Sunday, September 14, 2014

Different in Happy Ways

I've been considering this oft-quoted paragraph by Spencer W. Kimball for quite a long time now: 
Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. … Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.
Do I consider myself to be different from other women in the world? Well, yes. And also, no. My life is filled with friends I adore who are both women who are LDS and women who are not LDS, religious and not religious. I am different from ALL of these women. but also I am the same as them all in so many ways. No one else manages the same loads I do. No one else has all same tools and talents or the same (lame, ridiculous) weaknesses I do. Despite so many differences, I also recognize our sisterhood, our similarities.

Here is how I see the women I know: Some of them juggle life's demands without breaking a sweat. Some are optimistic. Some hold grudges. Some make me belly laugh. Some keep their houses way cleaner than mine. A few maybe don't (but I'm not totally sure about that.) Some think gay marriage is a blessing to many. Some think gay marriage is problematic to our society. Some drink Diet Coke by the bucketful, some are sugar and gluten-free, some enjoy coffee and wine, and some eat a lot of cookies. (Guess which one I am?) Some want the priesthood. Some don't want the priesthood. One has already been ordained a priest. Some don't know what priesthood is, as defined by the LDS church, and really don't care about it one way or the other. Some think I'm weird for being LDS but love me anyway. Some worship in the temple and have long heartfelt discussions about the atonement with me. Some believe in God loosely, some believe in God specifically, and some don't believe in God at all. Some are Christian, some are Muslim, some are Jewish, some claim no religion.

Pretty much I hope you understand that what I'm saying is that I love the women around me. I love our differences and I love our similarities. I love them for their goodness, for their kindness. I love them in their flaws, because of their flaws, and I also love them for their different paths in life and the things I learn from them because of those different paths. I love that we are different and I love that we are similar. I am a little jealous of those who keep their homes clean and those who travel a lot. I'm sad for those who struggle with mental and physical illnesses and for those whose home relationships are hard. I get frustrated about those who are offended easily, but then I forgive them, because, you know, they're probably offended  because of something hard in their lives, and hard things in our lives really can mess with our brains. 

I have also thought about happiness, and what this quote says about the happiness of women. Do I think that every woman I know needs to be like me to be happy? Heck, no. In fact, a lot of them are happier than I am. Do I think every woman I know needs to be in my church to be happy? Nope. I really don't. And about happiness in general: Sometimes I am very happy. That is a relief to say. I have fought hard to be able to say that. Sometimes I am not happy. Life is super challenging, you know? Like sometimes I want to just throw in the towel and let someone else take the driver's seat. And when I read a quote like the one above, I think, "Dang. If the growth in the church is determined by my happiness, I guess we are out of luck." But after rethinking and rereading, I decided that President Kimball did not say LDS women will always be super unflaggingly happy, no sadness allowed, but that we will be different in happy ways from some in the world.

Here are some of the ways I feel happy about what I have gained from being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

1. The doctrine of the sealing power of the temple.

The doctrine of the LDS church is that families can be sealed together for eternity. Although that is not always an appealing thought when dealing with some of our relationships here, the belief that we will be made whole and perfect in the next life and that we will then enjoy the relationships that were so important to us here is powerful and important. I believe the two things that will go with us into the next life are relationships and knowledge, and I like the idea that we will continue to grow in both.

2. An unpaid, called ministry.

I love (and sometimes don't love) that we as members of the LDS church are asked to do lots and lots and lots of different kinds of jobs within the church. Some of these we are well qualified for (right now I play the piano for the choir and teach a monthly lesson in Relief Society, our women's group) and some of these stretch us out of our comfort zones (my brother and brother-in-law are both serving as bishops of their congregations right now. This is a major commitment on their part and the part of their families, and the commitment lasts for at least five years.) We are asked to step up and learn to do new things. Sometimes we fail, and sometimes we get it right. Usually both.

3. Being asked to adhere to a set of living standards that can seem arbitrary. And hard.

No coffee or tea or even a little wine? Wearing temple garments and therefore, clothing that covers those? No shopping or restaurants, etc. on Sunday? No sex before marriage, and by no sex, we mean keep your hands off. Paying 10% of our income in tithing? Fasting once a month for 24 hours? Forgoing college and serving a mission for 18-24 months?

Oh, wait, I am supposed to say how we are different in happy ways.

Here's the thing! I actually think that for me, even these requirements have taught me happiness. Our Heavenly Father wants us to learn self-control, to learn that when we follow the guidelines he sets for us, we are able to live more freely. Would drinking a cup of coffee damn me eternally and make me a slave to my impulses? Uh, no. But a chance to learn more ability to control myself is a good thing. Now I just need to decide what to do about all those cookies.

4. Personal and institutional revelation.

This may just be my favorite thing in my church. I love that we are blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost when we are confirmed after baptism. I love that we are taught how to listen to this internal voice that guides, directs, and comforts us. I love that from the time we are teeny tiny, we are told that our Heavenly Father has given us this gift to help keep us safe and to guide us. We are taught how to listen to the Holy Spirit. We are told to trust our hearts when we are living according to commandment.

And then, as companion to our own revelations for our lives, we are blessed with leaders who are given the gift of prophecy and revelation. These are human men, with human flaws, but with godly power. And do I believe this? I actually do. I have had enough experience with personal revelation to trust that others receive it as well.

Is personal revelation only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No! Of course not. But I love that it is an integral part of our education from infancy on. And my experiences with it have been deep, powerful, and life-changing.

5. The priesthood.

This is controversial right now. I understand the pain that this subject has caused many of my sisters in the church. I think I might have a different perspective on this if I wasn't the mother of an 18 year old man, and the wife of a 47 year old man and the sister of many great men and the daughter of another great man. I believe the priesthood has shaped these men from the time they were 12 years old and has helped them to become more than they would be without it. I love to watch them wield the power of the priesthood when they serve in callings, but especially when they lay their hands on the heads of those I love or on my own head to bless with things that are desperately needed. I love the healing power of the priesthood. I love that my father could use the priesthood to bless my 7 year old self when I woke with legs aching with growing pains. I love that my husband gives my children blessings before they go back to school each year full of sacred promises and gifts. These blessings have tied our families together throughout the years.

I read a fascinating book about raising boys in our society a few years back. The authors discussed what is missing from the adolescence of so many young men to help them grow into good, honorable adult men. Some of the things they describe that I found fascinating were time in nature, a set structure with mileposts to note as they turn from boys to men, older men as mentors on this journey, and an opportunity to feel part of a bigger culture through serving those around them. Watching Josh grow from boy to man, I have been more grateful than I can express for a church culture that emphasizes these things. The men in his life have been remarkable. The Scouting program has given him many opportunities to be outdoors and to test his limits. The opportunities for service have been constant. The responsibilities he gains as he grows in the priesthood are wonderful.

(Do I want these same things for my daughters? YES. And I think that there is opportunity for growth in the church practice on this, but I also see much good in what they are given through the gospel. Could there be more done? Yes, and that is a subject for another day.)

6. Ties to a greater community.

I love that I know people in my neighborhood that I would not have known if we did not worship together. We are different in age, interests, personalities, and backgrounds, but we are pulled together in neighborhoods and communities, not by our choice of a masterful pastor or preacher or a strong youth program, but because we go where we are assigned to go. Sometimes these ward communities are strong in many areas, and sometimes they are weak, but they are our own, and we serve together and grow to love each other.

When Brent died, I had two visiting teachers (women who are assigned to visit and care for me...it sounds strange, but is such a gift) that I hadn't known long, both of whom are in a different phase of life than I am. They threw their arms around me, packing a gorgeous lunch and care package for our trip to California for the funeral, and showed constant love for me and my family. I have so much tenderness towards these sisters of mine. I wouldn't have known them without my relationship with them as visiting teachers. I love that they came monthly and sat on chairs and asked me how I was doing. I love that they made me delicious treats and that they cared about my children. I love that they showed compassion for me and interest in me. I love that I learned more about being a good visiting teacher and neighbor from them. (I wish I could say I learned enough to have applied these lessons, but I am still a pretty bad visiting teacher. There is time to grow, though, right?)

I could tell many stories about my faith community and about the people who have loved me and whom I have loved. I am grateful beyond words for my ward families.

7. Last, but not least, a focus on Jesus Christ

I know that in years past, there has been discussion in different circles about whether or not Mormons are Christian. I will allow those who wish to fight that battle to continue. It doesn't matter to me at all, because I know I am a Christian. I worship Christ. I accept His atonement and His grace. I know without it, I am nothing. I have felt the enabling power of His atonement. I have seen His grace change me. I expect it to save me. I love the four standard works of the LDS church: the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Each of these books testifies of Christ throughout and I have learned to love Him and to learn about Him through each of them.


So often it is easier to pick apart the institutions we are a part of than it is to celebrate the things that they get right. I have this tendency. I see much opportunity for growth and change in the ways that we are falling short as a church, but I also want to recognize the incredible blessing it has been for me to be a Mormon. I am happy in my membership in Christ's church. Does it solve every problem in my life? Do I live a blissfully happy existence? No. But the gospel stretches me, deepens me, changes me, and helps me to be better. And that's good enough for me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hello, again. (Yes, AGAIN.)

It is the end of April.

I have one more month until Josh graduates. (!)

One of my college piano friends lives in my current ward. On Easter Sunday, Josh, sporting a dashing pink suit, played cello with our ward choir (it helps that the choir director pays him gas money to come to choir) (and by choir director, I of course mean David.) After his performance, my friend and I were talking about Josh and his plans. I said, "I realized recently that I was two months older than Josh is now when I met you for the first time."

We both just kind of looked at each other, because of course, that isn't really possible.

And yet it is. When I was two months older than Josh is now, I left my home and traveled up to the wilds of Utah County and the practice rooms of the Harris Fine Arts Center. When I was two months older than Josh is now, I first laid my eyes on the man who would become my husband, and met some of the people who would become my dearest friends in the world. I threw myself into college life, into practicing, into trying to make myself into a person I would like more when I looked at myself in the mirror. It was one of the best years of my life.

I'm so worried that Josh won't know how to wake up to his alarm clock. And that he will forget to do laundry. Or his homework. Maybe I need to be praying instead that I can let him grow up and have faith that he will figure things out.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Seasons

I don't know if it is a side effect from being raised in California, but I cannot go through any season without my heart aching from the transitory beauties of each one.

The ache is a funny thing: mostly a reaction to sheer beauty, but also a feeling of loss that this particular beauty will last only days, and that I can't quite revel in it enough. I can't quite soak it all in. I can't quite pay it justice by noticing it the way it should be noticed.

When I was in college, I did a lot of accompanying. I loved it, especially when I got to prepare recitals with soloists. The bread and butter of a college pianist, though, is playing for voice lessons. I learned a lot of repertoire this way (and also heard a lot of bad belting. If you haven't experienced someone learning how to belt, you should thank your lucky stars.) Some of these songs have stayed with me ever since. One in particular was George Butterworth's setting of Loveliest of Trees from A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad:


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

If I take from my seventy springs, I only have twenty-eight more, and frankly, that is just not enough. I don't like thinking that I will only see the blossoms of spring that many more times, or the golden light at dusk on yellow aspens, or the sparkle of marshmallow snow under bright sun.

I admit, it is a sweet melancholy, a recognition of the gifts that each day can bring me if I just notice. I am feeling a recent shift to accepting the passage of time, which allows me to feel more peaceful about the falling of the leaves, the move into winter. But I think I will try to take Housman's advice tomorrow and the day after and head into my hills to soak in the transitory beauty.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Howdy!

So guess what? I didn't make writing one of my challenges four weeks ago. Oh. You already knew that, since I didn't write once in those four weeks? That's pretty funny, right?

I did miss writing, though. I replaced writing with practicing, as I had a performance on Friday. And guess what funny thing I figured out? I like writing AND I like practicing. And I like performing, too, especially if I don't have to memorize anything. It's a kind of liking that is laced with stomach churning nerves, deep breathing, and forced self-talk of a motivational sort, but a liking nonetheless. We musicians are a strange lot. I think we have a lot in common with base jumpers and lion tamers, except our fear doesn't haven't any actual physical danger to explain it, just the chance of public humiliation.

In these last four weeks, I also had some epiphanies and life changing moments. They were quite lovely and I will try to remember to share them soon.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Writing Instead of Cleaning

If you saw my kitchen right now, you would know that I should be cleaning instead of writing.

There's a lot of things I should be doing instead of writing. Cleaning the kitchen is the most obvious, but there is also the putting away of laundry, the digging out a little of the chaos of the storage room, or the garage, or my closet, the doing of the taxes (help. Seriously help), the planning of the group class tomorrow, the sending of the visiting teaching email report, the sending of the email to the PTA president saying "yes, I will meet with you and talk about helping with Reflections again even though I was the worst Reflections chair in history last year and never even gave the kids any awards or even gave back their essays."

All of those things would be more productive, and I definitely need to be more productive.

But I also definitely need the therapy I get from writing this little blog. Therapy? Yes. It works like therapy for me but is cheaper. I've done therapy, and I think it's helpful with the right person talking with you. It's helpful when someone knows which books to recommend and can say, "No, you're not a terrible person. You probably just have ADD," and you think "Oh! That makes a lot of sense! Yes! The fact that I can't finish a project to save my life might just be biologically hard wired into my brain!" But it's also helpful to go on a long hike with your friend, Tibi, because she says things that are just about as helpful, like "Maybe Ben would be happier if he had more sleep and this is how I go about helping Jake get more sleep," and you think "Yes! She's right! And also I would be happier if I had more sleep."

In this same way, writing is like a helpful conversation with someone a little wiser and more put together than the real me. It clarifies my thoughts and teaches me things I didn't realize I even knew. Sometimes I don't even recognize a truth until I'm typing about it and then, WHAMMO, I get it. I will admit, I might even be a little addicted to those WHAMMO moments. They're just that nice.

Here's the truth. I mostly have been writing because of my challenge. But coming back has made me realize that even though this mommy blog years ago morphed into a Kerri blog, and that used to make me feel a little guilty and a little self-absorbed, there's a reason that it happened. When I read truth from any source, I feel more able to cope with the insanity that I'm living. When someone opens up her heart and says "This is how it is for me," her writing becomes sacred to me. So if sharing truth is a sacred duty, and I kind of think it is, then dang, I guess this is where I'm going to do it. When I start my next challenge group again next week, one of my five goals will still be writing. So I guess that means you'll be seeing me again soon.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Too Much Time (?!?!)

So I have a few hours to myself in the middle of the day now.

It is lovely. I'm not going to lie to you.

But it is also a frustration, because all during those hours, I am asking myself if I'm using my time wisely.

And when you ask yourself if you are using your time wisely, I can guarantee you will start to find fault with the way you are using your time. (Or is that just me?)

Those of you who have journeyed this way before, tell me: How do I manage this new schedule? I have to exercise during these hours because of my teaching hours. So there goes an hour, plus then I have to get ready, so there goes another half hour. And then I make breakfast and sometime in there I have to eat lunch too. And those are time suckers. And there's scripture study. And laundry. And doing the breakfast dishes (ok, and sometimes the dinner dishes, too.) And taking care of the dog. And then BLAMMO. My day is gone and the kids are home and I'm teaching piano again and then there's dinner and homework and my kids practice time and reading time and family scripture time and trying to figure out how to help this kid with this problem and my calling and AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

I thought I'd get so much done. It's kind of sad. Will I get better at this? Or (as I suspect) worse? What has worked for you? Or if you haven't been there and done that yet and are fighting your daily mothering battles ALL DAY LONG ALL DAY LONG ALL DAY LONG (because I have definitely been there and done that!, are you at all screaming at your computer, "JUST ENJOY YOURSELF, YOU DUMB WOMAN! WHAT I WOULDN'T GIVE FOR JUST ONE OF THOSE DAYS"? I know. I totally know. I absolutely know.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

You Know You Love My Library Fine Stories

I just got an email from the Salt Lake City Library, letting me know that if I don't pay my (extremely large) fine within a week or so, they'll send me to collections.

A year or so ago I might have just ignored this email, since I haven't used the City Library in four years.

That was before last year when I was (yes, it's true) sent to collections for a Davis County Library fine of $53. I bring the humiliation of sharing this upon myself as a Public Service Announcement:

USE THE LIBRARY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

(Also, believe the library when they say they might send your fine to collections. They're not just blowing sunshine, friends.)

So I called the Salt Lake City library and asked why the push to have me pay a four year old fine. C'mon people...I thought I was free and clear. Four years is an eternity in library fine land!

The lovely librarian was extremely kind, but puzzled. She couldn't understand why I hadn't been sent to collections already (!) but after a little begging, she waived part of my fine. Not all, as I had hoped for, but still, anything is helpful.

Libraries are dangerous places to people like me. And by people like me, I mean book-loving people with book-loving offspring who just can't get organized to save their lives.

Sigh.