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.