Teaching the Ideal, Living the Real

I first realized that my parents had sinned when I was about 13 years old. The lesson topic was the law of chastity, and I suddenly thought “if my parents had been keeping the commandments, I wouldn’t be here.” My mom had always told their story in a funny way and I loved hearing about how my parents had met; they had moved in together without telling her family, and one day my grandma came to visit my mom, but my dad opened the door instead. They got married and my mom returned to church activity a few years later. I was proud of her for bringing us to church every week and serving faithfully in our ward, and I loved my dad even though he didn’t come to church with us. During the lesson I looked around at the other girls in the room, including my friend whose parents weren’t members and weren’t married, and the one who had figured out that her oldest sibling’s birthday was only five months after her parents’ wedding anniversary. Our teacher earnestly told us that keeping the law of chastity and saving sex for after a temple wedding was the only path to a happy family, and yet here we were, living in our imperfect, mostly happy families.

Church can be painful sometimes. When I feel pain or discomfort from something said at church, I sit back and think about what the problem is. Often, I’m feeling the prick of conscience that lets me know that I’m not keeping the commandments as best I can. This pain can be a positive motivator to help me change and to feel a greater resolve to become more Christ-like. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I go to church every week—to renew my covenants with God and to learn more about His teachings and His plan for me. Other times, however, pain comes from things that are said that are not in line with God’s doctrine and that are wrong. I hurt because someone has made assumptions about others or about God that are not true and bring about shame. Shame comes when we feel that what we are is wrong, not that what we are doing is wrong. Continue reading

Are There Cookies in Heaven?

bonus3I sit next to the bathtub with an auger, trying to get out what is shaping up to be a phenomenal clog. It’s gross enough trying to get my own family’s hair out of the drain, but here I am working on a clog at someone else’s house. It is a tub belonging to a woman in my ward. As I twist the auger, I think to myself, “I’m just earning a few extra rooms in my mansion in Heaven.” I probably should be happy to do service for service’s sake, but no. I’m pretty nice, but not that nice.

The scriptures are full of promises of what will happen if we stay true and good during our lifetimes. It’s quite a popular topic at my house: what Heaven will be like. We’ll live in mansions, of course. Although everyone’s idea of their perfect house is different, so that should make things pretty interesting.

My children like to ask if there will be food in Heaven. I have to imagine so, because eating is so important in this mortal life. But maybe it will be eating just for pleasure’s sake, not for nutition, since our resurrected bodies won’t need that. Or maybe we’ll have something way more pleasurable than eating by that time. Or maybe we just won’t care. But it’s hard to imagine Heaven without warm chocolate chip cookies.
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How’s Your Heart?

heart

“How’s your heart?” he asked. This was not your typical question when receiving a simple calling from the bishop, and I suppose my surprise showed in the form of a soft chuckle and broad questioning smile.

I mean does he really want to know I thought? Or, is it like when someone asks you “how are you” and the real litany of answers stream your brain, and then a simple “good thanks, how about you” spurts out.

I blurted out “ahh good, thanks.”

The question gave me pause. Later that night I took stock of my heart and it felt a little forgotten. I mean, we notice other ailments, stiff muscles, head aches, external worries, but what about our hearts? As I took the time to pray that night I found myself saying that I have some thorny places in my heart.

I remembered how phrases in the Book of Mormon about  planting a seed in your heart, and having the words grafted into your heart, and having the spirit swell within your heart were more a part of me than they had been recently. And it got me thinking about the map of my heart at the moment- the state of my seed and vineyard in my old forgotten, but trusty beating heart.

How is my heart? I started to really appreciated that question. I haven’t been giving people credit for actually caring about the state of my heart. Maybe because I’ve lost site in the routine of life of caring for the state of theirs.

Years ago my grandma had open-heart surgery and the cardiologist warned us that she may not be herself for a while; that the heart had to reset. And sometimes, people were never really the same after having their heart cut. She didn’t speak for a while but her anger at her heart’s betrayal and distant eyes said a lot. She kept her word inside.

In some very small way I relate. Feeling like words are, well everything, and yet so often they are stuck inside burdening the heart.

The thing is, sitting and taking stock of where your heart is, or even asking about someone else’s heart is revealing. It is vulnerable. It means risk. But it also means movement and connection. I think it’s a question Christ would ask.

When the heart beats it means new life. Even when you’re not listening or paying attention it is working for you. When blood pumps through our veins and our face turns red because we’re embarrassed, our heart is working. When we cry our heart hurts with us and with others, we are more connected. When we feel happy and hopeful and full of bliss we let our hearts be light. But sometimes that only comes after red face or crying. Or letting someone fix our hearts.

I sat and looked at the dark sky peaking through my blinds, after praying thinking back to the question “how is your heart”, and thought how all those times I felt my heart dim or break it at least reminded me that my heart was still there. Sometimes forgotten about in the rhythm of life. When I let the soldiers of stress march into my heart and reside, the quite monotonous beats turns robotic.

So how’s your heart? Where are your seeds of hope and faith and life? I’m glad for my little shock of a question that helped me tune into my own heart for the moment. Reminding, that it’s there, waiting for nourishment, gratitude, and bright red beats of being alive.

Peculiar Treasures: Who, What, When, Wheres and Whys

babyelephant

Where love is multiple chairs all around a neighbourhood.

Why you should think again before you wear skinny jeans before helping out for a couple of hours.

How a father’s advice to “Go do something. Even if it’s wrong” leads to discovering his box of shells.

What happens when you take two Smithsonian palaeontologists to see Jurassic Park? “They definitely supercharged the mosasaur and made the pterosaurs way stronger than they would have been in real life.”

Who’s life included a duel, enlisting in the Spanish navy, going to war to defend the pope, getting shot twice, being kidnapped by Algerian pirates, writing about a certain Don Quixote, and finally being buried under a convent?

How “grief illiterate” do you think you – or your culture – are? Here are some clichés and scripture verses you may want to avoid.

When there’s no card or balloons, but “My mother’s dementia gave me the best birthday I ever had.”

When “I fear I’ve fallen asleep on the comfortable couch of ingratitude” – a letter of appreciation.

When there is beauty in bugs – First draft poetry brought gorgeously to us by Melissa Y.

I felt that tickle on my arm this morning,
the one that is either a hair or a bug,
and my hand flashed out,
smashing
before my mind registered the turquoise blue
of the tiny body,
the iridescence
of its wings

and I felt my friend Regret
watching me,
not for the act,
but for my thoughtlessness–
for the instinct to destroy
rather than walk five steps
to the door
and release.

Oh please,
I muttered to it,
I must be reading too much Mary Oliver
and Thich Nhat Hanh
if this dead bug
has invited you into my head.

I should not have to care
about the ethics of smashing a gnat,
dammit!

or wonder why
it was only beauty
that gave me pause–
why an average bug,
equally as crumpled,
would not have mattered

this gnat
should not be worth
be worth a poem

but later,
eating breakfast on the back steps,
another gnat landed
on my arm,
plain black,
and I paused,
inhaled,
and blew it off

here’s the thing,
Regret–
I know myself,
know that I don’t like bugs
crawling on my arms,
that spiders,
and wasps especially,
will never elicit sympathy

but I also want to believe
that what I know about myself
isn’t all there is

that the instinct
(if that’s what it is)
to smash
can be inhaled
and blown out
in an infrequent
mercy

that iridescent wings
can extend awareness
to all the other
ordinary unbeautifuls

and that a thousand crushings
can change in a breath

Sabbath Revival: “Love Heals”

In what ways has love healed you? Jaimie elegantly shares her thoughts about how love heals in this post from June 2007

~~~~~

Last winter in the wake of a string of heartbreaking events in my family, I found myself in an old familiar position: doubled over with stomach pain, sleepless, sometimes vomiting because my insides were wound up so tight.

Ever since I was a little girl, deep emotional stress has manifested itself in my physical body. By the time I was 12, I was diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer that was irritated by stress. But it took living the past 10 years without such stress to make me realize how bad it used to be. I was surprised by my recent reaction and surprised that I had lived so long thinking it was normal.

Most of the credit for that goes to my incredible husband who does such an excellent job keeping our lives on an even keel. After growing up in turbulence that sometimes resembled a hurricane, he has made our married life more like a smooth autumn canoe ride. Not only does he have the power to diffuse the daily frustrations and an amazing capacity for unconditional love, he has also blessed me with the sense of permanence and security that my life lacked for nearly 30 years. His love and trustworthiness have healed me physically and spiritually.

When I read Melonie Cannon’s “The Skin I’m In,” for most of the essay I empathized with the skin ailments (having suffered from eczema as a child and psoriasis as an adult). But as I continued to read, I was struck by her testament to the healing power of love. What healed her skin? “It wasn’t a prescription cream, a homemade oatmeal paste, or an ice-cold bath. It was love. Cell by cell, love reinvented my skin.” It has happened to me, too, and I know it’s real.

Cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish wrote a book called Love & Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy & Health. In it, he states what Melonie and I already know:

“Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for their patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe it.”

He continues:
“Anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering. Anything that promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community is healing. Healing is a process of becoming whole. Even the words ‘heal’ and ‘whole’ and ‘holy’ come from the same root.”

As each day, week, and month of my wife- and motherhood fly by, I begin to understand why families and intimacy are part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us. Or should I say why it IS Heavenly Father’s plan for us. I am only getting glimpses of what love really is, of what faith really is: part of that Light spoken of in Doctrine & Covenants section 88 that comes from God and fills “the immensity of space”—that brings us healing, wholeness, and holiness. It’s the light and the love of the Savior that flowed through my husband to me and healed my stomach and my heart.

PS: [TANGENT] Here’s my favorite Father’s Day thought, from the April 1995 General Conference/ Solemn Assembly sustaining President Hinckley (I get choked up just reading this–try to wrap your brain around the title of “Father”). Enjoy with my wishes for a wonderful Father’s Day :

“Although our thoughts are centered in this sacred and solemn assembly on the noble titles High Priest, President, Apostle, Prophet, Seer, Revelator, the heavens are not offended if we at once speak of father, mother, child, brother, sister, family: even dad, mom, grandma, grandpa, baby.
If you are reverent and prayerful and obedient, the day will come when there will be revealed to you why the God of heaven has commanded us to address him as Father, and the Lord of the Universe as Son. Then you will have discovered the Pearl of Great Price spoken of in the scriptures and willingly go and sell all that you have that you might obtain it.
The great plan of happiness revealed to prophets is the plan for a happy family. It is the love story between husband and wife, parents and children, which renews itself through the ages.”

”“Boyd K. Packer, “The Shield of Faith”