Category Archives: Slice of Life

Mommy and E

Stand as Witnesses

Orlando is a great vacation destination, but its location at the lower east corner of the United States makes it difficult for the majority of my family and friends who live in the northwest U.S. and Canada to pop over for a quick visit.  My nearest and dearest knew about the difficult life of my son, Ethan, and although they knew and loved him from afar, very few had stepped inside my home.  In the nearly 10 years that we have lived in Orlando, my family has come to visit, but very few of my close friends.  In early 2013, all of that changed.  In January, to my delight, Justine and her family came to Orlando for her daughter’s 12th birthday.  We spent some time together at the temple, went to church, and had dinner in our home while they were here.  They stood at Ethan’s bedside, murmured loving phrases to him, and held his hand.

Andrea and Justine

Then in May, Julie came to visit on her way to Cuba via Miami.  She had known him in Sacramento when we lived there, but marveled at how he’d grown since she saw him last.

Andrea and Julie

A few weeks later, the delightfully saucy Kel messaged me and asked if she could spend a few days with us while on her whirlwind trip through the U.S. from Australia.  She brought the little boys gifts of boomerangs and Tim Tams and a kangaroo pelt for Ethan because he loved soft, fluffy things to touch.  Later, she told me this about meeting Ethan:

“I remember walking into his room behind you, checking out the equipment, and as I turned I saw your face as you straightened. I had yet to see you mother, to see you with your kids, and your face in that moment was so soft and fiery and devoted it choked me up. It was a moment of truth, and I realised again that just being in your house, being in Ethan’s room, was a gift, a vulnerability, and I loved you for it and felt honoured.

‘Hey, Ethan,’ you said, “this is my friend Kellie, she wants to meet you.’

My god, did I.”

Andrea and Kel 3

Heather was also able to make it down from South Carolina during Kel’s stay, and showered us with gifts and lively conversation.  I realized after they left that three of my beloved Segullah friends had met my son for the first time.

Andrea and Heather B

Later that year, as Ethan’s health began to decline, Heather and Nate, Brittney and Andy, and Aaron and Stina all were in Orlando and all visited my home.  These were dear friends, some of whom I had known since college, who stood at Ethan’s bedside, stroked his soft hair, held his hand, and kissed his cheek as he neared his last days on earth.

Andrea and Heather

Brit and Andy

Aaron and Stina

Mosiah 18:8 – 9 counsels us to “…bear one another’s burdens that they may be light…mourn with those that mourn…comfort those that stand in need of comfort… and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places…”  It is not uncommon to feel helpless in the face of another person’s tragedy.  Death, divorce, disability – these things and more leave us groping for the right thing to say or do.  Our case was no exception.  Ethan’s disabilities were profound and his health was very fragile, and although my friends and ward members were willing, only a person with specialized training or a nursing degree could give me hands-on help with his day-to-day needs.  What meant more to me during that time in Ethan’s life were the people who came into my home, stood by his bedside, stroked his hair, held his hand, and bore witness to the life that he and our family lived.

Not all problems can be solved.  Not all hurts can be healed.  Not all losses can be restored.  Sometimes it is enough to stand as a witness.

A Joy and A Chore

Megan Goates is a Salt Lake City native with degrees in English, teaching, and writing. She blogs as a form of therapy at tooursurvival.com about raising boys. Two of her four sons have special needs; four of the four have lots of opinions. She likes it that way.

photoThat September morning, piles of dirty carpet and crumbling carpet pad overwhelmed my house. The combination of exposed tack strips and little bare feet turned the dreamy event of getting new flooring into kind of a nightmare.

As we watched for the bus and I kept my mentally disabled nine-year-old son Jack from menacing the tools which littered the floor, the carpet installer watched Jack with curiosity. He nodded and told him hello, then asked where he went to school.

After Jack left on his bus, the carpet man went to his truck and returned with a laminated obituary of a woman with special needs who had passed away a couple of years ago in her early fifties.

“That’s my little sister,” he said.

The high points of this woman’s life were written by someone who knew her well. Some of my favorite parts: she liked Big Red gum, Pepsi, eating out, singing duets with her brother (our carpet guy), and shopping at the dollar store. She had more friends than anyone else in her family and always had to have two dollars in her purse.

Her personality shone from the laminated newsprint.

Later, my toddler and I left for a walk and I considered the carpet man’s sister and her list of simple pleasures.

When we passed the school where the sixth-graders were wrapping up recess, I casually tried to spot my kid in the sea of navy and red polo shirts. I wanted a peek of my eldest in his element. Just before I rounded the bend in the path, half of the sixth grade spotted and recognized me, yelling, “Hi Henry’s mom!” Henry gave me a wave and a “Hi Mom!”

I decided that moment was worthy of a laminated obituary. My simple pleasure: being known as my kid’s mom by a happy crowd of sixth graders.

Before the walk and my celebrity moment by the school, when I finished reading the obituary of a woman I didn’t know, I thanked the carpet man for sharing it with me and handed it back to him.

You know.”  he said. “You understand.  She was a joy…….and a chore.”

At this statement my mind raced through myriad images of my family’s life, like the shuffling of a deck of cards.

I saw myself holding my redheaded baby as a geneticist diagnosed him with a rare syndrome.

I imagined every time a Code Brown covered the carpet, walls, and furniture and squashed my will to live.

I remembered feeling like I lived at Primary Children’s Hospital and at Early Intervention, or at least on the freeway which ran between them.

I recalled kneeling helplessly beside Jack’s toddler bed as he cried, listening when the Spirit whispered “Jack is a child of God.”

I pictured the after-bath miracle when three-year-old Jack, who had never before mimicked things we tried to teach him, imitated my husband opening and closing his mouth, saying “ah” to his hooded-towel clad reflection in the mirror.

I grimaced at the memory of ten years of difficult Sundays with Jack kicking me in the church foyer, screaming during the sacrament, and having no place to fit in during the two long remaining hours.

I tasted the sweetness of the evening two Christmases ago when my family sat together on the couch through an entire viewing of Fantastic Mr. Fox without a single person freaking out.

I swelled with emotion remembering when the bishop asked me at Jack’s eight-year-old interview if I believed Jack knows his Savior, and deeply knowing that he does, even though he can’t say it.

I recalled the recent day when my boys and I walked the long gray windowless hallway leading to the university behavioral health clinic, and I realized that place no longer holds any power over me. Victory and acceptance have replaced anxiety and despair.

I felt the lightness that accompanied a dream I had where a neighbor leaned over and whispered to me at church, “You don’t need to worry what people think about the challenges you have raising your children. You’re doing a good job,” and knowing it was actually God saying it to me.

On that September morning, my mind fanned through the everyday images of parenting a joy and a chore. I solemnly nodded at this knowing man stapling carpet to our stairs, who in five words summarized the essence of my life.

What things in your life are ‘a joy and a chore’?  Also, like “Big Red Gum,” and “being called my kid’s mom”, what are your simple pleasures?  How do life’s simple pleasures make the difficult parts more tolerable?

 

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?