Category Archives: Slice of Life

It’s Not A Vanilla Gospel

I stood up in front of over one hundred women, and started talking about my first contacts with the gospel and Church.

“I knew being baptised was the right thing to do, and I was prepared to do it. But the women in Relief Society? They terrified me.”

A laugh washed around the chapel, and I continued. I explained how the friendly women of my first ward loved to quilt, and craft, and had heaps of kids, and knew one hundred different things to do with potatoes but all told me they “didn’t have time to read”.

I looked out at the gathering of women, together to celebrate Relief Society, and told the truth. “I didn’t want that, didn’t understand that, and while I was certain the gospel was where I wanted to be, I was pretty sure there was no place in Relief Society for a freak like me.”

I saw a wave of heads nodding all over the room as I continued to specify my differences. That I would regularly choose to read a book instead of mop my floor – and still do. How, when I was called to be the “Enrichment” counsellor in Relief Society, I hot-glue-gunned two of my fingers together at the very first enrichment evening. That I don’t quilt, have never scrap-booked, and was a spectacular failure at being “a normal Latter-Day Saint woman.”

I laid it all out: my efforts to become a “proper” LDS woman, and the end result. “I… SUCKED… at being a Mormon women like the ones in my wards” I told the women sitting before me, only to wince realising the Stake President was sitting directly behind me on the stand. Eh, too late, and it’s true, right? “And the truth? I don’t want to be. And the bigger truth? The church, and God, and our wards don’t need us to be. They need us to be ourselves.”

Because one thing I’ve realised in the past fifteen years since being baptised is that this is not a vanilla gospel. This is a gospel with flavours and chunks nobody in their right mind would willingly choose – except that their personal favourite is right there as an option, even if it is sitting beside the tuna-enriched lime sorbet (which may very well be someone’s personal nirvana). There’s ice-cream, gelati, sorbet, ices, tofu-mousses and each in countless flavours and variations – exactly like us, our histories, preferences, fears, hopes and efforts. The gospel doesn’t demand everyone choose vanilla in and as their worship, though sometimes the people we know through church expect us to like their flavour, and to choose it as well. Continue reading

The Lamest Calling

It seems like a million years ago when I went to my first Relief Society meeting as a grown-up. It was at BYU and I remember the lesson: it was about Visiting Teaching. I kind of had a grasp on what it was, having vaguely noticed my mother doing hers over the years. Our Relief Society teacher that day (the bishop’s wife, I think) stood up an informed us that being a Visiting Teacher is the most important calling we would ever have. I rolled my eyes. I was sure that the Relief Society president was slightly more important than me and my dumb Visiting Teaching.

Fast forward almost 25 years. I am now the Relief Society President and I am here to say that the Bishop’s wife was right on the money. Is it the most prestigious calling? Certainly not; most women kind of view Visiting Teaching as a lame, throw-away calling. But man, there is nothing more valuable to me that a sister who lovingly and regularly does her Visiting Teaching.

I had an episode with a sister in my ward last year who refused to let Visiting Teachers come over. She is relatively active but explained to me how she sees Visiting Teaching as nothing but a ploy for numbers. She would never call her Visiting Teachers for anything, she told me. She would call her friends instead. “Visiting teaching is a bunch of people pretending to like each other. It’s a waste of everyone’s time,” she announced. I’m glad we were on the phone and she couldn’t see me roll my eyes yet again—something I still do too much.

This is what I told her and what I tell the sisters in my ward. I don’t care how your Visiting Teaching gets done. I don’t care if you wear a skirt or go in yoga pants. I don’t care if you do a playdate with your sisters and their kids at the park, or invite your sisters out to lunch. I don’t care if you do it on the first day of the month or the last. I don’t care if sometimes it’s just a phone visit. I really don’t even care if you give the lesson.

This is what I care about: does she feel like she’s your friend? Do you listen to her and not talk too much about yourself? Do you make her feel like she can call you if something bad happens? Do you love her and can she feel that?

All I want from Visiting Teaching is for every sister in my ward to feel like they have somebody in their corner.
Continue reading

When Life Is Burning Down

Less than seventy-two hours after my husband told me he didn’t believe in God anymore, and that he also wanted a divorce, I sat on a pew at church and waited for the combined Relief Society/Priesthood class to start. Turns out, the lesson was about celestial – eternal – marriage. I lasted just under three minutes before I picked up my bag, and carefully walked out to my car. It was a violently clear, sunny day in the tropics, my hands burning on the door’s edge while the sky’s breath and heartbreak boiled my tears.

A couple of minutes lost to sobbing, then a shadow, carrying a very hesitant and unsure “Hey… Kellie?” It was a woman freshly moved into the branch, newly called with me as a counselor in Relief Society, who only an hour before had sat astounded as I explained to her and the RS president how my world had crashed in the course of a few sentences just days previously. I didn’t even know her first name.

She crouched down next to my open door, in the glare of the sun and in the sauna humidity of the day, and let me cry. I bawled for a long time. She stayed for all of it. She didn’t say anything. No words, just a quiet, sweating, tissue-passing witness to my grief and desolation.

I pulled myself a little bit together five minutes before Primary and my sons would be released back into the wild. I smiled soggily, disastrously, at her and shrugged. “It was just that topic,” I tried to explain.

“I know,” she said, shrugging herself. “I saw you leave, and didn’t want you to feel alone.”

She texted me that night. Her name was Kim.

I realised later that the chapel had held people I’d known for years, people who knew some or none of my catastrophe – friends and vipers both – but only one person came looking, and she didn’t even know me. Later still I realised it wasn’t because of indifference that my friends didn’t come out, but because they were stalled, immobilised by doubt and indecision.

I’m afraid of the space where you suffer

Where you sit in the smoke and the burn

I can’t handle the choke or the danger

Of my own foolish, inadequate words

I’ll be right outside if you need me

Right outside

The thing is, when our lives are an inferno, someone being outside is useless. It’s like the oft-used and absolutely still-born “Let me know if I can do anything” – so full of potential, while also so tragically lifeless.

What can you do? What can any of us do? Maybe acknowledge that life, this moment, this cruel and carnivorous and devastating inferno is eating someone (ME! YOU!) alive. Recognise it, and maybe do something about THAT. Whatever ‘that’ is.

What can I bring to your fire?

Shall I sing while the roof is coming down

Can I hold you while the flames grow higher

Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now

Can I come close now?

I’ve had all sorts of fires in my life. I’ve wanted and needed different things at all sorts of times during each blaze. I’m incredibly blessed to have two friends who are trained, glorious singers, and there have been periods when I’ve wanted them to sing some gut-wrenching, Valkyrie inspired aria to accompany the disaster, burning out to sea. When I needed to tell someone about how much my Poppy Col loved me, and how loudly he blew his nose. There have been moments when my deepest, most sincerest heart’s wish is for someone to come to my fire hauling a Molotov cocktail or seven. And a Tazer. With a fire-breathing, PMS’ing dragon to add a little extra flourish to the proceedings. One night I wanted someone to venture close, sit beside me, and watch the sparks of my old love letters dancing up to meet the stars.

So we left you to fight your own battle

And you buried your hope with your faith

‘Cause you heard no song of deliverance

There on the nights that followed the wake

We never thought to go with you

Afraid to ask

Months – even years – after my marriage ended, people have approached me to say they wish they’d done things differently. I’ve approached people to apologise for not doing something, anything, even if it was a simple “I have no idea what to say – just I’m so sorry this has happened.” I have to wonder sometimes if with so much perfection and Pinterest enthusiasm and posed Ensign photographs we fetter ourselves from doing a tiny something because it’s not more… well, significant, well-prepared and amazing.

I wasn’t left to fight my own battle in the car-park that day. Kim was nervous, and obviously uncomfortable, yet still settled herself straight down in the middle of the mess regardless. At that moment I had faltering faith, there was no song of deliverance as I realised that cherished covenants were busted, and hope was a charred, broken thing without wings. We know of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being tossed into the furnace and being protected, unscathed. But life can savagely and enthusiastically remind us that sometimes it’s the innocent, the loved ones, the ordinary are thrown into the fire, and left there.

Lay down our plans

Lay down our sure-fire fix

Grief’s gonna stay a while

There is no cure for this

We watch for return

We speak what we’ve heard

We sit together

In the burn

Kim didn’t offer to fix anything. She gave me no platitudes, no promises, no scriptural recourse or plans. She was Christlike, as when Christ – just minutes from raising Lazarus from death – first mourned with Mary and Martha, recognising their world burning to ash and ruin. While Christ had the miraculous cure for Mary and Martha, we’re not expected to raise anything, phoenix or otherwise. We are simply asked to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort (interestingly enough, which are detailed as being two entirely separate times, not a onetime deal), to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light. We’re not asked or expected of the Lord to take all the pain and flames away – just to lighten the burden, to sit together, in the burn. Please, to be there; in the ash, within the blaze, amid the life burning down.

What can I bring to your fire?

Shall I sing while the roof is coming down

Can I hold you while the flames grow higher

Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now

Can I come close now?

The quoted sections are the lyrics to “Come Close Now,” by Christa Wells, a song which has given me a poetic guide alongside my own determination to not be “right outside”, but to brave the heat, bring something, or even sing, if that’s what someone needs of me.

How have you braved the heat, to be with someone in the fires of life? Has someone done something for you, which reminded you that you were loved, thought of, not forgotten or abandoned in the flames? What do you wish someone would bring to YOUR fire? What shall I sing, while your roof is coming down?

Change Is Coming

I can feel change coming, taste it like dust and jasmine on my tongue, but I can’t work out the direction, or what it will mean, or how it will cause bits of me to crumble away and reveal the pink and twitchy bits I try to hide. From everyone.

Change is coming, and I’ve been sniffing the air, trying to identify which area it’s going to bite first. There’s a couple of contenders. One scares me more than the others though.

For some time now I’ve been recognising things I like, enjoy or love about being single.

I can have my chair, my lamp, my pillow the exact way I want without having/wanting/needing to be considerate of another person’s preferences.

I take huge amounts of delight in having no idea of which way I’ll be facing when I wake up. Some mornings I’m neatly on one side of the bed, the other half barely interrupted with a bump of linen. Other mornings the bed is a mountain range after avalanche, pillows clinging desperately to the side, sheets pulled free and I’m a monster starfish claiming sovereignty over every thread and surface. The headboard is just a suggestion, a signpost, not a magnet or alignment.

The household budget is mine. I can spend, save, splurge and systematically allocate however I see fit, and not have to juggle anybody else’s spending amid the columns and tallies.

I can pick and watch whichever weird and wonderful movie strikes my fancy, or funny bone, or fickle mood. I can watch the same move over and again, or just bits of it, and watch according to my timetable and wants.

I choose the groceries I buy, and don’t have to buy or cook food I dislike. I can read as late or as early as I want, wear my favourite raggedy shirt, have the entire wardrobe to myself.

I haven’t had a brain cramp working out what to get my monster/mother-in-law for her birthday or Christmas “From us” and all the emotional damages that would be loaded with it. I haven’t had to sit through barbed conversations at “family” dinners, or carefully word sentences dodging offences and verboten subjects.

I have no need to look good for anyone but me. Shaving my legs is a love note to myself, wrapped in smooth skin and moisturiser. Putting on makeup is an in-joke between me and the woman poking out her tongue half a breath away.

I can make decisions and just GO, no discussion necessary or negotiation required. What I say goes with the boyos, with no other power to present their case to. (In this instance God doesn’t count – we have established cases and rules concerning this in our household.)

I don’t have to wait ten minutes to use the already vacant toilet, or fight for the doona, or be irritated by the gnats born of sharing a bed and life and forever with another annoying, bewildering, frustrating individual.

Change is coming. I can feel it like a nosebleed, a muted weather warning, a burnt finger, a muttered curse. I can fight it – whichever form it takes, or whatever chunk of my life ends up in its jaws – I could be fearsome, all spit and vinegar. Or I could dance, hold onto the ebb and shadows and whirl into the new. Change is coming.

Fight or flight. Change.

Do you sometimes know when life is going to change for you? Have you ever had a prompting or premonition that life was about to get very “interesting”? How do you react to change? What is a part of your life that you are appreciating, enjoying, loving right now?

A Prayer List

prayer

I don’t remember when I learned to pray. I don’t remember ever being taught how. I can, however, go back in my memory, like a life review, and think of different times I’ve talked to God.

Lying in my lonely basement room and being so frightened that I could not move or speak words aloud. I prayed over and over to the Lord to protect and comfort me.

Kneeling by the side of my bed and thanking God for giving my sisters to me.

Asking for inspiration during the A.P. Biology exam.

Crawling in the back of the Ford Econoline van after being thrown out of the house in winter and without shoes or warm clothes and finding a blanket to wrap up in. Thanking the Lord for a small blessing.

Curled up in a ball in the high school hallway, crying over the news that my parents had separated again and asking God to just get me through it one more time.

Sprawled out on my living room floor, facedown, and arms extended wide in complete supplication and desperation. I think of the hours I stayed in that position, begging the Lord for a certain blessing.

Gently whispering to Him on an autumn night in a far-away country to tell me if the Book of Mormon was a true book.

Running through the house with a positive pregnancy test in my hand and yelling “thank you” to God.

After one particularly bad hour of prayer, telling God to “go to hell.”

Looking up at the dark ceiling night after night, the sounds of my husband’s breathing accompanying my pleas for my children’s’ well-being.

Taking a long white scarf and going out on my balcony under a full moon and dancing praises directed to the Savior.

Pretending that the Lord is in the passenger seat while I’m driving the mini-van and we have a good old heart-to-heart.

“And Hannah prayed, and said, “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” Samuel 2: 1-2

There are many ways to talk to God. Tell us about yours.