Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Goodbye

This is a goodbye to this blog.

No, it's not because I am getting married. But I decided nearly a year ago that while I enjoyed writing on it, there were two reasons I was no longer interested in continuing it. The first was that while "Mormon Over the Hill Singles" was meant as a joke, there is some validity to the belief that we believe what we tell ourselves, even in jest. I am single. In my twenties I did indeed think I'd be long and happily married by this time, a parent and a grandparent. It didn't happen. Some of that has to do with my fears, some to poor choices, some to the choices of others (for who wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't want to be with you?) The reasons why are mostly moot; but there are reasons I do Not want to be single: because I have convinced myself I'm too old or that I've messed up too much or that somehow the Lord's promises or null and void because they had an expiration date on them. And whether I intended it or not, my joking about being "over the hill" had slowly solidified over the three year course of the blog - although in fairness, the feelings probably went back further than that.

Reason two is that I realized the majority of my posts were about things that were not exclusive to single people, or even to members of the church. I still want to write about spiritual things. I still want to write about personal growth and challenges and triumphs. I still want to write in praise of friends and family and God on my journey.

So even if I take this blog "down", it will live on, in another form. The new blog will be called "Where I Am Planted", taken from a conversation with a friend last year, but as it turns out when I went to select a url for my blog, not an exclusive idea. I had to try a number of combinations before I found something available, but it actually gives me a boost, a bit of hope, a confirmation in God's goodness, for giving that concept to many of His children. How cool is that?

Thank you to my followers over the past three years. You were few but I always appreciated your comments, and I hope I offered no offense along the way. And I didn't start blogging to be famous (or infamous). I started blogging because life is an incredible journey, and although at times difficult, or even unpleasant, it always offers growth. And it's always good, even if it takes awhile to see the good.

My new blog can be found at: http://whereplanted.blogspot.com/

G

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Broken Vessels

Last Sunday our full time missionaries taught the lesson in Elder's Quorum. They started with giving us slips of paper on which we were to write something we are currently struggling with which is causing "our vessel to be broken", causing a struggle with our faith and commitment. We didn't have to sign it (to which I mentally added I would disguise my handwriting). It didn't have to be anything grand and no problem was too small; it only needed be something with which we were personally struggling with, which broke our hearts and made perseverance difficult. These were to be placed into a bowl and the bowl passed around again, and if you wished to read one you could take one out, but you were not required to. These struggles would  be discussed in light of Elder Jeffery R Holland's October 2013 General Conference address, "Like a Broken Vessel". As a quorum we could give constructive advice on how to make it through that trial, the intended purpose being to strengthen one another.

I did not place anything into the bowl. Not because I couldn't make up my mind on which particular flaw in my own vessel to confess. That was a factor, for there are many things which are difficult right now. I wasn't worried about superficial advice, because I know the brethren in my quorum to be very caring individuals who would take this assignment seriously. I just simply couldn't decide what to say, possibly because of the internal dialog telling me I already knew what I needed to do to overcome each of those struggles and that there might be someone who really didn't know what to next so why waste time on my problems. I even realized that it is a type of arrogance to be a martyr so someone else's problems can be solved before my own; it's a type of false martyrdom to downplay the significance of our own trials. But mostly, I over-thought the situation and just didn't write anything down and tucked the paper away in my planner and promised myself I could continue this exercise later on my own, and appreciate the reminder the blank paper would give me in the days to come (which it actually did).

Even though I was expecting the brethren in my quorum to rise to the occasion and give wonderful, helpful, heartfelt advice -- I was pleasantly surprised at how deep that heartfelt advice was. The Spirit was strong. I was grateful for the Elders who had come up with this exercise and grateful for the EQ brethren who so genuinely care for one another and I wanted to shout, "Wait! I have about 15 I can put in the bowl!" Okay, I didn't really want to do that. But I was humbled by the love shown in the answers given. We had limited time and after discussion, with most the quorum participating in offering their own life experiences, including one brother who prefaced his remarks with telling us the slip he'd pulled out was very similar to the one currently being discussed. This itself prompted the thought at the time that not only are my problems not insignificant to me, they likely are not to others, not if they are experiencing that same trouble themselves.


Despite how strongly the lesson affected me then, like most lessons, it had begun to fade from the forefront of my consciousness until it was referenced today in our Ward Conference's combined Elders & High Priests meeting. The theme of the conference -- at least the theme I went home with -- was "Hastening the Work", which the Church certainly has been stressing lately. But it goes beyond crying repentance to the world. Sunday School had been a discussion of the Church's recent video on member missionary work, "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go". I've seen this video a dozen times, at least half of those times at church. It's a very moving, non-threatening, and non-guilt-inducing video on... simply being a nice person. On serving others, and allowing ourselves to be served. On caring for people as individuals. To participate in that Sunday School class was a nice segue into Priesthood class.

Today was a nice reminder of what is truly broken about my own vessel: I spend too much time in my own shell. Perhaps there's a reason one of my favorite animals is the turtle. At church I get very excited about the talks and testimonies and lessons. I make grand plans to do this and that, starting the moment I get home. And then I go home and I take a nap. Which might lead me to the conclusion that naps are inherently, insidiously evil for sucking away all my ambition. But rather I think I merely need to work on my balance, and work on reminding myself of my commitments; not just those Sunday commitments, but my baptismal and temple covenants -- which, as I write this, it occurs to me they should be one and the same. We partake of the Sacrament weekly in order to renew those covenants. there's no reason we cannot renew those covenants every day, every hour.

In the "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" video, not a word of audible dialog can be heard; the family portrayed is shown praying and working together and on their own, to the backdrop of the hymn the video takes its name from. The message is made all the more powerful by showing rather than merely telling.As human beings we have a tendency to draw into ourselves. The video shows the family each showing love and concern for those in their spheres of influence -- friends, neighbors, coworkers, schoolmates,  strangers on the street. And then that concern continues beyond the initial immediate need. That's where my vessel is broken (or at least cracked) -- I will usually do an okay (not great, just "okay") job of recognizing those initial, immediate needs. But followup? Saying "Hello" the next day? Yeah, I pretty much stink at that.

I wonder, do we realize how wide our circle of influence is? I don't think we do. I seldom do. We are told that if we sincerely pray for opportunities, the Lord will provide them. Intellectually I understand that. But somehow that intellectual understanding gets lost when the opportunities to serve actually present themselves; there's a broken link in the chain, a washed out section of the road between my heart where the prompting occurs and my brain which should tell me to move my feet and open my mouth. Or perhaps it's the other way around: the prompting occurs in my brain, but somewhere on the path to my heart, courage and self confidence flee.

I recently heard (where, I'm not sure) a Mormon blogger comment that we ought to define ourselves by our faith first. As in: "I'm a Mormon blogger." "I'm a Mormon single," "I'm a Mormon parent." "I'm a Mormon intergalactic explorer." Okay, so I am paraphrasing, she didn't say anything about intergalactic exploration. You get the picture. If faith comes first, we can better fulfill our church callings; if faith comes first, it doesn't matter whether we are single or married, young or old. It doesn't even matter so much if our vessels are broken, because that faith tells us that we can still serve, and that we can help one another heal.

And I think, if faith comes first, we're ready to receive the Savior's healing grace, His healing power.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

You're Next!

"You're next!"

These words were spoken to me more than once today when I attended a dear friend's wedding reception. It's a cheerful, hopeful prediction (or perhaps a portent of impending doom) pronounced at nearly every reception I go to and generally spoken by those who know me well and wish me well, although there have been times past where complete strangers have told me so, leaving me to wonder if someone stamped "Single" on my forehead, for why would you say that to a complete stranger whom you don't know might have been first?.

The bride and groom were radiant, as they ought to be, and I saw many friends I'd not seen in awhile. Weddings are always awesome for that; they are better than Facebook for reestablishing contact with people, and the happiness of a new marriage is often reflected in the countenances of those recently (within the past three years) wed and those who have been happily joined since time began. It is as if a wedding reminds people of how the world ought to run. I saw many people I met during the six years I (not always cheerfully) served as a stake single adult representative (and where I became friends with the bride). Some had, as the saying goes, "graduated from the program", and others like me who are not deliberately holding back, but simply haven't found their companion yet.

I chatted with each of my friends in turn. I filled a plate with nutritious snacks and then I got some cake. I took some pictures. I threatened the groom that I would hurt him if he hurt my friend (as I always do when it is a female friend I am attending the reception of) and received a promise that he would not hurt her and we both acknowledged that she would probably take him out herself so I would not need to. If the traditional garter flipping was performed, it happened before I arrived and I'm okay with that because it is a custom I've always disdained and generally succeed in making myself scarce for anyway.

And I was told more than once "You're next." It's a phrase which once annoyed me. Not because I have any sort of animus against such an event, but because it seems too often said in the spirit of judgement, as if I am not trying hard enough, or in the spirit of assurance and consolation, as if I came not for the purpose of sharing the happiness of a friend, as I supposed, but rather to wallow in the misery of what I do not have, a pastime I learned long ago I can enjoy from the comfort of my own home with a large bag of Cheetos. Somewhere along the line, I do not know where, I had a couple of epiphanies: first, that I myself am a better judge of what I am and am not doing to procure my eternal bliss; and second, the sympathy offered me at such times, though unwarranted, is not falsely nor insincerely given. Once I accepted those two truths, I was no longer frustrated by the words, only frustrated by what to say next, something to effectively end that particular thread of conversation. Today I tried, "No, I'm pretty sure I'm immune", meant tongue-in-cheek but only my closest friends grasp my brand of humor. It was met with responses like "You just need to know marriage is about choice and commitment, not whether you're immune or not" and "It takes time and that time is different for everyone." Both sentiments I fully agree with.

I especially agree with the time factor. I have long believed that "it takes as long as it takes", and the passage of time has only solidified that belief. For some people it takes five years, for others, five days, and I've known a couple for whom it seemingly took about five minutes. None is more "right" than the other. The five year people are not necessarily dragging their feet and the five day people are not necessarily rushing into it without proper thought. And I wish people would stop ascribing motivations to the actions of others when no one on the planet is as adept at mind and heart reading as they believe themselves to be. I've known the five-day people who are happily married thirty years later, and I've known five-year people who were divorced the following year. No intelligent person sets out to fail at marriage. No person honest with themselves leaps into marriage expecting perfection, and becoming quickly disabused of that notion fails to grasp that it's going to take a whole lot of work by both parties.

Yet I think we as singles too often allow the expectations and hopes of others for us, no matter how kindly they be, remain simply that: the hopes and expectations of others for us. We push aside our own expectations and beliefs, somehow believing they are invalid and we are somehow doing it all wrong, borne out by the fact that everyone else on the planet is married but us. Somehow I don't think our Heavenly Father wants us to equate marriage and misery. But we're willing to push aside our own wishes, desires, dreams and expectations for those who really have less insight into our lives than we do, and that itself leads to misery. Not even our hoped-for spouses should have that kind of power over our lives.

By that, I am most decidedly not saying we shouldn't make sacrifices for the one we love and hope to spend eternity with. We should. But those sacrifices should be for the edification of both parties, not at the expense of our true selves. I recently read a blog which told the story of a future father-in-law giving the counsel that "marriage isn't for you, it is for the other person." As we truly seek another's happiness and fulfillment, a natural byproduct of those selfless actions is a greater fulfillment of our own needs, often through the person we've just served.

Another way to look at it came from a young single adult fireside I went to many years ago. I haven't been a "young single" for two decades now, and it was no small number of years before that. But despite it being in my ancient past, I've not forgotten the concept, even if I don't remember the exact words. Our speaker drew two circles on the chalkboard, drew lines down the centers of each, and erased half the circle of each and asked us how many believed that marriage is two half people coming together to form a whole. I think he backed up that philosophy by reminding us we cannot achieve the highest degree of Celestial Glory without a companion. Many agreed, others including myself did not but weren't immediately able to say why we disagreed. A discussion ensued. The final verdict was a marriage is two people who are as whole as they can be by themselves, coming together and committing to stay together to complement one another; when one is only at half their true self then the other performs at one-and-a half to bring them back to wholeness again, and ideally, they complement one another the rest of their lives.

And that's what I saw today as I watched couples brand new, mostly new, and experienced veterans. I saw a whole lot of wholeness. Sometimes it's hard to remember what I believe, specifically that I believe "it takes as long as it takes", and it's the Lord's timetable and not my own I need to get in sync with, that I need to trust. Wholeness takes time and needs to be replenished often, individual wholeness as well as in a companionship. So I am thinking that "Wholeness" might be my theme for this year. Not being "Next", but being Whole.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our Own Gardens

A little more than a month ago, I picked up a book written in 1932, called "Down the Garden Path" by Beverley Nichols. As the title suggests, it is a gardening book. Yet I found it to be somewhat more, most likely due to what Heavenly Father felt I needed to know at the time rather than what the author was trying to teach. In his descriptions of various plants and soils and growing seasons I began to draw gospel parallels. I am one of those people who can kill cacti. Not on purpose of course. And one of them actually survived for about five years. But I digress.

I learned, as the author did, that the type of soil has as much to do with how the plant thrives as the season in which it is planted or how much sun and water it receives. Sounds simple enough, but it is not something I thought of as I would buy seeds or starter plants, plastic pots to place upon my apartment porch, and whatever bag of soil was currently on sale. What plants flowered or bore fruit, neighborhood squirrels mauled and there didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason which plants made it to the ready-to-be-mauled stage, until I picked up this book. Faithful watering and weeding (how do weeds get inside pots potted with weed-free soil, anyway), loving conversation to said plants, threats to the squirrels that they might end up in a stew all aside, neither of my two thumbs had much green in their genes. Ah, but the wrong soil for that particular plant, or too much / too little sun (fooled, I was, by the fact that the soil was still moist, so my water/sun ratio must be correct) -- this I could understand. I haven't had a porch garden in a few years, but these are things to keep in mind with future attempts.

I hadn't picked up the book to learn anything about gardening. I had read one of the author's later books a few years ago and enjoyed his humorous descriptions of his misadventures in gardening and home restoration and observations about village life. Learning a little bit about what makes a garden grow was not unexpected, for it was a book on gardening. But learning a little bit about my life was the real surprise, and pleasant at that.

I began to think about the similarities between how plants grow in different environments and how we grow in different environments -- physical, spiritual, mental, emotional environments. How some seeds fall by the wayside and are devoured, some fall into stony places where they cannot not get root, some are choked by thorns, and some fall to good ground and bring forth fruit a hundredfold. Both that parable in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, as well as the allegory of the olive tree in the fifth chapter of Jacob took on new meanings for me; they were no longer simply about the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ but also about how that Gospel takes root in our own hearts.

I thought about that last cactus I had, which thrived for quite awhile, and then became root bound and how I procrastinated replanting it until it was too late (and it certainly did not help that the soil I replanted it in was not the proper soil). I thought about how some of those plants died simply because I had neglected them, getting distracted by other things so I did not water or otherwise nourish the plants. And perhaps I could have been more cognizant of the fondness the squirrels had for tomatoes, and somehow kept them away.

I thought perhaps I too often stop reading the parable of the seeds after the wayside/stony ground/thorns, and forget about the seeds which fell into good ground. And even in good ground, neglect can negate all the gardener's efforts. Jacob's allegory of the olive trees doesn't end with the first crop of bad fruit. The Lord and Servant of the vineyard worked together grafting and regrafting and nourishing the vineyard until it had every opportunity to thrive and bring forth good fruit. Our Heavenly Father and our Savior are just as committed in our lives. We mess up. We neglect ourselves and those under our care; we lose opportunities to bring forth good fruit and our neglect ofttimes hurts others as well. And then we listen to the squirrels -- I mean, the Adversary, and think we simply cannot ever see a beautiful garden in our lives, so we stop planting and nourishing, sometimes in our own lives as well as in the lives of others.

While I was thus ruminating upon gardening as it related to life, a friend whom I had not shared these thoughts told me she had recently received the following counsel at the temple: "Bloom where you are planted.". She wasn't certain what to make of that I couldn't tell her. But I thought I knew what it meant to me in my own life: "Do something with what I have already given you, and I will take care of the rest; I will guide you as you do so and bring forth the good fruit you desire in your life." That is what those words meant to me, at this stage in my life. However, as sound as that counsel is, it's not the counsel I received. While my friend had received counsel about blooming, I had been prompted to think about thriving. Perhaps they mean the same thing in the context of how He wishes to guide our lives, and spoke to us individually in our own vernacular.

I wondered if that is what I needed to do: to bloom where I am planted. But I also wondered if, like in Jacob's allegory, I need to be transplanted to another part of the vineyard. I cannot say. Shortly after wondering those things, I wandered away into other thoughts for a month and have just recently returned to the garden.

I believe Heavenly Father can help us bloom wherever we plant ourselves -- but we shouldn't forget His status as a Master Gardener. He knows what soils and climate can best nourish us, how much sun and rain we need. He knows which thorns and stones to surround us with to keep us humble and turning our hearts to Him.. He knows how much inclement weather we can handle and how much we need to strengthen and deepen our roots.

The question is, do we trust the Gardener?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Up the Hill!

As I approach the next "hill" (the big five-oh) I find myself having mixed emotions. For the most part, I'm perfectly okay with it. Sure, at twenty I imagined myself in a wholly different place at fifty. A father, for instance. A grandfather, even. It's not happened. I am however, a six-time uncle, and a granduncle well over twenty times, and most recently, a great-grand uncle. Which is pretty dang cool. My nieces/nephews/grandnieces/grandnephews are pretty cool people. We disagree on many things. But they are still pretty dang cool people.

For a few moments today I felt old, useless, unfulfilled; I felt like I've wasted this first half of my life in so many ways, through improper action or woeful inaction. It's thankfully not a feeling I experience often. Today it was a bit more deeply felt because that 5-0 number is drawing closer to reality. this is the same number I've been joking about for a couple of months, calling it the "half century mark"; I changed my answering message on both phones to the "Hawaii 5-0" theme song and ordered a tee shirt with a "Geoffrey 5-0" logo. At times I've actually felt excited over the prospect. A dental appointment yesterday told me that although there are still areas of concern,  those same areas have improved greatly over my last visit. And at today's visit to the  eye doctor I learned that there is a very little change in my right eye, but for the most part my eyes are healthy back to front and I have 20-20 vision with my prescription, which, did I mention, has changed very little since my last prescription 2-1/2 years ago? Not bad for an old guy.

Nonetheless, I did have a twinge of old-feeling shortly after noon. As I've been joking the past couple of months about the half-century mark, my totallyawesomellyfantasticish friends and family have assured me that it's okay, I'll make it, it's no big deal, etc; I have assured them it doesn't bother me and that's why I laugh at it. But then the moment came. It was a long moment. And I did what any sensible old coot, um, I mean, person experiencing such a feeling does in such a situation. 

I took a nap. Seriously, people, naps are highly underrated. Why do children fight them? They're wonderful. They're as wonderful as books and chocolate. As I'd taken a couple days off for my birthday, I felt I could afford to take a nap. Speaking of being able to afford to take a nap, I know people protest it is "a luxury they cannot afford" - Balderdash! Read the recent research on sleep deprivation and tell me you cannot afford to. Heck, read the research from 20-30 years ago and tell me you cannot afford to. It doesn't necessarily have to be an eight hour nap (and if you do need that much, get in touch with your inner Jean-Luc Picard and "make it so!") Sometimes you need a couple hours, at other times all you need is ten or twenty minutes. Fine, call it a luxury. What? You think you're not worth the luxury? You are! Leave the dishes. Trade babysitting time with a friend and don't scour the bathroom while the kids are gone; take a nap! Because guess what? You get up from your nap and those feelings of self doubt and self loathing are gone. You get up from you nap and your reluctance to do all those things you still don't want to do will be greatly diminished and you'll be more productive because your brain's not working overtime trying to figure out why exactly the blue sock goes with the blue sock not the green one and why the sour milk needs to be thrown out. It's amazing how well a rested brain actually works.

So, I took a nap, and I got up and did stuff. I've been told it's weird to spend vacation days taking care of dental and eye care appointments and chores. For me I find it greatly stress-reducing to do it this way, to take care of the things I can't take care of because I am so busy with the things I "have" to do -- and I feel less guilty about things yet undone. And I reserve plenty of vacation time for indulgences such as ice cream, a long, slow rambling walk through my favorite quiet spots in town, a movie. And, when I'm well rested, I get an amazing amount of "stuff" done, compared to trying to do it when I'm exhausted and grumpy. And getting done that stuff I hate doing grants me permission to do the stuff I like to do, like exercising my creativity in writing or drawing or cooking, which further reduces stress, which helps me get more done.... okay, enough about naps. This isn't "The Nap Blog" (although I like the sound of that....)

This is a blog about being Mormon. Check. And about being single. Check. And about being "over-the-hill". Check again. However, I reserve the right to move the hill anytime I please. When I turned forty, I began stating my age as "late thirties - my thirties passed away some time back." Soon I will get to recycle the joke with only some slight rewording. With each hill - or milestone - one cannot help but to review one's life. And I have been doing that reflecting, although not solely because I am approaching the crown of a hill. Last year I started major decluttering, and accelerated that process at the beginning of this year. When I say "major", I mean "major". I mean Holy-cow-how-the-heck-can-that-much-stuff-fit-in-that-small-a-closet-space? major, and Who-the-heck-is-bringing-back-all-the-junk-I-threw-out? major. 

It's a liberating process. I always thought it was a bit meta-physical when people talked about the negative energy of excess stuff. Well, getting rid of it does more than relieve a sense of claustrophobia; I've felt it each time I accomplish a goal for a certain area of my home, whether it be a closet or a linen closet or a bookshelf. Much of it is very easy to determine the fate of: I don't need clothes that don't fit or which fit but I don't like; I don't need eight-year old catalogs from companies no longer in business; I don't need electronics which probably could be fixed but won't be fixed because I have not the tools, time, patience, or know-how to do so. I know some of the clutter came about due to previous attempts at "cleaning", especially when company was expected: throw everything into a box and shove into a closet or what became affectionately known as "the back room". I would not have made the guest list for one of those "hoarder" television shows, as my disorganization did have some order and for the most part the pathways were not canyon-like. But it was bad enough to zap my energy, and the extent to which it did so only became noticeable as I started moving it out, to dumpsters, thrift stores, and the like. With each decluttered and freshly reorganized area of my apartment, I become a little obsessive about keeping it that way, to the point of for a couple of days of freaking out a little when any speck larger than a dust mote settled upon a newly revitalized area. In each case the madness has lasted but a short time until I settled into a cautious but more reasonable expectation of cleanliness and order.

As I've gone through box after box, separating that which I need to keep from that which needs shredding to that which can be thrown away directly and that which can be donated and found useful to others, I have found some unexpected emotional ties to the stuff I've saved. Some is obvious: letters from family and friends or magazines and articles I saved which were important at the time but are not so any longer. Some I had to process again, but I required myself to do the processing so it didn't get put into a box for another ten years. Most of the boxes were organized by year not by design but by the previously mentioned quick-cleaning sprees of the past. Some of it had items five or ten years apart, and close enough to the bottom of the stack or in the darkest corners to defy all logic, so everything needs to be gone through with at least some care. I don't doubt that I might have already thrown out something I might at some future date wonder what became of it. But considering the number of times I found myself saying things like "Oh, yeah..." and "Why do I have two of these?" and "So that's what happened to it!" and "Where the heck did this come from?" -- I don't think I need to worry too much. Clutter is clutter, and since the beginning of the year my definition of clutter has morphed into "things I no longer want nor need", and in redefining the word, I have been able to do two things: decide what is most important to me, and what is not. And that includes the emotions -- which have sometimes been stumbling blocks and brick walls to my progress -- tied to those things. Things which in all fairness, I was probably not ready to get rid of before, or I would have done so, but which can be moved out and away now. 

And this process has taught me about different types of clutter in my life, ones not so easily seen nor easily taken out to the trash, and certainly not things I wish to foist upon new owners. These are emotional, mental and spiritual clutter; brought into my life by mistakes I made or harm caused to me by others. Things I did not consciously hold on to but which I did so anyway. There was a talk in General Conference in October 2006 which imagery has stuck with me all this time but which is in my decluttering process coming to have a deeper meaning. In it Elder Shayne M Bowen talked about airports and parks being built upon landfills, and gave one definition of a landfill as a place where garbage is buried and the land reclaimed. He asked the question of what the city fathers would think if he took a backhoe to the airport or city park to dig up all his old garbage? I think of this because I see that in my own situation, my garbage (physical or emotional!) never made it to the landfill so there was never a chance of reclamation. And so, without ever meaning to, I halted my own healing process.

Oops. 

I read a lot of blogs. I have found a number of fascinating blogs through links friends have posted on their Facebook pages, through random browsing, through stories on NPR, and of course the blogs of my own friends. I have come to greatly appreciate people from all walks of life and have gained a deep gratitude for the deeply personal things which they share. They have experiences I have never had and probably never will. I have not faced watching a spouse of many years deteriorate from dementia or from cancer. I have not experienced painful reconstructive surgeries from horrible accidents. I have not struggled with gender identity or same sex attraction. I have not struggled with alcohol or drug addiction. I have not felt alienated because of the way I look or where I came from. I have not been divorced, and the pain I have felt in never having married pales in comparison to what others have felt. I'm not married so I don't know what it feels like to raise children,either contumacious toddlers or rebellious teenagers (save what I can remember my parents doing or the quasi-parenthood known as unclehood), nor do I know what it feels like to desperately try to have children but not yet being blessed such. 

I can imagine these things -- and the posts are often written with such candor that I feel deeply some modicum of what they do, but I'm certain my imagination falls short of the mark. I've not experienced these things and with the possible exception of the child rearing (for I know when toddlers aren't being contumacious and teenagers aren't being sullen, they're quite lovely people), I don't want to; I'll keep my own trials, thank you very much. But having said that, I am profoundly grateful for what friends and strangers alike have written about their trials. I am grateful that they shared not just their struggles but their victories. I am grateful for what insights I have gained into my own struggles and for the reminders that we are here for a purpose and that God is mindful of us. I am grateful for the reminder that single or married, male or female, healthy or not, we can learn from and teach one another; we can help each other over the hills. Or better yet, we can help one another up the hills, one at a time, traveling together; to experience the beautiful vistas God has prepared for us to see but which we can only see if we keep moving upward, and being cheerfully willing to climb the next one. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Purpose

Last month I was released from my calling as counselor in the Elder's Quorum. I had been in three presidencies over three and a half years, first as secretary and then as counselor, as presidents either moved away or were called into a bishopric; for a month prior to my release I was "acting president" (and indeed it ofttimes felt like acting) and feel I learned nearly as much in that month as I had in three years prior. Over the course of that whole time period I learned much about the way the Church is run, what our Heavenly Father expects of His children -- as well as what He has in store for them, and much about myself (not all entirely pleasant.) And I gained a great appreciation for Heavenly Father's children and their individual journeys as well as my own, and that has changed my understanding of, and attitude towards service.

Last week the rest of the new presidency was called and sustained, and it was with a curious mixture of relief and sadness I was not part of the new presidency. I felt relief because I was tired; not tired of the learning and growth, not tired of serving (indeed I felt a little lost without the extra tasks during the week), but the tiredness that comes when you stop motion for awhile, when you realize you hadn't realized you were tired. I had learned so much, and grown so much, through that service that I felt a bit lost, not knowing "what's next." I feel a greater willingness to do whatever comes next than I recall ever feeling before, yet still lost. Not a without-purpose kind of lost but rather in knowing there is a new path, but I am not yet seeing it. I'm not seeing my purpose.

Yesterday and today was stake conference. It was wonderful. But it almost wasn't, because I almost didn't go. Yesterday, after much internal debate about the weather and the cough I had woken up with the day before, I decided neither was a viable excuse and that the problem lay with me. I have a good friend who often points out to me, whether speaking of herself or of me (much to my chagrin) that when we say "I can't" what we are really saying is "I don't want to." I know from past experience that the times I do not want to go, whether it be a regular church meeting or a stake meeting, general session or Priesthood session, if I go anyway, I am always glad I did; I always get a great deal out of the meeting. Recognizing that is usually the only push I need. Last night it wasn't enough. But after I prayed I realized I needed to simply make a decision: Go, or don't go. And once I decided to go, I knew who to call to carpool, whereas my previous calls had been unsuccessful. It was a reminder that new pathways are generally only opened up when we're in motion.

The main topic last night was member missionary work: a topic that usually makes me go "ugh." Not so this time. The focus wasn't on lists of friends and family, nor on commitment challenges - i.e., "I will have x number of people ready for the discussions by date y. While not inherently bad, these methods are limited in the effectuality for a couple reasons: because we become discouraged when what worked so well for others doesn't work so well for us; and because those methods measure our "success" by another person's agency. We haven't found our own voice, or used our own talents and own experiences to share those truths so vitally important and dear to us; or we have expected that which is so obvious to us is going to be equally obvious to those we so valiantly and clearly (clear to us, anyway) share it with. Our job is not to convince others, but to share with others - and who do we share with? Doctrine and Covenants, Section 1 answers that. the message is for all; therefore, we share with all. And we do it by finding our natural way of expressing those things. And we ought to set goals within the realm of our own agency, not the agency of others, and God will provide the rest.  Just as he prepared us and continues to guide us to deeper understanding, so he will for those we love and those we don't even know yet but can still have an influential good for.

Today's talks, for me, continued where last night's left off. I was most moved by our stake president's closing remarks. Summarizing talks from both days, he spoke on covenant keeping, admonishing us as the Lord is hastening the work, we need to hasten our covenant keeping. He spoke of how a covenant is often compared to a contract, but that's not quite accurate. The terms of a contract are negotiable by both parties, and a covenant is not: the Lord sets the terms, and we accept (or not.) But he asked why we would want to negotiate those terms in the first place, for the terms are "ridiculously generous in our favor." And he gave the example of we give an ounce, and we receive a ton in return. It is true. The scriptures tell us again and again if we are obedient to the very best of our abilities, we receive "all that he hath." All. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty amazing to me. Our stake president said he prefers to think of covenants as a promise: a promise to become. We promise to become like those who went before us, we promise to uplift and succor others, we promise to become sons and daughters of God, to become holy and sanctified -- and we are promised by Him the ability to do so.

And then our wonderful stake president (if he reads this: don't let that statement go to your head!) gave us an example that brought tears to my eyes. He asked his son to bring his three month old granddaughter forward. And as he held this beautiful child in his arms, he told us that right now, that child is helpless and entirely reliant upon her parents to feed her, clothe her, change her when she's made a mess; to teach her, to comfort her, to love her. And sometimes when the parents have done all that, their child still cries, because she is sad, or confused or frightened. But he as grandfather can look at that child now and see her as a toddler, and a growing child, and as a teenager going to the temple, and as a young woman raising a family of her own, and as a glorified, exalted being. And the distance between now and that day is much, much smaller than the distance between where we currently are and where our Heavenly Father can see us, and can lead us to. We, like that child, are entirely dependent upon our Heavenly Father. He feeds us, physically and spiritually. He clothes our spirits in physical bodies and provides for our daily temporal needs. He teaches us. He forgives us and gives us new chances. When we make a mess, He tells us, Oh, my dear child, you have made a mess; come, let me change you. And sometimes we are still unhappy and we cry because we are tired or lonely or lost or confused.

Our Heavenly Father can change all that too. It's difficult to live the Gospel in a world and culture not friendly towards spiritual things, whether we are single or not. Last autumn our stake was privileged to have an Apostle of the Lord, Elder David A. Bednar, come address us before our stake conference; it was like a bonus conference. To the challenge that it is difficult to be a member of the Lord's church, he countered: "It's more difficult to not be."

In closing, our stake president  invoked blessings upon us: to be happy; to make and keep our covenants and to become all our Heavenly Father has in store for us.

And I left conference with a little deeper understanding upon what my (not really lost or hidden after all) purpose is: to not give up, to keep moving forward, to serve, to follow, to become.







Sunday, November 18, 2012

I am thankful for my friends

I am thankful for friends who bring me laughter, who believe in me, who support me, who forgive my foibles. I am thankful for those who listen to my whining and those who trust me enough to turn around and whine to me. I am thankful for those who know when all I need is a sounding board and when it's time to give advice and when it's time to smack me upside the head with a whiffle bat (figuratively speaking only, thankfully.) I am thankful my friends know when I need chocolate and when I need a smile or a corny joke or when to share a favorite passage of scripture or thoughts on a book they are currently reading.

I am thankful for the friend who sent me a scary picture of herself (a picture she herself believes if the worst picture she's ever taken) with the instruction that whenever I start to go down a certain destructive path (which path she non-judgmentally listened to me express my desire to remove myself from), that I look at that picture and remember that's the face I'd have to contend with if I found myself on that path again. (I need to clarify here that it is a really really bad picture, and my friend is ever so much more comely than that particular picture shows.)

I am thankful for the friend who over 20 years ago called from a number my caller ID didn't register, and played the piano for a good five minutes, nothing else, just the piano, no introduction nor explanation. I wonder if she ever knew how much that meant to me. I say "she" as an educated guess; I never knew for sure if I was right in that guess and she was quite convincing in her claim that it wasn't her, although I always suspected it was, and she has since passed on so I won't know for sure until I get to the other side and she won't be allowed to fib to me (if indeed it really was her in the first place.) Perhaps it was someone I don't know who misdialed and the gift was meant for someone else. I think it was still done out of friendship, and I am grateful that the intended recipient has a friend such as that. The music came at a low point in my life and was a healing balm.

I am thankful for the friend who at another difficult time, when I was feeling discouraged from a long bout with unemployment, who collected a bunch of Happy Meal type toys, tied them all together with a long piece of twine with one end tied to my door handle and at the other end of the rope he tied a note explaining their daring escape and request for sanctuary among my other toys. It didn't pay any bills, but the laugh and encouragement it gave me helped buoy my spirits at the end of a very long week.

I am thankful for the friend who came when I called yesterday after I had a fairly new tire decide to shred itself on me and I could get either of my two jacks to work, but he came and showed me how I was misusing both jacks (and refrained from teasing me too much about not knowing how my own tools work) and added his strength to mine over some very stubborn lug nuts. And I'm thankful for the patience of a friend who I was on my way to pick up and give a ride to when the tire decided to fall apart.

As a matter of fact, I am thankful for many friends over the years who came and helped me with flat tires, broken water pumps, overheated engines, and the like, at times that were seldom convenient to them. And I'm thankful for those who trusted me enough to call me when their cars chose inopportune times to get cranky.

I am thankful for my many friends who have many times rescued me both temporally and spiritually, which stories would fill volumes.

I am grateful that my friends understand me better then I often do myself, who somehow manage to manipulate me into admitting.... um I mean, wisely guide our conversation to a path where I am calm enough to come up with my own solution. I am grateful for friends who will allow me to express my frustration with myself and my weaknesses but who refuse to allow me to wallow in self pity for longer than 13.47 seconds. Who know all the things I do right and all my good traits and who aren't afraid to use those things against me. I mean, who are eager to remind me of my better self.

I am thankful for the wisdom and compassion and trust of my friends. And I am thankful for the God who brought them into my life.