21 December 2007

Promises


What is a promise worth?

Several years ago, I was a young teenager in New York City. I was standing in the streets beside Ground Zero. The clean-up had ended years before, but the blocks and buildings within my sight all bore the scars of 9/11.

I gripped the fence and closed my eyes to the tears on my face, the reality that I would inherit a wounded world from the generations that came before me. Gazing at the hole left behind, I asked myself, "What will I do now that I've seen this absence? How will I make things better?" And I made a promise that I would always remember what I saw that day, and do everything in my power to honor it. Whether by becoming a soldier or supporting those around me, I gave my word to fight the battle.




I took this picture that day. It reminds me of the promise my Savior made to me. He promised he would always watch out for me, my citizen soldier. And even though he is misunderstood in our time, much like our soldiers all over the globe, the Savior is keeping his promise to all of his brothers and sisters. His promise means everything to him.

I love Christmas because of all it has to teach about promises. Heavenly Father promised the world a Messiah, and we celebrate the birth that fulfilled that promise. We read of Christ's life and ministry, and we learn of the ways we must keep our promises to our Father in Heaven and the rest of mankind; a tradition preserved to this day. All around us, even in the hearts of non-believers, is a peace that doesn't come at other times in the year. I've seen the miracle of that Christmas peace many times throughout my life. Even my father and mother tried harder at Christmas to protect the spirit of this special time despite their misgivings with each other. And my friends, although they are not Christians, have also put forth that same effort this year. One of my friends actually thanked me in her Christmas card for bringing that tranquility and sharing it with our circle of friends. She sees the power a simple promise of love can have--the ability to be carried over distance and time in the hearts of those who will keep it.

My heart goes out to all of the US military men and women who sacrifice so much for this country, especially today of all days. I promised I would honor the memory 9/11, and keeping that promise starts with remembering them today. May the peace of the Savior's promise be with them in all that they do, whether at home or abroad. May they be blessed with safety, comfort, and the knowledge of all the support they still have from everyone at home.

To any others, I leave my love and prayers with you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

07 December 2007

Yay!

The missionaries in the West Indies that went missing have been located.

I imagine they'll be embarrassed when they find out that their absense was revealed to the furthest reaches of the Bloggernacle. Probably the evening news in Utah too.

I'm just glad they're both OK.

05 December 2007

Prayers


Dear Heavenly Father

I'm so grateful that my application got to BYU, even though I put the wrong address on the envelope. Thank you for keeping my hysterics from becoming too dangerous to myself and others. Please do what you can to convince my mother that I didn't mean those nasty things I said at the post office when we were trying to send the transcripts. I know she didn't call me stupid, but that's what I was hearing. You know how bad I get when I go into emotional vertigo. Please help me to do better so I don't hurt the people I love.

Please be with that guy I saw on Mr. Bob's old patio today. I can't imagine that Mr. Bob's apartment already has another tenant in it, nor do I know why the guy was just sitting in the snow. Watch over him. I imagine he must need you.

I thought about a mission today. I'm still not sure what to do about my desires to serve. I know I would be good at it, but I can't afford it. If it's what you want me to do, I will go. I would ask that you will bless the missionaries out in the field, especially those two in the West Indies that just disappeared. Their families must be worried and in low spirits. Please be with them too.

My teachers need to feel your love Heavenly Father. I know I will eventually escape this place, but they can't. At least not easily. I try to respect their trials, and to help in any ways that I can. But I know that every time they whirl on their classes of belligerent students and yell, "SHUT UP! I'M TIRED OF YOU GUYS!" they lose something precious that cannot be returned. Please help me to know what I can do and say to make our thankless high school a little better each day.

But our problems are not so large. We have been reading about Africa the past few weeks in school, and my heart aches for your children there. Rape in Sierra Leone. Genocide in Rwanda. AIDS in Burundi. I feel so selfish worrying about the AP Calculus test I missed today when there are so many people living in poverty. Why am I so blessed? What did I do to deserve such prosperity? Instead, please remember the children. Comfort them. Bless them, not me. I do not think I have done much lately to deserve many blessings. Give them to someone who could really use them.

I am grateful for the time you have given me today with my friends and family, and to share the love I have for them. May they always know how much I care for them. Please, if nothing else, give them all peace. Even if it means taking peace from me. I will try to learn to take comfort in the peace of others instead of always wishing it for myself. I will need your guidance, but I've learned that you're a really good teacher. I'm sure you know exactly what I need to hear.

I pray for these things humbly in the sacred name of your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.

I spoke to a friend of mine today. She moved to Georgia some years ago, and I have missed her. Her family situation would make a great soap opera, I must admit. To make a long story short, she is dealing with issues of her own with her father. She has decided, after re-entering his life, that she would prefer not to have a relationship with him anymore. She has been talking to me about her situation because I have so much experience with less-than-perfect parents. I try to help her in any way I can.

In her most recent e-mail, she told me that she still struggles with the pain left over from severing all ties with her father, and yet she refuses to endure him any longer. Her resolve is so familiar, and the true miracle of her situation is a great relief. Few women ever get the courage to rise above a man like that. Look at the domestic violence statistics some time if you don't believe me. What she has to do is not easy, and her courage will give her strength. But finding strength, although the most important part, is not the hardest part of the situation she faces. I have learned the hard way that recovering from familial abuse is 10% situation control, and 90% healing/recovery. Fixing the inner scarring left behind by an abusive family member, in my opinion, is the hardest part of having an abusive family member.

I told her to "find something to give yourself. Give yourself something to love, because that's what the emptiness is. Something that no one can take from you would be best." I went on to tell her that prayer works when all else fails. If I've learned nothing else, it's that keeping a prayer in your heart gives you something that no one can take from you. My friend isn't Mormon, but because we're both Christians, we can talk about prayer and faith with each other when we need to most; a facet of our friendship that I treasure.

And so I think I need to add a line to mine.

Heavenly Father. Thank you for the friendship I have found in Katie. I pray that she will feel that she always has a father in you. Please stay with her. Please help her to cope with the hatred she feels so it doesn't ruin her beautiful spirit. Please help me to know if there is anything I can ever do for her.
I ask for this in the name of my beloved brother, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
May your prayers lift burdens (yours and those of others) this holiday season; the best gift never wrapped in paper.

23 November 2007

Stones

My father is returning to prison this month. I've been told that this time it's for 2nd degree assault and 4th degree burglary. Consequently, he has been contacting my sister a lot the past couple of weeks; thus following an absence of several months. I give my sister a lot of credit. She is much more forgiving than I probably ever will be. She is the only person on this planet that sees anything worth the effort in our father anymore. And honestly, I can't even fathom what she could see, he has fallen so completely.

I deal with a lot of cognitive dissonance because of how I choose to deal with my non-relationship with my father. When he calls, he now knows that my sister is the only person who will speak to him. If anyone else answers, he knows to ask for her. It used to be that if I answered the phone, I would hang up the second I realized it was him. But now I just pass the phone along or briefly tell him that my sister isn't home and that I'll have her call him. Then I hang up. He has learned that I refuse to speak to him because I have nothing I want to say to him that isn't infected with disdain.

I knew before I ever converted that a relationship with Heavenly Father would mean I would have to forgive my father. And I have tried. When I got my patriarchal blessing, I learned that I have a responsibility to serve my father; to pray for him and forgive him for all that has happened. Sometimes I do pray, which I don't find difficult anymore. But it seems like every time I nearly get to a sense of inner resolution for what he has already done, he gives me a new stone to throw at him; a stone that, because of the pain that he has caused me, I wish I could throw at him.

But I can't. Not just because catharsis doesn't work, but because I know better.




I spent all day redecorating my blog in a new layout. Its background is a pile of stones, to serve as a reminder of what Christ did for me. He protected the harlot that I used to be when he admonished, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8: 7) He protected me, his younger spirit sister, because he loves me. And, whether I can appreciate it or not, he loves my father too.

I know this. I know this in my mind, thoroughly. I know I have no right or authority to pass judgment on anyone; not when I have stones of my own that others could throw at me.

But at the same time, I cannot bring myself to speak to my father when he calls. I prayed for strength when I told him that he was no longer welcome in my life, and in hindsight I know my request was granted. But now that I'm supposed to make a re-entrance into my father's life, if for no other reason than to give him a Book of Mormon and my blessing, I can't do it. I refuse, despite my better judgment. Despite everything I've learned about Heavenly Father, and all of the sacrifices I've made, I still am not ready to make my ultimate sacrifice; and the opportunities to complete the task I've been given will only continue to gather like stones before me.

And it grieves me to know that there is only one way to truly get rid of them; and it isn't by throwing them.

13 November 2007

Non Sequitur

The Bible in pop culture is an interesting subject to analyze, especially when the forum in question is the funny papers.

A few samples of my favorites:

Adam and Eve. . .















. . .and the Fall














Moses. . .















. . .and Noah















And the imagery. Can't forget the Biblical imagery.


Part of what I hope to accomplish as a writer will be to preserve the Christian tradition of the English language. Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Austen, Eliot, Steinbeck; these writers have solidified the role of the Bible in literature. But because we live in a nation that views tradition, morality, and self-discipline as a worthless burden, I wonder how much longer that will last.

All I can do is refuse to give in. As long as I am writing, my prose will honor the standards that define me. My verses will have substance because I will not rely solely on my reader's hedonistic pleasures. The human experience is not so shallow as to be reduced to an image of Eliot's Waste Land. But my faith alone will not be enough to preserve the values that can save our nation from self-destruction. I must use my writing to be that example if I wish to glorify my God with my writing.

The gentle humor of Non Sequitur in these strips provides an example of how to keep our Biblical tradition alive and well. Certainly other ways have proven effective and have stood the test of time. Part of what my task will include will be to analyze what these other rhetorical strategies have been, and to learn to use them for myself.

And, as always, having the Holy Ghost as inspiration helps more than anything else. Call it a trump card, but I'll take what I can get.

08 November 2007

Gratitude

Bruce Almighty is one of my favorite movies. I love the way Morgan Freeman plays Heavenly Father as a character.



The film really raises the question, "If I had God's power, what would I do with it?"

This question holds a special place for members of the LDS church because we believe in eternal progression. We believe our purpose in life is not only to return to our Heavenly Parents, but to become like them in power and purity.

Having the power of the Almighty is almost unfathomable. As I sit here, I cannot think of anything I could do with God's power that would work out in my favor. A great example comes from Bruce Almighty; Bruce (with God's powers) decides to answer everyone's prayers by giving them exactly what they ask for. Consequently, more than half the city wins the lottery, and everyone walks away with about $6. You think you're doing someone a favor, and it doesn't do them any good. Ending poverty and hunger would invite some control freak to come along and oppress some unsuspecting group of people by taking their food away from them. God could spend all day fixing things, and it wouldn't make a difference because humans tend to create problems for themselves where they didn't have to exist. And when you squish the oppressors, you're labelled as an Old Testament people squisher that has no mercy.

If I had God's powers, I suppose there would be people that wouldn't hate me. But they would have a funny way of showing it. Like the Crusades. And self-help books. And all the others things that were supposed to be about serving God, but turned into something else. He asked us to love each other, and only do the things that reflect that love. The only thing I think I would even attempt to do would be to say that again. How you say it any louder than sacrificing your Only Begotten Son, I don't know.

I guess I could try. But honestly, "Love one another as I have loved you."

Why is that so hard?

If I were God for a day, I would switch things up. I would tell everyone to just shut up. Shut up for five minutes. Stop praying to me. Stop begging for the most inconsequential things. Stop expecting me to fix what I didn't break, and then tell me I don't exist because I don't help you. Stop yelling at each other over things that don't matter. Shut the T.V. off so you can hear me. Stop thinking about your money and/or your jobs. Gather your families close to me so you can hear me. And I would take a pause, just to make sure they appreciate silence for how beautiful and sacred it is.

Then I would ask the world a question for a change. I would ask them, "Why should I give you anything else, when you can't you be happy with what you already have?"

And you know something? When people can answer that question, really answer that question, the people in this world will know more about themselves, their Father, and the universe in which they live.

But until then, God will continue to humble us. Which tends to look something like this:



06 November 2007

Jokes

Caitlin: "Look. I drew little symbols for the religions on my chart."

She holds up a piece of paper. She places it back on her desk and stares at it for a moment. Then she looks up at me with a sly grin on her face. I brace myself for the Mormon joke of the day.

Caitlin: "Do Mormons have a symbol? Like, do they use the cross or something."

Me: "No. We celebrate the life of Christ, not his death."

Caitlin: "Oh."

I look away and sigh, grateful that the joke was innocent today.

Caitlin: "Look what I drew for Mormons."

I look at the paper. Under "Mormonism," she drew a bicycle.

I laughed myself all the way to AP Calculus.

31 October 2007

I LOVE House



One of my LDS friends and I both adore House M.D. Imagine our surprise when a Mormon character was added to the show. I have been following the new season closely since his addition, but she is teaching English in Russia right now, and has not been able to tune in. I finally found a link to a site where she can watch the new season after each episode airs, plus any from the past seasons.

On last week's episode, "Guardian Angels," House made a bet with a fellow doctor claiming that the Mormon was too wimpy and pious to lose his temper. As you can see, if you watch the episode, House lost the bet.

I realize that somewhere in America, surely someone was watching the show and thought to him/herself, "See?! Those Mormons are crazy! I knew it, they're the devil's chosen!" And I'm sure that somewhere not too far off, some Average Joe Mormon flinched and thought great, now people are going to think we advocate punching non-members in the face! And I suppose I could come up with a tangent about how this character will only add to our negative stereotypes, and how irresponsible the show's writers are for making him so non-traditional. But then I thought about the implications of that statement, and the character himself.

The writers have created an educated (not stupid), African American (not white) single (not married) father that cares about his faith and the Church. Considering the Mormon stereotype is a white man with multiple wives and a slew of children, having a character on a prime time show that deviates from this stereotype is a gift in disguise. Viewers all over the planet were forced to confront their misconceptions, if any, about our church and its members before Cole ever said a word. By portraying him as a college graduate pursuing a career in medicine, viewers must consider that Mormons are not blind; they are not hayseeds that maintain their faith out of tradition alone, or because they are too stupid to know better.

The writers also chose to make Cole African American, confronting the misconception that only white people can be LDS. But my favorite aspect of Cole's character is the fact that he's a single father; reminding all, including even LDS faithful, that families come in all shapes and sizes. And considering that Cole attempts to give a patient a blessing, the viewer can assume Cole to be a worthy priesthood holder. (How he is a single father, then, remains a mystery that has sparked my curiosity-- but that's not the point.)

When House descends upon Cole with irrelevant insults about Joseph Smith, the viewer's natural reaction is to sympathize with Cole; even the viewers with preconceived notions of Latter-day Saints recognize that he is being attacked for no reason. The viewer was waiting and rooting for Cole to finally snap long before he ever threw the hook to House's face. If that were me, I would punch him right in the face! the viewer thinks to himself. And when Cole finally caves, the viewer cheers, Yeah! Just like that!


For the space of ten seconds, everyone watching House was sympathizing with "the Mormon Guy." When Cole punched House in the face, it was like he completed a rite of passage with the rest of America. And maybe his reaction was not that of a kosher Mormon. Lashing out certainly is outside of the bounds of LDS doctrine. But like everyone else on the planet, even Latter-day Saints have a breaking point because they're human.

Could it be that Cole's reaction was a blessing to us? Could it be that behind the polygamy stereotypes, beneath the "magic underwear" of a Mormon is a person? With feelings?! And he lashes out when you make fun of him?!!


Imagine that!

Revelation in the form of an episode of House M.D.; non-traditional, I'll admit. But then again, so is life and the people in it. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

19 October 2007

The She-Bear



My senior class valedictorian tried to rip me a new one with secular logic when we were discussing a Richard Russo short story ("The Whore's Child"). When my friend saw that his disdain for religion in the context of the story did not impress me (there's a surprise), he resorted to bringing my own religious beliefs into the discussion; a cheap parlor trick that aggravated the she-bear within me. He won't be so lucky to escape with his pride intact next time.

A day or so later, one of my teachers discovered that I'm LDS. She informed me that she was LDS through most of her youth, and she laughed when she heard about my new (and first) calling as first counselor in the laurel presidency. Apparently, she served in her laurel presidency too. She explained to my friends and I that she is currently inactive, does not believe in God, and that her disdain for conformity and the enigma Joseph Smith led her to abort her own testimony.

Then she stared at me for a long time, like she had never seen me before. I finally had to provide a rebuttal to break the awkward silence. I offered a feeble explanation of how the enigmas in the Church's history a.) make it interesting, and I like it that way, and b.) do not influence the truth of the Church as it stands today, and that's the Church I joined.

President Hinckley teaches us that "the subtle reasoning of men, no matter how clever, no matter how plausible it may sound, cannot abridge the declared wisdom of God." I don't think members of the Church are the only ones who know that. If anything, that statement explains why a valedictorian, Russo's professor, and my teacher would feel so threatened by me when "all I did was pray."

I refuse to be intimidated by scholars and historians who will try to strong arm me out of the beliefs I've waited my entire life to find. I will not be bound to the notion that I must have a footnote and a tangible piece of evidence for every religious truth I claim! I would not accept a religion that could because it wouldn't be a religion.

At some point, you have to make peace with the mysticism of life. You cut the magic out of life, the raw beauty of the unknown, and your reasoning becomes a futile mess of nihilistic whining and/or logic without premise and motivation. And surprise; the number of people who aren't content with that is still a majority.

If you adamantly wish to cut religion out of your own life, far be it from me to stop you. But when you try to become the abortionist for others, that is when she-bears like me draw the line.

03 October 2007

Emmeline B. Wells: My Favorite Mormon

One of the many, actually.

From the diary of Emmeline B. Wells
Feb. 24. 1845.
"This day like all others is full of trouble sorrow and afflic- tion are my attendants O my God how long wilt thou suffer this once I could have filled this book with expressions of happiness but Alas sorrow is my portion I behold those around me enjoying the society of their dearest friends while I am cut short and why is it is it because of my sin and wickedness or is it a trial of my patience Heavenly Parent is the name of thy Holy Son Jesus do I beseech thee to pity and send comfort and consolation to an afflicted soul have mercy and forgive and grant me the desire of my heart and I will forever praise thee O that I had a mother or sister to advise me but I am cut short of all these blessings I have friends dare I unbosom my heart to them no no I know them not but those I have tried and proved I am not afraid to trust Grat Father of merciest be pleased to grant me the request of my heart."

I discovered Emmeline B. Wells while doing research for my women's history Personal Progress project over the summer. I instantly fell in love with her story because of the parallels that exist between it and the life I am living.

Emmeline Wells joined the Church when she was 14. She left her family on the east coast to join the Saints in Nauvoo, and finally settled in Utah as a plural wife. She blossomed as a writer, and was deeply involved in the woman's suffrage movement, writing articles for The Women's Exponent. She was a proponent of polygamy because she realized that the resulting social structure allowed for women to advance in propriety and spiritual growth. She became a Relief Society general president, one of the oldest women's organizations in the United States. She was also the first woman to graduate from Brigham Young University with an honorary degree.

Emmeline B. Wells did not confine herself to the ordiary life dealt to her at birth. Because she strived for something more, she lived an extraordinary life, and left an inspirational legacy behind her. And its her example that has come to mean so much to my life as a writer and a member of the Church.

29 September 2007

Shall the Youth of Zion Falter?




The temple has been re-opened in Tonga. Let me just say, I love temples; everything about the temple has already brought a joy to my life I never thought I would have. Performing temple work for my ancestors has restored unity in my family; something I never dreamed would happen. Seeing that a temple has been re-opened for the Tongan people is wonderful news, and I'm sure that the members in Tonga are overjoyed.

I was talking to a friend of mine today, who happens to be a member of the Church. He was joking and telling stories about his relationship with his (non-member) girlfriend. He carried on long enough and in such a way that I became concerned. In response to his remarks, I reminded him that if he chooses to date, he needs to be protective of that girl's virtue, if not more reverent about it. Regardless of whether or not she is a member of the Church, he needs to respect her enough to do that for her. Our conversation continued, progressing to tithing. He made a comment that he hadn't paid his tithing in over 3 years, and my brow furrowed. I asked him if his bishop knew. He said that he tells his bishop that he doesn't pay his tithing in every interview, and his bishops always says, "Now you get that taken care of," and then allows my friend to go to the temple to perform baptisms. I sighed, and ended the conversation. I didn't have the heart to hear any more.

I imagine the brothers and sisters in Tonga; how grateful they must be to once again have the Lord's sacred house open in their country. Before the temple was built, members would have been required to travel to New Zealand, or one of the other surrounding island nations that are also fortunate to have even one temple. I think of the Tongan members that might not have been able to afford such travel expenses, and how their spiritual growth was impeded because of circumstances beyond their control. In all honesty, I don't want to fathom how frustrating that would be.

And I don't have to. A trip to the Washington DC temple requires a drive that takes less than two hours. The trip is usually made in large groups with air-conditioned vehicles. And yet there are youth like my friend that have the experience all but given to him. He does not live entirely worthy to have the experience, nor does he intend to improve. He takes his spiritual decay upon himself, and I am just baffled.

I have been on the Bloggernacle long enough to know that a variety of opinions exist regarding the temple. I've read the personal narratives of both men and women that resent everything about the temple, and many things about the Church. I would hate to think that I am looking into the future of my friend every time I read those narratives. As a child of God, he deserves so much more than he is providing for himself, as do the authors of that writing.

I would urge us all to remember the youth of our branches and wards, whether they are our children or not. As someone who sees the other side of the Youth of Zion, I can honestly say that they falter in ways that are painful to watch on a daily basis. But there has to be something we all can do so that things don't have to be this way. Are there others in your ward or branch that also falter? Is there anything you can do to help? Could helping them be as easy as asking if all is well, and listening to them voice their needs? And if helping wasn't that easy, would you still try?

It makes sense that the temples, the house of the Lord, should be so central in the lives of humanity. They represent the home we left, and the eternal home that should mean more to us than anything. They are houses of order and peace that are meant to reaffirm to us that our Heavenly Father loves us all. Are we doing enough to take ourselves there, and to bring our friends and neighbors with us?

How many lives have to be lost, how many hearts have to break, before we will stand up and say, "No more," and take action?


Originally posted on Waters of Mormon
September 29, 2007

27 September 2007

Night



"Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more
than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject."

--Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, Illinois, October 9, 1843, History of the Church, 6:50

26 September 2007

A Gardener of Thought

A few updates:
  • I finally got my Shakespeare class put into my schedule. I started today with Macbeth, which is both a new and familiar play at the same time. The first time I read that play was at two in the morning, which does not come with a Paradox seal of approval.
  • I founded the Shakespeare Society, and the first meeting is tomorrow after school. Needless to say, I. Am. Excited!
  • I had my first meeting with the school publications class. As soon as I introduced myself as the editor, the hostility could have smacked me in the face. But by the time the meeting was over, we all left with the saccharine flavor of opportunity in our mouths. I just sent an e-mail full of writing and logistical proposals to the supervisor. After Shakespeare Society, I have to meet with her to hear her feedback and to put the production of our first paper into motion.
  • I am writing application essays for my intended colleges. I should mention that 300 words or less is an art form I have yet to master. I think if I approach them as poetry without the elaborate metaphors, I will be in better shape.
  • And on top of everything else, I wrote a talk on heeding prophetic council, which I gave this past Sunday. The talk I wrote and outlined, and the talk I actually gave were a little dissimilar. The spirit does not like my outlines, but you will not hear me complaining.
  • The best news: I was contacted by an editor from the Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. Their student site, NewsHour Extra, will feature an editorial written by yours truly about the Romney campaign. (Thanks again to John over at Exceedingly Curious for being the world's best proofreader!)
As you can see, I have been deeply involved with language in both verbal and written form. Because of that fact, I am loving every minute of my life these days. Reading, writing, and public speaking have always been branches on the same tree for me; and consider that metaphor. The world is full of trees of every variety (genre), and each has their specific needs (research), as well as survival needs (carefully crafted rhetoric and a lasting message). How well these trees are taken care of will determine whether or not their fruit is consumable by humanity. Pruning and careful preparation (editing and revision) are essential to a healthy final product. In that sense, I consider myself a gardener of thought.




As a part of my seminary studies, I was reading Moses 6, and the following passage caught my attention:
32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.

34 Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.

From my college application essays, I have been asking the question, "What makes me different from all of the others that look exactly like me? What makes me special?"

The difference in my writing is that I know who the tree really belongs to, and who makes it grow. I may apply the things that I learn in order to produce sweet fruit, but I do not create the blossoms. What I have is nothing more or less than a gift from Heavenly Father. The poems, the stories, the articles, the essays are sweet because they reflect His life inside of me. His life, not mine, is what has led me down a writer's road less traveled.

And like Robert Frost's road "less travelled by," my decision to walk with the Him, leaving forests behind me, "has made all the difference."

11 September 2007

We Shall Not Forget


"We shall not forget."

"United We Stand."

Remember those bumper stickers and T-shirts? The ribbons and yellow magnets? The store signs and the moments of silence? The American flag on every other house and car? The days when, if it was a flat surface, it had a flag on it? Do we remember?




Our school had a moment of silence today, and it was less than 10 seconds long. I thought I would have time to say a prayer, but no dice. I guess the silence just gets too heavy for some people...

I insist that I'm no better than the rest of them. Even I managed to forget what day it was, and my patriotic shirts remained in their color-coded position in my closet. I feel as if I managed to forget the promise I made to myself the first time I went to Ground Zero, when I promised to do all in my power to keep 9/11 from happening again. That promise meant the world to me, but where is it now?

And sometimes I think, "What can one girl like me ever do to stop a monstrosity like 9/11?"

When those towers fell, and that plane crashed, and those walls crumbled in Arlington, a monster was revealed for all the world to see. At the time, we knew the face of evil; hate mongers who would kill innocent people. Osama bin Laden drove our Orwellian Two Minutes of Hate, and we loathed and despised him for everything he represented to us. We swore in our hearts that we would never forget the face of the enemy. We promised ourselves that justice would be served.

I ask myself today, where are all of those promises now?

Tucked away in closets like old t-shirts that come out three times a year; Memorial Day, the 4th, and 9/11, if at all?

The hijackers of the 9/11 suicide flights sought to unleash a monster upon us. Our country was supposed to divide, crumble, and fall. Chaos was supposed to descend upon us like a plague. And because that never happened, we assumed we were safe. We returned to our lives, and the flags came down. The yellow ribbons became tattered. The bumper stickers became the empty promises that they are today. And in our state of complacency, we see the true enemy. And it's closer to home than we ever imagined.

I have met too many soldiers to ever believe that this war is not worth fighting. Wars may be started by Machiavellian leadership, but do they fight the battles? No. I wonder, at times like these, if the war that our leaders have declared is the same war that our soldiers are fighting. I wonder if the Iraq that we hear about in the media (the hopeless, lost cause that is the United States biggest failure since Vietnam,) is the same Iraq that is free of Hussein; free of the sons who raped the women of a ravaged nation; free to speak for themselves under their own constitution; free to pick themselves up as soon as they gather their strength; free to become the peaceful nation, a fresh start, for the Middle East.

I try hard not to think about how disappointed our Father in Heaven must be with us at times when He sees how we treat each other. Today of all days, two boys got into a fight as I was trying to get on the bus to go home. I couldn't continue walking for fear of being caught in the middle of their brawl, so I stood and watched with disappointed eyes.

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23: 34)

We were told, "Love one another; as I have loved you." (John 13: 34-5) And in 2000 years, how many of our brothers and sisters have remembered this "new commandment"?

Not enough.

If we ever want to grow beyond yellow ribbons, our fathers and mothers dying in battlefields, our brothers throwing punches, and our children living in an age of fear and violence, we have to start applying what we have learned! We need to remember what we have been taught long enough to use it!

Otherwise, our hope will be the next casualty; in which case, we will all be held accountable:

"Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." (Matthew 25: 45)

Remember?

05 September 2007

Iron-Fists & Priesthood Blessings

"Who among us can say that he or she has not felt fear? I know of no one who has been entirely spared. Some, of course, experience fear to a greater degree than do others. Some are able to rise above it quickly, but others are trapped and pulled down by it and even driven to defeat. We suffer from the fear of ridicule, the fear of failure, the fear of loneliness, the fear of ignorance. Some fear the present, some the future. Some carry the burden of sin and would give almost anything to unshackle themselves from those burdens but fear to change their lives. Let us recognize that fear comes not of God, but rather that this gnawing,destructive element comes from the adversary of truth and righteousness. Fear is the antithesis of faith. It is corrosive in its effects, even deadly.

'For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind' (2 Timothy 1:7).

We need not fear as long as we have in our lives the power that comes from righteously living by the truth which is from God our Eternal Father.

Nor need we fear as long as we have the power of faith." Gordon B. Hinckley
This week has proved to be no more productive than last week as far as my Shakespeare project is concerned. Frustrating? You bet. Every other word to my friends the second I saw them on Saturday was either "Shakespeare," "independent study," "principal," "bureaucrats," "administration," "irresponsible," "stupid," or "ridiculous." I knew that my frustration had reached a dangerous level by the middle of the week, and I was fully aware that I was spewing poison by Friday. I requested a blessing from the first priesthood holder I could find, which didn't happen until Monday. But as always, the blessing I received was worth the wait.




Patience, charity, the boldness to act (and not merely to be acted upon), and to find the answers I need in the scriptures; these are the highlights of the blessing that was given to me. In hindsight, and in light of the latest (lack of) development with the my high school administration, I see now why I need all of these specific gifts of the Spirit.

I chose the supervisors I did to avoid having to work with the head English teacher, with whom I have worked in the past. She is usually in charge of whatever play or musical our school performs, but having worked with her on a student production in my sophomore year, I wanted to avoid repeating the experience like a plague. But when I reminded my principal for the third time that he was supposed to pull me out of class to speak with me, he finally told me to "Go speak with Mrs. Morrison, and then I'll talk to her." I can see this meaning one of two things: he wants her to do the dirty work of telling me off by accusing me of creating a conflict of interest for whatever play she intends to perform (without buying the rights to, of course), or he envisions my project being something that could engage the student body culturally without requiring as much money as her interests, and wants her to consider what I have to offer. Considering he hasn't looked me in the eye once the entire time I've been trying to get his attention, I don't give him that much credit.

Could this be a turn of events that could benefit the project? Maybe. Who can say for sure? But I've dedicated almost a year of my time to bringing Shakespeare to Liberalville somehow. And now, I have more than natural stubbornness backing me up at this point. I've seen the power of priesthood blessings in the past. I have no problem believing that Liberalville might just get turned on its ear by something a little more powerful than my stubbornness. Maybe I just wasn't supposed to make the attempt on my own.

Regardless, I refuse to let the fear of rejection to keep me from trying to leave Liberalville, and my life here, in better condition than I found it. I won't just fade into the background like my principal seems to wish so desperately that I would. I've had plenty of practice holding on when the "popular," "safe," and "acceptable" thing to do has been to let go. (Honestly, does he have ANY idea who he's dealing with here?)

Thank God for iron fists and priesthood blessings. I have learned, and have a firm testimony of the fact, that I can turn to the latter when I need the former.

30 August 2007

Frustration

"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23: 34)
I love this scripture because I would not have survived this first week of my senior year without it.

I have been planning a Shakespeare independent study since October of last year. This project has months of my time invested into it. My guidance counselor has lied to me, my supervising teacher has ignored the situation, my principal won't speak with me, my mother doesn't know how to help me, and I don't know who else to talk to anymore. I can't explain their reactions, other than to assume that they're all hoping I'll lose interest in my project and go away. But I believe too much in what could be accomplished to let that happen.




I've been bringing my scriptures to school in hopes that they'll be a measure of comfort to me in my (mostly) silent frustration, and the Word of God is once again my only link to sanity at a time when my life is saturated in madness. However, my friends have also taken it upon themselves to contribute to my burden with snide comments about my faith. "Do you have those weird Worship CD's from the TV commercials too?" was the question that my long-time friend asked me yesterday, even though I've never disparaged her for being an atheist a day in her life.

My head tells me to say, "it mattereth not, I am not angry." (Alma 61: 9) But I have been lied to and deceived so many times in the past few days, how can I say to myself that I'm not angry when that's exactly how I feel?

But I am blessed. I am blessed with a look into the Savior's heart, and to know how he felt when his disciples doubted him. I am blessed to know that I can turn to Heavenly Father and His Son in prayer, and to receive the comfort that they have provided for me. I have been blessed with resolve to continue fighting for the chance to write this play, and to give the student body an opportunity to grow and to understand the relevance of Shakespeare in their daily lives. And as I continue to tell myself that the minor setbacks "mattereth not," I'm beginning to believe on His words. My stubbornness has ebbed enough to allow me to be patient, and the wait does not seem so long, but also no less urgent. I prayed to know how to be calm yet persistent, and I've been blessed with that understanding.

As I reflect on the past few days, I realize also the opportunity that has been given to me that I never would have had if everything had gone according to plan. As I was leaving the classroom of the one teacher that believes in my project as much as I do, my old Publications teacher asked me if I was still interested in being the editor of the school newspaper. I accepted, and now I have the only student forum under my direct influence. And believe me, if I wanted to, I could drag the administration through the mud. But part of saying "it mattereth not" is to forgive the trespasses of all men. And even though I have a responsibility as a student journalist to remind the administration that the student body has a voice with concerns, that voice is more likely to be heard when it isn't dripping with disdain anyway.

Such is the life of a writer; not for the faint at heart, the timid, the weak, or the prayerless. And without a doubt in my mind, I attribute the gains that I've made to my Father in Heaven, and never to my own understanding. His spirit is what allows me to stand firm in this modern-day lion's den without fear, to walk boldly across tightropes because I know why my poise is solid, why my balance is centered, and why my heart is true.

I may not understand why others have treated me so harshly; but when I think about how much I've gained from this experience, I can say with tested and mature confidence "it mattereth not."

26 August 2007

Happy Baptism Day!

And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Jacob 2: 32)

Today is the anniversary of my baptism; tomorrow, my confirmation. My reflection over the past year began at noon today when I was in Young Women's; the same time I was being submerged into the waters of Mormon last year. I remember how anxious and serious I was from the very beginning. I knew that converting to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would take my life in an entirely new direction. My mind was overwhelmed with everything that was rampaging through it.




I remember wanting so badly to finally be baptized, but at the same time wanting to savor the experience. I wanted to be saved from my iniquity, but I wasn't sure I could say goodbye to the natural girl in me. I wanted to be righteous, but I was afraid that I would fail miserably. My confidence in my decision never wavered, but I was unsure that I could be the Saint He wanted me to be. I knew my past better than anyone else, and I wasn't sure that my life had the adequate materials to create a Saint.

But I was willing to try, and was soon blessed with more materials than I even knew what to do with. And ever since then, I've never had a second thought about my life, and the direction it has taken. I testify that those who seek to come to the Lord's fold will not be turned away; we may be tested, but we are never forsaken. We may be tried, but we are never forgotten. We may be lonely, but we are never alone. How can I even do His love justice with words?

I quickly saw that my baptism was only the beginning to the life that was in store for me. I had so much more coming to me that I never could have foreseen. My patriarchal blessing, my first trip inside the temple on my birthday, my mom accepting that Mormonism is my religion, and the LDS and non-LDS lives that He has allowed me to touch along the way. Even today, my newest friend from Germany was asking me and my friends about "For Strength of Youth." And just recently, my classmate was wondering how to get a copy of an LDS Bible because of how great the concordance is. Little instances and opportunities to bless lives like these remind me of how far I've come, and how blessed I've been to truly know My Father in Heaven and His Son. And of course, "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever." (Moses 4: 2) My life would be nothing without everything They've given me, and I can only hope that I will continue to be faithful and strong in Their mission; to Endure to the End like the valiant Saint They saw in me before I did.




My life is at an Autumn, a season of changing, and I have no idea where the Lord will take me. But as long as His loving hands are around me, I will not fear. As long as I have His love, His Son, and His Church in my life, I will not be lost. I will not be a sin-beaten tragedy crying for a name.

I will be His beloved Paradox; quirks and all.

23 August 2007

Barefoot & Pregnant

Only the other day a letter came to my desk from a woman who wrote at length of her troubles. In a spirit of desperation she asked, "Does a woman have any promise of some day being a first class member of the human race? Will she always be a piece of chattel wrapped in a chuddar acting only by the permission of the man who stands at her head?" (A chuddar, incidentally, is a very simple shawl worn by women in India.) She then continued, "To me the answers to these questions are no longer important, but I have daughters. If it is possible for a woman to look forward to an eternity of anything than being barefoot and pregnant, I would like to be able to teach them this.

There is bitter tragedy in the lines of that letter. I fear there are many others who may feel that way. The situation is tragic because it is so extremely different from what our Father in Heaven would have for his daughters. Behind this woman's words I see the picture of a wife who is discouraged, starved for appreciation, ready to give up, and not knowing which way to turn. I see a husband who has defaulted on his sacred obligations, who is calloused in his feelings and warped in his perceptions, who denies through his manner of living the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt that there has been fault on her part as well as his, but I am inclined to think that his is the more serious. . .

I am offended by the sophistry that the only lot of the Latter-day Saint woman is to be barefoot and pregnant. It's a clever phrase, but it's false. Of course we believe in children. The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families. But he did not designate the number, nor has the Church. That is a sacred matter left to the couple and the Lord. The official statement of the Church includes this language: "Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have the greater responsibility not only of bearing children but of caring for them through childhood, and should help them conserve their health and strength. Married couples should exercise self-control in all of their relationships. They should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel 
--President Gordon B. Hinckley, Cornerstones of a Happy Home, (1984), 1–11
The first time I ever heard the phrase "barefoot and pregnant" was from Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees. I had wondered about the phrase privately, and I see that randomly trolling around Google is within the spheres of influence of the Lord to answer our most private and desperate questions. But I've had some time to ponder "barefoot and pregnant," and I admit that I linked it immediately to the image in my mind of Molly Mormon; a woman who, among other things, is too afraid to have her own thoughts and to stand up for them.




And perhaps I should clarify about my perception of Molly; I don't begrudge the woman who seeks after a more traditional lifestyle with a man at the head of the household. I've seen the formula in practice, and it works in making the family functional when it's done correctly. What I dislike is what the Prophet recognized right away; when those traditional roles are used against a family out of petty need for control, and in the end it leaves the whole unit destroyed.

President Hinckley's image of a family where encouragement and love do away with the need for such dominance and dysfunctionalism is, in a word, beautiful to me. And for some reason, it's rare; even among the Saints I know. I give the Saints a lot of credit; they divorce less, they are more connected as families, and they tend to be more loving and positive people. But there seems to be a misconception, even among us who should KNOW better, that some of us are a little closer to Heaven than we actually are.

I think every ward has those one or two families that do their best to shine their light, and go the extra mile. Those families that volunteer all of their time and energy into helping the church programs, who never miss a Sunday, and whose children and home radiate the spirit to all who come to visit. On the surface, they look as though they've got it all figured out. And I know I depended on that for the longest time as the vision of my future, that level of perfection and selfless gospel living. But when you're friends with someone long enough, you find out about the skeletons in their closet. And you still love them anyway. But inside, you feel taken aback because you wonder, "if they aren't as close to perfect as I thought, then what shot did I ever have of getting it right?"

Or maybe it's just me. But that anecdote is absolutely true about one of the families in my branch. And I joked with my friend that I died a little bit inside when I discovered the reality of the situation, but it really did change my expectation of myself within the Church because I literally saw that no one is perfect-- nope, not even them.

We're fortunate in that our Father in Heaven wasn't the one who suggested we strive for perfection. He gave us agency that we might become righteous, which really does provide hope for nutters like me.

My best friend has been struggling with his testimony ever since I met him over two years ago, and I've literally said and done anything and everything I have thought of during that time to get to the root of the problem. If I can stop one heart from aching, I shall not live in vain, right? He would laugh if he heard me say that because he knows it's true. He's like my older brother, and it pains me to see him suffer. He has never told me what he struggles with specifically in his testimony, but my guess is that he resents the expectations.

For him, I think righteousness and perfection have always been links in the same fence. I think he has always wondered if there isn't more to this life that he just doesn't get to see because people have been trying to "shelter" (his word) him with fences all the time. My disdain for Molly and Peter, I think, are rooted in everything I've experienced with Jacob. He has taught me that just because a young man doesn't want to go on a mission doesn't mean he has lost his place in Heaven. He has taught me that testimonies don't have to be cookie cutter repeats in order to be "right." Most of all, he has taught me how to reach people who need someone to see them; not the mold that they're being shoved into, but THEM. He has taught me to see a person's needs, not my wants for someone else's life.

And I think for now, that's the only way for the Saints now to live with those who are on different walks of life. We can't all be saints and martyrs, but we can still "be one." (D&C 38: 27)

Modesty at Seventeen

First period French III was probably the most useless class since my fourth endeavor with computer keyboarding. The one redeeming quality to parlez vous francais-ing with MY class was that we had some pretty candid moments together. One in particular stands out to me that involved a tete-a-tete with the Human Growth and Development teacher and Rachel. The cognitive dissonance that resulted has never settled for me, but that ends today.

Scene: Rachel and Steven are pretending to do their work as usual, just like the rest of us. And by that, I mean blatantly not doing it at all. The teacher, a native speaker, doesn't give us much that could be called work, and we don't care enough about foreign language to do anything about it. So at the start of this scene, Rachel is sitting on Steven's lap, and I can instantly tell you it's not what it looks like. That phrase has never meant anything coming from a teenager, and even less when Mrs. Human Growth Teacher comes into the room.

She takes one look at Rachel and snaps, "Get off of that young man's lap young lady. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior. Come to my class and I'll teach you modesty." And I instantly wanted to start laughing, but we were all respectful. We waited until after Mrs. Human Growth Teacher left the room before we laughed in her face. All I could think at the time was, The Mormons are coming! Lovers of laps and miniskirts beware! And honestly, you have to know more about my hometown before you can understand why that's so funny.

Should I have laughed? Probably not. But I'd be lying to you if I said I would take it back.

I had this scene in mind as I read this editorial from the LA Times. And naturally, I have to come to Modesty's rescue.

Modesty, for me, is about being comfortable. I don't want to yank, pull, tuck, fix, cover, recover, check, double-check, and otherwise be fixated on my appearance all the time. My friends and family will tell you; I'm not full of myself enough to care that much about what I look like. For me, being modest is not only easier, but it's rewarding. I never have to worry about what I look like when I descend to/ascend from chairs. I can stretch without a hassle, and tie my shoes as many times as it takes without have to put a wall behind me to hide peek-a-boo knickers. I don't have to cross my legs if I don't want to, and guys look into my eyes when they talk to me. People see who I am, and hear what I'm saying instead of only seeing what I'm (not) wearing.

Plus, in all honesty, I think I've spent enough time compromising my virtue for one lifetime. My body stays covered these days because I've seen what happens to you when you treat your body like a visitor's center instead of a temple.

I now call your attention to this part of the editorial:
"It's not a lack of female modesty but a sense of male entitlement that leads to sexual violence. And the idea that we women can change men's behavior by changing our clothes is not only disconcerting, it has been debunked. As millions of women know all too well, no one ever avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt."
Two logical fallacies here: 1. she's wrong and 2. there's no way she can prove her claim either. Even a brief bout with common sense will tell you that if you put a modestly dressed girl and a lover of miniskirts side-by-side, even Average Joe Mormon is going to pick the one in the mini-skirt when all other variables are equal. I do give our Young Men some credit, but the majority of them don't really deserve it, and they know it. Call me wrong if you'd like, but I've watched it happen. If you don't want to come up on a guy's radar, then dressing modestly is a great place to start. Silly you if you think that's ALL you need to do, but modesty is a start. I've faded into the background enough times to know. And if being the object of male fantasy is something that bothers you, I recommend wearing some pants with that belt you call a skirt.

I think people mistake Modesty for things that it isn't too. See here:
"And therein lies the problem with so much of the modesty movement. Scratch the surface, and what's supposed to be good for girls reveals itself to be all about the boys: dressing in a way that doesn't over-excite them, demurring so that their manhood remains intact and holding tight to our sexuality until we find a husband who is worthy of that ultimate 'prize.'

What's lost in this view of the world is the power of female desire: not just sexual and sartorial but professional and intellectual. There is something liberating about a girlhood (and womanhood) that is not lived solely in anticipation of, or in response to, a man. There's something freeing about a world in which women have the right to take risks (and to get mad)."
I remember the warnings we got before we went to Youth Conference; "Young Women, let's please dress responsibly. The Young Men will be there, and we need to be considerate." I'll agree that the fixation on the opposite sex, especially in the young LDS culture, is a bit unnecessary and distracting. I agree with Emmeline Wells, a journalist from early church history that I think every woman should know:

"All honor and reverence to good men; but they and their attentions are not the only source of happiness on the earth and need not fill up every thought of woman. And when men see that women can exist without their being constantly at hand... it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them."
My modesty isn't about appeasing other people, and it really is nice when they don't have anything to bother me about. My modesty certainly isn't about attracting the right sort of guy, although I'm sure one day it will, if it hasn't already. All of these reasons only reflect what modesty is really supposed to be about; the one thing girls wish could co-exist with miniskirts, but never has.

Safeguarding my virtue behind my clothing is about having peace of mind that only comes when vanity and sex appeal isn't at the forefront of my attention. THAT is a liberation I wish more women would pursue. There's no liberation in being the traditional feminist; standing around in revealing clothing and ranting about your rights and prerogatives as a woman.

But you know what? That kind of revelation gets you crucified in my hometown, as you've seen with Rachel. So I may settle for the silent example, but at least I'm setting one, right?

Right.

15 August 2007

Teenagers

I have a problem. A big one actually. It looks like this:
"Who gets inoculated? Teenagers? Right. Just select a teenager you think is a good candidate for a dose of historical inoculation and try to get them to read Story of the Latter-day Saints or Rough Stone Rolling. Go ahead, give the teenager in your family a copy of American Moses or By the Hand of Mormon for Christmas and see if they actually read it. History just doesn't click for teenagers. They are too busy being teenagers: high school, homework, youth programs, incessant socializing, college and mission plans. No wonder they don't read books. . .
When? Seminary is too early: they're not really listening."
Innoculation is a term that was discussed at the Sunstone Symposium, where all the big-name bloggers on the Bloggernacle talk about the Church and blogging. Sounds innocent enough, right? Until you see assumptions like the one provided floating around. And, of course, I have to set the record straight, because that's what bloggers do.

I love the way the Church treats teenagers on paper. Youth Conferences, Seminary, EFY, Young Women's and Young Men's, and even seminary. These programs are all designed to give teenagers a fighting chance to be the righteous people that our Heavenly Father wants us so desperately to be so we all go Home one day. And as I remember the churches that I've been to in the past, and the utter lack of youth-oriented anything, it almost hurts me to say this:

Too many youth leaders and every-day Saints do not realize how much they don't pay attention to who we really are and what we really need.

Who says teenagers don't like history? Who says we don't read, or think about our place in the Church? Who says we all have to be self-absorbed know-nothings that view the Church as the most boring and perfunctory thing on the planet?

That's not who we are!

I'm sure those teenagers exist somewhere, but they're by no means the majority! (And I for one don't blame them for feeling as snubbed as they do.) But I'm fortunate in that I go to branch where the youth are few in numbers (less than 20 even when we combine), but we all genuinely care about the gospel.

I've been to youth conference and EFY. All of the teenagers I met there were all sincerely interested in the work of this Church, and becoming better Saints. And you know what I wonder? How many of these youth have comments, like the one above, tossed around about them? How many teenagers let false assumptions about the Youth of Zion roll off our backs because we know what Jesus would do?

As a teenage convert, I have never struggled with whether or not the Church is true. What I have struggled with is my ability to live up to the high standards I've set for myself within the Church. Other youth that I have met have asked me what being the only one in my house is like for me. I've never know exactly what to say. I've been working on it, and this is what I've come up with:




A very delicate and precarious balancing act; a tight-rope walker with just as much to lose from falling as an acrobat does; my life. It's exhilarating at times, knowing that my strength and talent, my grip on the Iron Rod, and the poise from my Heavenly Father is what keeps me stable. It's exhilarating to know that each day I become stronger because of the way I live.

But at the same time, it doesn't take a lot to make the rope sway, and it's both frightening and lonely in such a high place. Being the enigma on the high wire is exciting, but there are days when enigma crosses that fragile line into the territory of the freak show. Some days, as stated in Footloose, I'm so high up I have to look down to see Heaven.

But there are also days when I consider throwing myself from the wire for want of a little peace and anonymity. And I must say, knowing what the adults of the Church really think about us teenagers doesn't help the fragile operation.
I know I'm not the first teenager to live this life, and I know I won't be the last. And I'm not complaining as much as I am revealing the truth about my situation in response to false misconceptions about the youth. And you know what? I'm GLAD I was given the circumstances I was dealt. Being born into the Church doesn't look like it's any easier than what I deal with. At the end of the day, those born into the Church usually have their families to turn to, or at least the assurance that time will not sweep them away because they've had years of practice of, at the very least, laying low.

But I couldn't imagine going through the same lessons year after year since BEFORE the age of 8. I imagine it would get very old very quickly. My heart goes out to any member that struggles to find any kind of identity among all that repetition. I can only pray that they know how much their Father in Heaven loves them, and that the leaders are doing the best they can with what they know. And I'm all for meeting halfway for now. What I don't like is the prospect of staying at halfway point.

Having said all of that, it really sets me off when adults in the Church make light of the dedication that the Youth of Zion have for their Church. We tolerate a lot out of the goodness of our hearts, you know.

We tolerate the fact that the lessons are boring to some, and yet completely new and foreign to others.

We tolerate that every single one of those lessons even begins and ends with same apology! ("I know you already know all this, but. . .")

We tolerate the fact that seminary starts at 6 in the morning in some parts of the country. (*cough cough* Here!)

We tolerate the fact that the adults in the Church assume that we care so much about our social lives that we couldn't possibly be concerned enough about Church history to own Rough Stone Rolling.

You're talking to someone who bought Rough Stone Rolling at EFY because it looked interesting, and because I have such a personal connection to the plight of the Prophet Joseph Smith. You're talking to someone that does home seminary with a manual and its redundant questions because 1.) I'm not allowed to go to the seminary at 6 in the morning, and 2.) Deseret Book's shipping of anything better is a catastrophic disappointment to anyone who doesn't live on the west coast.

You're talking to someone who was cornered in a discussion about Church history at my public high school, in the middle of a test by a teacher who knew better. You're talking to someone that bothered to go out of her way to LEARN the Church's history because nobody was teaching it, and I was tired of being one-upped by anti-Mormons all the time; especially because I KNOW this Church is true! You're talking to someone who has basically sacrificed any kind of relationship with my family because of my loyalty to the Church; the hardest sacrifice of all.

There's nothing I wouldn't do for my God, and by extension, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Is it fair, then, that teenagers are so looked down upon. My life is just ONE example of the numberless LDS teens out there that care just as much as I do. I know all of this ME-talk has to be unattractive, but quite frankly, so is everything I'm calling attention to!

And we can either sit here and point fingers at each other, wishing that things were different; or we can change them! If the lessons have been in circulation too long, and they're missing both sides of the coin (that is, converts and otherwise,) then re-write them! Certainly there's a better option for seminary than 6 AM! And if this Church is true (which it is) then why are we so insistent upon tucking all of our rich and powerful history away in shoebox somewhere?! Let's give those anti-Mormons something to talk about!

Make no mistake; I love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love the leaders who work so hard to make it the best it can be. I even love the person who made the comments that I'm objecting to so strongly. Only by acknowledging what we need to change will help us change at all. And things may not be ideal in the Church, but we really shouldn't forget how good we have it. If my biggest problem is that I can't get replacement scriptures in under 6 months, then I'm doing all right. But, if nothing else, I implore any and all of my readers with any respect for anything I've said to rethink what they say about and to teenagers; I promise you, there is more going on behind our sadistic little smiles than we lead people to believe, especially the longing to be faithful members of a Church we help to build.

And all I'm saying is that if you're asking "shall the Youth of Zion falter?" then I assure you, then answer is "HECK NO!"

13 August 2007

Eternity with Paradox

I acquired and finished Stephenie Meyer's newest novel, Eclipse. President Faust passed away a few days ago. I didn't go to church yesterday because I was in Annapolis with a good percentage of my extended family.

What do these three topics have in common? A single word that never meant much to me until I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Eternity.

We hear about Eternity on a regular basis in our meetings (keeping an eternal perspective, marriage as an eternal covenant, the temple being our bridge into the eternities), but I wonder if the term becomes any more meaningful from the emphasis we place on it. Even when I'm making statements related to my religion, I can't help but wonder if using the word "forever" means anything coming from me. Teenagers say "forever" about even the most trivial things. Can I help wondering if I'm any different?

But I've had a few opportunities to "be still," as our Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley advises, and to contemplate the layers of meaning that make up the onion of Eternity.

I hated romance novels until I read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. But her characters are beyond captivating, and her stories reflect gospel principles in ways that are tasteful and appealing to both LDS and non-LDS audiences. When I finish her books, I leave them with a renewed sense of what love is really about. Stephenie made a statement in an interview on Amazon.com that Twilight is about finding true love, New Moon is about losing true love, and Eclipse is about choosing true love.


Eclipse reminded me that Eternity isn't just a goal to be reached at the end of this life. Eternity was in full swing before I got here. By actively keeping my world spinning by investing my energy into self improvement, I make choices that are always shaping and changing my world. As Meyer brought her book to a close, she illustrated an important point to me that I had never considered before. The main character, Bella, must choose whether or not she will pursue true love, and it comes with a very high cost. She would have to leave every aspect of her life behind her, including her family and friends. She would never have a normal, American Dream kind of life with the white picket fence, 2 1/2 kids, and a dog. She would have to sacrifice more than she could comprehend or even appreciate, opportunities that she would never know about, all because of one choice. But her choice has to be made, and she has to do make it for herself.

I imagine that Meyer's non-member readers may look at that and think, "How discomforting..." but that's what we, as Latter-day Saints, have to consider with everything we do. Our whole way of life is based upon the concept of Eternity, and making decisions that are permanent even in death. Our words, our deeds, our spouses, our families require a level of responsibility that cannot be taken lightly because they are literally FOREVER.

When I think about my life with this perspective, I cannot help but have an increased sense of reverence about why I'm here, what my life's mission is, and getting things right the first time. But at the same time, I worry all the time about making decisions that I could live with forever if I had to. I doubt I'll ever do things perfectly, but I've made an important distinction as a recovering perfectionist: there's a difference between doing something right and doing it perfectly. And I find that the more I understand that distinction, the better off I am inside.

President James E. Faust had his own special place in my heart, even if I didn't have the experience with him that, clearly, others on the Bloggernacle have had. I remember learning more about forgiveness from his General Conference talk than I ever learned on my own. Forgiveness is something that I struggle with when it really matters, and I'm glad I have his talk to help me through it. Maybe with this small piece of his legacy, I can become a better person, and come a little closer to the kind of Eternity I'd like to see for myself and my family.

Having leaders like President Faust with such wise counsel reminds me that agency is not supposed to be a daunting curse; it's a gift that, if we could not handle the accompanying responsibility, we would not possess such power. If we follow the instructions and guidance from our leaders, learning all the time to be more virtuous, then eternal glory will not seem so far beyond our reach.

I admit openly that I'm a recovering perfectionist. It's more than just wanting things done right the first time; it's a level of anxiety that has been unhealthy for me at times, but has been a cross I bear (I'm sure) for a purpose. But what if our crosses are too heavy? What if we fail in a hard moment? Even though (and I even dare say, because) I didn't go to Church yesterday, my testimony of family history work was strengthened.

I know I left my family gathering with AT LEAST 50 new names to add to our family tree, not to mention that my normally chaotic family was together in the same room, being civilized, and helping me to do the work that their loved ones have been waiting so long for someone to do. I remember once upon a time, I didn't want to do my family history because of how difficult it seemed. But I've been blessed with the help I prayed for, and the work is being done. And just watching this unity in my family, this miracle unfolding before me, I return to a realization that family history work always seems to bring with it. Our Father in Heaven believes in second chances because He loves us, and He wants to bless us with eternal life. The tricky part is deserving it.

But what is deserving? I agree that obedience is important, but I learned a long time ago that choosing The Other Option doesn't have to mean Choosing the Wrong. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure I broke a commandment by not going to Church and not taking the Sacrament.

But by choosing to "eat crabs" (they eat them, I watch) with my family, I further fulfilled a mission that was given to me in my patriarchal blessing, which serves my family on both sides of the veil.

Does my choice have consequences? Sure! I find it much harder to go throughout my week when I haven't taken the Sacrament on Sunday.

But is that what you have to be willing AND able to do sometimes? Absolutely! May not sound right when you say it like that, but the point of this life isn't to make sense. If that were the case, brussell sprouts and Liberace would not exist.

The point of this life is to learn about Eternity, and to be able to live our lives in a way that reflects our acceptance of what is expected of us.

And whether that point reaches you through a Young Adult romance novel, the First Presidency, or even from playing hooky from Church, is entirely up to you.

25 July 2007

"What's in a name?"

"Hester's nature showed itself warm and rich; a well-sprung of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world's heavy hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her, --so much power to do, and power to sympathize, --that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

What I find interesting about the above is both the symbol shift AND what I know about the author. Hawthorne is a descendant of a magistrate from the Salem Witch Trials, John Hathorne. Hathorne's legacy brought shame and condemnation to his posterity that even Hawthorne (his grandson) allowed himself to inherit, which is evident in the themes and conflicts of his books.

Redemption has been on my mind quite a bit as of late in light of Harry Potter, both because of the book's contents and because of the memories it has brought forth. Shakespeare's timeless question echoes to the reaches of my current state as I consider, "What's in a name?"

And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.

The scriptures are full of examples of names, and how they reflect the individual they identify. Naomi is such an individual who forsakes her birth name because she felt she had fallen from grace, and no longer deserved to be defined as "Pleasant."

Another example comes from 2 Samuel 11 about Bath-Sheba, whose name means, "Daughter of the Covenant." How does she live up to her namesake?

3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath-Sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?

4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay
with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
Names and the stories behind them are really interesting to me because of the trials that have come along with the name that I inherited. My last name, it turns out, isn't tied to heartbreak exclusively from my father being an abusive alcoholic. My last name has meant "Dark/Evil foreigner" in Irish Gaelic since about the end of the 7th century. It came to pass that a bunch of vikings thought it would be a marvelous idea to invade Ireland, burn and pillage the monasteries, and wreak ten kinds of havoc all over Creation. That's a a great story to tell the grandchildren, right?

My first name didn't appear any better to me for the longest time. As I would search for character names for my stories and poetry, I would sometimes question my own name, and how well it fit me. In my mind, I didn't have an interesting name. I had a best friend growing up whose name was Guinevere, and I adored that her name had a story. Even children with Biblical names, although common, have the ability to look to the stories behind their names, and to find some measure of direction, or a lesson, or even just a sign that their parents put effort into what would identify them for the rest of their lives. And I know I only feel that way because I found out from my father that I was named after some blonde actress from the 80's. Plus, my name is also a flower, which was really detestable when I went through my stage of rabid feminism.

But I came to appreciate my name when I learned the lesson behind it. My first name actually has a legend, which I will paraphrase in order to keep from using my name in the description.

Long ago, the daughter of a poet fell in love with a brave warrior. He left to find fame and fortune, and would marry his beloved upon his return. But the poet's daughter was in a field with her father when a messenger brought her terrible news: her love had been killed in a fierce battle. With his last dying breath, he had whispered her name and pledged his undying love to her, while clutching his final gift: a small purple flower. After hearing tragic news, the woman ran to a nearby field, her gift in hand, until she was surrounded in the same purple blossoms. Her tears turned them white, and she wished that the new flowers would bring good fortune and protection to all of those fortunate enough to find them.

After hearing that story, I appreciated my name for the first time in the 17 years that I've had it. By nature, I'm very protective, and the details of the legend were so closely intertwined with my life that I wondered if my parents were really the ones who named me after all.

And as for my last name, I take comfort in the lesson I learned from The Scarlet Letter months ago that I haven't soon forgotten. If Hester Prynne can take a scarlet punishment that causes everyone to view her as filthy and unclean, surely I can take my name and bear it also. Surely I can use the agency, which has been my greatest gift, and associate my own life, my mission, my virtuous and upright nature with this legacy I've inherited. I may not be able to unwrite the stories of those who came before me. But my name, my story, will be my own; without the shame and disappointments of my forefathers.

"What's in a name?"

That's for you to decide.

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