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.

Friday, June 8, 2012

That Look

A couple of days ago I was waiting for my prescription at the doctor's office. One of the times I looked up from my book to check to see if my name was on the board showing my prescription was ready, I saw a couple about ten years older than me looking at each other. I don't know if I can adequately describe the expressions on their faces. It might be easier to describe what those expressions were not.

They were not looking at each other with those goopy eyes so common in the young who "know this is the real thing" (and three months, or weeks later, are experiencing the greatest disillusionment of their life.) And although whatever diagnosis they had received or were awaiting, there wasn't an overabundance of worry between them - their faces were serious but not worried.

No, I think the look they shared was a deep silent communication only those who know each other very, very well can share. Without a spoken word they shared volumes. I watched them for maybe a minute before I suddenly felt like an intruder and went back to my book.

Is this my own brand of romanticism? Perhaps the lingering look didn't linger nearly as long as it seemed to me? Perhaps I read more into the look than was truly there? No, I don't think so. I have no idea what they were communicating, but it was deep and heartfelt and familiar. And it is something I hope to have someday with someone.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Disconnect

Today, Sunday, was tough. But tough in a somewhat different way that I am used to my tough days being tough. It was not an "Alexander day" (those familiar with the children's book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" know what I mean.) I was tired and sleepy, but that's not out of the ordinary, as I often simply stay up too late doing "one last thing" and wind up dragging the following day. I wasn't dealing with anger issues; I wasn't feeling particularly sad or lonely.

I was simply feeling disconnected.

It took awhile to define what I was feeling. Even once I defined it. I sat there in Sacrament meeting, listening to the testimonies (next week being General Conference, Fast Sunday was moved to this week), and I heard them all, and said amen, and intellectually understood them but few had little emotional impact on me, and those momentarily.

I realize now that I've felt this way before but I haven't really tried to put it into words, even for myself. And even as I sat there asking myself questions and listening to my answers, it was an almost clinical analysis of the facts. In short, I was there. But I wasn't there. I wasn't "elsewhere", either.

I was aware of who was standing up to bear their testimonies. I was a little more aware of  what my closest friends in the ward were saying, as opposed to those I don't know as well. I was aware that the gaps in-between testimonies were wider than usual. I was aware when something was said that I agree with, or sympathize with, and I was aware of  the places where I didn't really understand what they were saying. I was aware of the kids playing at my side and that they were getting a little too loud and that their parents were gently reprimanding them, and I was aware of a child behind me kicking the pew. I had feelings of impatience, frustration, sadness; I had feelings of joy, gladness, appreciation over the testimonies born. But I felt these things only superficially, and briefly.

Even when I defined what I was feeling (or rather what I was not) as a "disconnect", I felt somewhat disconnected from that realization itself. It was kind of like Mr. Spock saying, "Fascinating" when humans tried to explain emotions to him.

One testimony which did break through my disconnect, albeit briefly, came from a young man in our ward who has Downs Syndrome. I've known this young man for twenty some years and he bears his testimony every month. He started by saying he loves fasting. That caught my attention, because in the past few years I have found it increasingly difficult to fast, which has not increased my love for it, no matter how I might intellectually believe in its importance. B. said he loves Fast Sunday "because I think of Jesus." I had the clinical, barely emotional thought that perhaps that had something to do with why fasting is difficult for me, beyond a changing metabolism; perhaps I was going without food instead of fasting, which would include thinking a little less of myself and a lot more about Jesus. The disconnect was creeping back when B. announced that Easter is coming, and somehow making a simply statement sound like an admonishment, said "Think of Jesus. Because He loves us. I love Easter. Because I love Jesus."

Other testimonies entered my consciousness in bits and pieces; kids continued to chatter about me and bounce off me seemingly as semi-unaware of me as I of them. My disconnect gradually wore off through the next two meetings. I participated in the Sunday School lesson although I think that was somewhat mechanically, as when I was told afterwards that my comments were appreciated and helpful I could only vaguely remember making them.

Fortunately, by the time church was through, I was connected enough to hear a prompting of the Spirit to go see a family I Home Teach, and I enjoyed that visit and believe it wasn't just for my benefit alone. And an afternoon nap which extended beyond the hour I set the alarm for helped.

After that nap I had opportunity to reflect upon the day. I began to wonder not just about my own feelings of disconnect, but also others.I realized I have felt disconnected for some time, and it seldom stops me from attending to my duties either at church or at work. But perhaps the disconnect still prevents me from being where I want to be - be it spiritually, emotionally, mentally, professionally, civically, etc.

And I wondered if that disconnect is where inactivity starts for some people. When I realized what I was feeling was a disconnect from my surroundings, I found myself thinking about some friends who have, for their own reasons, left the Church and the fellowship of the Saints. When I joined the church 30 years ago I saw things in a much more black-and-white perspective than I do now. I still believe that if you have a testimony that the Gospel is true, then you have the foundation you need to persevere. But I don't believe people stop coming to church because they were not welcomed. I believe they stop coming because they feel unwelcome. Or incapable, or unworthy. I can easily say, from my perspective, how much I myself have done for them or their Bishop or Relief Society president or Elders Quorum president has done for them, but unless they actually feel it themselves, it can very well be for naught. It is what they feel that makes the difference.

And I cannot say it always grievous sin or lack of Gospel knowledge that keeps them from seeing the light and truth which seem so apparent, or even "obvious" to me. My friends talk about moral agency and repentance and the Resurrection and the Atonement much the same way I do. But somehow the connection between the truthfulness of the Gospel and the need to participate in church isn't there for them as it is for me.

In discussing this with a friend tonight, she wisely observed that there is a difference between being active in church and active in the Gospel. I quite agree. There have been many times in my life I've fulfilled my church callings, even sometimes without complaint, and went the extra mile as long as it was on my way, but I ignored promptings to do more, to make an extra effort because I myself felt inadequate to the task and unable to help. So instead of putting forth my imperfect best efforts, I offered my perfected least efforts.


In realizing that my activity in the church has not always extended to being active in the Gospel, I also realize that Satan doesn't particularly care how he drags us down. Whether he stops us from coming to church or lets us go but encourages us to just sit there not doing anything, he still wins. Whether he gets us through sin, addiction, loneliness, or bitterness over what other people did or didn't do for/to/with/because-of/in-spite-of us... he wins. And we let him. And that's sad.

I think one way he does this is disconnecting us. Disconnecting us from the fellowship of the Saints, disconnecting us from family and friends. Disconnecting us from ourselves. Disconnecting us from God. The same life experiences are used by our Savior and Heavenly Father in a wholly different way than they are used by our Adversary. The Savior invites. The Devil dismisses. Our Savior weeps for us; Satan sneers at and mocks us. Jesus says, "Did you fall down? Here, take my hand; get to your feet, you can do it, and I will help." Satan says, "Might as well stay down, you're only going to fall again because you're weak and worthless."

I am grateful for those feeling of disconnect today, for Heavenly Father's teaching me of the implication and bearing that disconnect has on my life. I am grateful for the reminders of other people in my life, for even when I'm not feeling as connected as I'd like to be, I know Heavenly Father is there for me, and for them, and if He is prompting me to think about them, I suspect He wants me to assist Him - and that He trusts me enough to give me a portion of His work.

Because I believe that wheresoever that disconnect comes from, Satan would use it to stupefy us and halt our eternal progression, while our Heavenly Father and our Savior would use that same experience to teach, edify, and exalt us.

To heal all our broken connections. To reconnect us.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentines Day

Quick - how is Doomsday different from spending Valentines Day with someone you truly love and who truly loves you in return? ......................................................... give up? .......................................... Doomsday might actually happen! 

Nah, I'm not quite that cynical. Almost, but not quite. My optimism has waned greatly over the years, after being told too many times I'm just like the brother she never had, or I'm a wonderful guy and she hopes someday she'll meet someone just like me, or that she's not good enough for me (her opinion, not mine.) After a broken heart or two (or fourteen) it's difficult to be optimistic. And that whole thing about expressing your feelings and choking on his dust as the guy quickly scurries away? Well, my female friends have had it happen to them, but I myself cannot vouch for how fast guys run, not even my own speed. I do however know some very fast female runners. Holy cow, they were fast. The cynic in me is almost convinced that if I ever want to break off a relationship, all I have to do is say, "I love you."

Yesterday one of my grandnieces posted on Facebook, "Some call it Valentines Day. I call it Tuesday." I L-O-L'd and thought she is much too young to be so jaded. A friend of hers queried why, and she responded that people should show love year round, not just on a designated day. And I thought my niece is way too young to be so astute. 

I do know people who don't show much affection towards their significant others except for those days the greeting card companies extol, such as birthdays and dooms... I mean Valentines Day. The rest of the year they pretty much ignore or even abuse those they've supposedly made the greatest of commitments to. I've heard sad tales of the most despicable of abuses happened happening on those special days. So I can easily see how people can be turned off by the holiday even if my own jaded attitude did not come so dramatically.

I also know people who show true love and commitment (I don't mean mere flowers and candy and starry-eyed gazes) to their better halves every single day. I want that. (Sadly, these people don't have single sisters, aunts or cousins my age - I've already checked.) Hope springs eternal, but that hope is a bit brighter on other days of the year. The few times I had someone special in my life to share my enthusiasm with, the object of my affection graciously humored me, but it was obvious the enthusiasm wasn't mutual. Now my excitement over the day is pretty much limited to February 15th - the day after - when the grocery stores mark all the pink and red  candies down to half price. Yes, I admit it, if I cannot obtain true love, I consider cheap candy an acceptable substitute.

My friends know me to have a slightly off kilter sense of humor. I have bought Valentines Day cards not to send out, but because the warped humor appeals to me. Some of my favorites follow, and you'll see why I don't send them to anyone, at least not to anyone I would rather woo:

Front of card, depicting cartoon guy: "You'll be my Valentine? Really? Be still my heart!"
Inside shows the guy plopping over with a thud.

Front of card, showing old fashioned illustration of Victorian woman.

Inside: "If you break my heart, I'll break your neck."

Front: "This Valentines Day, celebrate in the manner in which you've grown accustomed."
Inside: "Staying at home, wondering what it would be like to have a date."

Ouch!

I wasn't always this cynical. Even now, I'm not this cynical every single day. Hey, I own thirty-some chick flicks, including four versions of Jane Eyre, and another forty which are semi-chicky-flicky. I read books by Richard Paul Evans. Heck, I've even read Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë! I sing along to love songs on the radio. I attend weddings, including those of snot-nosed punks I've known since they were babies, and I have even caught a couple of garters in my days (admittedly, I generally try to sneak out before it's time to toss it, but sometimes people come looking for me and drag me back.) Hey, I might not be very good at it, but I am totally into this love thing. 

Just not on February 14th. Otherwise known as Tuesday.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Life

Today I said goodbye to my friend Rick who passed away due to complications from multiple sclerosis. I'd not known him when he didn't have MS, and in the 20 some years I'd known him he'd spoken little of that time, and when he did it was simply to say what he was doing and where he was at then, how it cut short his education. He didn't complain. In all the time I knew him I'd only heard discouragement or frustration a handful of times, and all those lasted a matter of seconds. I'm sure he felt discouragement, as that is a human emotion. But he didn't dwell on the negative. My friend chose to be cheerful.

Rick was smart. He had more books than bookcases - which I can relate to. He knew what was in each and every one of those books -- which I can relate to only if allowed the opportunity to peek. He especially liked history, and could draw analogies to the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- and he knew the Gospel well. Years ago he had served with me in a Sunday School presidency as one of my counselors, and I always appreciated his counsel and insight.

My friend smiled. A number of people at the funeral today talked about Rick's smile. The picture selected for the program showed a younger man, a picture apparently  taken before his illness, holding two children, and smiling warmly at the camera. The smile had not changed over the years. It reminded me of seeing a childhood picture of another friend at her funeral six years ago. Although I'd not known Lindy as a child, I could pick her out of the grade school classroom shot solely by that slightly mischievous, slightly crooked smile. I wonder if I smile often enough, warmly enough to be remembered by my smile when I pass.

Rick was a vital part of our ward singles group, allowing us to meet in his home for a year most Mondays, and when health and energy would permit he would attend other functions such as movies and picnics. He was always encouraging to others. Whatever discouragement he felt in his moments alone, he seldom showed that to others, and as far as I can tell, he never dragged others down with it.

I like reading books and watching movies that make me cry. I follow blogs of both people I know and those I don't who write about the tremendous challenges they face themselves or face alongside their loved ones, blogs about cancer and disfiguring accidents and watching loved ones slip into dementia. Call me weird, for purposely seeking out such reading and viewing material. But what I like about these blogs is what's on the other side of the sadness. Written from the perspective of many different faiths and belief systems, I gain far more than a recognition of my own blessings and thankfulness of challenges I don't face. I gain an appreciation for other people and admiration for their strength of character and a tremendous ever-growing gratitude to my Heavenly Father and His script for my life.

 Over twenty years ago, then President Ezra Taft Benson likened our minds to a stage on which only one act can be played out at any given time. In the wings on one side is our Lord, who loves us, and on the other is the devil, who hates us. We are the stage managers in our own lives and we get to choose what's on stage at any given time.

I think this applies to more than clean thoughts vs dirty thoughts. I think this concept applies to optimistic vs pessimistic thoughts. It applies to how we respond to the other actors and to the unexpected, hope-dashing script changes and falling stage props -- a.k.a. Life -- can inject pathos into our beautiful sunshiny script. But although from one wing Satan whispers discouragement and tries to convince us that our lives are better off filled with dark tragedy, from the other wing stand our Heavenly Father and our Savior with the encouraging and life giving messages that we are not only the stage managers of our own lives, but are also co-writers with them; and tragedy can be turned to triumph with the final curtain opening to Life Eternal.