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.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Kylie's Baptism

Kylie was baptized at Mom and Dad's house on April 29th, by her dad. He also confirmed her, with her Papa Umpy, uncle Paul Tanner, and cousin Kenny Krantz standing in. She asked her big sister to give a talk on baptism,
and she asked me to speak about the Holy Ghost

She was so excited to be baptized, and she got to be surrounded by a lot of really wonderful people to welcome her into that covenant and support her.  Most of her Umphrey cousins managed to make it in between softball games (auntie Christa drove back from Frenchtown--and took these photos--and then drove back to Frenchtown afterward, attending tournament games).  Auntie Jen and Uncle Paul drove all the way up from Pleasant Grove with all five of their kids, and then Facetimed in Mimi and Papa, who couldn't make it due to Papa's very, very recent open heart surgery.  My parents were, as ever, our gracious hosts.
Part of the reason we waited so long past her birthday (which was in December) was that she had requested to have her baptism in the creek.  I'm not sure she was mentally prepared for it.  Her face when she popped out of the water was priceless (I have no photos, because I was standing at water's edge with a warm towel to wrap her up).  When asked if it was cold, she nodded solemnly and said, "Feet are one thing, but faces are different".  All too true, kiddo.

During her confirmation, she was blessed that she would build on what she had already learned about seeking the Lord's direction and listening to the Spirit. Kylie is already a prayer.  During my talk, I told every one about a recent incident where one of our cats, Shawn, disappeared for about a day and a half. Kylie is also a worrier, and she was terribly worried that he wouldn't come home and was very upset. After bedtime, she came downstairs and tearily told us that she and Keilana had prayed that Shawn would be safe and he'd come home.  He showed up a couple of hours later.

At Christmas time, she helped me make salsa, and accidentally touched her eyes after handling habaneros and jalapeƱos. She said through painful tears, "Mommy, I prayed. I prayed three times."

She's confident and silly, but also very sweet and tender. She's thoughtful and notices the people around her.  She's clever, and tremendously funny. She has a terrible temper, but she knows it and its only because she's so sensitive.  She nearly always takes responsibility for it without being prompted, and feels terrible when she realizes she's made someone feel badly.  She's always trying to make the world around her a little more beautiful, a little more colorful, and a little more fair.

Welcome to the fold, Kylie Bear. We're pretty fortunate to have you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Outside the lines

Dylan's pediatrician gave us a referral for a neuropsychologist in Missoula to do further evaluations, and thanks to a fortuitous cancellation, we got in almost immediately.  So we did an initial interview with the three of us (me, Doug, and Dylan) a few weeks ago, and then we took Dylan back for a full day of evaluation a week later.

Today Doug and I went back to meet with the doctor about the results.  The short version is "Your kid doesn't fit neatly into the classic box.  He also doesn't fit neatly into any of the alternative boxes we've developed for the kids who don't fit into the traditional box".    When Dylan was six weeks old, Doug gave him a name and a blessing, and one of the things our little guy was blessed with was that he would have the fortitude to face his challenges, because he would have some that were very unique to him.  As this doctor checked off the challenges that they saw in their evaluations, I felt better because they were all exactly the things I thought I was seeing as his mom.  And I felt a little apprehensive about finding the right combination of tools to help him, because there are little pieces of a lot of different things going on in his unique little brain.  But the doctor was unflinchingly optimistic about the future, stating succinctly, "Its complex, but not difficult".

Something that was reassuring was that, despite having many of the other challenges that usually go along with it, Dylan's emotional reciprocity and attentiveness is not my imagination, or a mom's overly rosy view: he really is in tune with the emotions of others;  all that sweetness is really there.  Despite the fact that he hyper focuses on his interests to sometimes the exclusion of everything else, when he is tuned in, he sees what people need, he sees when they hurt or struggle, and it matters to him. It make him happy when they're happy.  I've always loved that about him.  The doctor also said that, with his combination of challenges, Dylan could be doing very differently without a lot of conscious, intentional engagement at home, and told us that we were doing great for him so far.  I'm not someone who seeks or needs a lot of external validation, but with all the frustrations and disappointments we've had the last couple of years, I admit that it was comforting to hear that from someone who has helped a lot of kids with a wide variety of challenges.

So now we get everyone at school on our team, and start making some more specific accommodations for our little guy, who, as I've always believed, is going to be just fine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Shine

Have you ever had someone ask you if they're too damaged? Too flawed? Too riddled with weaknesses and imperfections to obtain the good things they desire?

Too damaged?  You, dear soul, are a bright, shining bit of divine light.  You  are far more beautiful than you suppose.  Life has beat you up quite a lot lately.  Some of the people you loved, who you thought loved you, have said and done things that hurt.  Intensely.  They are in the Lord's hands, leave them to him.  Those painful stumbles have caused you to question your value, your abilities, your worth. You are in the Lord's hands, and he sees the glorious being you were designed to be.  He sees all the amazing things that you are, the incredibly good that you are not only capable of doing, but that you have already done.

Many of the vicissitudes of life sting so deeply precisely because they do have eternal consequences. Having to redefine what we thought our eternity would look like may make it hard to believe we can have the best blessings of eternity--or lead us to doubt those things are even there.

The light is still there, and I see much of it in you, even if your glow has been dimmed a bit by a broken heart and a bruised soul.  The Lord knows well the stones that have been strewn about your path, and understands why they've slowed you, weighed you down, or tripped you up.  And he has glorious things in store for you, his loved and cherished child, and he will help you overcome the world, so that all things might work together for your good.

Its a new year. Don't fail to learn the lessons of the past, but move forward with faith--in the Lord and in yourself.