23 August 2008

Exodus: The Miracle

I've been in Utah just over a week now, and my vacation time with The Patient One's family is rapidly coming to an end. I have enjoyed my time with them so much. They have really helped to make Utah feel like home, and I'll always be greatful for that.

Since I've been here, I've already seen so much. The first Sunday I was here, The Patient One's mother took me and some of our visiting friends to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I had never been to the Conference Center before, or seen Music and the Spoken Word, and it was nothing short of breath-taking. My eyes lit up the second I saw the organ. That little graphic on the front of the hymn books does NOT do it justice, let me tell you. I'm STILL fuming at my cell phone for being dead because I couldn't take pictures.

My first church meeting in Utah was rather odd, for reasons I can't quite articulate. Probably because I was the youngest person in Relief Society AND Sunday School, and I'm not used to having those meetings come first OR being completely silent in them either. And while I learned much from the lessons that I tried to take with me, I don't think anything they could have said would have prepared me for what I realized was coming the second I saw The Patient One again.

Have you ever wanted to tell someone something so badly that the thought of not saying it brings you to tears? Have you ever had the bizarre experience of having absolutely no idea what it is you want to say, only that you need to say it? You try not to bring it up because you've already made attempts to express the inexpressable, and you can't imagine what else you could possibly say. And meanwhile, you honestly feel like you're losing it. The littlest things force you to excuse yourself to hide in a bathroom, or a closet, or even in food storage just so you can regain your composure... little things like the smell of his cologne, the sound of his voice from across the house, the way he hugs his little sister for no apparent reason, or how peaceful he looks when he closes his eyes to pray. And then of course there's missing him when he's sitting right next to you.

So I did what any well-trained Young Woman would do. I prayed and read my scriptures to find some semblance of guidance for how to approach The Patient One about what has been left unsaid between us. Surely there's SOMETHING in the owner's manual about this kind of thing.

I pulled out my quad, plopped it open to a random place and started reading. Isaiah 27. Shivers ran down my spine. 27 is a HUGE number in my life. My confirmation date, the date of dorm check in, The Patient One's birthday, my favorite hymn, my favorite psalm, my favorite Shakespearean sonnet, and now the latest piece of guidance to my troubled mind. (I don't consider myself superstitious, but I know when to shut up and listen.)
1 In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
2 In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine.
3 I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
4 Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.
5 Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.
 I read these verses through tears because I wanted so desperately to believe that they are true. I wanted to believe that The Patient One, the most important person in my life, will receive the answers and guidance he needs and deserves... an affirmation that Heavenly Father has not foresaken him, or abandoned any of the promises He made with him. I wanted reassurance that Satan would not go unpunished for what he has done to my dearest friend. I wanted guidance to know that encouraging him to seek answers in the Church wouldn't result only in more heartache for the both of us.

So I took these verses for the promises they held, and I put them in my heart. I had something to hold onto as I prepared to re-approach a subject with The Patient One that has continued to weigh heavily on my mind as a task given by Heavenly Father that I was unable to meet: getting him to speak about his secret struggle to his Bishop.

So with the help of his sister, we spoke to him about our concerns for him. He took it all in silently, staring ahead blankly without saying much at all. Only when we begged him to speak did he finally utter anything at all. He finally confessed that he felt no urgency to speak to the Bishop. He said that if these feelings are from God, there's nothing the Church can do anyway; and if they're from Satan, God has been content to allow it all to happen anyway, so what difference does it make?

With all of the seriousness and sincerity I could muster, I told him--without even thinking--that wasn't true and pleaded with him not to let Satan lie to him like that. I reminded him that I knew what it felt like to hate God for abandoning me to parents that have done horrible things to me... to want answers, justification for what I faced, and not to receive it until years later. But I testified to him that I knew God had sustained me through all of what I had faced, and He never forgot or abandoned me.

"God will never forget the promises that He makes to any of us," I said, "that's why I'm here right now."

As soon as I finished, I knew two things; the first being the truth of my words, the second being the fact that they weren't mine to claim.

And in his usual fashion, The Patient One said nothing.

I've experienced things in my life that have made me so angry I've wanted to hurt other people, and I've experienced sadness so complete I've wanted to hurt myself just to make it end--but the feelings I had in that moment surpassed both of them to become something I may never understand. I was instantly so drained, I couldn't hold myself up anymore. My forehead rested against his shoulder for several minutes before I could lift it again.

After all this time and everything we've shared, even when I'm sitting right next to him BEGGING him to speak to me, he still holds me and the entire world at a distance.

His sister said some things about his going to see the Bishop, but I didn't hear most of it... only the silence roaring in my ears of all the things he wasn't saying.

Eventually he sighed and said it was time for us to go to bed, but I would have none of it. Not until I was sure we were getting through this time. I asked him to pray with us.

He resisted at first, and he and I went back and forth briefly about who was more tired and therefore shouldn't  have to say the prayer. Then I told him, "I'm not getting into a pissing contest with you about this, now say the dang prayer." I wasn't proud of that, but I knew he needed to do this, and I would have stood on the table and screamed "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN," if it would have accomplished something.

And naturally he was somewhat grudging in the beginning. I don't remember most of what he said because it was very late, but I remember the tone of his voice. It started out hard and rigid, but eventually it softened, and by the time he finished I heard peace in his voice. I thanked God from the core of my soul for even this small blessing because there was so much more I wish I could have given him, but I knew this was only the beginning.

I hugged them both goodnight, lingered at the bottom of the stairs, then finally went upstairs to the guest room where I said more prayers, then finally collapsed into sleep.

Soon after that experience, we took the bus together from his house to the BYU campus--the first time I had ever seen it for myself. We left at about 6:30 am, and for a while it was really easy to be around him because we were so preoccupied with figuring out where we were supposed to go. While we were waiting for one of the other buses, we actually got to watch the sun rise. I tried not to find any romance in it, but that was pretty futile. By the time we hit I-15, I had given up on trying to hold my ground and slumped my head onto his shoulder. He seemed completely oblivious, but I know him better than that.

After getting off at the Wilk, we basically wandered around until we finally figured out where I was supposed to go for my job interview--after which, I was hired on the spot. I picked up my student ID card and tried to finish the paperwork for my employment, but wasn't able to. We headed over to the library to look up an address for a credit union that I needed. Then we went and had lunch, and I had to fight with him for several minutes to eat the other half of the pizza that I didn't want because I knew he was hungy, only to have him say it would have been better hot. *FACEPALM*

It was all very rushed, which made being alone with him much easier.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. On the bus ride home--which took a very long time--we listened to his iPod. Big mistake on my part. I'm a firm believer that you can learn a lot about someone by the books on their shelves and the music on their MP3 player. In his case, it remains true. It got to the point where I began to weep silently next to him. I know for a fact that he didn't notice.

So when we came to an intersection and he said it would be quicker for us to walk the rest of the way, I took the chance to throw my energy into movement and to put my mind on other things. It took a few minutes for me to recollect myself, but we had plenty of time. It turned out to be a 4 mile walk in the desert heat at the hottest point of the day. Fortunately we had plenty of water. Never listen to someone about a walking distance if he has ever done Cross Country. They have no concept of distance anymore.

He seemed to understand that I was very frustrated, so perhaps it was a mistake on my part to break the awkward silence by admitting that I wanted a gun. He asked if I was really that irritated with him. I said I wasn't mad at him, and he probably didn't believe me.

We made it home safely, and by then we were talking freely to each other again. There were so many things I felt like I wanted to say, but I had no idea what they even were, so I talked about everything else. That's how conversations tend to go with him because he's so content to live in his own little world, and only comes into contact with this one for things outside of himself.

Which is what makes what happened next such a miracle to me.

After praying and reading my scriptures many, many times as I sought guidance from the Spirit that I could understand, I repeatedly came across the commandment to fast. So I did. I started a 24 hour fast and kept to it strictly. I had no desire to eat, only to find answers for the questions that were burning inside of me all the time. How do I get him to go and see the Bishop like You commanded me? Is there hope for his future? What can I do? What should I say? And in that state of holiest hunger, I've more answers given to me in a way I have never experienced before, and never imagined could happen. But I was still afraid to press the issue more with the Patient One. I prayed for intervention.

And it happened in Sacrament Meeting.

His bishop dedicated the entire meeting to the youth. He had them speak about their many experiences from different camps and activities in which they had participated over the summer. Then he took the stand and praised them all endlessly--their strength to endure well in the gospel, to hold to their standards despite great temptation, and for the optimism they bring to everything they do. He marvelled at their courage for facing issues in these days that he, like President Monson, can scarcely imagine and he hopes they will always come to him with any problem they ever have.

It took every ounce of my self control NOT to jump off of the pew, grab his face, and scream, "SEE?! Now will you go?"

But he got the hint. He started inching over to the bishop's office after the meeting, but never made it to see him. But the fact that he is FINALLY willing makes my heart swell with joy and testifies to me that Heavenly Father hears our prayers, cares about our fasts, and fulfills the promises He makes to His children.

Funny how He only tries to teach us what we should already know anyway, huh?

16 August 2008

Exodus: The Flight

People have always called me a pioneer for being a convert, and I've always questioned whether or not I deserve to be compared with people who made so many more sacrifices, and lost so much more than I ever did. But now that I've made my cross country journey, I can appreciate their analogy a little more.

My flight to Atlanta was both short and mildly uneventful. The most interesting part of the flight was sitting next to a mother-to-be that I had pleasant conversations with. It was her first time on a plane, and she was worried about many things--knowing where to go when she landed, wearing the seat belt in her condition, seeing her family again after so long--and I tried to reassure her in any way that I could. I talked to her about her daughter-to-be (Jillian Marie), and we fawned over her beautiful little life in a way that only women can. When there was a break in the conversation, I prayed for little Jillian and her mother. And as I looked around me, I felt the need to include other nameless strangers in my prayers. The military men and women that all seemed to be wearing the same inordinate expression; a mixture between muted interest in their surroundings, and a stoic worry masked only by a disciplined face. I prayed for their strength and well-being because I've met enough members of the military to know that they all need prayers.

I prayed for people I didn't even know, despite my non-affinity for Ms. America prayers (you know the type-- Dear God, please feed the hungry, let everyone have peace and happiness, etc.) because it felt right, and it meant something to me that day. I guess there really is a time and place for everything.

We landed in Atlanta, and with my 50 pounds of books and an overstuffed laptop case, I waddled awkwardly down the narrow aisle and stepped into the Atlanta airport for the first time in 2 years. And wouldn't you know it, some things never, ever change.

Swarms of people wandering around confused and unaware of where they're going, cutting people short as they wander into Burger King and other such stores on the other side of the corridor--completely unaware of the fact that they literally almost made me drop everything I'm carrying and fall flat on my face. You wouldn't believe how many times this happened. (Note to readership: Look where you're going when you're walking, and don't cut in front of someone if they're already walking faster than you are. Especially if they're carrying something that is close to half their body weight. Chances are, they care more about where they're going than you do for your need to stop and search, ponder, and pray about whether you want Subway or Chick-fil-A!)

And of course, leave it to Atlanta to not only to put the Salt Lake flight in a terminal on the other side of nowhere, but to then CHANGE the terminal to the OTHER other side of nowhere.

Then delay said flight.

Then, after finally boarding said passengers ONTO said flight, return them all to the airport because SOMEONE forgot to shut one of the doors on the plane.

I kid you not people. It was a LONG. ARSE. DAY.

But once we were in the air headed to Salt Lake City, it was just a matter of time before I would be in the place I've dreamed about my whole life--the place I would leave Maryland for. The place I would finally call "home."

I took pictures out the window with my cell phone, watched the second Tomb Raider movie on my laptop, played Free cell, noted changes in the geography below me, anything I could to pass the time. Eventually I got tired enough to start nodding off, so I drank something caffeinated (Coke people, relax!) and spent the rest of the flight ignoring the in-flight movie and staring out the window. I mean, nothing I brought with me to do even began to compare with the God's-eye-view of my country I had through my little window. I didn't want to miss a thing.

And then, for the first time, I saw desert. Green patches finally gave way to sparse shades of brown. Brilliant reds Crayola has yet to name and mass produce painted the earth below as the terrain became more jagged and barren.

Are these mountains? Are they so big that I can't see them? How will I know when we get to them?

Then we got to them.

Colossal peaks jutting into the sky, daring me for a second to ever forget them as long as I live, let alone describe them. I cannot do them justice... not yet anyway.

And as our flight started drawing to a close, the mountains seemed to get bigger and all the more inspiring. And as soon as I saw the Y on the side of that mountain, I knew where I was.

I had no words. I just got really excited and tried not to cry.

I began to count the chapels and temples that I could already see from my place below the clouds. I saw parts of the BYU campus that I already recognized (X marks the spot, or rather, the ASB). I noticed the way everything seemed to be cradled in the hands of the Salt Lake Valley, protected on every visible side by mountains, and I already felt safer than I ever have before.

I saw the Salt Lake Temple, and laughed at myself because it never occurred to me that it wasn't actually blue.

And finally, we touched down in this, my new world.

Finally made it, I sighed with relief.

They requested that those with connecting flights exit the craft first, which made no difference to me. As much as I love my books and don't regret a thing about bringing them out with me, I wasn't at all excited about picking them up again. Not when I could already feel the blisters forming on my shoulders.

But I had an entire city, my new home to explore. That was all that mattered to me.

So I made my way to the baggage claim and begged for my suitcase to be there... and nearly collapsed from exhaustion when I didn't see it anywhere. But thankfully, THANKFULLY, a brief trip to the baggage office proved that they had it on a shelf back there for WHATEVER reason.

(I'd make a joke about God calling ahead just to Job me one more time, but I don't want to invoke the punishment of another Delta flight.)

So with my 80 pounds of luggage, I wheeled myself slowly out to the passenger pick-up place and practically threw myself at the bench. It was really warm that day, so I was already sweating.

And yet... it didn't feel like I was. I lifted my hand to wipe my brow, but there really wasn't anything there. I took my hand and waved it in the air in front of me.

Nothing. No moisture. At all.

Heat without humidity. My first revelation in a land full of things just like it that I just don't understand yet.

But as The Patient One's mom pulled up in her white Yukon, I knew the worst was behind me. I picked up my bags and tossed them in the trunk like they weighed nothing at all because that's how it felt.

I did it... the words I lived for... the ones I love to say to myself even now, days later... and will never get tired of saying.

I did it... I did it... I DID IT!!!

14 August 2008

Exodus: The Departure

Getting to this beautiful place was nothing short of nightmarish. From the time I woke up to the time I was picked up from Salt Like International, it was just one crisis after another. And for someone who is as easily stressed as I am, I really began to wonder if I was going to make it.

My day was supposed to start at 5:30 AM because I was to meet my boss at the gas station with my mom so we could drive down to the airport together. We had to coordinate because of some logistics to pick up my boarding pass. And so I had a cell phone alarm set for 5:30 AM.

It decided to go off at 6 AM instead, and my mom wasn't even home from work yet anyway.

So with no possibility of a shower, I threw my clothes on, brushed my teeth, threw my hair into a ponytail and tried to take my luggage outside to meet my mother. It was extremely heavy and awkward to move, and I ran over my foot in the process.

We met my boss at the gas station at 6:30. I felt really bad that we were so late because I know what traffic is like down to their physical therapy clinics, and I knew she had early morning patients. I knew making her late was really going to mess with her morning, but I knew there wasn't anything I could do about it.

We finally got on the road and headed to BWI. By this point, the reality that I was leaving was full force. I wasn't sad. Or scared. Just nervous to trust that I wouldn't be making the trip back to my place in a few hours. I was simply nervous to trust my own luck and abilities to get me as far as I needed to go--but I couldn't think about that. I knew my mother's confidence was entirely wrapped up in my own. I had to be strong for her.

We got inside to check in and pick up my tickets, and the kiosk wasn't recognizing any of the information my boss was putting in. I began to panic, and almost started to cry. How could everything be going to pieces already?

Finally the information went through. We weighed my checked suitcase, and it was 20 pounds overweight. The fact that I had been attempting to smuggle my most treasured paperbacks was suddenly revealed. And out they came... including Fahrenheit 451, which I literally don't know how I will survive without. That book is where this restlessness in me, this need to find more--be more--actually started for me. But pieces of myself left in a big red bag that today, and I knew it was a different kind of tithing. I couldn't think about it in any other way.

I said goodbye to my boss, my second or third mother of sorts, and I began the trek to security with my mother. I was ready to go through, but she wasn't. So we sat in some chairs for about 15 minutes. I couldn't take my eyes off of security, so eventually my mom tried to let me go. She gave me a hug, and I felt her head get heavy on my shoulder.

"No! Don't! Do not cry, because if you cry I'm going to cry and I can't afford to cry right now. I'm going to do this because it's what I've always wanted... because that's what you taught me."

I don't remember what she said after that. Maybe she didn't say anything. I just remember looking back from the line for security, and seeing her standing there--and part of me wishing she would go home so I wouldn't have to see her be as sad and tired as she was. I could see it--she needed to sleep.

I got through security, lugging my book-stuffed carry-on and my jam packed laptop case as far as I could before taking short rests. Nothing had wheels, and I knew I was carrying somewhere between 50 and 70 pounds worth of my things. But there was no easier way. I had to keep moving.

I got to the gate for my flight to Atlanta, and sat next to a really nice older woman. She reminded me of Georgia--her chic, yet casual look complete with deep shades of purple paisleys and blue jeans brought back the feel of that Southern hospitality, and the taste of that peach tea I will never forget. It reminded me of home somehow, like Georgia always does. So when my mom called me, anxious for more reassurance, it was no surprise to me when this woman--a grandmother going to "spoil her grandson"--gave me a smile, a wink, and reassurance of my own that "mothers are always like that."

I smiled and exhaled deeply, and felt some measure of peace in knowing that she will always be my mother.

But as I boarded my flight to Atlanta, I knew that it was necessary in many ways to leave her behind. I knew I couldn't be their staple anymore. I prayed for this moment for my entire life, before I even knew anything about prayer, and it was time to go...

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