I'm currently experiencing possibly come from a dark place, from Satan?" He couldn't answer me. But I grew up in the Mormon church, and I know what is said of me over the pulpit. I know that as a heretic I'm viewed as dangerous and deluded, someone in desperate need of rescue from eternal damnation. But someone to be avoided as well, as I could potentially poison other's testimonies and drag them speedily down to Hell.

I do not wish to offend my many Mormon family members and friends. In fact, I love Mormons. They are generally a good-hearted, well-intentioned people, interested in the betterment of humanity, in spreading joy and happiness, in serving those less fortunate. I look around me in church at my ward family (yes, I still attend with my family as it's a simple way to show respect for their beliefs and support them in their quest for salvation), and I see people who are happy and at peace in their worship of their God. People who, were they to look into my heart and head, would look down on me as an apostate, an ignorant fool, a wolf in sheep's clothing. People who would see me as ignorant, stupid, or just plain evil.

But I'd like for them to consider another possibility. Maybe I do know what they know, and I am thoughtful and intelligent, and I am not under the influence of the great deceiver, but I simply see faith and truth in different ways than they do. I don't look at the same story, and come to the same conclusion, but not for any of the above-mentioned reasons. And I haven't figured out why yet, though I'm working on it, but I do think that sometimes beliefs are not under our control. That while we can control behavior, we cannot simply choose to believe something we don't believe. I've tried, for 49 years I tried. I gave God more than equal time. I read his books, attended worship services, went to the temple countless times in a quest for a deeper connection with the divine. I sought him out in all the ways I'd been taught: prayer and fasting, service, scripture study, callings, tithing, even serving a mission to spread the word. But to no avail. I've asked many, many times for God to remove my disbelief, to give me a believer's heart, to strengthen my ability to see Him in my life and in the world around me. To help me believe on other's words, primarily my husband's, for whom it is all so simple. But I've finally had to accept the fact that I do not believe. I have a skeptic's heart, and try as I might, I cannot change that fact. I cannot continue to ask myself to believe something that I don't believe. I have to allow myself to accept that, in my heart, I am not a Mormon, nor even a Christian. Very hard words for me to write, but also very true. I haven't quite settled on a label yet, and I'm okay with that. I'm okay with uncertainty for the time being, with the idea that there are some things in life that are not knowable, at least with the limited, finite brains we've been given. And I'm okay with the idea that there are many people who disagree with me. I'm not okay with the idea that because we don't agree, one of us is ignorant, stupid, or evil. Just different, diverse, unique. And okay.

There is one question that has come up pretty regularly in these conversations, and that is if I would please keep an open mind, open to the possibility that God is there, and is waiting for me to come back. My response is simple: to all the believers, are you willing to keep your mind open to the possibility that I am right as well? Can you entertain the notion that someday, you will agree with me?

How about if we just agree to love one another as we are, to accept one another as fallible human beings, each of us on a quest to understand the mysteries and purposes of life. Nations will never come together in understanding until we come together as people, as neighbors, as families. As individuals, entitled to our own stories. As children of a loving God, or not.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy birthday, Re-Daron!

This past weekend, I celebrated the first anniversary of my 50th birthday. So, yeah, I turned 51. But more importantly, my husband celebrated the first anniversary of the first day of the rest of his life. His idea of celebrating my 50th birthday? Have a heart attack. He said, while being worked over in the ER, that he felt like I'd been getting too much attention. Next time, just a discreet whisper in my ear, please!

That day will forever be etched in my mind as the day I could have become a widow. Of course, we all know that any day could be that day. There are no guarantees for any of us, no warrantys about to expire, no shelf-date beyond which we are no longer useful and will be put out for pick-up. But, that day, I had to confront the reality that the love of my life could leave me, permanently. Or at least for the rest of my mortal life. His best friend died due to a clot in the same coronary artery, hence it's macabre nickname, "The Widowmaker." It's a known killer, usually taking out it's victim before awareness has set in. V** didn't complete the sentence he had started to form before he hit the ground and was gone. Fortunately for us, my love only suffered a partial block.

The symptoms were pretty powerful and obvious. We both knew what was happening, and in under 15 minutes from the start of the symptoms, he was in the ER with an IV in his hand and EKG wires stuck to his body. I'll never, ever, forget the look on his face as the reality of the situation set in. I was sitting in a chair at his feet, and, throughout the workup, we stared into each other's eyes with fear and worry. Trepidation. The staff worked around us in a frenzy, trying to stop the pain and halt the cell death occurring in the cardiac muscle. He was conscious throughout the ordeal, and I don't recall his eyes leaving mine, though I'm sure at some point he must have looked away. But that's not how I remember it. I was trying to keep him here, present, mine. My friend, my lover, my companion. The one person who gets me, and accepts me as I am. And who loves me unconditionally. Well, as unconditionally as marriage gets. I know, I'm making this all about me..... it is my blog!

The ER doc came in at some point and said that he'd called for a helicopter to transport my love to SLC as he was having a heart attack and needed more invasive intervention than was available at Logan. That was like cold water in my face..... to hear the words we'd not dared utter thus far. A heart attack. He could die. As I write, the feelings of dread come back to me, and I can again feel the terror at the idea of losing him. I stared into his eyes again, trying to hold him here, communicate to him that nobody, even God, needed him more than I did. Stay with me, please. And what I saw in his eyes was fear, something I've never seen before. There isn't much that intimidates my husband, few things he is afraid to confront. But I could tell he didn't want to leave me any more than I wanted him to.

Within a few minutes, blood work started to come back, and the doctor felt that the results indicated that D was stable enough to get to McKay by ambulance. D had the presence of mind to joke about losing the opportunity to fly above the mountains in a helicopter. I reminded him that he wouldn't be in the co-pilot's seat! He probably wouldn't have been allowed to sit up and look out the window, so he might as well be lying down in an ambulance. Either way, we were eager for him to be on his way toward a higher level of care.

The ambulance driver turned out to be a friend, someone D had worked with in his previous life in law enforcement. That provided some comfort, as I felt like I wasn't turning him over to strangers who weren't invested in their patient's survival. Even so, no one was invested like I was. Closing those ambulance doors with him inside was the single most difficult thing I had to do that night. Close behind was calling my children and saying those dreadful words, "Dad had a heart attack." That's when I broke down and cried. Saying it out loud made it real.

Upon arrival at McKay, D was seen by a cardiologist, who outlined the plan of care. He would perform an angiogram in the morning, hoping to spot the location of the blockage and do whatever was necessary to eliminate it. D and I spent the remainder of that night with family members who'd come to the hospital to provide moral support, and I remember sitting at the edge of his bed holding his hand, trying to memorize the feel of it, and the warmth emanating from him. I didn't want to let go when the time came to go to the cath lab, but I was eager for him to be on his way back to health. He has always been my rock, a solid base from which I can go out into the world, do what I need to, always returning to home base. He is the earth, I am his moon, and the gravitational pull is just as magnetic and powerful as that which governs the tides.

The cardiologist placed a stent in the left anterior descending coronary artery, allowing blood to once again nourish the left ventricle of D's heart. I can imagine the woosh of the blood rushing back in to the starving cells, the relief as they once again received the oxygen they'd been deprived of for so many hours. His heart began the journey back to health, each beat saying, "I'm here, I'm here, I'm here." And my own heart started beating normally once again, seemingly in tandem with his, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

In the year since D's heart attack, I've had many occasions to reflect on what might have changed in my life had we not been so lucky. I'd be sitting on the porch by myself watching the moon rise over Mount Logan. I'd sit on the deck by myself next to a cold grill reading the paper silently, no one to share the news with if he weren't standing there flipping burgers. I'd have buried our Libby without his strength holding all of us upright, his love enfolding us and giving us a place to grieve. I'd tuck our kids in at night alone, rising in the morning to scramble eggs without that special dad touch that makes them taste just right. I'd have to raise my son to be a man with only memories of the loving, kind, compassionate dad he has been so lucky to have. I'd have to wrap my arms around the girls myself and try to convey to them the importance of having a strong, moral, kind man next to them throughout the trials they will be called to face. A man like their dad. A real man, one who is not afraid to cry, or to love with his whole heart, or to stand up for them whatever the cost. A man who loved his mother fiercely and tenderly, now willing to care for his father in spite of the cost to his own emotional health. A man who loves me, with all his heart, willing to swim shark-infested waters to bring me a drink were I to ask that of him. A man who would rather go to hell with me, than to heaven with anybody else. That is the man I have by my side today. And I don't know why I got so lucky; his friend's wife didn't.

An unanswerable question: why? Doesn't matter, really. All that matters is that we were given more time, another chance to live and love, one more day. Now one more year. How many after this we cannot know. This much I do know: I love that man, and every day for the rest of his life, and mine, I will tell him so.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

One More Day With You.....

Today is September 10, which is the Eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and I'm immersing myself in memories. I don't have any direct ties to any of the victims of that day, but as an American I was directly effected, and fundamentally changed.

My son asked last night, "Between this and Pearl Harbor, which one was worse?" I immediately said, "9/11." Maybe because it happened during my lifetime, and I have vivid memories of the day. More likely because the terrorists disregarded commonly accepted practices of war, and completely obliterated any notions of safety we had as private citizens. The targets were not military, but civilian. Moms and Dads. Children accompanying their parents on cross-country airplane rides. Secretaries headed to their desks for another mundane Tuesday morning of dictation. Firemen, policemen, lawyers, waiters. People who went to bed the night before beside their loved ones, running out the door that morning without any idea that their moments on this earth were numbered. What happened that day was unthinkable, at least by any moral standard we'd known to that point. It was criminal, immoral, ungodly. And it was carried out in the name of God, by men who professed an allegience to Allah that demanded the sacrifice of not only their own lives, but the lives of innocent strangers. Truly unthinkable, and yet, completely within the realm of the possible. Because it did happen. I've seen the footage, the images burned into my retinas of office workers running from the dust cloud, of firemen walking dazedly into the rubble. And I've heard the voices, the cell phone calls home from a doomed plane, the panicked utterance of a man trapped on the 105th floor of the south tower, the grief on his wife's face as she described the moment the phone went dead, the moment she knew the love of her life was gone. Unthinkable.

I think often of those phone calls. They tell the story behind the story, the real human cost of the tragedy. And I wonder what my last words would be to my loved ones if I were in a similar situation. I've never doubted that my thoughts would turn to my family, but what would I say? How would I express what was in my heart under such dire circumstances? How do you say goodbye, I love you, it's been great?

The song "One More Day" by Diamond Rio received a lot of air time in the days following the attacks. I loved the lyrics, and cried every time it came on the radio. If I had one wish, what would it be? One more day with you. One more time, one more sunset. I'd hold you every second, say a million I love you's. But it wouldn't be enough; I'd still be left wishing for one more day with you. Simple words, but oh, the heartache, the yearning to be with a loved one for just one more day. I can't think about it now without tearing up.

So, the lesson of 9/11? Love your family, and tell them often. Look them in the eyes, and say those words we all love to hear, "I love you". Never let the sun set on a day without an "I love you". Never let a loved one leave for work or school without hearing the words "I love you". None of us knows the length of time we'll be alotted here on earth, whether we have months left, or years, or merely days. "I love you". It's easy, free, and most of all, the only thing remaining once a loved one is gone. Go find someone you love and say it.... now! I love you!!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The end of famine begins with me....

I have this bad habit of asking God for really trivial things, and then getting them. Like today, for example. As I was driving my daughter and her friend to the pool for an afternoon in the sunshine, I thought to myself, "Please God, let there be a table with an umbrella available for me to sit under while I read my magazine." And I was immediately ashamed of my 'prayer', realizing the triviality of praying for shade when there are starving children in the world. Of all the prayers sent heavenward today, mine had to be the most selfish. And, to be fair, I'm not sure my utterance could be considered prayer, as much as just an ingrained way of thinking.

Anyway, we got to the pool, and looked around for a place to settle. The girls wanted sunshine to 'tan'; I was thinking more of a relaxing chair where I could enjoy The Reader's Digest and listen to the screams of children at play. And, of course, some shade. It being toward the end of the summer season, there were only six tables left with intact umbrellas, all of them occupied. Then I saw a mother gathering her flock and their flotsam, and made a beeline for their table. It was on the far side of the tables, and I figured someone else would surely beat me to it, but no one else seemed to be paying attention. So, I got my shade, and settled into a plastic Adirondack chair for an afternoon of reading, happy and content. And then, once again, I was engulfed in shame. I honestly felt tears come to my eyes as I contemplated Somalian mothers begging God for food to stave off starvation for one more day, burying their children when no relief from famine miraculously appeared before them. And the prayer that got answered today was for shade?

I don't think it was anything more than coincidence, but it really got me thinking about prayer, and God, and the capriciousness of life. I have a tendency to overthink things, obviously, but seriously, shade? I don't get it. Maybe it is all just trivial, and there is no conduit from us to the divine and back again, and I'm just imagining stuff. But then again, I've experienced enough to make me think there is something out there beyond what the mortal eye can see. So why am I so stuck on the possibility that God answered my prayer today for shade?

I've always struggled to make sense of the idea that praying for those suffering unspeakable horrors, such as watching their children starve to death, makes any difference at all. Why wouldn't God send them help and relief regardless of the faith and pleadings of strangers, but simply because they, too, are his children? Is he really so heartless that he would withhold compassion simply because we neglect to ask him for that favor? I don't understand that God, and I don't want to worship him. And I certainly don't want to become like him. I know how my thoughts come across to devout worshipers, and I don't mean to sound blasphemous, or arrogant. But if God wants my love and devotion, he's going to have to do better than provide me with poolside shade. Bless me to know how to end the famine in Somalia. Or civil wars that rage in many nations, devastating families and traumatizing children. Give me the ability to cure cancer. Or stop child abuse. Or maybe just bless me with the desire to pray for more than shade for myself. And then give me the opportunity to be his hands and offer relief to those who suffer from more than lack of shade.

So I guess the task before me is to do more than sit on my ample behind crying for starving Somalian children and the mothers who bury them. Maybe there is someone within my sphere of influence who is suffering because I'm spending more time looking for shade than seeking ways to love and bless those in need. Maybe I just need to get out of my own head for awhile and do something kind for someone else.

Friday, August 5, 2011

You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry......

I had 'the talk' with an old friend yesterday. The friend that I've most feared talking to, at least as far as religious discussions go. She is a very faithful, devout Mormon, and I respect her deeply held beliefs and the way she goes about living her life. However, she does seem to have a difficult time understanding how anyone could come to a different conclusion regarding religion than she has. In fact, at one point she looked at me as if I'd sprouted another head on my shoulders, right in front of her eyes. It was obvious that she could not accept that I simply do not believe what is so plain and simple to her. Yet, I don't. And we're going to have to agree to disagree.

At one point, I shared a story with her that I hoped would illustrate my awakening, so to speak. Last year, Grace confronted me very pointedly on the Santa myth. She wanted "the truth", and none of this "what do you think?" crap. Her words. I asked her what her friends and classmates had to say on the subject of Santa, to which she replied that most were unbelievers. But she herself still believed in him. I figured that was the end of the discussion, but she still insisted that I tell her the truth. So I did. I cannot knowingly lie to my children when they confront me with a desire to know the truth about anything. I can sometimes dance around it a bit, but when a child becomes as persistent as this one did, it's time to 'fess up. I then told her that I still believe in the magic of Christmas, and talked about my love for the holiday season and everything that goes along with it. And I told her that she would now get to participate in being Santa, to which she asked if she could fill the stockings on Christmas Eve! No, I explained; she would be long asleep by that point. But she could help me play Santa as we shopped throughout the season; wouldn't that be fun? Meh. Not so much, apparently.

A few months later, Grace accompanied Daron and me to Lowe's, where they had already set up their Christmas display. She and I walked through the display, looking at the various lights and decorations, while Daron shopped elsewhere in the store. At one point, she looked up at me wistfully, and said, "I wish you'd never told me the truth about Santa." I felt terrible! And I reminded her that she'd asked for the truth, in fact insisted upon it. She said, "I know, but I wish you'd waited until I was sixteen to tell me!" So I said, "Okay then, let's pretend that I never told you. You can go back to believing in Santa Claus if you want to." Her reply was profound: "Mom, you can't unknow something once you already know it." So true. You can't unring the bell, put the toothpaste back in the tube, put clothes on the Emperor once your eyes have been opened and you've seen his bare bottom.

I shared this story with my friend, hoping to help her understand that there was no going back for me. I can't unknow what I know. She looked at me with pity, and said, "You're right. You can't unknow what you know to be true." And I realized that we were hearing the same story and interpreting it in different ways. She believes that in my heart of hearts, I know the church to be true, and I can't really unknow it, no matter what I may profess to believe. And I know that I can't go back and say that I know something to be true that, for me, is no more true than the myth of Santa Claus. And we may never achieve a meeting of the minds over this issue. I'm okay with that, but I think my friend still struggles. And I am sorry for that. I am sorry that I make her sad. I wish I could make my own path without causing pain to others. But I've learned that we are each responsible for our own feelings, and she is going to have to find a way to accept me for who I am and love me regardless, or be sad and move on. And maybe, this God of hers has put me in her life to help her learn to do just that, accept others who don't see life the same way she does, who don't experience belief the same way she does. To truly love unconditionally.

I am puzzled by the importance believers place upon the idea that all must express religion the same way. Religion can unify in times of trouble, but more often than not it seems to divide. And I don't understand that. I've expressed this idea before, and it continues to be a sticky issue for me. I think religious preference shouldn't be given any more weight than food preferences, or movie genres, or hotdog condiments. I'm not trying to treat the subject lightly, but I truly do not get why it matters so much to others that I don't place the same emphasis on eternal life as they do. And in the long run, it really doesn't matter how I, or anyone, see this issue. What happens when we die will happen regardless of my opinion on the subject, whether I believe in exaltation in a celestial kingdom, or reincarnation as a maple tree, or simply nothing. And I'm not saying at this point which one gets my vote, though I will say that I really really don't want to spend eternity making spirit babies alongside my sister-wives and then being ignored by them (my children) once they get to earth because I'm just too sacred to have my name profaned by them in a fit of anger. But that's a subject for another day.

In the end, I really hope that my friend wants to stay my friend. But she will have to do it with the understanding that I may not change my mind about religion. I may not come back to the fold. Can she love me anyway?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Today's topic.... there's underwear under there

I realized, after writing a few posts, that while I don't mind sharing my words and thoughts with the world at large (or at least those few who are interested!), the target audience of my blog is my kids. I want you (my kids!) to know that I approached my life thoughtfully, that I've spent many hours pondering my beliefs and the practice of those beliefs, and carefully weighing the consequences of following my own heart, and head, in the pursuit of happiness. If I'm not around when you're all grown up, and you hear me referred to as a heathen, a heretic, an apostate, you will have my own words to help you understand who I am and what I believe.

The two traits I'm most interested in cultivating in myself are integrity, and compassion. Sometimes those qualities are at odds with one another, and I find myself in the difficult position of honoring my own need to be honest and truthful, and causing no harm to others, either physical or emotional. It's not an easy line to navigate, especially in the Mormon world where truth is not always useful. (That's not snark!.... it's a Boyd K. Packer quote!) Some things are easy, like attending sacrament meeting when I can so your dad doesn't have to sit alone. That costs me very little, and shows him that I love him and support his pursuit of happiness. Other things are much more difficult, such as the wearing of sacred underwear.

Garments are a sign of faithfulness, sending a message that the wearer adheres to the basic tenets of the faith, and believes in the back story as presented in the temple. Garments also convey the willingness to abide by the covenants made in the temple. In this community, the presense or absence of garments does not go un-noticed, and prompts questionable shoulder rubs and quizzical looks. Well, the absence does. A year ago, I thought I could navigate this faith 'crisis' without a change of underwear. Or at least without changing my style. I thought I could continue the way I have for the past 30 or so years, faithfully wearing garments day and night, with very brief breaks for showering and (brace yourselves!) certain nocturnal activities. (Yes, garments can be removed for sex!) (And sometimes, it's not nocturnal! Pause for a group "Ewwwwww!")

Anyway, I didn't anticipate outward changes that would call attention to the inward migration away from religious devotion. I thought that I could continue as before, unaffected by the shift within, hiding my true feelings behind garments and church callings. But I hadn't anticipated how much the desire for integrity between my inner and outer selves would push me toward wardrobe change. (And to clarify, I believe integrity is more than honesty. Integrity means all the parts of me are integrated into the whole, that who I am when I am alone is the same as who I am in a room full of my most devout relatives.) And the further I got into my journey, the more uncomfortable I became each time I put on garments. I realized that by wearing them, I was saying to the world that I believed, and that I agreed, and that I was a card-carrying member of the faith. None of which is true anymore.

At first, I started sleeping without them. I loved the freedom to move without the legs twisting on me and riding up. And I liked how I felt without them, more authentic and honest, more real. Free. And strangely enough, not guilty. So I stopped wearing the bottoms during the day. And I felt even better, but a little guilty because I was still playing a part by wearing the top, thus fooling any observers into thinking that I was still participating in the game. So, after a few weeks of that, I shed them completely. And I felt liberty and freedom from oppression. I know those are dramatic words, generally reserved for such occasions as the 4th of July and the signing of the declaration of independence. But taking off garments was a way to declare my own independence from what I perceived to be an oppressive environment. I just wish that my declaration could remain private; I don't really mean to broadcast to the world what I believe by way of the underwear I choose to wear. But I cannot stop others from looking for the line above my knees, or the lacy neckline under t-shirts. And making assumptions based on that. I cannot stop them from judging me. But they won't see regret for what I've left behind. I'm happy. I feel joy, and sometimes a little giddy at the prospect of living out the rest of my life on my terms, making decisions based on what I believe is right and true. Because, as the two-year-old me would say, "You're not the boss of me!"

And that, kids, is why laundry day is a smidgen simpler for me than it used to be. And why I no longer fidget and constantly readjust my underthings. And why your dad's smile is a little wider these days. (okay, pause for another collective "Ewwwwww!") Just so you know.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Shift happens......

I made a mistake at work today. We call it an 'event'. I can't go into detail to avoid breaching confidentiality, but basically I did something stupid, something that could have potentially harmed the patient. When I realized my mistake, six hours after the fact, I was very upset. I have been a nurse for many years, but I am still capable of committing the dumbest of errors. Not to be overly dramatic, but my job can be scary!
Once I had figured out what I'd done wrong, I had the difficult task of figuring out how to make it right. I was the only staff member on the unit by that time, it being the 4th of July and a slow surgical day. There was no one there to observe my incompetence, so no one there to call me on it. Just me. And I had a decision to make. I guess it's a bit sad that I even thought about it, but the fact is that I could have pretended that it hadn't happened, and nobody would ever have known about it. While there was the potential for harm, none actually occurred.
I sat there for moment, pondering the situation, considering the steps I would have to take to fix it, and I realized that, as humiliating as it would be, I couldn't just pretend it hadn't happened. I would have to 'fess up. For me, if I don't have integrity, little else matters. I really, really, really didn't want to deal with this particular physician, as I knew how annoyed he would be with me, and I knew that he would be less impressed with my honesty and more displeased with my stupidity. But, I put on my big girl panties, and made the call. And it was just as I'd envisioned: he was upset, and I felt like a little kid confessing that I'd thrown a ball in the house and broken a window. Yes sir, I made a mistake. I have no excuse. I'm an idiot? Arghhhhhhhh...... I hate mistakes!
But you know what? I feel good inside. Just as good as I ever did when I chose to do something right. The cool thing is that I chose it because it was right, and not because I might go to hell for lying. I chose to do right because that's who I am. I value integrity and honesty, even if it costs me my reputation with a doctor.
I may not have been a good nurse today, but I was a good person. And that makes me happy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

To pierce or not to pierce... that is the question!

Many years ago, as a primary president, I decided that having more than one earring in each ear did not present the appropriate image, so I removed the extra. I was okay with my decision, and didn't think anymore of it until about 15 years later. Then President Hinckley stood up in general conference and told the sisters of the church that one set of modest earrings was sufficient, and anything more would be unseemly. Not in so many words, but I'm too lazy to look it up right now. The point is, I'd made a decision based on principles that made sense to me, as an adult, only to be told by another adult years later that in order to look the part of a faithful latter day saint, I needed to conform to a particular dress code layed out for me by an authority figure speaking for God. It made me feel very much like a child. And I felt the need to rebel. Silly, I know, but I put my extra earring back in. And then, to really drive the point home, I got another earring up in the cartilege of the same ear. A painful way to express my individuality! I knew very well at the time that it was equivalent to a toddler stamping her feet and saying, "You're not the boss of me!" But I felt compelled to make this statement and let the world know that, as an adult, I make the decisions regarding what holes I will have in my own head, not the naked emperor, (a story for another day). Anyway, this additional hole started out tender and sore, and stayed that way for the next 5 months. I couldn't even sleep on that side without adjusting the pillow to accomodate my stupidity! But, by dang, I was expressing myself, and the earring stayed! Until a couple of days ago, when I realized that I was essentially cutting off my nose to spite my face. I realized that, while I acknowledge my need to express myself in this particular way at that particular time, I no longer needed the earring as an expression of my rebellion. Because I'm not rebelling. I'll try to explain.
Throughout these past couple of years, what I've really been trying to do is get to know who I am, rather like Julia Robert's character in Runaway Bride. Did she like her eggs sunny-side up, or in an egg-white omelet? Would she rather honeymoon in the Himalayas, or walk down a beach at sunset? As for me, do I want to spend a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in a pew in church, or hiking Limber Pines trail with 2 of my best friends? That's an easy one! Much harder is trying to undo 40+ years of conditioning to get to the root of my relationship with deity. Do I want a relationship with God? Who is God anyway? And am I willing to let someone else define that for me? Very hard questions to answer, and I have a ways to go before coming to any definitive conclusions.
I have concluded, however, that what I thought was an essential aspect of my personality was really just a way to push back at the confines of the religion I've been immersed in my whole life. At my core, I do not have a rebellious personality. Now that I've accepted that I'm not interested in formal religious worship, there is nothing to rebel against. I can accept limitations being placed on my behavior, such as laws concerning public actions or dress codes at work and such. But a person with self-proclaimed authority over my moral, ethical, and religious behavior, not to mention my internal spiritual health, places me in an adult-child relationship with them, hence the desire to rebel. Let all of that go, and voila! I'm an adult, with the ability (perhaps God-given?) to figure out what makes sense to me, and how I want to interact with my world and the people in it. And I could let go of the painful expression of my maturity in the form of a stupid earring! I took it out. I don't need it anymore, and I feel peaceful, serene, and very adult.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rain, rain, go away!! Don't come back 'til October!

I love a good thunder storm! And when the rain is pouring down, it's exciting and calming at the same time! But, I'm sick of the rain! I've had enough!! This morning, when I went into the bathroom, the window was open and the rain was coming down pretty hard. I stood there enjoying the moment, letting it mist my face as I pressed up against the screen. But enough already! It's June! I need some sunshine against my face! As I stood there looking out I muttered under my breath, "God, please make it stop raining!" And it started to hail. Right then and there. Not the answer I was looking for! God has a pretty wicked sense of humor!

I've changed my approach to prayer over the past couple of years, mainly because I don't find much peace on my knees with my head bowed in reverence. Any God who created me and is looking for me to come to him knows this, and I believe he accepts what I bring to the table. When he bothers to listen at all, that is. I don't intend to debate anyone over the nature of God and his relationship to us, but I no longer believe in the God of lost keys, the God who is micro-managing our earthly experience. However, I cannot discount the times in my life when I've received an answer to heart-felt prayer, and not just when rain turned to hail right before my eyes. I don't understand how it works, but the universe is definately responsive to our needs at times.

There have been several times in my life when my prayers have been answered in a big way, such as when I knew without a doubt that Daron was the one for me, or when I knew that Grace would join our family within a year, and she was born almost exactly one year later. Never mind that that prayer was answered through the Simpsons! Yes, the irreverent Fox cartoon! God does indeed work in mysterious ways!
The most dramatic example I can remember is from a few years back when Daron was still working at the Sheriff's office, and disliked his immediate superior officer with a fierce intensity. One Sunday night, we were driving home to Logan after dinner with my family. Daron was particularly testy, answering any queries directed his way with terse, biting replies. I asked what was eating him, and he said that he was not looking forward to returning to work the next morning, knowing what and who would be waiting for him. I felt bad, and wished that there was anything I could do to relieve his burden. Later that night, as I knelt in prayer, I told Heavenly Father that while I knew that he loved M***, we didn't, and anything He could do to lighten Daron's load would be much appreciated. The next morning, Daron understandably dragged his feet as he prepared for work. Finally, he came down the hall toward the kitchen with a spring in his step that was usually missing on work mornings. He grinned at me, and said, "I've been trying to get ahold of M*** all morning, and couldn't find him anywhere. I finally found him at his home, sick in bed! He is taking the day off to recuperate from the flu!" Normally I don't delight in anyone's misfortune, but it seemed to me that my prayer had been answered with a touch of the flu! Daron was able to have a pleasant day at work, free from the pressure of dealing with his boss's persnickety personality! He got the break he so sorely needed! And I got an answer to a prayer, one that has provided a humorous anecdote over the years of how God takes care of us in our hour of need!
One other example comes to mind as I think of times when a prayer has been directly and promptly answered. My mission was at times a lonely experience, toiling in a foreign country in a foreign tongue, missing my family and my home. One night, I knelt by my bed and told Heavenly Father how lonely I was, and homesick, and asked Him if he even knew I was there. As soon as I'd climbed into my bed, I heard a voice from across the dark bedroom: "Hermana Bouwhuis, I love you." It was my companion, who told me later that she had no idea why she told me that at that particular time, but for me it was an answer to my pleading to know if anyone knew I existed. Someone did, and that someone prompted my companion to voice out loud what I so badly needed to hear. Thirty years later, I can still feel the emotion I felt at that time, the warmth of knowing that God was listening. And so was Hermana Scott!
Anyway, prayer is a funny thing. I'm not sure how it works, or why sometimes it is so immediately answered and at other times, silence. The universe is indeed a mysterious place.
What are some of the more memorable experiences you've had that you're willing to share with me? Who knows.... you might strengthen my faith in the process!!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Strawberry crepes, anyone?

On a recent night out with my girls, we found ourselves at Village Inn, a favorite spot of ours. I love to eat out, but frequently find myself struggling with the many choices on the menu. Having too many choices can be debilitating! I decided on the strawberry crepes, mainly due to the picture, prominently featured on the menu, of the crepes covered with big, delectable, juicy berries. And as I ordered, I told myself that this time I was going to be happy with my choice, I was committing myself to the crepes, and was not going to look at my daughter's plates with culinary envy! It's a habit of mine to regret my menu choice as soon as I lay eyes on what my fellow diners have chosen. While I find indecisiveness to be generally an annoying trait, and in most areas of my life I commit rather quickly to my course of action, restaurants throw me for a loop! Everything looks good! Everything, except for what I ordered!

But, not this time. I told myself that I was going to be happy with strawberry crepes, and I was going to enjoy them. And I did. They were perfect: tender and salty-sweet, cheesy on the inside, with ripe, juicy, not-too-tart berries. And the hash browns on the side had a nice, brown crust with tender taters beneath, delightfully salty and hot. Maybe it was just a matter of perspective, but that night I savored my menu choice! Almost moaning, I all but licked the plate clean. And I commented to my girls how good the food had been, how much I'd enjoyed it.

A few days later, I found myself in Walmart on the lotion aisle, looking for sunblock for my redhead. Oy, the options available! I felt anxious as I read the labels, looking for something appropriate to prevent that precious child from burning in the hot summer sun, and not seeing a difference among the various brands. Price, in some cases. And what's with SPF 110? Really? It was too much for me.... I grabbed the generic and ran from the store. Stopping to pay first, of course!

I've thought a lot lately about the choices we make in life. We have so many things available to us, not just sunblock and dinner, but who we are going to be. What career will we choose? Teacher, nurse, fireman, politician (God forbid!!)? How to spend our free time? A snow day: ski, or read a good book curled up in a chair with a warm blanket? (Book!) Family vacation: Disneyland, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, or camping up Logan canyon? Saturday morning: chores, yard sales, bike ride? I'm grateful to have so many options, but it can be overwhelming. And there comes a point when we need to commit ourselves to our choice, and stop waffling. One of my favorite movie scenes is in Fiddler on the Roof, when Tevye is plowing his field and weighing his response to his daughter's announcement that she was in love with a gentile. I didn't agree with his ultimate response, but he illustrated so perfectly the angst one feels when faced with one of life's toughest dilemmas. I know, strawberry crepes for dinner hardly compares. But it got me thinking about other choices I've had to make, and the unhappiness I cause myself when I constantly second-guess my chosen path. Sometimes you've got to commit to the crepes.

For most of my life, I've chosen to follow the rules laid out for me by the church. And I was always looking around me with envy. I rarely acknowledged that envy, only occasionally allowing myself to wish that I didn't have to go to church every Sunday, that I didn't have to wear garments, that I didn't have to attend the temple, that I didn't have to pay tithing, that I didn't have to behave 'appropriately'. I've been told all my life that true freedom could only be found within the confines of the gospel, that the freedom offered by the world is faux freedom, not real, not truly free. And yet, I longed for what was on somebody else's plate. I did choose the church as an adult; I can't say that someone else ordered for me. But only because I couldn't see other options as viable. I'd always accepted that the church was true, that it was me who was flawed. Then one day, I realized that maybe I'd had it backwards. What if the church was flawed, and I was really okay? Not perfect, certainly, not 'true'. But not deeply flawed. What if there were other possible ways to live out this life I'd been given? Not religiously centered. Not within the confines of the 'gospel plan'. What if I changed my order, and got what I really wanted? I craved a life free from oppression, a life lived on my own terms, by the morals and values that made sense to me, that came from my heart.

So I've made my choice, and I'm happy with it. I'm not envious anymore of anyone else's life. When I drive by the church and see cars in the parking lot, I don't wish I could be at that meeting. When I drive by the temple and see people walking in with their suitcases in hand, I don't wish that it were me. When I see the garment line on anyone else's t-shirt (and honestly, aren't we all looking?), I don't wish I were wearing them myself. I've committed to my strawberry crepes, and I'm licking the plate clean. It may not be everyone's choice for a late night dinner, but I feel satisfied and content.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The purpose of life.... eat snickers bars!

When Gracie was five, she witnessed a verbal altercation between her sister and me that was frightening to her. She was a gentle child, one who never heard a harsh word spoken in her direction because none was needed. On the occasion mentioned, she'd positioned herself between us and was trying to get my attention. In my frustration, I barked at her to wait until I was finished talking with Erin. She was startled, and ran away in tears. I was ashamed of myself for frightening this precious little soul, and went in search of her. She had gotten herself into bed, and was hiding under the covers. I lay down beside her and told her that I was sorry that I'd yelled at her. She poked her head out of the covers and turned her big brown eyes on me. "Do you know the whole point to life?" she asked. I was taken aback by the question so, not knowing quite how to answer, I simply said, "Well, to love you." She looked right at me with solemn eyes piercing my soul and said, "It's to love your whole family." Wow. Such wisdom from one so young!
I learned from Grace that day what the purpose to life is. At least for me. I'd grown up hearing that the purpose of this life was to prepare to meet God. I've never been particularly interested in meeting God. I don't know him much, and many of the stories about him portray a being I don't think I'd like. So that purpose didn't do much to motivate me to better myself. But Grace's inspired words pointed me in the way I'd like to go. Toward a more loving relationship with my family.
This whole purpose of life question is a biggie. Many people think they know what the answer is, and they love to witness to the rest of us ignoramuses. I don't think I know anything, or much of anything anyway. And I'm not interested in witnessing to anybody. To each his own, I say. With a caveat..... if you can't love your neighbor, at least treat him or her with dignity and respect. Basically, we are here to learn to truly care for one another, to sacrifice for one another, to give of our time and talents to lifting one another. I don't know who is in charge of this whole operation, and I'm not convinced that he or she is watching our every move and orchestrating little miracles for us like finding lost car keys. But I do think someone or something pretty powerful created us and our world, and is giving us this amazing mortal experience in which we get to see if we can really, really and truly, learn to love other people. And it's not an easy task. Some people are god-awful and difficult to love. Or even tolerate. I'm related to some of those people! And my task while in this earthly state is to learn to love them, the unlovable! As well as love the easy to love, like Grace.
Several years ago, Madonna said in an interview that she valued marriage because it teaches us how to relate to one person at a time, to really come to understand this person's positions and values, and to learn to love them in spite of the difficulties marriage brings. She said that if we can each do that in our marriage, we would be better prepared to be citizens of the world and would be able to take those abilities we'd gained out into relationships that determine the state of our local communities, states, nations, and the world. We could change the world by working to be a better partner in our marriage. That's something everyone can do, because it isn't just married people who have opportunities to participate in relationships where they gain the skills necessary to change the world. The point is, it's how we interact with those closest to us that affects change on a broader scale. Which brings me back to the purpose of life.
It's the relationships we have here in this life that mean the most in the long-term. Not the houses we live in, or the cars we drive, or the vacations we are able to afford. The people we love, they are who matter. Building a house where we are all able to feel at home, driving a car big enough to get us from point A to point B with enough space that we don't kick each other into misery (and with a really great sound system to listen to Queen), going on vacations together as a family that offer bonding moments memorable enough to be spoken of lovingly at the dinner table for many years to come! (The silliness must stop!)
I don't know what comes after this life, and I don't really think much about it as it isn't the reality staring me in the face today. But I believe that I will know all of these amazing people who have had a place in my life here. I believe that wherever we are, we will always remember each other for who we were to each other here. I will always be Mom to Erin, Alix, Nathaniel, and Grace. And I will proudly say they were the children I was honored to parent while on earth. And everytime I see them or hear of them, I will smile and remember something sweet and silly about each one. And I will always be Daron's wife, the person by his side through much of his earthly sojourn. And he will always be the one who got me through it all, the strong bearded one at my side, who sometimes laughs at my jokes, who always makes me think he's lucky to have me. I have a great life; thinking about all I have fills my heart with snickers bars. (My favorite candy) I'm trying to take a moment each day to reflect on how lucky, fortunate, and yes, blessed I am to have what I have. I think I gave birth to 4 of my best friends!! After marrying my very best friend, that is. And they form the purpose of life for me.
Thanks, guys, for a wonderful Sunday afternoon! I'm looking forward to many more to come!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Knowledge vs Hope: Filling my tank with gas!

Faith can move mountains, supposedly, but can it fill your tank with gas?
Last weekend, as my daughters and I winged our way south toward home, the gas tank in the car became dangerously low. I hadn't been paying attention to it as I should have, and missed what seemed to be the last exit with available gas stations. I was becoming very concerned, as it was late Saturday night, rainy, and I had precious cargo on board. Finally, an exit loomed in the distance! And one of those signs with the picture of a gas pump, indicating that gas was indeed available for purchase! It was very dark out there on the freeway, and I couldn't see any neon lights advertising petrol-chemical distillate for sale, but as I had few choices and about 1/32nd of a tank left, I left the freeway in hopes of finding a filling station. There was a sign at the end of the exit ramp, Malta 8 miles, pointing to the right, and lights far off in the distance that could have been civilization. So, I put my faith in the sign I'd seen on the freeway indicating gas could be found somewhere at this exit, and turned right. We were on a dark, rainy, winding country road (the beginning line of a very bad novel!), and as we proceeded down this road I became very anxious about our fate. I wasn't sure we had enough gas to make it eight miles down this road, then eight miles back if we were unsuccessful in our quest, then another 38 or so miles down the freeway to the next gas station. But I was equally unsure if we had enough gas to make it another 38 miles down the freeway. I was inwardly cursing my negligence, and outwardly cursing IDOT their false advertising of the gas pump. But that was all I had to go on, that little picture of the gas pump. It was precious little knowledge, but I put my faith in it. But as we continued down this dark road, I had my daughter call 911 to get reassurance that there was indeed gas at the end of the road and that we weren't just driving off into nowhere and would be at the mercy of a deranged serial killer who we were sure was just waiting for us to run out of gas and would then rub his hands with glee and pounce! I said some choice words, words I'm not proud to have uttered in the presence of my children, but I was worried!
Just then, as we reached the end of the winding road, off to the left I spotted an Exxon sign. The gas station itself was closed, but the pumps were open to credit card purchases. Yeah! Success! I put 20.5 gallons of gas in a 20 gallon tank! What relief! We then made our way the eight miles back to the freeway, and continued on our journey home.
I've reflected on this experience since then, and have thought that it was analogous to our life's journey. At least with regards to faith. Faith has to be based on knowledge. Hope doesn't need anything; it just is. I would have never gone down that dark road in search of gas with only hope for a companion. But IDOT had provided me with a small nugget of knowledge when they posted the picture of the gas pump, and with that I had enough to proceed. However, I questioned that little bit of knowledge, and went in pursuit of reassurance by calling 911, someone I knew would be able to provide me with what I needed to continue. And fortunately, we were successful and were able to safely continue our journey home that night. Foiled the serial killer's plans!
I wish God, or the powers that be, would be so inclined to post a little picture for me along the wayside, giving me a bit of knowledge on which to base my journey. I have hope that somewhere at the end of the road is what I seek, but so far no knowledge. Others seem to think they've gained that knowledge, but I don't share this view. I just hope I don't run out of gas before I see a sign!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What do you want for me?

I'm a very lucky person. I have many, many people in my life who love me and want me to be happy. I just wish they could separate out those things that truly make me happy from those things that will make them happy. An incident that occurred near the end of Grandma's life illustrates this very well.
The day we had hospice come in and give Grandpa the low-down on what would be taking place over the last remaining weeks of Grandma's life was a difficult one for all involved. More than anyone, for Grandpa. He didn't want to let go of his beloved wife, the rock of his world, the only person who could have put up with him for 60 years and not killed him. Seriously. To watch him process everything that was being thrown at him was heart-wrenching. He would have given anything, including his personal fortune, to extend Grandma's life.
After spending some time with the hospice nurse, Grandpa went into the bedroom, where I was sitting at Grandma's bedside. She asked him if all of his questions had been answered. He gave a typical smart-aleck response. She got a bit frustrated, and asked him what he wanted for her. His reply? "I want you to get better and stay here with me." She said, "No, that's what you want for you. What do you want for me?" He hung his head, and for the only time in his life that I've witnessed, spoke from the heart. "I want you to be out of pain." At that, they both teared up, and I left the room so as to give them the space to process their raw, heart-felt grief.
I know that my parents and other loved ones want me to stay a true believer in the church and in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But I believe that's what they want for themselves. It makes them feel better, and continues the illusion that all is right with their world. But, if they were to look into my heart and answer the question as Grandpa did, I believe they would want me to be out of pain. And if I continue to pretend to be what they all want me to be, I will be in pain. Mental, emotional, spiritual pain. Dramatic, yes. But still true. I've given 50 years of my life to the image, and it has brought me pain and anxiety. And depression. It's time for me to free my heart and my spirit from other's expectations and beliefs, and discover what I believe. And though I'm just over a year into it, I already feel freer and lighter. Jesus said that we should bring our burdens to him and he will make them lighter. I don't know why, but that never worked for me. I just felt weighted down and burdened by expectation. I've let it all go, and I'm no longer in pain. Except for the pain of knowing that my loved ones, particularly my parents, will be burdened with my unbelief. And if I knew how to relieve their burdens as well, I'd do it. But I don't. Dread Pirate Roberts said that life is pain. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. Loving others also brings pain. Would we choose not to love?
Gracie said recently, "When Grandma died, it put her out of her misery. And put us into ours." Unfortunately, embracing my unbelief puts me out of my misery, and puts my parents into theirs. Maybe there will be a life after this one, and everybody will get what they need and desire, and we'll all be out of pain and happy. I do still feel hope that that's true, even if I'm not sure I believe it. Hope will have to be enough for now. And the lesson for me is to let those I love be who they are, free of my expectations for them, free to follow the voices in their own hearts, or heads. Whatever the case may be. Just don't self-medicate with religion! Freely embrace it if it speaks your language, don't if it doesn't. And let me be happy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

And so it begins. . .

I've been contemplating blogging all day, and I'm taking this way too seriously for my own good, so I'm just going to jump in! The main reason I want to blog about my experiences and feelings of the past year is to help myself gain some clarity. So this is mainly for me. But, I may, on occasion, send this to various relatives who might be interested in what I think, and maybe they will gain some clarity as well! High hopes, pie in the sky hopes......
I love analogies and metaphores. They help paint a picture that I can't quite formulate with words. And my favorite analogy this year has centered on tomatoes. I hate tomatoes. I have always hated tomatoes. The smell nauseates me, the taste haunts my nightmares, I hate the gooshy squishy feeling I get between my fingers when I have to cut them to fit into bottles. (When I can't get out of canning, that is.) One of my earliest memories is of sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of stewed tomatoes over home-made white bread in front of me, and my mom hovering over me until I ate that odious offering. I remember the disgust I felt, and the resentment, and the hopelessness that I'd never be able to choke it down and would therefore spend the rest of my days at that table in tears while my brothers ran off to play without me. And I didn't just hate the tomatoes; I hated my mom for making me eat them. I hated her for not understanding the depth of my dislike. I hated her for not seeing me for the tomato-hater I was, and for expecting me to just buck up baby because that's what we eat around here and you will damn well eat it and like it!! Maybe not in those words, but that was the idea. All these years later, and I can almost taste the bitterness in my mouth! I'm salivating as I write!
As an adult, there have been various occasions when I've been ribbed for not liking tomatoes. My brother-in-law, who I don't like anyway, told me that as an adult I need to learn to like them. My own daughter, when told that I didn't want tomatoes on my half of a shared salad, said, "You're an adult! Get over it!" I don't want to get over it! I don't like tomatoes! I don't like them here or there, I don't like them anywhere! And I don't expect that to change! Ever!
And that's how I feel about church. Right down to the resentment I feel at the expectation that as an adult I should just get over it. I think maybe I was born without the devotion gene. I don't like the rituals, and the forced reverence, and the pretense that I understand the hidden meanings behind what we do. I don't like being judged, and I don't like the assumed authority of the men on the stand watching that we all sustain with our right hands and take the sacrament with our right hands and don't wear flip-flops or more than one modest pair of earrings or a denim skirt or a colored shirt. I don't like the idea that I've given away my power to choose because of some covenants I made under duress (yes, sitting in a special room wearing strange clothing accompanied by family members and friends who are all watching me as I attempt to follow instructions seemingly in code that will allow me into the celestial kingdom constitutes duress). I was born with taste buds that dislike tomatoes, and my innermost self responds the same way to religion. Since leaving my parent's house, I haven't eaten tomatoes unless they were blended, mixed with herbs and spices, spread on dough, and covered with pepperoni and cheese. Or with my french fries as ketchup. Or in a few other culinary delights. So why have I spent the last 30 years forcing myself to partake of religion on a daily/weekly/monthy basis? Isn't it time for me to decide how to feed my soul?