Friday, January 26, 2018

A new New Year

This is a screen shot from a conversation I recently had with one of the physicians at our hospital. I can't share any more of it, though I wish I could.

The year started out rough. I work in a profession where dealing with pain, grief, and loss is a daily reality, but at the hospital we rang in the new year with some particularly miserable, devastating pains and losses, some of which hit very close to home.  In addition, we were dealing with some significant frustrations at home, trying to figure out a way forward with businesses and health and projects and all that.  My mom got quite sick and ended up in the hospital for a few days (she's doing much better).  So when I went to start a whole day of chores that was supposed to include about a dozen loads of laundry and my washer instantly flooded the floor, I didn't even try to deal with it. I was exhausted and worn out, so I just went and sat on my bed for about 15 minutes and cried.  Not about the washer, really (that's more likely to make me annoyed or angry), but more over feeling like everything was broken.

It passed. This last week, I was enjoying a shared moment of pure joy at 3am with some of my favorite coworkers, and I looked around the room and thought about how very fortunate I am.  There is never a night I look at the staffing and think, "Ugh."  Every single night, I'm happy to be working with whoever is there.  Our staff is small--we have about 11 nurses total who work night shift--so even one tense relationship could make work a lot more work, but we all enjoy working together.  It isn't uncommon to have weeks where we end up spending more waking hours with each other than with our families. And its hard to imagine any other group of people that would make that OK, but these people are some of my favorite humans. They care about their patients. They care about each other. They are incredibly fun to be around.

And it isn't just our nurses and aides.  When one of the losses hit us early in the year, our HR manager showed up with treats and breakfast stuffs early one Saturday morning.  She didn't have to do that; the hospital didn't buy those, she did, because she knew we were hurting, and she wanted to something. Cards and donations flowed from the staff to those most deeply affected.  It reminded me of a night when I was at the bedside of a critical patient, trying to mix an IV med and get blood infusing as well, and a doctor was right beside me, taking a set of vitals and helping me re-position a miserable patient. I wonder how many hospitalists know the CNAs by name?  How many hospitals do you think have an ER nurse who will occasionally grill for the whole staff at 3am out of the back of his truck (or have an ER doc who buys all the meat so that that BBQ can happen)?

I have lived in towns of various sizes, but I came from a small place--Doug tells me it isn't really a town, but a hamlet--and settled in small places, and always prefer them, because community is at the heart of everything I love. Its possible, of course, to form tight-knit communities in more populous places, but doing so in such places does present more challenges.  When I was visiting my mom, one of her colleagues showed up with dinner for that night--as various coworkers and friends had every night since she got sick.  There were--completely sincere--offers of help in others ways, as well.  Everyone knows her.  She is the sort of person who would rather not tell anyone she was feeling ill, much less advertise it, but her absence is impossible to miss, so help was never asked for, it simply arrived.  The teacher who had showed up during her own lunch break mentioned that she felt like thefts and vandalism and such happened less frequently in small towns, because its very difficult to depersonalize crime: even if you don't know this person directly, she's the aunt of a friend of yours, or the friend of aunt. You are connected in some way to nearly everyone around you. I agreed heartily, and pointed out that it also makes good much easier to do, because we feel that much more responsible to each other.

Be connected to the people around you.  Do what you can to create communities of support, respect, love, and service. January began with difficulty and tragedy, and in that I watched a community of people circling the wagons to buoy up members of that community who were hurting; it peaked with watching that same community comfort and attend to an individual who had no community of his own, giving him comfort and peace; and, as it sneaks away like a thief in the night, I have watched a community celebrate together, magnifying joy for current and expected blessings.  I needed to see all of that to be reminded that, whatever 2018 may bring, we will weather it just fine and find joy in the journey, because we are surrounded and supported by angels on both sides of the veil.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On that President Monson obit. . .

There's been a petition going around to attempt to pressure the NYT to present a different obituary for President Monson than the one they published last week.  I didn't sign it.

The NYT knows that many (if not most) LDS individuals don't see the world the way they do, and they made it pretty clear that they find that irritating.  Is it surprising to any one that the staff at the NYT finds LDS doctrinal positions on marriage and Priesthood problematic?  Protesting that they tried to reduce a man of tremendous charity and personal integrity to someone of no more significance or virtue than Fidel Castro will not change the way anyone at the NYT sees President Monson, or our doctrine.  Let that rest with them.

Is anything they said untrue?  In the face of public criticism, loud protest, and clear disdain from people of the mindset prevalent at places like the NYT, President Monson continued to declare and defend the Lord's doctrine, with kindness and respect, but without apology.

He is the one who told us
Dare to be a Mormon
Dare to stand alone
Dare to have a purpose firm
Dare to make it known.

Whatever their intentions, the NYT has paid our dear prophet the profound compliment of declaring to the world that he lived up to those words.  President Monson exemplified the standard of moral leadership revealed to another prophet, who was weathering persecution far more intense than a petulant literary swipe: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned."  That's the spirit we ought to respond in--that's the only spirit that can really change anything and move forward the work of Him who President Monson so boldly and humbly served.  Be bold, defend the Lord's doctrine in spite of those who would see it swept away.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Really This Time

Less than a dozen blog posts last year. Less than 3 dozen the two year previous to that. And probably a third of those have something to do with how I don't write enough or resolving that I'm going to write more.

A lot of that has to do with the pace I was maintaining much of that time.  I was in school for four years, and while nursing school isn't exactly med school, for an undergraduate degree it is intensive and time-consuming.  Add illnesses, injuries, adjustments to medications, juggling all the kids, and the hubs trying to get a business going, and there just aren't a lot of hours left anywhere in the week.

But the reality is, we make time for the things that we really want to do, don't we?  All the things listed above do in fact take a lot of time.  But I found time for other things. I haven't found time for writing, at least publicly.

If I'm being honest, a lot of that has to do with a severely reduced desire to share, which itself has myriad causes.  Being both shy and introverted by nature, it is not a natural thing for me to be an "open book", and while I worked really hard at coming across as open for other people's sake, I often failed at actually being open anywhere other than in my blog and at the pulpit.  But I did try very hard to be genuinely open with the most important people in my life.

Part of the reticence is just born out of shifting in how my hours are spent. I spend 36-48 hours a week at a job where I am "on" nearly the whole time, and then I still have to be "on" for my kids when I'm home and they're awake.  After all that time giving energy to other people, I don't feel like I have anything left over.  I very seldom socialize anymore, which I need to be better at making time and energy for, because I have a lot of really wonderful people in my life that I would like to get to know better or simply spend more time with.

I've also been disappointed, frustrated, and increasingly cynical, which has reinforced my natural inclination to withhold.  I've seen trusts broken, I've been surprised by people (which I almost never am) in negative ways;  there are relationships where I've given up making much effort, after feeling like massive amounts of effort I put in over years was not only unappreciated and unhelpful, but has felt counterproductive or dismissed.  I've had moments where I felt like, after years of putting myself out there--far more than I am naturally or easily inclined to do--the other person never actually saw me.  I figured out by the time I was a teenager that it is incredibly difficult to see someone as they see themselves, so much more to see them as they really are.  Most of the time we see a version of them filtered through a shadow our own presence and prejudices cast over them; but I have had enough experiences where I have had the blessing of seeing someone through the Lord's eyes, at least to some degree, or, with His help, could see them as they saw themselves, and I came to expect that the people I invested the most trust and time and effort in could see me that way.  In some cases, I felt like they had very little desire to even try.

I don't have any anger, or really even feel hurt by anyone.  I just want to retreat, I feel uninterested in giving more of myself, of exposing my thoughts or feelings, any more than is absolutely necessary.  I've seen the reduced rate of growth in myself, of which the retreat is a partial cause.  Generally, the Lord has had to nudge me out of my comfort zone a little bit in life in order to help me stretch and rise to the occasion.  I don't think he has in many areas the last few years, and I think its because He knows I haven't been up for the challenge (which is no one's fault but my own, and the fact that I haven't been pushed in a way that would make me feel like just quitting altogether is, as far as I'm concerned, simply further evidence of the Lord's tremendous mercy and love, however undeserving of it I may be).

But the fact is that 2017 was quite good to us.  Finishing school, changing the business plan again, getting to see Brad sealed to his sweet bride and become a father and a husband all at once, buying a house, and hundreds of little blessings in between.  There is more learning to obtain, more blessings to enjoy, and more blessings to give if I am willing to be more open and make time for the things the Lord expects me to do.  So I hope to see you here more often in 2018.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Know Thyself

The school year is off to a pretty good start for the kids. Keilana has been pretty busy with National Junior Honor Society, and came home today talking about needing to see ad space in the programs they sell at high school games; Dylan is on student council (yay!); and Kylie announced when she got home today that she has been chosen as one of the editors of their little newspaper.  Then this conversation happened at the table while the girls had an after school snack:

Keilana: "Did you pick editor as the job you wanted?" Kylie nodded. "I'm surprised, I would've thought you'd want to do photographer or interviewer or the puzzle page."

Kylie (with more than a little satisfaction): "I want to be in charge."

I'll give the girl this: she knows herself. But I wouldn't mind having her for a boss.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Choose Daily

I had a moment tonight that reminded me of a brief conversation I had about my work last year with another member of my faith.  She asked if I wanted to do OB, and I gave my standard answer: "Maybe at some point. Not right now." (I have my reasons, but they aren't relevant to this particular topic).  She smiled, and her mother-of-7 eyes lit up and she said, "I would love to be an OB nurse."  I responded, "OB can definitely be interesting," and proceeded to share what I thought was one of the more amusing experiences of my OB professor, dealing with a decidedly nontraditional family.  My acquaintance responded, with a rather stunned look on her face, "I guess what I'd actually love is to be an OB nurse during the millennium".

One of the difficult realities of healthcare that is that, in most contexts, you don't choose your patients.  You don't get to decide who needs your help and care, and often the same kinds of decisions that cause physical distress in individuals also cause chaos in their lives. Physical illness is often the least destructive kind of brokenness in people.  But you treat the combative schizophrenic, the ill-tempered (and noncompliant) alcoholic, and the prisoner who gives you the heebie-jeebies with the same respect and patience that you do the sweet old man whose heart is worn out from a long life of working hard and loving well.  For me, as a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I see it as a sacred obligation to see in each of these people the same thing: a child of God, who is loved by Him and so should be loved by me, though the degree to which they've recognized and nurtured the Divine spark within may vary widely.

I think that applies to the rest of life.  Choose you this day whom ye will serve, and once you have chosen the Lord, you don't then get to start being picky.  Often, you don't get to choose which mortals you serve: you have covenanted with the Lord to lighten the loads of those he may put in your path, whoever may be bearing them.  You have promised to lift the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.  And guess what?  Hands that are hanging down are often unclean, and feeble knees are almost never pretty.

He reached out to prostitute and taught tax collectors--in a regime where they made our IRS agents look beloved. I guarantee you aren't too good for anyone he may put in your path.  Are you good enough? He has given you His love and asked you to share it.  The Atonement may be deeply personal, but it is not yours, and in brokenness there is hope.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Back on the Wagon

I have done no consistent writing for years now. I have journaled here and there, and had an occasional sporadic blog post.  I finally sat down and did some significant journaling a few months ago, and felt sane and level for the first time in a very long time. Because I live with a verbal processor, and I have so seldom had time to write, I convinced myself that talking through some of my thoughts was enough. It wasn't.  As I always have, I need to write. I need to write to empty my head, to process and organize my thoughts, to deal with my emotions.  And I really, really need to do a better job of recording my kids, and the Lord's hand in our lives.

To get my brain in the right mode, and my habits back on track, I decided to do a 30 day journaling challenge. We'll see how many days is actually takes me, if I finish it at all. But here goes.

The first task is to reintroduce myself. This seems simple enough, but its actually quite difficult for me, because I feel like in the busyness of school and work and callings and injuries and illnesses, the frenetic pace has caused me to let go of who I've always been trying to be.

A few months ago, I asked on Facebook what was unique about me, for a school assignment. An old friend from high school responded thus: "A fiercely analytical flower child. Emotions are valuable, vital even, but they don't circumvent knowledge or logic. You have an innate ability not just to separate the two, but to weigh them appropriately to the situation. . .Lots of people can bring a smile to the room, and lots of people know the right answers to the question, but few can manage it at the same time."  He coins this as having "an air of grounded whimsy".  That response saddened and delighted me at the same time.  I'm grateful to know that I have made that impression, but I haven't felt like that is who I've been lately.

So who am I?  I'm the girl with long hair and bare feet who loved sunshine on her face and wind in her hair and fields full of daisies, and did everything she could think of to radiate smiles and compliments to the people around her, desperate to make them feel loved.  I'm the young woman who knelt at an altar in a room full of strangers and trusted: trusted the Lord, trusted her new and forever companion, trusted her family.  I'm the mom who can't think of anything more delightful than a 2-year-old and somehow never quite feels like she has enough time with her kids, even on the days when she's had entirely too much of them.

I'm someone who wants to know and understand: principles, practical knowledge, people. And then I want to use that understanding to uplift and encourage and educate. When I'm tired I get very sarcastic and critical, and tremendously self-righteous when I'm angry or hurt.  I can be too sensitive, and I withdraw too easily.  I'm an outgoing introvert, who tries to people too much and then crashes.

Hopefully this month we'll work more on the details.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pure religion

Sacrament Meeting talk 04/16/2017

Our little girl is getting baptized next week, and I’ve been pondering the promises we make in our covenants, particularly in taking the Savior’s name upon us, and what that should look like. We promise to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand need of comfort; we promise to take care of each other. For years, I had a sign on my wall that displayed a scripture from Galatians: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  I still largely believe that it’s as simple and as difficult as that.  As I was thinking about that, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post my dad had put up about turtles.
My parents live near a sizeable wildlife refuge that consists of several shallow lakes and ponds, and there are many turtles that live in the refuge.  Several roads, including the highway, run next to or across the it, and consequently there are sometimes turtles in the road.  It isn’t uncommon for these little creatures to be run over.  Yesterday my dad was out doing some wildlife photography, and caught on camera a couple who had stopped to pick up some turtles and get them safely back to the water. That isn’t an uncommon occurrence either.  People who ignore the turtles moving slowly across the road, and even the people who run them over, aren’t bad people, and certainly don’t intend any harm; usually, they are just in a hurry and don’t have time to worry about turtles, or, more often, they simply don’t even notice.  I have said many times that I believe a great portion of human misery is caused not by malice, but by myopia.  How much good have we failed to do, or even harm have we failed to prevent, because we simply didn’t take the time to slow down and look around us, beyond our immediate destination or concern, and see what we could do--however small--to build the kingdom of the Lord by some small act of service that was easily within our reach?
James describes pure religion as visiting the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  Service is a bit like immunizations, healthy eating, and exercise all in one: it helps us build a strong relationship with the Savior, increasing our spiritual health and personal strength, as well as keeping us focused on and occupied by good things, protecting us from distractions and temptations.
Too often we treat service like a check-list of things we have to get done, and when we are approach it that way, it often feels overwhelming or draining. Elder Marion G. Romney once said, “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom.  Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”  The covenant we make at baptism, to learn better to be our brother’s keeper, to look on the needs of our neighbor with compassion and patience, prepares us for the ultimate covenant of service we make to consecrate our time, talent, and means to the building of the Lord’s kingdom.
In the same letter, James counsels to be not just hearers of the word, but doers of the word.  He tells us to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word”.  In other words, he tells us to let go of any greed, selfishness, laziness, and be teachable so that we can have the word--the Savior--written on our hearts.  To assess how well we’re doing with that instruction, we can ask ourselves a question posed by another ancient prophet, “Have [we] received His image in [our] countenances?”  The service we give and how we give it is not about tasks we check off--it’s about who we are becoming.
The Lord asks us to consecrate our means, and while this serves a very practical need--people need to be fed and clothed and housed and cared for--this is also about helping us become the people he needs us to be. When the wealthy young man comes the Savior and asks how he might obtain eternal life, the Savior reiterates the commandments, which the man says he has kept from his youth. And so the Savior tells the man to sell all that he has and follow him.  The Lord doesn’t always ask us to part with all our earthly possessions to serve him, but he does ask that our hearts are prepared and willing if that is what is required of us.
And that, in part, is why the Lord asks us to consecrate our time and our talents.  I’m annoyed if I feel like someone has cheated me out of my money, but I struggle not to be angry when someone wastes my time--I can’t get it back, and I feel like they’ve stolen a little piece of my life.  The Lord isn’t just asking us to donate some of our stuff, he’s asking us to dedicate our lives and who we are; he isn’t concerned with the substance of what we have so much as he is the substance of who we are.
A few months ago, during the massive flooding in Louisiana, an old friend, who lives in Oregon and is not a member of the Church but knows that I am, contacted me and asked if I had any way that I could get ahold of someone in Louisiana who might be able to find a few people to get a dad who was in one part of the city to his wife and infant who were at a hospital in another part of the city, because their car was inaccessible and there was no working public transportation due to the severe weather.  Without personally knowing a soul in the area, I told him that I could.  It reminded me of our own experience a decade ago when our infant son ended up in the hospital hours from home, where we knew no one.  We called our bishop and informed him of the situation, and an hour later, a couple of high priests were in the hospital room helping my husband administer a blessing to our son, with messages from their wives about meeting other needs we might have.  No matter where my children are, or anyone else I love for that matter, even if I can’t get to them I know that there will be someone I can call on to serve them and love them, because of who those Christ-centered souls have chosen to be.  That is pure religion, and in an often unkind, ugly, fallen world, it’s hard to imagine a more celestial blessing.  That is the natural fruit of choosing to be a Zion people.
One of my favorite lines, by W.H. Auden, is “You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at it.”  What talents has the Lord blessed you with? What skills has he given you the chance to learn, what educational opportunities has he extended to you?  All those things can be used to build the kingdom, though sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious to us how, and we may need the help of the Spirit to know in what way the Lord would have us use those gifts.  One of the adversary’s most effective tools for dissuading us from serving is trying to discourage us and convince us that we have nothing to offer.  President Packer had a response to this that I love: “When you say ‘I can’t’. . .I want to thunder out ‘Don’t you realize who you are? Haven’t you learned yet that you are a son or daughter of the Almighty God?’”  You most certainly do have things of value to offer, and in the areas where we fall short, the Lord has promised that he can make weak things strong.
But most importantly, we each need to remember one very important thing as we reach out to serve: its not about me.  If you’re thinking about your insufficiencies, your focus is on you.  If you’re worried about whether or not someone appreciates the service, you’re thinking about you.  If you are angry or impatient or annoyed, chances are very good you’re thinking about you.  We are, each of us, a work in progress; everyone you serve, and everyone you serve with, is going to have some rough edges, some glaring blindspots, some idiosyncrasies that you find more annoying than charming, and they are going to make mistakes and they are going to fail.  That’s, if not irrelevant, at least of minor importance.
The Lord loves you: flaws, sins, annoying personality traits, and all.  And he loves each of those you live and serve and work with just as much.  He is not asking you to put up with that weird ward member that you got stuck putting on the ward Christmas party with or to try to be polite to that clueless blowhard you got assigned to home teach, he is asking you to love his child. He is asking you--imperfect, morally accident-prone, spiritually clumsy you--to be his hands in the life of one of his children.  That is not a logistical obligation, it is a divine privilege and sacred trust. The Lord declared that his work and his glory is the immortality and eternal life of man.  He doesn’t say men, and he doesn’t say Man; the salvation of the Lord’s children is reliant upon the salvation of each individual child.  The Lord has given everything for us, and in return he asks us to pray for guidance, and then stop thinking about ourselves and look around us to see what needs to be done.

Over and over, the resurrected Lord emphasized to his apostles that the way to manifest their love for him was to feed his sheep.  In speaking of this teaching, Elder Holland reminded us recently that “we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do.  In short, we have a lifetime of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord.”