Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"We are probably those referred to as 'our brother's keepers,' possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts. It will not let us go.”  
~Norman Maclean

I read A River Runs Through It for the first time when I was 16. Because of where I was at in my life at the time, and what was going on around me, I fell in love with it and it became a favorite. 

There are battles that aren't entirely ours to fight, but that we can't quite walk away from either.  "Strengthen thy brethren" is an exhortation that's very close to my heart, but figuring out what it means in specific situations or relationships can be challenging. 

When it was time to go back to school, the reason I chose nursing is that I hate just standing by when someone is hurt. I need to do something.  If I can fix it, or at least help ease the burden, I feel like maybe things will be OK. I've gotten better at accepting that sometimes all you can do is hold someone's hand and acknowledge the painful reality that they hurt and it can't be fixed, at least right now, and not shrink from that.  But when it comes to spiritual pain, I still struggle to accept when the answer is simply "Watch and pray". 

I forget that that is doing something. You can't give someone your faith. You can bear your testimony, but you can't control whether or not they receive a witness.  You can't take away their doubts or their fears or their sins. You can do everything you can think of to give them love, but you can't make them feel loved. 

When my most important people are broken, lost, hurting or angry, I want to scoop all the little pieces of their broken hearts into my hands and mend them back together. But I can't do that--that is the domain of the Savior, and the Savior alone.  I have seen so much heart crushing of late, and a crushed heart is a deeply difficult thing to hand over, because the very nature of the injury makes it difficult to believe that there is a remedy. So we cover it over with cynicism or anger or bitterness or doubt.  At the exact moment in our lives when we need so desperately to turn towards the things of eternity, we turn ourselves farther away from them.  

When someone we love is facing away from the light of joy, we can't turn them around. All that we can do is be kind, try to exercise love and patience and kindness, do all we can to be one of the lights along the shore, so that when they're ready to come home, there is a familiar face to walk with them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Brain Quirks

A Facebook friend shared a post about left brain/right brain functions and cooperation, which was more about the true physical and functional differences than just the usual pop culture version of those ideas. Some of the emphasis was on how much one side needs the other for proper function, and some of the problems that result when one side becomes too dominant.

I always had trouble with the left brained/right brained personality type ideas. I've always thought of myself as very right-brained in some ways, preferring stories and ideas to details and facts. I've always been fairly feelings-driven, and enjoyed the freedom to be creative. On the other hand, I have always lived in language, being in love with reading and writing for literally as long as I can remember. I've always had a deep need for order to feel comfortable. So I assumed I must be fairly right/left brain "balanced", if you will, but on little self-assessments over the years for various classes and such, I always tested as much more "left-brained".

When I was diagnosed with epilepsy last year, my neurologist told me that, based on where the pathological activity manifested in my brain, and the symptoms that I experienced before, during, and after seizures, it was likely that my Broca's area (the primary area responsible for processing language into speech, usually in the left frontal lobe), and possibly Wernicke's area (where, we think, our understanding of both written and spoken language is processed) are on the right side of my brain, rather than the left. That's not unheard of, but it does tend to mean that not all of my neural activity fits neatly into the normal dichotomy, or its related cooperative functions.

So I'm not crazy. My brain just has atypical structure.

Wait. . . .

Friday, August 26, 2016

And now, for something completely different

At some point in the next week or two, I will finally be replacing my long-finicky computer, and will thus have somewhere to upload pictures, so I'll post about the kids' 4H fair. In the mean time. . .

Doug left his job at the city in late June.  We haven't missed it. We took off on our two week Utah-California-Nevada-Utah-again adventure, with no work or school hanging over anyone's head. It was fabulous. I took my NCLEX the day we left (we drove up to Helena, I spent a little over a half an hour in front of a computerized test, we made a quick stop to feed everyone, and then drove straight down to the Tanners' house in Pleasant Grove), and then I started work two days after I got home.

School started for me on Monday. So now Doug is taking apart chairs and car seats and whatever else and putting it all back together again completely new, learning the ropes of business, and looking at long term expansion/absorption plans, while I work full time nights on the main floor at the hospital, and now add 18 credits of mostly research and writing courses. The kids start school just after Labor Day. I'll be home from work in time to fix hair and make sure teeth are brushed and get everyone off to school, then go to bed, and will wake up just in time for them to get home from school. On the nights I don't work, I can do homework while my whole house sleeps.  Most weeks days this summer, Doug has taken one or two kids at a time to his shop with him. When school starts, though the kids will be at three different school buildings, all four of them will be within walking distance of both the house and the shop. The little girls will be three blocks up from Doug's shop. Keilana will be one block from home. Dylan will be in the middle.

It's a completely new lifestyle. Both parents working. But both of us with enough flexibility that one or both of us is available pretty much at all times. It's almost certain that, though neither of us intended to be, we will be in Anaconda for at least 5-10 years, and I like the idea more than I thought I would. We're making the adjustments, and we're happy.  All of this has happened very differently, and in some respects so much more rapidly, than we had imagined, but we have seen the Lord's hand blessing and guiding our life.  He had provided avenues we never could have known even existed, much less were an option. We are grateful and busy and satisfied and overwhelmed all at the same time. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

On Shells

I came into the world shy, insecure, and introverted. I worked hard on overcoming the first two. When I was in third grade, I found out that a classmate thought I didn't like him because I never talked to him, and I was so sad that I had made him feel unliked. So I went about making an effort to be friendly and outgoing. Not just to him, but to everyone. As a small child, if my and my big sister's memories are correct, I didn't make a lot of noise or talk much outside a small circle of the people I was very closest to. In most places outside my home, I hid behind my mom, my grandma, or my twin brother. At school, I developed a small circle of close friends and only interacted with anyone outside that circle when absolutely necessary. I thought of myself as a nice person, so it didn't occur to me until that moment that my challenges affected anyone else.
And so I gradually became outgoing and friendly--in the context of my tiny school (there were 150 students in my entire high school, and I'd known the vast majority of them since I was 5, if not longer). Outside the comfortable familiarity of home, church, and school, I was still quite reserved and quiet. I took jobs in high school specifically because of how they would challenge me to step outside myself. I didn't want to miss anything or anyone I might love because I allowed myself to be hampered by innate shyness.
But introversion can't be trained away. I loved going to school every day. But after six hours of school and an hour of seminary, I was done.  I played one sport a year because I loved the physical activity and being part of a team, but I played only one sport a year because I couldn't bear the thought of spending an extra 2-4 hours every weekday, and more hours on Saturday, peopleing for any more months. Most week days after school, I went home to an empty house. If it wasn't empty, I often went for a drive, or holed up in my room, or found an empty spot in our blessedly ginormous yard. I didn't often do friends during the week. Two weekend days a month, I might go to Missoula to go to a movie or out to eat with friends. But I usually took a weekend off in between. I didn't do parties at all really--outside of school, my socializing was usually 1 or 2 friends at a time and that was plenty. I spent evenings and weekends filling up notebooks with writing and spending very little time talking to anyone, except maybe my mom.
I was very active in my church, and I loved going on Sundays and to Wednesday night activities. But stake dances were not something I participated in. I went to one, the week I turned 14, with my brother and my dad. It was fun. I had no interest in doing it again.  The only other dances I attended were the ones that were an obligatory part of seminary and EFY conferences. I left the dark, loud, crowded gym that felt like an assault on my senses, and spent the evening out in the sunshine having wholesome conversation with some like-minded souls. And I loved that. The only school dances I attended were proms, and I usually ended up spending most of those out in the hall in the light chatting with a couple of friends. Loud, dark, and crowded doesn't work for my nervous system.
I can be insanely chatty with people I am comfortable with, but the vast majority of the time, even in places where I'm very at home (such as with my brothers and sisters), once the conversation involves more than 2 or 3 people, I end up hanging out on the edge, listening more than talking. I didn't often share my writing when I was younger, but when I did, I grew accostumed to the somewhat dumbstruck look that would appear on people's faces when they read it. The comment that I remember most clearly, from a YW president who read some writing I had compiled for a Laurel project, was "I had no idea there was that much going on up there." It was a compliment, and I took it that way, but at the time it almost felt backhanded. I had to stop and remind myself that I didn't share much, that when I did talk it was often too quickly (a combination of nerves and genes--sometimes I have my Grandma Umphrey's rapid, lazy tongue), and my conversation was usually littered with defensive sarcasm and inappropriate giggling.
But in my mind, the person I was in my writing was me. This is who I really am, who I see myself as. All that other nonsense was just a superficial set of half-developed tools used to make my way through unfamiliar territory, and I sometimes forgot that the person in my mind didn't entirely match the person I appeared to others to be. Not because of any deception, but merely because of a difference in elements and abilities. It took me some time to realize that that was why I loved turtles so much: the me I was when trying to communicate outside my safe little circle, the attempts to be "social" in the ways an extroverted world (especially extrovert-loving school systems, where I wanted so desperately to please adults that I respected) expected me to, was the poor out-of-her-element turtle, lugging that heavy shell around, slowly and awkwardly. I knew instinctively that, as difficult as it could make locomotion in those less natural environments, that shell was absolutely necessary for health and survival. I can peek out, I can lumber around, but I need that shell. And I got that, even if sometimes it felt like the rest of the world didn't. Writing has, for pretty much as long as I can remember, been my water. The shell is still there, but here I can move swiftly and agily, I can navigate without the awkwardness, I can safely and happily stretch out my neck and legs.
As I came to understand that, I learned to embrace that shell. I came to consciously realize how necessary a part of myself it was. People who don't have shells don't always understand that. Sometimes it really bothers them. People who thrive on social interaction sometimes believe that you are somehow not enjoying life or not getting as much out of it or you need to be fixed, because you'd rather sit outside alone than participate in the group activity. I may have spent a lot of my time intentionally alone, but I have a lot of very deep and meaningful relationships. I try very hard to be outgoing and accommodating to the people in my life. But there's nothing wrong with me. There's nothing wrong with having a sturdy shell. And if you have a shell, or your kid has a shell, don't let someone convince you that that's something that needs to be fixed. Yep, you need to be willing to pop your head out and have a look around. You need to be willing to haul that heavy awkward thing across the sand to live a full life. But don't ever let anyone tell you you have to get rid of it. It protects a sensitive, tender body, and that's OK.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

On ordinances

As I tried to decide what to speak about, a talk that Elder Bednar gave in the most recent General Conference kept coming to mind. He spoke about retaining a remission of our sins, and consequently spent much of the talk discussing the ordinances of the Gospel. As I thought about that, a memory came to mind. Just a few weeks after Doug and I started dating, we were sitting, talking and laughing, with a large group of friends in a lounge in one of our dorms, and he had his laptop. He opened up a blank word document and typed D&C 84:20: “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” He then added, “Why is the power manifest in the ordinances?”, and handed the computer to me and awaited a response.

I confess that I don’t remember what I typed at the time, but as much as my limitations will allow, I’d like to speak to that question. We talk a lot about love, mercy, grace, and rightly so. But these are not disembodied, vaguely defined ideals for us. They take shape and are made manifest in the ordinances of the Holy Priesthood. We use the shorthand of “Holy Priesthood” or “Melchizedek Priesthood” to avoid unnecessary repetition of the Lord’s name, but it is good to be reminded from time to time that it is the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God.  It is through his power, and authority that He alone can delegate, that we receive and perform ordinances. Without that power and authority, the ordinances are without eternal consequence. Nothing else can bring eternal exaltation. Each worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder can trace his line of authority back directly to Jesus Christ, not to feel that he is powerful, but rather as a reminder that it is not his own power, and not authority that he takes unto himself. It is the Lord’s power and the Lord’s authority that is exercised, only so long as the bearer remains a humble and worthy vessel.

I think this speaks to one of the reasons that we see the power of godliness made manifest in the performing of sacred Priesthood ordinances: when we participate in ordinances righteously, we come to God in humble obedience, and act in perfect unity with him and his eternal laws, engaging the pathway to exaltation. As Elder Bednar put it, ordinances are “physical acts which signify an underlying spiritual act.”

In Doctrine and Covenants section 93, the Savior declares that he made flesh his tabernacle in order to become one with the Father. For our Father’s plan to work, it was absolutely essential that the Savior perform his greatest work in a body of flesh. Where is the power of godliness made more manifest than in the overwhelming love and incomparable power of the Lord’s Atonement? He physically ached. His mortal body bled. His temporal face was surely twisted in agony. But there has never been a more spiritually significant act in all of eternity. The most spiritually significant act that ever took place also had a very physical element. We ought to keep that mind when contemplating the seriousness and vital importance of the ordinances we are privileged to perform on this side of the veil. As Elder Bednar explained, “The ordinances of salvation and exaltation administered in the Lord’s Church are far more than rituals or symbolic performances. Rather, they constitute authorized channels through which the blessings and powers of heaven can flow into our individual lives.” They are not mere cultural touchstones or rites of passage. They are the gateway to eternal salvation and exaltation.

Some of the first ordinances we generally receive are baptism by immersion, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The Savior himself, when preaching to the Nephite people after his resurrection, proclaimed, “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” Baptism is essential to our salvation, and a necessary gateway to most of the other ordinances we may receive.

Most ordinances are accompanied by a covenant. When we are baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the Lord cleanses and purifies us through the Holy Ghost by the power of his Atonement. Most of us need purifying again within days if not hours of our baptism. The Lord knows that we are still learning, that we are frail and all too prone to indulging the whims of the natural man. One of the ways he helps us to remember and honor the work of the ordinances we’ve received is by placing us under covenant.

The power of the ordinances is magnified by covenant keeping. Elder Ballard recently said, “Sometimes we are tempted to let our lives be governed more by convenience than by covenant. But there is no spiritual power in living by convenience. The power comes as we keep our covenants.” When we receive the baptismal ordinance, we covenant to always remember the Lord, to take his name upon us, and to bear one another’s burdens. The Lord asks these things of us not to weigh us down, but to lift us up. By receiving this covenant, we become accountable to him as well as to the body of Christ. That accountability draws us back time and again to the first and great commandment--to love the Lord with all our hearts--as well as the second-- to love our neighbors as ourselves--at times when we might otherwise slip into the powerlessness of the convenient life.

I’m convinced that one of the sins that many of us falls prey to the most often, is partaking of the Sacrament lightly or thoughtlessly. Because the Lord knows our frailty, he has instituted the administration of this powerful cleansing ordinance weekly. But how often do we simply habitually reach out and take our scrap of bread and our sip of water as just that--a scrap of bread and a sip of water? With no thought about what it means, with no reflection on the powerful ordinance we are privileged to partake in? How often do we just not even show up, because we’ve convinced ourselves it not that big of a deal to miss Sacrament Meeting. We have a testimony, we know what the right things are, we’re trying to be a good person. What does it matter if we aren’t always there?

We need to be cleansed. We need to remember. Elder Bednar explained, “The sacramental emblems are sanctified in remembrance of Christ’s purity, of our total dependence upon His Atonement, and of our responsibility to so honor our ordinances and covenants that we can stand spotless before [Him] at the last day.” We are often far too casual about the things of eternal importance. Do your children see you partake of the Sacrament with seriousness and attention? Do you listen to the ordinance prayers with contemplation? Do we really realize the phenomenal power inherent in the act of truly engaging the act of partaking of the scrap of bread and sip of water that are the holy and sanctified emblems of our Savior’s torn flesh and spilled blood?  There is so much joy inherent in the chance to be a little bit better each week, to partake of the Lord’s goodness and mercy and be wholly cleansed again, just as we were after participating in the baptismal ordinance. No matter what we have done, no matter how far we have wandered, the Lord is there, offering an opportunity each week to come home, and try again.

The ordinances of baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and the Sacrament, as astounding and utterly essential as they are, should not be enough for us. The temple should be our goal. The ordinance of the Endowment teaches us how glorious and gifted the Lord intends us to be. He asks us to commit our time, talent, means and anything and everything with which he may bless us to building the kingdom of God, and in return he offers us an eternity of growth, progression, and joy.  Elder Robert D. Hales once said, “The temple’s saving ordinances are essential to--and even the central focus of--the eternal plan of happiness.”

In the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, as the Lord explains the power manifest in Priesthood ordinances, he continues, “this greater priesthood. . .holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. . .without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood. . .no man can see the face of God.”

We need the ordinances of the temple, the ordinances of that higher Priesthood, to dwell with our Father and Jesus Christ eternally. Elder Bednar emphasized, “Everything we do in the Church--every meeting, activity, lesson, and service--is to prepare each of us to come to the temple and kneel at the altar to receive all of the Father’s promised blessings for eternity.”

 If you are struggling with the covenants of baptism or feel distanced from the ordinances of the Sacrament, and the temple seems too far out of reach to even contemplate, please don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged. The Lord loves you infinitely. No life is ever so broken that it is beyond his ability to bless and uplift. No soul is ever beyond the reach of his love, and the glorious mercy and love of his Atonement. Each part of the body of Christ is needed, even the feeble ones, and the older I get the more convinced I am that we are, each one of us, in one way or another, or at one time or another, the feeble one. We all feel weak, rejected, discouraged, or overwhelmed sometimes. Elder Holland testified, “Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”

Participating in the ordinances of the Priesthood will not only demonstrate the Lord’s power in our lives, it will help us to better understand that everything he does is for our eternal good and progression.  The power of the Lord to act in our lives is limited only by our agency. Receiving the ordinances of the Gospel helps us to better know Him who created us, and who we were created to be. It is the ordinances of salvation, administered through the Holy Priesthood by the power and authority of Jesus Christ that transform a repentant soul into a cleansed and sanctified one; that prepares an obedient soul into one taught and prepared to enter God’s kingdom; and transforms a group of loving and dedicated individuals into an eternal family bound to each other and our Father in Heaven. I bear my testimony that this is His church. He loves us with a perfect love and is anxious to share his knowledge with us, as we humble and ready ourselves for instruction. He will lead us grace by grace until that perfect day, when we become joint heirs with Christ, and receive a fullness grace and truth.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Serving, Asking Others to Serve

We all could stand to be more patient with each other. And most of us could stand to stretch a little more. I have served in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies.  Each time I have been in a leadership position, I have been reminded repeatedly that there are many people who serve nearly tirelessly, happily, and selflessly.  There are people who will do just about anything you ask, no matter how many times you go to that well, and there are almost as many who step up before you've even asked, because they saw the need and were willing to help.  The sister who will step in and teach a lesson at the last minute.  The counselor who shows up with the treat you completely forgot to ask her to make.  The friend who offers to bring dinner to a family in need before you've even had time to think about who is available.  Believe me, there are more of those people than you'd expect, and each and every one of them is worth their weight in gold, especially when you're trying to keep an organization (and a ward) running smoothly.  I will never forget hundreds of moments and days where people stepped up and helped their leaders and their ward, often in ways that people never knew about.  My gratitude for that is deep.

Sometimes we forget how difficult it can be to fill all those roles and needs. Sometimes we get impatient or critical.  We are unChristlike in our assessment of a situation or the people involved in it.  We all have different areas of weaknesses.  Our frailties are as unique as our strengths, and sometimes people may have been put in a position or asked to fill a role because the Lord can help them develop more strength where they are weak.  People who are willing deserve patience and encouragement, not criticism and condescension. I am deeply ashamed of the few times I forgot that, the times that I forgot how very patient my Savior has been with me, when I was willing but weak.  I regret the times I forgot how often I have demanded--all too unknowingly--the patience of my ward members and leaders.

When I was 22, my bishop asked me to be Young Women president.  I thought the idea was completely ridiculous.  But I was raised to believe that you don't say no to a calling--I don't think it ever occurred to me that that was an option. You serve wherever and in whatever capacity you are asked. Full stop. More than that, though, I trusted that bishop implicitly. After several years of working with him, I would come to trust his spiritual leadership even more.  If he said he felt strongly impressed that that was the role I was to fill, I believed him. I felt a little overwhelmed, but I was also confident that if that's what the Lord wanted me to do, he'd help me figure it out. Those three years were challenging, but delightful.  I loved those girls more than I ever thought possible. I learned a lot.  I had no teachers, advisers, etc., and more often than not only had one counselor. I put a great deal of time, effort, and energy into it.  But I was still 22, with a baby and a toddler and not very many years under my belt as an adult.  There were things I did poorly, things I failed to do, and I only figured that out in retrospect or through gentle, patient direction, because no one ever criticized me.  They only supported me.  And I regret the times I have been less than that for someone else who was willing--but weak.

Because one of the other things that has been readily apparent every time I have served in any leadership role is that there are people who won't serve.  Or who will only serve in ways that they find pleasing.  When you are in a leadership position, trying to fill callings within your stewardship can be a difficult, and sometimes discouraging, task.  There are people who will tell you that of course they'll serve, just not with this person.  I'm happy to take any calling. Unless its in this auxilliary, then don't bother asking--no matter how many necessary positions you've got vacant. Sure, I'm happy to take dinner to this family, as long as it falls on the second Wednesday of the month. Nope, I'm not gonna help with that activity, I don't do weekday stuff.

Personally, I think the doers are much more numerous.  I think the vast majority of people step up and help their neighbors.  And obviously there are definitely times when health or circumstance genuinely prevent us from doing something that we've been invited to, and we need to be honest with those doing the asking if that's the case.  But if you've been asked to serve, think twice before you say no.  It could be that the thing you think you don't want to do, or think you can't do, will end up being one of your most rewarding opportunities--that was certainly my experience in YW--and that can only be true if you approach it with a willing heart.

If you are in a position of leadership, offer guidance and instruction and redirection as the Lord so prompts, but fight the temptation to be impatient or self-righteous or critical. If you place your trust and your love in the Lord, he can do amazing things with a willing heart, no matter how weak. We are each of us a part of the body of Christ, and each part is needful. We are each at a different place in our spiritual development, and we each need teaching and nurturing.  Do not turn away from those who are willing to serve because they are not yet as you would have them.  The Lord would have them, just as he would have you, and that is enough to start something wonderful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


I know what its like to feel like your brain has betrayed you. I think a lot of us fear losing control of our minds, but over the course of the last year I have had to face the reality that a great deal more of it is beyond our conscious control than we like to believe.  But a chronic illness is different: you feel like you're living on a trap door, just waiting for it to give way at some completely unpredictable moment.  Mine is minor, and the greatest risk is my physical safety.

There are others who live with much larger, much less stable trap doors. Sometimes when the bottom falls out, their illness takes over and causes them to do something that they otherwise would never do.  Until someone puts the pieces back together, they often have no idea what's even happened.

When something shocking and disturbing happens, a very natural reaction is to keep looking for more information, more details, some pieces that will make it make sense so we can categorize and process it and move past it.  But sometimes, no matter what we find out, it still won't make sense, and nothing can make that OK.

All we can do is work toward accepting that we're all broken, some so extremely so that it can create a wide circle of hurt.  We work on trusting that the Lord knows and understands that better than any of us, and governs over it with tremendous mercy and grace.  There are things that we rightfully mourn in the mortal realm, but I trust that he will make the scales balance eternally, and heal the brokenness that permeates this life.