Walking it On

Not too long ago my youngest started school, which means I have a bit of extra time on my hands. So, I did what any responsible stay-at-home mom does who has six kids to put through college, plus the drive and ambition of a Ford Pinto (the only car I know of named after a bean—presumably because it looks and moves just like one): I started a new hobby. Namely, walking.

I chose walking because I was tired of describing my “art” as “minimalist,” (it was stick figures) and excusing my piano playing with “Oh, I have only been playing for about a year now”—for the last 30 years. (Never got past Alfred’s basic piano level 1, “The Braying Donkey”.) But basically anyone can walk, even if you are the kind of person like me who regularly trips over your flip-flops. Or cracks in the sidewalk. Or mites.

Even so, don’t think walking is, well, a walk in the park. As I mentioned previously, I have squeezed 6 largish heads through the “birth canal,” which term was obviously coined by a man. A woman would have called it the “tiny tube of torture,” and after sending 6 bowling balls through it, my hips have developed this happy little crevice right where they should be joined together, which not only means I am now structured exactly along the lines of my stick figure drawings, but it also makes unimportant activities like walking, standing, sitting, and sleeping a serious challenge.

But I decided I needed to walk anyway. Part of this might be because of the happy surprise I didn’t know comes as a 40th birthday bonus—a built-in life preserver, right where it should be if you aspire to be the only human who can float vertically. Contrary to what should be a no-brainer, I wasn’t given a life preserver filled with air. In fact, when you squeeze it you can clearly see that it is a clumpy mass of 2 parts twizzler bites and 1 part shrimp crunchy tempura sushi roll. I also chose walking as my hobby because there is no way in Hades I will ever be caught running.

Running is a pastime that continues to be touted by runners as the most fun you can have while still dressed in your handkerchief-sized-but-still-cost-more-than-a-small-island running shorts, but I am sorry to say that I don’t believe it one bit. One reason for my skepticism is the pained look of misery on every runner’s face that I have ever seen. My face does something else entirely when I am having fun, but I suppose that could just be me. The other reason I refuse to run is, frankly, silly and frivolous and I probably shouldn’t even mention it, but it is the holes I pound into my knee-caps with my shin bones every time I forget myself and try it.

Not that I have a monopoly on pleasant expressions while walking, either. Mostly, the concerted effort it takes to keep my hips together makes me look constipated, but I do try to put on a nonchalant, “I am just out on a lovely stroll because I want to be” face whenever someone walks or drives by me. The ones who RUN by me can’t see me for the burst blood vessels in their eyes, so I don’t even bother with them.

One advantage to walking is that I don’t need those cumbersome, noise producing headphones that runners use to keep pace, because I can just walk to the beat of my creaking pelvis. Think squeaky door opening and closing over and over again for at least an hour, but with not near as much sweat.

Luckily for me, though, I live in central Indiana where you don’t have to sweat because the marble-sized air molecules do it for you. There have been times where I thought I might actually get better headway if I used swimming motions as opposed to the usual fist and leg pumping, but It would be awfully tricky to look care-free and nonchalant while breast-stroking through the air.

On the days that I don’t have to be scraped off the asphalt, I go straight home to start my second new, exciting hobby: Staring at myself in the mirror. This is exciting because as I gape at myself I can watch, if I focus for at least half a nano-second, as individual twizzler bite and sushi roll globs double, even triple in size! It is fascinating! In less time than it takes me to walk out my front door, let alone struggle through the four miles that are supposed to be shrinking my mid-section, I have added a quarter inch to the roll around my waist! What entertainment! What naked bliss! What bitter irony.

When I have finally tired of this exhilarating view I hop into the shower, feeling pride in myself for using my newly acquired time so productively.

Stagnancy

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I read a talk today on how to move out of stagnancy.  The author helpfully suggested that I take an honest evaluation of my life and use that to set some goals.  She proposed that I consider the following questions.  After a great deal of thought and some serious, heartfelt soul-searching, I came up with the following:

Where do I need development?  Maybe a better question would be, “Where do I NOT need development.”  I feel like every muscle and each tiny ounce of energy in my body and soul is atrophied.  Where does a pile of skin and fat and vital organs need development?  I suppose I could start with a backbone, then defibrillate my heart, reflate my brain, find my funny bone, toss out my wish-bone, and, finally, I would probably be satisfied with even just an eensy bit of initiative.

What do I want out of life?  I want to start a day, singular for now, without waking up pre-fatigued.

Where do I want to go?  Anywhere works, really, when you are totally stagnant.

How can I get there?  Deus ex Machina.

What things do I want to do?  SOME-thing.

What skills do I want to learn?  I want to remember what it feels like to want to learn a new skill.

How do I spend my time?  Numbing.  This can be done in a plethora of exciting ways.  I prefer to use either food, sleep, or books.  Funny, my current books of choice seem to be self-help, which you would think would live up to their genre—to self-help.  Rather, I have discovered that I read them because then I feel like I am at least on the cusp of actually doing something.

What are my dreams?  To wake up.

How is that for a start?  I am now supposed to take these broad topics and make specific, short-term goals.  Any suggestions?

“Principles of Uncertainty”

2014-07-24 10.28.30I am re-reading one of my favorite and most influential books, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” by Brene Brown. I just got an Aha! moment as I read.  She quotes theologian Richard Rohr saying, “My scientist friends have come up with things like ‘principles of uncertainty’ and dark holes.  They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories.  But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true.  We love closure, resolution, and clarity, while thinking that we are people of ‘faith’!  How strange that the very word ‘faith’ has come to mean the exact opposite.”

Maybe it is time for people of “faith” to join our scientist friends in the wonder and awe of a few principles of uncertainty. Maybe it is time for us to embrace these words of King Benjamin, a wise and powerful mortal who accomplished far more than me in his lifetime (sometimes people like me, who are some of the least of all mortals, egotistically believe that we somehow know more than those who have actually attained greatness), “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

I readily admit, I don’t fully understand all of the workings of God. I live within a huge realm of uncertainty.  And it is beautiful!  Just as I can’t imagine a vast and infinite universe without a little bit of mystery, I can’t imagine a true and living God without a little bit of mystery.  Any God, or any religion, that we mortals can completely comprehend would instantly cease to be the living God, and cease to be true religion, and instead reveal itself to be the projections and philosophies of men.  Isn’t the glory of God in the very idea that He is bigger than us?

I confess, I am weary of the modern-day presumption, even among those who profess to be people of “faith,” which suggests that mortals, mere slugs compared with God, should be able to have all of the answers, and even dictate our personal preferences and cultural prejudices onto an all-knowing and all-powerful being. Closure and resolution are principles for the next life, not this one.  Even an atheist must face a certain amount of uncertainty.  I think there is a reason that, though the term has seemingly become meaningless for many, we call our system of beliefs our FAITH.

Reflections

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I used to have six friends.  Best friends.  The kind you can go right inside their house without knocking.  The kind you got on the same menstrual cycle with (at least the girls).  The kind that you could talk about absolutely anything with.  The kind that had no such thing as deal breakers–you would be best friends forever no matter what.  Now I don’t have any.  Oh, I have people I call my friends and I hope they would call me a friend back, but we don’t really know each other.  Not really.  It is not their fault they don’t know me.  It is mine, because I have lived a lie for the past twenty years.  To be fair, I probably don’t know the real them either, but only their masks.  The six friends I used to have were as familiar to me as the smell of Sunday dinner or the feel of my mother’s face.

Now that I look back, I wonder what they saw in me even then.  In hindsight I can see that I was basically a narcissist.  But then again, what teen-ager isn’t?  I suppose I added an element of excitement to the group.  Whether it was jumping into the lake in our skivvies, sinking my “ten-man boat,” mooning the Saturday night cruisers, sneaking into hotel swimming pools, or running down mountain tunnels in the pitch black of night, anything that we probably shouldn’t have been doing was usually my idea.

I lost my friends one by one, kind of like the Agatha Christie book, “And Then There Were None.”  6 friends played happily, feeling free and so alive.  One joined a band (and married a tattoo artist) and then there were five.  You know, that kind of scene.

The boys I lost when I got married.  Four of the six of my friends married each other, which made it easy for them.  They could all stay happy little friends forever.  But I married an outsider and plus, there was too much baggage from all of us inter-dating for so many years.  Losing best friends just because they are boys and a friendship is no longer appropriate is one of the most painful losses of my life.  It still feels like I am missing one of my vital organs–I just can’t tell which.  I only know there is a void somewhere in my gut.

My last two friends, girls, I lost because of my own choices.  And this is where my story begins.

For me, the best part of going away to college is the restart it gives you.  My wild ways and my narcissism racked up a pretty hefty reputation for me, and I was ready to start over.  Completely.  So, when I left for BYU I killed myself off and Psycho-Hose-Beast was born.  (That is the name I give her now, which I stole from middle school.  We used the term frequently back then.  Honestly, I have no idea what it means–and if it is inappropriate I would rather just stay unenlightened–but it feels about right.)

Let me tell you a little bit about Sarah, and then I will tell you a little bit about Psycho-Hose-Beast.

Sarah is a crazy hippy free spirit who loves God and wants to be good, but loves life and doesn’t want to miss out on something just because it is unconventional.  She is an introvert who spends a lot of time in her own mind, but she can also be a party animal when the setting is right (familiar people and good music come to mind).   She is full of life and fun and love and anger and passion and opinions and zest.  She doesn’t give a rat’s behind for what anyone thinks.  She is quirky–obsessed with the unseen world.  She loves sunsets and rainstorms, flowers and trees.  She will try anything, but she adores pizza, burgers, chocolate chip cookies, and rice crispy treats.  She cranks out terrible poems by the dozen, and she doodles on absolutely everything.  Her favorite bands:  Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Van Halen, The Eagles, U2, and Paul Simon.  She is messy and chill and refuses to conform.  Her biggest mantras are to enjoy life, live in the moment, and to each their own.  She is so grateful for the gift of grace through her friend, Jesus Christ, that lets her learn from her mistakes, enjoy life, and be ok even though she is weak.

Psycho-Hose-Beast is “perfect.”  She keeps a perfectly clean house, and if it is not perfectly clean, you are not welcome inside.  She makes perfect dinners, and if they are not perfect, you are uninvited for dinner.  She raises perfect children, and if they are ever not perfect they had darn better at least appear to be.  She has a perfect husband who will be a future general authority or else.  She is the “perfect” Mormon woman, down to homemade bread, a quiet pew of well-dressed and reverent children at church, and self-righteous condemnation of everyone around her–especially if they happen to sin in different ways.  She watches what everyone else is doing to be sure that she is keeping up, and she compares herself to other “perfect” Mormon women to guarantee that she is still somewhere near the top.  Psycho-Hose-Beast is safe.  She prefers more cultivated music, such as The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Yanni.  Or NPR.  She is a health nut, but not for the joy of physical fitness and eating whole foods, but because it is RIGHT, and she had better darn get life RIGHT in every way, shape, and form.  God is always watching, and condemning, but it is her who will save herself.  It is frustrating and painful, but all she needs is just . . . a little . . . more . . . willpower.

On occasion, Sarah’s ghost will stubbornly reappear and possess the body of Psycho-Hose-Beast–which is when all hell breaks out and her demons of depression and self-loathing escape.  It is all she can do to rein them in and shut them up and pretend that all is well in the world.  The problem is, Sarah and Psycho-Hose-Beast really don’t like each other much.  You can imagine the internal friction these occasional hauntings bring with them.

And as for friends?  Psycho-Hose-Beast is now, as we previously determined, down to none.  That is because in addition to being “perfect,” she is also a self-righteous, judgmental, frustrated, tired, unhappy, selfish, anal retentive bore.

So I am left with a decision.  Do I kill Psycho-Hose-Beast and resurrect Sarah?  The problem is, I don’t want who I am to be determined by any label, even if that label is a name.  I want to be a health nut who also loves burgers and pizza and chocolate chip cookies.  I want to obey the commandments and live a virtuous life, but be unrestricted by mere social conventions.  I want to listen to whatever the heck I feel like listening to, whether that is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, NPR, or Aerosmith.  I want to be true to what I believe to be right to the best of my ability, but trust in the Lord to strengthen and save me.  I want to discern between right and wrong in my own life, but stay out of it when it comes to other people’s sins and weaknesses.

But maybe I never really killed Sarah at all.  Maybe I tried to, but I really just encased her in a life-like paper-mache cocoon.  Maybe I just need to chip away at the shell, accept Sarah for who she is, but also learn that she is not destined to always be exactly the person she was at the time of her pupation.  Maybe I just didn’t understand that Sarah could be fluid and malleable–growing and changing and morphing into something better, without the pupa, but through it all the same raw material.  My name doesn’t have to be a label of staticity.

And so that is what I have done.  Over the last few months I have marveled as pieces of the cocoon have chipped away.  It has left me feeling slightly crumpled and vulnerable, but free.  And this summer I went white-water rafting, scampering around cliffs, tree-hugging, sun-soaking on boulders, skinny-dipping, cross-country driving, ropes coursing, biking, and all kinds of “ings” that Psycho-Hose-Beast never would have done.  And Sarah felt so darn good. 

Maybe now Sarah just might be able to make some new friends.  She is out of practice, but at least she is a person–a REAL person with flesh and bones and weaknesses and pet sins and vulnerabilities.  And at least she likes herself, which is definitely a start.

And I want my old friends back, at least, the last two girls.  The question is, will they take me?  Shannon and Hillary, I am so very sorry for my years as a self-righteous, self-centered ________ (You fill in the blank.)

Broken Things

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My mother-in-law, Mercy, cherishes beautiful things.  As newlyweds, her husband, Jack, was stationed in Germany with the United States Army.  Adventurous and free, she loved taking the train all over Europe, exploring and gradually and carefully selecting beautiful things:  Hand-crafted clocks, hardwood furniture, and artisan vases.  Although the most precious thing she eventually brought home from overseas was her firstborn baby, Marc, she still meticulously packaged those lovely pieces of art so that they would survive the precarious journey over land and sea to their new home in America.

That precious son grew and six siblings followed.  Most people with a house-full of kids would lock up their precious possessions, protecting them from the rough handling of little hands, but Mercy didn’t want to live in a world of plastic just because she was a mother.  Instead, she taught her children from the time they were tiny how to properly care for “pretty things.”  The “pretty things” were proudly displayed until they were periodically bubble-wrapped, carefully boxed, and moved to a new home, where they would again take their prominent place in the living room.

The kids all grew up with a proper respect for their mother’s “pretty things,” and the “pretty things” passed the years relatively unscathed, aside from the occasional replacing of the glass in the clocks.  Then one day the unthinkable happened.  In a moment of shortsighted carelessness, Marc challenged his little brother, Dan, to a soccer game inside . . . in the living room.  With the powerful kick of the winning goal came the resounding and soul-wrenching clatter of Mercy’s favorite vase.  No longer confidently standing in its place on the center of the shelf, it was now reduced to a shapeless heap of shards.

Valuing her children more than even her most precious possessions, Mercy lovingly scolded her wretched boys for their lack of care, sent them on their way with a hug to ease their sorrow, and sat down to painstakingly, and with tear-filled eyes, put her precious vase back together, piece by piece.  After hours of back-breaking work and a few days to set, the vase was returned to its prominent spot–broken, but still beautiful.  To Mercy, with a heart full of love, it had been worth saving.

Several years later, wrestling replaced soccer and Marc and Dan were back at it–grappling in the living room.  Deja vu occurred when a take down was accompanied by that same, soul-wrenching clatter emanating from the, once again, shattered vase.  Surely this time the shards would simply make their way to the trash can!  Who sits and glues the same broken vase together twice?  But no!  Hours of painstaking repairs and days of glue-setting later, it was back on the shelf–even more battered looking than before, but still beautiful.  The vase was still worth saving.

Fast forward many years, through the proms, graduations, missions, college educations, weddings, and precious little bundles brought in to meet Grandma and Grandpa for the first time.  The kids are all gone, it is time to move on.  The near empty house echoes with the throaty giggles of babies, the pattering of toddler’s footsteps, the weeping of broken dreams, the consoling of healing hearts, the deep discussions, the anger and frustration, but mostly the laughter that permeates the very walls.

The house has been gutted of all that made it “home,” first by the adult children who hastily grabbed the things that had the most monetary value, then by strangers who sifted and sorted and bargained for whatever they saw that was worth a few bucks.  Now Marc and I are here.  It is dark, cold, and quiet but for the ghosts.  It is our turn to select from the remaining items those things that we want to incorporate into our family, home, and traditions.  We soon find that there is nothing of monetary value left, but that is not what we are looking for.  We are looking for what you can’t buy:  Memories.  It is easy to decide on the wooden rocking chair; the Spirit of Mothers Past rocking her baby still.  This will not go into the hands of strangers–the past will link with the present and even the future as it soothes my children, and then my grandchildren, and on.  The Spirit of Mothers Past will not be left to rock alone.  That is it inside the house.

On a table in the garage are a few odds and ends.  A plastic pitcher, some long-lost tableware, a mismatched salt shaker, dime-a-dozen baskets, rusty tools–junk.  And in the middle of the cheap, dollar-store dross stands the European vase; an original–hand crafted; broken, but still beautiful.  Worthless, and yet invaluable.  A symbol of love.

Like the vase, I am flawed, cracked, and even broken.  I have made mistakes.  I have been abused.  I have weak spots.  And with each soul-wrenching clatter I find myself, yet again, a broken heap on the floor thinking, “Surely no one would bother fixing me AGAIN.”  And yet, each time, I feel myself lifted up in the strong but gentle hands of my Savior.  If I was broken by my own shortsighted carelessness, I am lovingly scolded for my lack of care, given a hug to ease my sorrow, and then I am painstakingly put back together, piece by piece.  After I have been given some time for the wounds to heal completely, I am put back in the prominent space of His confidence.  I am an original–hand crafted; broken, but still beautiful.  I am worthless, and yet invaluable.  I am a symbol of love.

The vase now holds a prominent position in my home.  It is almost the first thing to greet the eye of my guests.  Several people have asked why I would ever keep such a broken old vase, or at least hide it in a dusty corner somewhere.  Several have asked how anyone could possibly have the patience or desire to even bother fixing it.  I don’t have the words to explain how the vase is more precious to me than the 36 million dollar Ming Dynasty-era bowl.  I don’t really want to explain that every time I see that broken vase, I see myself; broken, painstakingly fixed, then broken again–only to be fixed again.  I just smile and say, “It was worth fixing.”

broken vase

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Snow Globes and Precipices – Outside and On the Brink

Life is a snow globe. Inside is a quaint little village. Beautiful, happy people stroll down the walks and streets. Cows gently graze in the field, and there is a dance at the town square. At times snow gently falls, at other times the air is clear and quiet. Whether snow or shine, the people all smile to the same inside joke.

I am on the outside looking in. I want to be inside. I want to stroll down the streets. I want to feel the warmth of the fires crackling inside the tiny cottages. I want to feel the cool grass beneath my feet. I want to dance. More than anything else I want to understand the joke and smile with the people.

But this miniature world doesn’t have a gate that I can enter through. It doesn’t have a window I can open and sneak into. It doesn’t even have a door that I can knock on, in the hopes that someone will notice me and let me in. This is a world that, though entirely visible, is utterly impenetrable—tightly sealed, blocking all intruders from getting in, and preventing even the tiniest bit of itself from leaking out.

I could smash the glass that surrounds the happy little village, but doing so would destroy the very thing I want access to. The glitter would vanish, and I would rapidly discover that the fires are a façade and that the people are mere plastic. The dainty village would be crushed beneath my lumbering feet, and the picturesque would turn to ruin.

Satan does not work in money. His currency is not dollars or rubles. He does not barter in diamonds or gold. His currency is enmity: Enmity for God, enmity for mankind, and even enmity for self. And he is rolling in it. He has enough to give him, for the time being, virtually limitless power.

I know that the glass that separates me from mankind is enmity. Enmity is always the gristly fiber that so easily forms and multiplies and then divides hearts. Some enmity comes in the form of greed. Some comes in the form of envy. Sometimes it puts on the mask of friendliness but within it is a writhing mass of self-righteousness or judging. Sometimes it is guilty fury born of innocent misunderstanding.

Though I have bartered with Satan in all of those forms of currency, my current form of enmity is my own inability to walk gently amidst the people. I want to be a part of that happy village so badly, but I possess a personality that, like the calf in the globe, is so excited to get in and romp through the field that it doesn’t even notice the clover it is crushing until it is too late. I want to join the dance but I am awkwardly and inadvertently stepping on toes at every turn. I am bone-weary of my clumsy feet trying desperately but unsuccessfully to tread the delicate, intricate, complex fibers that make up the tightrope of sociality.

In other ways, life feels like the edge of a precipice. Lining the edge and for miles inland are millions of live coals. I am standing barefoot on the coals, looking out into the void. It is black and indiscernible, but it’s very unknown suggests the remote possibility that a jump into it could lead me to freedom—to the peaceful lagoon my soul has been seeking. But the unknown also leaves me with the very real possibility that a jump into it could be a jump to my death. Beyond the coals stands a quaint little village; not plastic but real; not perfect but good. And in my core I know that the village holds the potential for human connection. If I can make it to the village, I can finally thrive.

My feet are burning and I have to do something, but the journey through the coals is so long and painful that I continue to face the precipice. Could it lead to freedom? Could it? Something deep within me continues to warn me that to jump is to die spiritually and emotionally, but honestly, jumping looks so easy. So blissfully easy.

And I stand there and stand there and burn my feet and look and dream but I know I won’t jump. McBees and Fishers and Christians don’t take the path of least resistance. We grit our teeth and turn our heels and face head-on the pain and the struggle and the stretching that are all inherent to the path of greatest growth.

And we smile while we do it—at least on the outside.

When I finally don’t take the plunge and I do commit to forever turning my back away from the cliff’s edge; and as I trudge through the miles of live coals that are my path to salvation, I will be learning things as I walk.

I will learn that standing on the edge of a precipice gets you nowhere fast. I will learn that wallowing in my own despair is simply a cold and lonely mud bath. I will learn that enmity between hearts creates a slow and sure leak in both. I will learn that people are more important than my pride. I will learn that the only way to find myself is to lose myself. I will learn to view the broad spectrum of great good within mankind through the eyes of God, rather than focusing in on the minute flaws of humanity through the manmade lens of a microscope.

I will learn to tread lightly.

Mormons and Ordaining Women

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I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I am a woman.  Through my Savior Jesus Christ, I am powerful.  The following is my response to the Ordination for Women controversy:

The Book of Mormon is a book written for our day, and the prophet Jacob, perhaps more than any other, had great insights into the state of the hearts of mankind today.  To his people he said:

“But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand.  Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall . . ..

And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.” (Jacob 4:14-15)

In our day we are also stiffnecked in many ways, looking beyond the mark for things that we can’t understand.  Any time we focus in on something besides what Jesus Christ declared to be His whole gospel—faith in His name, obedience to His commandments, repentance when we inevitably stumble and fall, and LOVE—we are looking beyond the mark, letting go of the iron rod, and risking self-inflicted blindness in the mist of darkness. (See 1 Nephi 8:23)

As important as priesthood power is; the who’s and how’s and what’s of priesthood ordination—a very small element of priesthood power—can easily become minutia, a subject that we can’t or won’t understand and that can and has become a distraction for many from the path of true discipleship.

“The word priesthood has two meanings. First, priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8; D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass ‘the immortality and eternal life of man’ ( Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

Second, in mortality, priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel. (“ Priesthood Authority”  Handbook 2, Administering the Church)” (www.lds.org – gospel topics, Priesthood.)

Once again, “Priesthood is the power . . . given to man (as in mankind; men and women) to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children.”

The priesthood is God’s power given to mankind, male and female, to act in His name, to bless His children, and to build His kingdom.  Because I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is directed by a prophet of God—the only mortal authorized by God to hold all of the priesthood keys needed in MORTALITY for the salvation of man—I do believe that he directs God’s church as God himself would, and that for whatever reason we can’t or won’t understand it is God’s will that for now only worthy men are ordained to priesthood offices.  If I didn’t believe that then I would happily and without bitterness separate myself from this church and find another that I felt to be more correct.  And for now I am happy that God has given something to His sons, who will never feel the ultimate power of a growing life within them.  But in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though they are ordained to officiate in ordinances of salvation, men in NO way hold a monopoly on priesthood power.

It was through God’s power that I was able to conceive and grow life within my body, delivering those immortal souls into the world and allowing them to take the very first step toward salvation in mortality.  It is through God’s power that I have the wisdom to teach and guide those immortal souls, pointing them to Christ.  It is through God’s power that I lift and bless my husband and brothers, guiding them and counseling them in their great and important responsibilities as God’s sons.  It is through God’s power that I lift my sisters in their great and important responsibilities as God’s daughters.  Through God’s power I have cast out devils, healed broken hearts, and prophesied on behalf of those I have direction over.  My brothers anointed my head with oil the day that by all doctor’s accounts I should have died, but the anointing would have been vain without the priesthood power that I gave it through my faith in Jesus Christ.  It was through God’s power that an inspired Relief Society president knew exactly what to say to me when I was near spiritual death, and I didn’t know who else to turn to.

It was through God’s power that Eve, the Mother of all Living, had the strength and the wisdom needed to usher in mortality and begin the process of exaltation for all of mankind.  It was through God’s power that Mary conceived and raised the Son of God into mortality so that the very purposes of God could be realized.  It was through God’s power that Anna the prophetess heralded Christ’s birth.  It was through God’s power that Deborah and Esther helped to save all of Israel.  It was through God’s power that Mary and Martha prophesied of Jesus Christ’s divine Sonship.  It was through God’s power that Sariah and her daughters were able to traverse the wilderness year after year, bearing children and equal in strength with their husbands and sons.  It was through God’s power that Emma Smith could endure her trials as she gave her life to usher in the final dispensation of Christ, side by side and in every way equal with her husband Joseph.   It was through God’s power that Amanda Barnes Smith healed her son Alma, creating a new hip in the place of the one that had been shattered by the guns of mobs.  It was through God’s power that Mary Fielding Smith, newly widowed and with a wagon full of kids, could fight her way alone across the plains.  And it has been through God’s power that women have suffered, and endured, and triumphed, and led, and taught, and strengthened, and beautified, and nurtured, and lifted, and empowered, and healed, and fought, and edified, and ennobled, and blessed God’s children through all generations of time.  And we will continue to do so throughout all eternity as we call down the powers of God.

The power of the priesthood is upon me, and upon all of Eve’s righteous daughters, and we don’t need to be ordained now to have it.  One day we will, but that is minutia.

A humble follower of Jesus Christ, whether male or female, who has set his or her foundation upon Him, will always act in the spirit of Him who said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.  But it shall not be so among you:  but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:  Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. “ (St. Matthew 20:25-28)

How can we recognize a true disciple of Jesus Christ?  We will not find him or her caught up in the midst of the murky muck of minutia.  We will not find him or her shouting his or her opinions from the rooftops, working to convert the world to their own personal opinions.  We will not find him or her basking in the spotlight.  In fact, we will not find him or her easily, because he or she will not be seeking attention, or even wanting to be noticed. We will find him or her in a quiet moment, when we take the time to notice that humble man or woman quietly aiding God’s children and building the Kingdom of God, whether man or woman they will be tapping equally into His power to do so.  And we will only notice him or her for a moment because our view will soon be lifted, as he or she will be pointing the eyes of all who know them to Christ and HIS doctrines; and they will be humbly blessing the world through their love.

Kisses

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For no particular reason, especially not my teenagers, kissing has been on my mind a lot lately.  Some of you know the free spirit of my youth and won’t be surprised, and more of you who think you know me now will be utterly scandalized to learn that these lips have seen a bit of action in their day.  If you are of the easily scandalized sort, reader discretion is advised.

My first potential kiss still lies, cold and disappointed, on the gravel shoulder somewhere between my house and Bookcliff Middle School.  It fell there as I ran, screaming, from the adolescent boy who offered it.  As the years went by, many more of its happier cousins would actually hit the mark.

There were the first practiced kisses, performed and perfected on my hand or my mirror.  Though slightly embarrassing, these were absolutely essential for achieving the perfect combination of mouth position and movement.

There was the forbidden kiss, the only one from that particular source, more of its kind having been hastily and securely sent packing by my protective and outraged mother.  This was from the high school ladies’ man, a senior, lustily preying upon an innocent and naïve little freshman.

There was the stolen kiss, taken on the last day before Winter Break by an imp decked in a Santa’s hat, darting through the halls and holding mistletoe over girl’s heads; sneaking his claim to the spoils of a long-standing Christmas tradition.

There were the kisses of shame (I love you Grandma, rest in peace), and the kiss of death; gaping mouth, strong lips and tongue undulating like tentacles, descending upon me like something out of a science-fiction movie, preparing to suck out my brain through my lips.

There were the sweet, elevating kisses of young love, which literally lifted my feet off the ground an imperceptible half inch as I floated each day into orchestra class.  Then there were the kisses of regret, given without my heart.  But they all led me up to the magical day when I would find my final kissing buddy, standing outside of Shipp Hall in the dark, when the stars aligned perfectly even though our lips didn’t.  It was a half-miss, but it was perfect.

I kind of wish that I could say that that magical half-miss was my first kiss.  I have heard tales such as those and I always found them quaint and sweet, if slightly unbelievable.   Maybe I simply had the foresight at a young age to recognize that I would be sharing my kisses with just one person from age 20 or so to the farthest reaches of all eternity, and that would be quite a long enough time for lip monogamy.   And true love or not, there is nothing quite like that first kiss.

As an eighth grade middle school student, I took full advantage of the bragging rights that came from having a ninth grade boyfriend in high school.  Of course, when I say that he was my boyfriend, I mean that he had one of the friends of one of his friends pass me a note one day at church that said, “Will you go out with me?” and then three little boxes labeled, “yes,” “no,” and “maybe.” A friend of a friend of mine delivered the note back to him in which I had checked the “yes” box, after which we proceeded as normal, never talking to each other or even so much as looking in each other’s general direction if there was any chance of being caught in the glance.

My friends had never seen the boy, so I was free to brag about him until pretty soon he was larger than life and better looking than Liam Hemsworth.  If they had seen him, they would have known him for what he really was–A very skinny boy with stilts poking out of his uncomfortably short shorts, and huge blue eyes.  I called him Patrick, the older, mysterious man of the ice blue eyes.  He was really just Pat—the scrawny but cute kid from church.

Still, I never had better occasion to boast than the day on which I got my very first kiss.  It was a truly romantic affair, possibly not worthy of a steamy harlequin novel, but something like that.  One Saturday we found ourselves together atop a snow-covered mountain in Colorado with thirty or so swarming teen-agers and only a handful of chaperones.  We were there as a youth church group to extort nature of her evergreens to sell in town for Christmas.

The romantic ambience was set from the start, as we took turns gracefully gliding over a black sheet of ice.  I, of course, was the most graceful of all, speeding right past Pat’s outstretched arms, flapping my arms at humming-bird speed, blasting off into the air for a few comic strip moments, and landing flat on my rear-end.  Luckily for me, my fall was cushioned by some very generous cacti.  For the next hour I became the church service project, as everyone worked to extradite the cactus spikes from my less glamorous body parts.

That job finally over, Pat and his friends and I and my friends simultaneously escaped into the forest, distancing ourselves from the rest of the group.  Laughing and joking and with frozen toes we plucked the face of Mother Nature until parts of her resembled rather singed eyebrows.  Amidst the normal teenage complaints and gossip a common theme of love and kissing began to dominate the conversation.  Unbeknownst to Pat and me, a conspiracy was forming against us by our so-called friends.

We had all reached a small clearing when out of nowhere I was violently seized upon and thrust into a crowd that was violently seizing and thrusting my red-faced counterpart.  We found ourselves stumbling into each other’s arms, as our “friends” bolted toward the trees chanting, “KISS, KISS, KISS, KISS, KISS!”  Strangely, it didn’t occur to either of us to follow suit and run into the trees ourselves.  Instead I found myself staring at his redder than normal face and bigger than normal eyes.  I am not sure what he was starting at, but it wasn’t me and it was somewhere on the ground.  For a moment I wondered if he had lost a contact lens.  I was almost to the point of kneeling down on the snow to start the search when I noticed he was mumbling to himself.

“I can do this.  My brother taught me how.  Let’s see.  I know I can do this.  I’ve got to remember.  First I take her in my arms.  No, wait, first I grab her behind the neck.  No, maybe I just lean forward.  I can do this.  I know I can do this.”  This chanting would have held my unwavering interest, except that little heads kept poking out from the trees and jarring voices kept calling out, “Kiss her you idiot!” “Hurry up!” “Just do it!” “Sarah, you do it then!”  And of course, peals of laughter.

Finally he looked up from whatever was so captivating in the snow and met my eyes.  We made an unspoken agreement in that split-second glance.  We both leaned in for the world’s fastest kiss, barely meeting lips and almost missing entirely.  In fact, I can’t be sure we didn’t miss, because we were both instantly running in opposite directions, while whooping and hollering from behind various trees and bushes echoed through the mountain air.

I can’t say that the kiss was romantic, or spontaneous, or even very substantial, but I can say that it was my very first kiss, and as such it has staked its claim as one of my all-time most memorable.  And that kiss alone would have been sufficient protection against the elements for the rest of that bitter winter’s day.  In any case, my toes were most certainly no longer cold.

Now I am privileged to get and give kisses all day long.  Some fix boo-boos, others mend broken hearts.  Some are given freely—slobbery and sticky and smelling strangely of peanut butter; while others are barely tolerated.  Some soothe tired eyes to sleep, and some are given on the top of a sweaty boy’s blond head while he energetically squeezes my intestines up into my chest like a boa constrictor.

And what has happened to my true love’s kisses, the first of which was that perfect half-miss?  Some are a hello, some are a goodbye.  Some are a gift, some are a promise.  Some are a statement, some are a question.  Some are a silent but unmistakable answer to that question.  Some feel like laughter, and some taste like tears.  Some are quick, some are gentle, some are passionate . . . and they are all still perfect.

Sleeping with the Devil and Walking with God

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picture from http://wallpoper.com/wallpaper/nature-stairways-413498

Last night I slept with the devil.  Marc, fast asleep, had no idea that he was there, nestled in between us amongst the sheets.  Late into the night he snarled at me in the dark:  “You can’t do this.  Tomorrow is the first day of summer and you have to face all of those kids and there is no way you are going to make it.  What were you thinking, having six kids?  Sure, they were simple enough when you first had them all, being young and uncomplicated.  What did you really think it would be like when they all grew up and got sassy and dramatic and disobedient?  You are not cut out for this, and you are never going to make it.  The worst part of it all is that you are trapped, and there is nothing you can do about it.  You know that everything you do you hate, and no matter how hard you try it is never enough.”  And he droned on and on and on, poking me and jabbing me at my most sensitive spots until I finally cried myself into a restless sleep.

This morning I ran away.  Well, I didn’t run, not being in that good of shape.  But I walked.  I woke up before the kids, put on my sneakers, and walked out the door, shutting it softly.  And I walked away.  Away from the incessant needs.  Away from the squabbling.  Away from the girl drama.  Away from the rolling eyes.  Away from the dishes and laundry.  Away from the whining.  I walked away from the noise, the complaints, and the piles that litter every bedroom and fill every corner.  I left the cooking and the cleaning and the counseling.  Away, away, away from the demands and the dirt and the window smears.  I walked, and walked, and walked—always in the opposite direction of home—away.

Finally, I stopped.  I looked up from my despondency and found myself at the edge of a verdant pond that glistened in the morning sun.  The long, emerald beads of willow trees reached down toward the water, dancing in the slight breeze.  A mallard duck couple squawked as their obedient children trailed them into the water, stepping down into their glimmering wake.  I took a deep breath and was startled to find it was filled with the rich perfume of unseen blossoms—nothing but their phantom fragrance to proclaim their presence.

My gloom was suddenly lifted like the startled bird flying out from the tall grasses at my feet.  I reached up and saluted the sun, my knowledge of yoga going at least that far.  As I closed my eyes and felt the sun gently alight upon my face, I saw in my mind a different sun—the source of a different light—The Son.  My dark night with the Devil came to mind in deep contrast, and I wondered, What if I invited God to stay with me instead?

Taking three long breaths, I turned around, faced home, and began walking back—asking God to come with me.  He did.  As we walked, we talked.  He started it:

“So, how you feelin’?”

“Not so hot, I suppose.  I just haven’t felt really happy for a while, and now summer is here and I am terrified to face it—to face my kids, my responsibility, and my constant anxiety and stress.”

He looked at me long and hard, penetrating beyond even what I think I know of myself, and simply said, “I used to make you happy.”

Perplexed by such a simple remark, I slowed and asked, “What do you mean?”

He pointed at a towering tulip poplar, sunlight flickering down through its leaves.  “Just look at that tree.  I made it to make you happy.  Trees used to make you happy.  You would touch them, smell them, climb in them, sit in their shade, and eat their fruit.  They used to make you happy, but they don’t make you happy anymore.”

I was quiet.

He continued.  “Listen to that bird.  You know from the shrill whooping sound that it is a cardinal.  I made the cardinal to make you happy.  When you were a child, you got excited every time you saw a mere robin.  How much more beautiful is a cardinal, and yet, you don’t even stop to watch it emerge from the tree.  Birds used to make you happy, but they don’t make you happy anymore.”

We walked in silence.

Finally, He said, “Lift your face to the sun—I made it to make you happy.  Feel the breeze blowing through your hair—I made it to make you happy too.  Look at the swings and the bikes and the sidewalk chalk announcing summer—I gave you all of it to make you happy.  You used to be easy to please.  Now you are almost impossible to please.  Whereas you once met everything with a sense of wonder, you now meet even the most beautiful parts of life with a sense of foreboding. “

Finally, I spoke:  “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child:  but when I became a [woman], I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

He thought for a moment then motioned with his arm, “Imagine seven year-old Sarah skipping through that field of grass.  Do you see her, so trusting in me and so happy in all of my gifts?”

I glanced over and there she was.  “Yes, I can see her,” I whispered, looking down.

With power he replied, “Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  He looked me deep in the eyes and continued, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (St. Matthew 18:3-4)

We walked and I thought—about that content little girl and about the too often unhappy woman I have become.  What happened?  How did I lose the wonderment and excitement of God’s gifts?  How did I lose even His intangible gifts such as peace like a river (Isaiah 66:12), a burden that is light (St. Matthew 11:30), and everlasting joy placed upon my head (Isaiah 51:11).  What if, instead of hosting shady nighttime bedfellows, I awoke each morning and took a walk with God?  What if, instead of greeting the day already drained, I met it head-on and filled up?  What if I started to, once again, accept and embrace God’s gifts?

We strolled in silence the rest of the way home, until I turned to thank Him for the walk and He was gone.  But like the hearts of the men who had been changed forever because of their walk with a stranger down the road to Emmaus, “[my] heart did burn within [me], while he talked with [me] by the way, and while he opened to [me] the scriptures.” (St. Luke 24:32)

I reached my doorstep and paused.  I looked up and around at the beauty that surrounds my home, and while I filled my lungs once again with fresh air, I filled my soul with deep draughts of joy.  Then I turned and walked inside.

 

 

Do You See Them?

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I can still see myself, a whir of red, white, and blue—brown hair waving like a banner, jumping in the car with my dad and heading to the local Fourth of July Day Parade.  It was an amateur affair, with crudely made floats, old-fashioned cars filled with gaping smiles and big waves, more enthusiastic than accomplished high school marching bands, spidery limbed boy-scouts, sequin  adorned baton twirlers, and, of course, the reason I thought I always went; the cheap candy—any kind worked for me.

But why did my Dad keep going, year after year, even after I was long past the age of begging him to go?  It was tradition, and it was time alone with my Dad, so I was happy to go long into my teenage years—but I certainly wasn’t pulling and dragging him out the door.  Other than pilfering the Daddy tax of a few butterscotch candies from me, he really didn’t care about the candy.  It certainly wasn’t the crowds or noise or horse manure, he not being a fan of any of those.

As I matured it clicked.  Year after year, summer after summer, my dad braved the crowds and the noise and the horse manure for the small, some might say insignificant, procession toward the end of the parade.  No boisterous music played, there were no glittery or racy uniforms to attract attention.  They didn’t throw candy or hand out coupons.  There weren’t even any smiles or waves.  It was simply a handful of gray-haired, stoop shouldered men, holding a big, battered American Flag; eyes ahead, brows determined, shuffling step in perfect, though halted procession.  They were the local WWII veterans.  Some people ignored them, looking ahead for the horses, a few cheered, but my normally gruff Daddy stood tall, right hand raised in military salute, tears streaming down his face.

It wasn’t until my last parade with Dad that I saw what he saw, standing side by side, my right hand to my heart, tears streaming down my cheeks–mirroring his.  This time, only one frail, fragile, bent old man remained—determinedly holding the heavy flag and marching all alone.  But no!  He is not marching alone! I see them!  There they are!  The procession of thousands in uniform behind him; the brave soldiers who gave their lives so that marching bands could march, boy scouts could throw candy, and the Gideons could pass out free little Bibles.  I watched through my tears as the apparition army faded into the sun and the shriveled soldier curved around the bend, and I got it.

My dad, an army soldier, would never miss paying tribute each year to his fellow comrades who gave the ultimate sacrifice, who “more than self their country loved,” and whose blood purchased that parade, those bibles, this candy, those fire trucks, those marching bands, all of those families, these flags we are waving, the business behind me, this land we’re standing on, and all of those smiles and all of those waves and the sense of safety I feel standing next to him.

Do you see them?  They are there when you tuck your kids in at night, safe and sound.  They are there when you swipe your card at Walmart or plunk out ten bucks at the local farmer’s market.  They are every single day with our kids at school.  They are on our bridges and they line our roads.  They kneel reverently in your church.  They are at your dinner table and your neighborhood BBQ.  They surround your local newspaper press.  They stand behind your 10:00 News.  They are there in your blog and your Facebook account.  They continue to stand side by side with our living and dying troops, who defend our freedom still.  Are they in your memory?  Are they in your heart?  Do you see them?

My Dad received a funeral with full military honors.  There were no more shriveled WWII vets to post the colors, play the taps, or carry the casket.  But there were plenty of heavily tattooed, leather jacketed Vietnam and Korea vets, bedecked with their medals and flags and inner scars.  Once again, behind them, I saw the phantom troops; but this time I saw my Dad by their side, standing at attention, right hand in military salute, tears streaming down his cheeks—mirroring mine.