Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lessons of 2006: Chapter 2

Faith and God's Domain

Faith is an interesting concept. Like love, it grows. It means different things to us at different times, and (hopefully) it matures as we mature and leads us to a higher plane of living. It’s kinda like that old song, “And he thought that he knew what love was…” I really thought that I knew what faith was.

When I was called into the Relief Society Presidency for the first time in 1994, Grandma Lyn sent me the book, “Love Is A Verb” by Mary Ellen Edmunds. It was such a nice introduction to the idea that love becomes charity when we DO something. Likewise, belief becomes faith when we take those first steps into the unknown. I have taken a lot of steps into the unknown the past few years and I have been overjoyed at the things I have found on the other side.

One of the things that has helped my faith grow immensely is internalizing the parameters of our agency and God’s role in His plan. As a parent, I am amazed at the restraint Heavenly Father exercises as he allows us to grow and experience this life. I try (and often fail) to keep myself from interfering with the agency of my kids. If I think I can save them some pain or frustration, I want to step in and “fix it.” I try to give them room to learn by natural consequences, but it’s really hard. So really I admire God’s respect for our agency. The only lines he has drawn are around life itself. He has given us specific instructions about how life should begin and how it should end, and there are dire consequences for those who step over those lines. Life and death are His domain---what I do from my first to my last breath is mine.

And so there I was, worrying about my brother Matthew being deployed in Iraq in early 2006. I remember being really particularly upset one day, and having the spirit calmly speak to me: “He will not die until he has accomplished his mission on earth.” Now, I kinda knew that already, but it started to sink in at that moment. We are all here to become like God (remember the Sermon on the Mount? “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”?). We arrive with cracks to fill in our characters, and through the application of the atonement of Christ to our life’s experiences, those cracks are filled and we become worthy of our Father’s presence. And only He knows when that mission has been accomplished and we are ready to move on from this life.

The lesson began to sink in even more as I watched two different TV shows—one was a show about freak accidents on the Discovery Channel, and one was a show about miraculous survival on Oprah. For some reason, watching those shows within a day or two of each other helped me to realize that these were not really “Freaky” or especially “miraculous”—each of these people had a mission in life. For those who died in “freak” accidents: mission accomplished; for those who survived, there was obviously still work to be done.

Suddenly it all made so much sense. I felt totally at peace, not only with Matt’s mortality, but my own and my children’s. While I still take caution and I’m always concerned about their well-being, I have a peace inside me knowing that the best thing I can do for them is to pray for them, and pray for me—that I can help them fulfill their missions and meet their potential so they are ready to meet their Maker whenever that time comes.

And the same goes for me. I am sure, like me, most people suddenly take much better care of themselves, take much more precaution when they become parents. We have a new reason for living—we want to be here for our kids. But I have so much less worry now that I know for sure that as long as we are striving to progress, our lives are preserved until our missions are complete. It’s like the hymn—“And should we die before our journey’s through, happy day—all is well/ We then are free from toil and sorrow too—with the just we shall dwell.”

To me, one of the most beautiful expressions of faith in the scriptures, and the most meaningful to me right now, is 1 Nephi 11:17. Nephi is being shown The Grand Vision, specifically the birth of the Savior, and the angel serving as his tour guide asks him if he knows about the condescension of God. “Condescension” is a big word, and I bet Nephi (Mr. Plain & Precious) was thinking, what? But here is what he said: I know that he loveth his children, nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things.”

Isn’t that AWESOME? A prophet of God basically said I don’t know everything, but I know he loves us…and that was enough. And you know what? I think it’s enough for me. I have been a “why?”-asker and truth-seeker and pattern-finder all my life—I want answers!—but Nephi has taught me to chill. I am able to act in faith much more often now because (a) I understand God’s parameters and (b) I know—I feel it in my heart for real—that he loves us and will only guide us in the paths that lead us back to him. We just have to trust, to follow, and quit taking short cuts or our own little roads because his ways don’t seem to make sense from where we’re standing. I’m not sure what’s around the next corner for me, but I have learned from experience that I will be okay and it will be for my good because my Heavenly Father loves me. And he loves you, too.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lessons of 2006: Equal To My Day

I became a mother at the age of thirty. I had twelve years of adulthood under my belt by the time my first daughter was born—twelve years of doing what I wanted, when I wanted, and lots of excitement. Within the space of nine months and five days, I had gone from a Professional Single Young Woman to Wife, and then Stay-at-Home-Mom. My busy-yet-organized life of goals and checklists and accomplishments came to a grinding halt.

Good-bye, control freak, hello new mom.

The first out-of-control thing my daughter introduced to me was parental love. I was totally unprepared for the depth of emotion and sense of connection and responsibility I had for her. I was shocked at the heart wrenching sadness I felt when they took her out of the hospital room for a few minutes to do her neo-natal tests. I sobbed when I heard her cries as they stuck her heel. And then I sobbed some more because I knew that old quote about my heart living outside of my body was coming true. What had I done? I had opened myself up for a whole new world of joy and sorrow. As much as I thought I knew what was coming, the love was something beyond any possible description—something I never could have known without experiencing it for myself.

The following weeks and months brought on a slew of things that were beyond my control. After a few weeks, I could no longer remember what it was like to sleep for 8 hours at a time (and I had a relatively mellow baby—it’s just that she ate slow and I obsessed about every little breath she took)—I was thrilled to get 4 hours. What luxury! What utter decadence to sleep for 4 hours! With the sleep deprivation came the slippery slope of “letting myself go.” A shower longer than 2 minutes AND blow-drying my hair became a great indulgence. A really, super-good day included some make up and pants without drawstrings. Oh, and shoes, because on a super-good day, we might leave the house.

While I could often find joy and revel in my new role, I also often felt totally overwhelmed and alone. And then feeling overwhelmed made me feel like a loser. I’d say to myself, “She’s ONE LITTLE BABY! You can’t handle ONE baby? Most of the world does this three or four or five times over and you’re freaking out with ONE?” And of course I thought I was the only horrible woman who wasn’t a natural mother; the only wretch who ever had a hard time nursing, who sometimes cried when her baby cried, and found it difficult to do her wife stuff and housekeeping stuff while trying to figure out the mother stuff.

Eventually I got used to my new life. For two years, I struggled with my new slower pace. My daughter grew into a sweet toddler and I felt like I might be ready for another baby. My second daughter came, and it wasn’t such a terrible adjustment. She slept more and ate faster and life was good. But I had lots more going on the second time around. We were building a house and I was serving in the Young Women’s Presidency and I was carving my niche in a new town and culture. I felt overwhelmed all over again, in a different way.

But even in my stress, I knew that I was trying to do good things. I felt that I was, for the most part, “about my Father’s business”, and that he would help me. A phrase I remembered from Wilford Woodruff’s journals rang through my mind almost everyday. When he was called to be President of the church, Elder Woodruff wrote, “I pray God my Heavenly Father to make me equal to my day” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, p. xxx). I started saying that to myself like a mantra. It was my daily prayer, and I began to see that my prayer was answered. I noticed that as long as I gave my honest best efforts, I had enough energy and health to complete the tasks I faced. Like the principle of tithing, when we put the Lord first, there is always enough. I may have been running on three hours of sleep, but I believe God made me able to finish the worthy things on my daily checklist. Somehow, when I put him first, I had just enough time and just enough energy to do His work.

In the few years of my motherhood I have gained a testimony that raising my children is my part in building the kingdom today. I made a commitment at baptism to take upon me the Lord’s name and his work, and I promised over the altar as I was sealed to my husband that we would be fruitful. Although many days and many tasks seem menial, and there is too much on my plate, I remind myself that I am keeping my covenants and God will help me. Even with the testimony I’ve gained I still find myself saying. “Oh, I would die if Heavenly Father asked me to ___,” or, “They better not EVER ask me to do ___. “

Silly me.

That attitude began to change in the fifth year of our marriage when we decided to have a third child. Like the other two times, we decided to have a baby and I was pregnant within six weeks. I remember thinking as I took the pregnancy test, “This is so exciting and so hopeful…I feel so bad for my friends who go through this month after month, hoping, watching for the two lines and only seeing one…or seeing the two lines and then miscarrying a few weeks later…I am so glad that hasn’t happened to me…[and then the old familiar] I don’t think I could ever live through that!” I never felt ungrateful for this amazing fertility, but I guess I was just sort of used to having a baby when I wanted a baby. I really liked having a spring baby, so I was going to do it again and lah-dee-dah. I felt super-blessed this time because I wasn’t even sick—just tired. Maybe it was a boy!

Of course you know what happened. I went in for my 10-week appointment and everything looked great. Everyone was so happy about my pregnancy, great to see the doctor again, let’s do an ultra sound at 12 weeks to confirm the dates. At the ultra sound, the tech said I must have my dates wrong because the embryo only measured 7 weeks. I felt like my heart stopped and I tried to catch my breath. You see, I never get my dates wrong…my body runs like clockwork, and so do our “romantic dates.” So I held it together in the office, but fell to pieces on the way out because something was very wrong. I just didn’t think that the little fishy we saw on the screen was still alive. A week later, my feelings were confirmed and I went through that process so many women go through—an experience that just weeks before I had sworn I would never survive.

But I was made equal to my day. Not only did I survive, but my heart and soul were opened up and strengthened in ways I hadn’t experienced in years. That humbling experience opened me up to so much more teaching from the Holy Spirit that followed that sad week. I remember Rich’s cousin telling me that she, too, had a miscarriage between her second and third children. She said, “It was really hard because were ‘planners’, too, but six weeks later I conceived my last son and he has been the sunshine of my life. He has totally blessed our family.” And guess what? Six weeks after my miscarriage, I conceived a son who lights up my life everyday.

So I am trying to never say never. I am trying to replace the negative “I can’t…” with the faithful response, “with Heavenly Father, I can.” He knows my limitations and where I need to grow and I know that if I let him, he will always make me equal to my day.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lessons of 2006: The Series


I know, it's been a VERY long time since I updated this personal history blog of mine. I've been dangling by a thread of sanity, white knuckling my way back to where I can make my own priorities. But guess what? I'm back to that place and making my personal and family history a priority again.

There has been a story brewing in my mind for about 10 months and I am just starting to get it out. I want to share my recent growing experiences and especially my testimony with my loved ones and posterity.

Starting with my miscarriage in November 2005, I felt Heavenly Father "cranking it up a notch," so to speak, in my life. For a solid year I could feel the challenges and lessons flowing to me. If my mission had been my spiritual undergraduate work, then my doctorate studies began in November 2005. I spent a year soaking it up and The Test began the week before Christmas 2006 (and the pop quizzes continue). I think I passed, but I need to get this thesis written so I can continue growing and remember what I have learned (there is nothing worse than having to repeat a course, is there?!).

So far I have five chapters sketched out in my journal/notes: “Equal to My Day,” “Faith and God’s Domain,” “Satan Hates Happy Families,” “The Heart of the Matter: Forgiveness,” and Discipleship. I will post the first tonight, and I may add some more chapters from thoughts/lessons that I am currently processing that center around not taking offense (Elder Bednar’s Oct. 2006 talk), not giving offense (Elder Holland’s April 2007 talk), and the Holiness of Hausfrau-hood (Julie Beck’s Dec. 2005 article). So welcome to my inner life!