Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fiery Trials

There have been some very hard things happening around me. I'm not happy about it. People I adore have suffered losses that seem impossible to bear. I hate being reminded of the fragility of our lives and how in an instant, life shifts to a new, harder normal.

I found this scripture this week, and it struck me. Somehow I don't think I've ever paid attention to it or maybe even read it before now. I love it. I love its gentle tone and its wisdom and even the tiny bit of humor in it.

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.

Come on, isn't this the total truth? If we aren't just laid out on the floor by enormously terrible things, don't we just shake our heads sometimes and say, "Really, life? You're doing THIS? No way. It's just not right." It always feels strange. It almost always feels more fiery than tolerable.

I am going to send y'all back to my darling friend Megan's blog. I hate that there are so many struggles in her life. But I love that she teaches me constantly. And I think she could tell God that some of her trials are indeed strange. Her latest post reminds me of the things I have learned and am learning, and by golly, NEED TO LEARN STILL. I found this quote recently and it reminded me of that great C.S. Lewis quote about God building a palace out of our little cottage.

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would look like complete destruction. -Cynthia Occelli

Even with the reminder that our fiery trials are to be expected, and sometimes necessary for our growth, my heart is still broken. My soul grieves. I don't understand all things. Or many things. But I know that love makes terribleness more bearable. And I know that the times when the world slows down to force us to pay attention to each other in our most distressed circumstances become holy. There are blessings in tragedies, and those blessings are so often the people who love us, and care for us, and hold us up when we can't hold ourselves up.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Different in Happy Ways

I've been considering this oft-quoted paragraph by Spencer W. Kimball for quite a long time now: 
Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. … Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.
Do I consider myself to be different from other women in the world? Well, yes. And also, no. My life is filled with friends I adore who are both women who are LDS and women who are not LDS, religious and not religious. I am different from ALL of these women. but also I am the same as them all in so many ways. No one else manages the same loads I do. No one else has all same tools and talents or the same (lame, ridiculous) weaknesses I do. Despite so many differences, I also recognize our sisterhood, our similarities.

Here is how I see the women I know: Some of them juggle life's demands without breaking a sweat. Some are optimistic. Some hold grudges. Some make me belly laugh. Some keep their houses way cleaner than mine. A few maybe don't (but I'm not totally sure about that.) Some think gay marriage is a blessing to many. Some think gay marriage is problematic to our society. Some drink Diet Coke by the bucketful, some are sugar and gluten-free, some enjoy coffee and wine, and some eat a lot of cookies. (Guess which one I am?) Some want the priesthood. Some don't want the priesthood. One has already been ordained a priest. Some don't know what priesthood is, as defined by the LDS church, and really don't care about it one way or the other. Some think I'm weird for being LDS but love me anyway. Some worship in the temple and have long heartfelt discussions about the atonement with me. Some believe in God loosely, some believe in God specifically, and some don't believe in God at all. Some are Christian, some are Muslim, some are Jewish, some claim no religion.

Pretty much I hope you understand that what I'm saying is that I love the women around me. I love our differences and I love our similarities. I love them for their goodness, for their kindness. I love them in their flaws, because of their flaws, and I also love them for their different paths in life and the things I learn from them because of those different paths. I love that we are different and I love that we are similar. I am a little jealous of those who keep their homes clean and those who travel a lot. I'm sad for those who struggle with mental and physical illnesses and for those whose home relationships are hard. I get frustrated about those who are offended easily, but then I forgive them, because, you know, they're probably offended  because of something hard in their lives, and hard things in our lives really can mess with our brains. 

I have also thought about happiness, and what this quote says about the happiness of women. Do I think that every woman I know needs to be like me to be happy? Heck, no. In fact, a lot of them are happier than I am. Do I think every woman I know needs to be in my church to be happy? Nope. I really don't. And about happiness in general: Sometimes I am very happy. That is a relief to say. I have fought hard to be able to say that. Sometimes I am not happy. Life is super challenging, you know? Like sometimes I want to just throw in the towel and let someone else take the driver's seat. And when I read a quote like the one above, I think, "Dang. If the growth in the church is determined by my happiness, I guess we are out of luck." But after rethinking and rereading, I decided that President Kimball did not say LDS women will always be super unflaggingly happy, no sadness allowed, but that we will be different in happy ways from some in the world.

Here are some of the ways I feel happy about what I have gained from being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

1. The doctrine of the sealing power of the temple.

The doctrine of the LDS church is that families can be sealed together for eternity. Although that is not always an appealing thought when dealing with some of our relationships here, the belief that we will be made whole and perfect in the next life and that we will then enjoy the relationships that were so important to us here is powerful and important. I believe the two things that will go with us into the next life are relationships and knowledge, and I like the idea that we will continue to grow in both.

2. An unpaid, called ministry.

I love (and sometimes don't love) that we as members of the LDS church are asked to do lots and lots and lots of different kinds of jobs within the church. Some of these we are well qualified for (right now I play the piano for the choir and teach a monthly lesson in Relief Society, our women's group) and some of these stretch us out of our comfort zones (my brother and brother-in-law are both serving as bishops of their congregations right now. This is a major commitment on their part and the part of their families, and the commitment lasts for at least five years.) We are asked to step up and learn to do new things. Sometimes we fail, and sometimes we get it right. Usually both.

3. Being asked to adhere to a set of living standards that can seem arbitrary. And hard.

No coffee or tea or even a little wine? Wearing temple garments and therefore, clothing that covers those? No shopping or restaurants, etc. on Sunday? No sex before marriage, and by no sex, we mean keep your hands off. Paying 10% of our income in tithing? Fasting once a month for 24 hours? Forgoing college and serving a mission for 18-24 months?

Oh, wait, I am supposed to say how we are different in happy ways.

Here's the thing! I actually think that for me, even these requirements have taught me happiness. Our Heavenly Father wants us to learn self-control, to learn that when we follow the guidelines he sets for us, we are able to live more freely. Would drinking a cup of coffee damn me eternally and make me a slave to my impulses? Uh, no. But a chance to learn more ability to control myself is a good thing. Now I just need to decide what to do about all those cookies.

4. Personal and institutional revelation.

This may just be my favorite thing in my church. I love that we are blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost when we are confirmed after baptism. I love that we are taught how to listen to this internal voice that guides, directs, and comforts us. I love that from the time we are teeny tiny, we are told that our Heavenly Father has given us this gift to help keep us safe and to guide us. We are taught how to listen to the Holy Spirit. We are told to trust our hearts when we are living according to commandment.

And then, as companion to our own revelations for our lives, we are blessed with leaders who are given the gift of prophecy and revelation. These are human men, with human flaws, but with godly power. And do I believe this? I actually do. I have had enough experience with personal revelation to trust that others receive it as well.

Is personal revelation only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No! Of course not. But I love that it is an integral part of our education from infancy on. And my experiences with it have been deep, powerful, and life-changing.

5. The priesthood.

This is controversial right now. I understand the pain that this subject has caused many of my sisters in the church. I think I might have a different perspective on this if I wasn't the mother of an 18 year old man, and the wife of a 47 year old man and the sister of many great men and the daughter of another great man. I believe the priesthood has shaped these men from the time they were 12 years old and has helped them to become more than they would be without it. I love to watch them wield the power of the priesthood when they serve in callings, but especially when they lay their hands on the heads of those I love or on my own head to bless with things that are desperately needed. I love the healing power of the priesthood. I love that my father could use the priesthood to bless my 7 year old self when I woke with legs aching with growing pains. I love that my husband gives my children blessings before they go back to school each year full of sacred promises and gifts. These blessings have tied our families together throughout the years.

I read a fascinating book about raising boys in our society a few years back. The authors discussed what is missing from the adolescence of so many young men to help them grow into good, honorable adult men. Some of the things they describe that I found fascinating were time in nature, a set structure with mileposts to note as they turn from boys to men, older men as mentors on this journey, and an opportunity to feel part of a bigger culture through serving those around them. Watching Josh grow from boy to man, I have been more grateful than I can express for a church culture that emphasizes these things. The men in his life have been remarkable. The Scouting program has given him many opportunities to be outdoors and to test his limits. The opportunities for service have been constant. The responsibilities he gains as he grows in the priesthood are wonderful.

(Do I want these same things for my daughters? YES. And I think that there is opportunity for growth in the church practice on this, but I also see much good in what they are given through the gospel. Could there be more done? Yes, and that is a subject for another day.)

6. Ties to a greater community.

I love that I know people in my neighborhood that I would not have known if we did not worship together. We are different in age, interests, personalities, and backgrounds, but we are pulled together in neighborhoods and communities, not by our choice of a masterful pastor or preacher or a strong youth program, but because we go where we are assigned to go. Sometimes these ward communities are strong in many areas, and sometimes they are weak, but they are our own, and we serve together and grow to love each other.

When Brent died, I had two visiting teachers (women who are assigned to visit and care for me...it sounds strange, but is such a gift) that I hadn't known long, both of whom are in a different phase of life than I am. They threw their arms around me, packing a gorgeous lunch and care package for our trip to California for the funeral, and showed constant love for me and my family. I have so much tenderness towards these sisters of mine. I wouldn't have known them without my relationship with them as visiting teachers. I love that they came monthly and sat on chairs and asked me how I was doing. I love that they made me delicious treats and that they cared about my children. I love that they showed compassion for me and interest in me. I love that I learned more about being a good visiting teacher and neighbor from them. (I wish I could say I learned enough to have applied these lessons, but I am still a pretty bad visiting teacher. There is time to grow, though, right?)

I could tell many stories about my faith community and about the people who have loved me and whom I have loved. I am grateful beyond words for my ward families.

7. Last, but not least, a focus on Jesus Christ

I know that in years past, there has been discussion in different circles about whether or not Mormons are Christian. I will allow those who wish to fight that battle to continue. It doesn't matter to me at all, because I know I am a Christian. I worship Christ. I accept His atonement and His grace. I know without it, I am nothing. I have felt the enabling power of His atonement. I have seen His grace change me. I expect it to save me. I love the four standard works of the LDS church: the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Each of these books testifies of Christ throughout and I have learned to love Him and to learn about Him through each of them.

So often it is easier to pick apart the institutions we are a part of than it is to celebrate the things that they get right. I have this tendency. I see much opportunity for growth and change in the ways that we are falling short as a church, but I also want to recognize the incredible blessing it has been for me to be a Mormon. I am happy in my membership in Christ's church. Does it solve every problem in my life? Do I live a blissfully happy existence? No. But the gospel stretches me, deepens me, changes me, and helps me to be better. And that's good enough for me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hello, again. (Yes, AGAIN.)

It is the end of April.

I have one more month until Josh graduates. (!)

One of my college piano friends lives in my current ward. On Easter Sunday, Josh, sporting a dashing pink suit, played cello with our ward choir (it helps that the choir director pays him gas money to come to choir) (and by choir director, I of course mean David.) After his performance, my friend and I were talking about Josh and his plans. I said, "I realized recently that I was two months older than Josh is now when I met you for the first time."

We both just kind of looked at each other, because of course, that isn't really possible.

And yet it is. When I was two months older than Josh is now, I left my home and traveled up to the wilds of Utah County and the practice rooms of the Harris Fine Arts Center. When I was two months older than Josh is now, I first laid my eyes on the man who would become my husband, and met some of the people who would become my dearest friends in the world. I threw myself into college life, into practicing, into trying to make myself into a person I would like more when I looked at myself in the mirror. It was one of the best years of my life.

I'm so worried that Josh won't know how to wake up to his alarm clock. And that he will forget to do laundry. Or his homework. Maybe I need to be praying instead that I can let him grow up and have faith that he will figure things out.