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.