Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not so coincidentally

After a sort of long few weeks, this last week was just what I needed.  Last Monday morning my mom called and asked if my kids and I would like to join her and my sisters' girls at the water park in Missoula.  When I called Doug to tell him our plans, he suggested that we just pack up and go over for the week, since we were planning to go the following weekend anyway.  I'm so glad he suggested it.  Time with my mom is always good for me--she so very patiently endures the over-talking and downright babbling I am prone to when I'm around her :)

The kids and I had a lot of fun hanging out with their grandma and cousins, spending the mornings in the yard and the afternoons at the dam (because no one should really do anything but swim once the temperature hits 90).  We spent lots of time visiting with my grandma, too, who looks the best she has in months.

Over the weekend, the current bishop in my parents' ward and his wife hosted a ward reunion (both of my parents grew up in the ward, as did my maternal grandparents, so we have relatively deep roots there).  The first night there were a lot of people who could comfortably be classified as "old timers" now, many of whom left the ward before I was born, but it was fun to put some faces to names that I'd heard my whole life.  The second night, it was much more fun for me, because there were a lot of people there who were in the ward when I grew up, people who were my teachers and leaders and friends.

As I listened to the testimonies on Sunday morning (a meeting that was a little over two hours long), and heard people talk about growing up in the ward and/or raising their kids there, and how many people helped them, taught them, served them, I looked around and thought about all the people in that room who had been, at some point or another, key influences in my life.

There was Rod, who was the first Bishop that I remember, and was raising his gaggle of boys next door to us (or as "next door"as rural life gets, anyway) when I was a small child.  His home was the first place away from my own family that I felt love and affection and security.  He was my Bishop when I was baptized, and was the one who confirmed me.  As a teenager, he was my seminary teacher, and to this day I remember clearly many of the lessons that he taught.  More than that, I remember how much I enjoyed being there, even at 6:30 in the morning, when he was teaching.

There was Karen, who was the parent of a friend and was always so kind to me, and so funny.  I always remember her smile clearly.  At a hard but strangely wonderful moment in my life, she was there:  my cousin and I were charged with dressing my grandmother's body for her funeral, and Karen was there, having just finished Grandma's hair and makeup (something she'd done many times for Grandma when she was alive).  Since this responsibility was new to Alyssa and I, she stayed and helped us complete the task.

Teri was there at that moment, too.  I think she may have been the Relief Society President at the time.  She raised three girls that were close to my age, who I loved.  She was a wonderful, supportive friend to me as I transitioned my family back into my home ward for a time.  Her sense of humor  and sensibilities are so very similar to my own in so many ways, and I have enjoyed her friendship immensely.  My kids ask to go to her house every time we go back to Yaya and Papa's for a visit.

There were the Mikkelsens, as well, of course.  Alan was my Bishop for many years when I was a youth, and Lynette was one of my favorite teachers in high school, and definitely the best teacher I've ever had.  She was also one of my Young Women advisors, and I always loved her so much, mostly, I think, because it was obvious that she loved me.  She has a wonderful combination of no-nonsense discipline and affable good-naturedness and openness that I so admired as a youth, and still do.  Alan has been a generous and kind friend to my husband during one of the most difficult times in his life, when he was new to the area and didn't know many people yet, for which I will forever be grateful.

And, of course, sitting right in front of me, there was Brett and Erica.  They moved away a few years after I left home, but how could I possibly overstate how wonderful they were to me when I was a teenager? Erica served in Young Women off and on the entire time I was a youth, and Brett was in the Bishopric from the time I was 10 or 12 until I left home for college, but they went so far above and beyond.  They were so involved and affection and attentive, always expressing their love, always ready with encouragement or advice or a blessing.  Brett essentially became a second father to me in those years, and I couldn't have asked for better friends than I had in the two of them as a couple.  When I went through the temple for the first time, my Grandma Umphrey went as my escort, and my mom and Grandma Lettie went with me.  The only other people in the temple with me that day (besides Doug) were Brett and Erica, and I loved them for it, as I did for a thousand other things.

And there were many others, of course, some of whom have moved away and didn't make it back, or who have passed on, but as I looked around that room, a favorite quote, from CS Lewis, kept coming to mind:  "In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” 

To think that just a few of these people being in my life when they were was mere coincidence would be foolish.  To believe that all these people have been in my life when they were is mere coincidence would be ingratitude of the highest degree.  

That blessing did not stop when I left home.  I started thinking about the souls I encountered along the rest of my path to this point: at BYUH, a few kind friends when we lived on the coast, and of course those we said good-bye to in Lindsay, not to mention my family and in-laws, and I was overcome all over again at how undeservedly blessed I have been in who the Lord has placed in my life, or in whose lives the Lord has placed me.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A good man's not so hard to find. . .

This is my favorite picture of little Zayda's first day at home: surrounded by her brothers and her three male cousins who live next door.  She'll be well loved and protected.

During the last month, between our trip to Utah and our trip back to Mission, we've been able to spend time with nearly all of my brothers and brothers-in-law.  Watching them all interact with my daughters, and their own daughters and wives, gives my tremendous hope for my girls' future.  My girls are all still so little, but some day (all too soon) they'll start interacting with more boys who aren't family, and between their dad and their uncles, the standards for how a man will be expected to treat them have been set very high.  These girls know a lot of very good men who treat them, and their mother and aunts and grandmas, with respect, affection, and loyalty.  Any young man who wants their affection will likely have to aim high.

I'm grateful for that.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Squishy Baby Cheeks

Isn't she awesome?
She doesn't have a name yet,
but I'm sure she will soon,
and I can't wait to meet and hold all 8lbs 10oz of her.
My sister just brought this little lovely into the world.
A part of me is terribly jealous.
If I had enough money that I never really had to worry
about mortgage payments and big cars (and gas)
and food and college,
I would just have about 10 of these.
I love them.  
She's a fortunate little girl.
She's only been here about 5 1/2 hours,
and there are already dozens of people
who are completely in love with her.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Girl From the Gulches

Early on in high school--either the summer I turned 14 or the summer I turned 15--my summer job came to me through my dad from an associate of his.  An interesting man--I think it would be fair to call him "a character"--who had a lot of money and an interest in local history, had come across a manuscript of a biography of Mary Ronan.  Mary Ronan was the wife of Peter Ronan, one of the first Indian Affairs officers on the Flathead reservation, during the second half of the 19th century.  She had been raised primarily by her father (her mother died when she was quite young), an Irish immigrant who made his living by working as a freighter in Montana's gold boom-towns.  She came of age in Virginia City, Montana and Last Chance Gulch (Helena), and became a young bride to Peter, whom she had met many years before when he was a hopeful young gold miner.

The manuscript that was handed to me was an unbound photocopy of a typewriter-written autobiography that Mrs. Ronan had written with the aid of her daughter during her twilight years.  I was to scan it page by page, and then edit any mistakes in the text in WordPerfect.  The software was having so much trouble translating the pages into readable text that it quickly became apparent that it would be much faster to simply retype the entire book.  So that's what I did.  My trained but still very unpracticed fingers learned to type quite fast that summer, something I am still grateful for.  And since I had to read the entire book--very slowly at first, while my fingers learned to catch up to the speed of my reading--I learned a lot.  She had a fascinating life, and one that by nearly anyone's standards today would be considered rather difficult.

The one thing that has always stayed in my mind, however, was something that probably wouldn't seem that notable to many who read the book (it was eventually published by a different party, under the name Girl From the Gulches, an editorial choice I'm not fond of.  Its a perfectly good title, but I much preferred the original title Not in Precious Metals Alone, from a quote that was on the title page: "Notwithstanding the richness of the Rocky Mountains in gold, it is not in precious metals alone that they present attraction to the seeker after fortune."  That title, and quote, capture much more effectively the hold that Montana, and the Rocky Mountain west, have on those of us who know it and love it, and conveyed better why she loved the hard life she chose.  But I digress--sort of a speciality of mine.)

When Peter was initially appointed to the BIA post on the reservation (just a few years after the Salish had moved to the reservation), he went to Arlee ahead of his family to try to make something of a home in what was still very much a wild, remote place, before bringing his wife and child along.  So Mary made the trip by stage from Helena to Missoula (her descriptions of 1890s Missoula are fabulous, especially given that the whole city was on edge because a warring band of Blackfeet were headed that direction), and then from Missoula to Arlee.  She described the trip north from Missoula to Arlee vividly.  It took multiple days (its about 25 miles), mostly due to the extreme difficulty of getting over Evaro pass.

I grew up in St. Ignatius, another 10-15 miles north of Arlee.  I almost always think of Mary Ronan as I make the trip to Missoula: an easy, 45 minute drive, where the biggest hardship I endure going over Evaro pass is losing my cell signal for about 10 minutes.  I thought about her today as I drove over that pass twice--the road gradely so nicely and so gradually that it didn't even occur to me that it was a pass until I was about 12.  She talked about how exhausting and uncomfortable and slow the trip was--how much she worried about her tiny, new baby because it was impossible to actually stay on the seat of the stage with all the bouncing about, being thrown all over when they were making any progress at all.  And this was not a woman unaccustomed to the the rigors of the west or mountain travel.

So, as I thought of her this afternoon, I said a silent prayer of gratitude for pioneers, for all those who went before, blazing the way for those of us who would follow (even if our following is done in a Dodge Caravan rather than a stage coach or a handcart).  Earlier in the morning, I had been visiting with my 93-year-old great aunt, who told me about her great-grandfather who sailed away from the comfort of England to find a new adventure in South Africa, and then about his son, her grandfather, who was born aboard a ship, and eventually pulled a handcart across the great plains and walked into the Salt Lake Valley.  I have many ancestors with similar stories, and I am grateful for the many sacrifices that they made that have provided me with the life I have.  And I am grateful to women like Mary Ronan, with whom I share no blood or religion, only a deep love a particular place in the world.  The place that I have so loved for all my life was still mostly wilderness when she got there, and she was one of the first non-Indian women who made a home there, planted a garden, raised a family, and helped to tame the land for all of us who would follow her.  My grandparents first came to the valley by train when they were young children, and I am grateful for all that they did not just in building houses, raising livestock, making roads, logging the mountains, but in all they did to build real communities.  Many of the houses and fences and roads have been changed or torn down, but the fruits of their labors in building the community are still evident today, and bless my life continually.

On this 24th of July, I am deeply grateful for those pioneers who walked, hobbled and pulled their way into the Salt Lake Valley (and then into southern Utah, Mexico, Idaho. . . .) and who lived their faith so righteously and humbly, but I am also grateful for all those many other pioneers who have contributed to this wonderful little life that I love so much.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Brokenness and Healing

Three incidents have come to mind over and over again the last couple of years.

In the first, a young man broke his elbow skateboarding.  A painful injury, that took quite a lot of time to heal.  Because there are several important tendons that run through and around the bone articulation in the elbow, and those tendons were completely unused during the many weeks that the bones were healing, months of difficult, painful physical therapy would be required in order to regain full use of the elbow and completely eliminate the residual pain from the injury.  After a few weeks of therapy, the young man insisted to his parents that it was too painful and he couldn't do it, and they relented.  Because he was unwilling to endure the exhausting pain and hard work for a few months, he will instead spend his entire life with moderate pain and a partially unusable arm:  his elbow can only be extended about 45*.  He can never straighten his arm, lift large or heavy objects, and both his work and recreation options will be severely limited for the rest of his life.

The second incident happened to my brother-in-law.  He was in the habit of coming to our house for a few hours most Sunday afternoons for years.  When, one afternoon, he reacted quite sharply to our toddler accidentally hitting him in the lower gut while playing (in retrospect, rather out of character for him--he loves children and was particularly fond of the one who was playing games with him that day), Doug took him to task for being harsh with our young son.  He confided that he had been having some swelling and sensitivity, and so the unintentional hit had caused him more pain than usual--he was reacting to the pain, not the child.  Doug asked if everything was alright, and he said that a friend who was a doctor had given him some medication to deal with it, and that he'd be fine.  For a year, the problem kept getting worse, and he mostly kept saying he was fine--he had medication, he was dealing with it.  Finally, when his mom was driving him home after a family get together one evening, she saw how much pain he was in, went in to mom mode and told him in no uncertain terms that he would be staying with her that night and that she was taking him to the doctor.  He was rapidly diagnosed with testicular cancer, that had spread into his gut and lungs. It would require invasive surgery and chemotherapy to eradicate.  He had lived with cancer for more than a year before seeing a doctor, allowing the illness to quietly take over larger and larger parts of his body and cause him more and more pain, before finally combatting it with the proper treatments and medications.

The third incident was when my little Keilana got a horrible flu that left her fevery, headachy and vomiting.  She was miserable.  It wasn't her fault, she hadn't caused herself the problem.  For the first day or two, however, she refused to do any of the things that would help her get better:  it was difficult to get her to drink much, as she was absolutely convinced that she would only throw it up and she hates throwing up;  her bed was too hot, but she didn't want the fan on because she claimed not to be able to tolerate the moving air; the couch was too cold, but she didn't want a blanket, convinced they were all scratchy;  no matter how much I insisted that the medicine I had would make her feel better, she insisted that it was too gross to swallow.  And so, for the first couple of days, she merely wallowed in her misery.  What's more, though her brother and sister tried to stay out of her hair, they were very small and therefore sometimes noisy or too close. Even when they tried to help her, because of their smallness and limitations, she was convinced that they were being selfish and annoying:  she was focused nearly entirely on her pain, and so she couldn't see anyone else's actions through any prism but how it increased or decreased her own pain.  And since she was committed to being miserable, she saw most of it as increasing her pain.  Finally, after a Priesthood blessing from her dad and a family friend, we started to see some improvement and--lo and behold--suddenly medicine and blankets and even her brother and sister were all wonderful boons to her. 

LDS doctrine states very clearly that "all spirit is matter"--there is no such thing as immaterial matter, it is simply that spirit is more fine and more pure, and so we cannot see it with our "natural" eyes.  And so, I think that there is a closer parallel to how our bodies strengthen and grow and heal, and how our spirits do so, than we often think.  Just as a body needs exercise and healthy foods to stay strong and sharp, I believe that a spirit just as literally needs scripture study and prayer and service to grow strong and healthy.  And just as a body needs rest and medicines and (sometimes painful) rehabilitation when it is sick or injured, a spirit needs similar spiritual remedies when it has been weakened or wounded.

There are times when we break because we make unwise decisions, and parts of or spirit become pained and weak from injury and underuse.  During such times, we need to commit ourselves to rehabilitation--repentance--even though the work of repairing our injured spirits can sometimes seem more painful than than the injury itself.  Sometimes, we refuse to do the work, convince ourselves that its too hard and not worth it, and instead resign ourselves to living with a constant dull ache and a limited range of spiritual motion.  We try to convince ourselves that we're fine with that, but that constant ache tugs at us, the limitations wear on us, and we usually end up eventually lashing out at others because of our internalized frustrations.

Sometimes, there is no big, obvious injury, but rather a small indication that something is amiss: a little over-sensitivity here, a bit of nagging anger there, a little, almost unnoticeable pain that seems like it will probably just go away if we just try to ignore and power through it.  So instead of addressing the source of the problem, we go on about our lives as though everything is just fine, perhaps treating superficial symptoms here and there with short-lived painkillers that simply momentarily mask the pain. Then one day, suddenly it seems, the pain has taken over our lives and we're unable to make it through one more day.  In retrospect, after we start to heal, we realize it was a gradual crescendo:  spiritual wounds, especially if they seem small at first, can be so easy to ignore, to rationalize away. What could've been a simple, if somewhat uncomfortable, challenge to address suddenly requires extensive, often painful remedies just to be relatively healthy again.  Its that small, perhaps unintentional slight that we take too personally and then allow to grow into a hot resentment; the selfish, thoughtless act that we rationalize rather than take responsibility for; or the forgiveness we convince ourselves we've extended, when really we simply removed the offending party from our life.  Such little, petty sins can quickly turn into soul-destroying cancers if we refuse to take responsibility for them and heal our whole hearts through the Atonement.

And then there are those times when, through no fault of our own, we have become terribly hurt, when others have indeed committed grievous offenses against us, been cruel and vindictive or simply been consistently thoughtless and selfish.  During those times, we can seek out the tender mercy of the Lord, to help us to genuinely forgive--help us to genuinely want to forgive--to ask for his Spirit to help us see more clearly the ways in which his love for us is manifest, so that the slights or disapproval of others might sting less.  When we are confident of His love and our standing before Him, the criticisms and unkindnesses of others will fade.  If we don't do that, if we instead focus more intently on the hurt and anger that we feel, we are likely to see the actions of others--others who do love us and, though imperfect, don't set out to cause us any pain--through the prism of the selfish or cruel intentions of those who caused the initial hurt.  We will become intently aware more of pain than of love, and consequently be more likely to be hurt again, to take offense where none was intended, to assume the worst about the intentions of others rather than the best.  We can very quickly become unable to see anything except through the prism of our pain, and thus become selfish, even though our initial intentions were anything but selfish.  Like my miserably sick 7-year-old, we can easily come to see even those who just want to help--in their own limited, imperfect, perhaps immature way--as wanting to make us miserable, or at least as indifferent to our pain, which can be just as hurtful from people whom we love.

In such times, we can certainly ask the Lord to soften their hearts, that they might see our hurt and understand things from our perspective, that they might feel more patience and compassion and greater love for us.  But we definitely should ask the Lord to soften our hearts, that we might see the best in them, that we might more clearly remember the kindnesses that they have showed us in the past, that we might more gratefully realize the good qualities they possess, that we might have more patience and compassion for them.  I am firmly convinced that the vast majority of human suffering is caused not by malice, but by emotional myopia--our inability or unwillingness to see beyond our own emotions, beyond how things affect me.  That is the nature of the fallen man that we all must contend with within ourselves.

But the height of charity, the very essence of Christlike love, is to be in pain--terrible, overwhelming pain and exhaustion--and still be able to reach out compassionately and offer love to another who suffers.  After all, as Christ lay bleeding, in unimaginable agony, in the Garden of Gesthemane, he thought of us--those who had caused him this most terrible of all anguish--and expressed his love and hope for us, and pled with the Father to forgive us.

"O to grace how greater a debtor daily I'm constrained to be."  My hope is that I will daily grow more mindful of that truth, and move toward a greater compassion for those who trespass against me.  May I better learn to assume the best of those around me is my prayer.  After all that has been done for me, it is the least I can give in return.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Right Way

Normally, I really hate it when people get super preachy and self-righteous about their beliefs, including me (especially me).  But I'm gonna go ahead and say this anyway:

We have most of an entire shelf in the door of our fridge dedicated to an assortment of mustards, and anyone who doesn't live that way is a fool.