26 February 2009

Mission Calls

Last night, one of my dearest friends opened his mission call. It was very exciting to be present for such an important day in his life--to hear the pages turning as he entered a new chapter.
He has been called to the Cambodia, Phnom Penh mission. When he was busy calling family and making his rounds in the dorm lobby, I perused his letter for several moments, trying to take everything in.

Cambodia... half a world away... signed by President Thomas S. Monson... wow, that's a real signature...

It all seemed so surreal. He wasn't going to be here next year. I wouldn't see him anymore.

He'll be off getting malaria somewhere, I thought to myself. It didn't help that when I Google searched "Cambodia," I saw some recent headlines about there being malaria outbreaks. I felt my heart sink.

But he is in the Lord's hands--the most capable hands in the universe. I can't think of a better place for him to be, nor for a better young man for such a demanding mission.

A mutual friend and I were talking for some time last night about Cambodia, and she searched for the religious breakdown of the country--mostly Buddhist. One of the more interesting religions in the world, in my opinion.

I remember when I was in junior high, I read a few books about Zen Buddhism, and how artistic and peaceful it sounded appealed to me. I liked how individualized the "journey" to Enlightenment seemed. We talked about this for a time, and we thought about our friend. The idea of him teaching among Buddhists became extremely comical because he's so dangerously literal.

Part of some branches of Buddhism include the study of koans, which I love. They're parables that often use natural imagery to present a really nebulous lesson that the monks ponder in order to achieve Enlightenment. I enjoy reading them because they make sense to me. They're the kind of puzzle I can figure out because figuring them out is more about feeling their meaning instead of recognizing or applying fact--which is more of his forte, I should think.

One that I really love in particular is about Chiyono (Mugai Nyodai) the first woman to become head of a Zen order in Japan. It tells about how Chiyono tried for years to understand meditation, but just couldn't do it. Finally one night, she was starting at the moon's reflection in a pail full of water she was taking back to the monastery, when it broke. She wrote this about then achieving enlightenment:


This way and that way
I've tried to keep the pale together
hoping the weak bamboo
would never break.

Suddenly the bottom fell out
No more water,
no more moon in the water--
Emptiness in my hand.


The situation with my missionary friend seems a lot like this to me. I cannot worry about him, as easy as I might find that to be right now. Cambodia needs him more than Provo, and he will do a fine job of taking the truth to them. And according to what the CIA has published about Cambodia, my friend has a lot to face.




The country not only deals with a lot of malaria, but also AIDS. Their median age is in the early twenties, with a third of the country being under the age of 14, and half the country being under the age of 21--creating quite a strain on their limited economy--especially in light of the global economic crisis. I'll be interested to hear about the situation of the Church in that country, and because the Phnom Penh mission is on the Pouch system through DearElder.com, writing to him won't be as great a hassle as I thought.

All in all, I guess the only thing I can do is to try and support him in any way I can--especially praying for the people that he will serve, that they'll be ready when he comes. Somehow, I think he's really going to need that.

23 February 2009

The Custodian



Scrawled into grime covered walls of where I used to work, a revelation written in purple ink greeted me every time I had to empty the bowels of the floor machine down the drain of the trash compactor room in the Wilkinson Center.

Taught by suffering:
drop by drop
wisdom is distilled from pain.

Clearly, I was not the first person to consider such things while trying to ignore the smell of wet cardboard, rotten bananas, and stagnant water.

As I’ve contemplated the concept of Dante’s stratified Hell, I imagine that my early morning cleaning jobs would be somewhere closer to the deepest pits—reserved primarily for the people who have thrown full cups of water into a trash can, pushed staples onto the floor to be ground into the carpet, or stuck gum ANYWHERE it doesn’t belong. I could wish for no greater disgust on the guilty that would still be appropriately reciprocal to the sin.

It’s hard not to think about Hell when you’re a custodian—especially when the batteries in your iPod die before you do and you’re stuck talking to yourself for the rest of your shift. The bars between reality and insanity have never been so thin as those in the corner of an iPod screen at 5 in the morning.

Also nearby is the idea of repentance—as gentle as teasing hidden dirt down the stairs with a broom, as seemingly fruitless as spraying one’s own reflection with glass cleaner and scouring the dark circles under the eyes with a white rag. No visible difference sometimes. Sometimes all you have to show for your effort is a half smile before you round the corner and trip over your own vacuum cord. If perfection, or even grace, were a given—well, I’d certainly be out of a job.

But instead, there is much to be thankful for. Take, for example, insatiable fatigue. I know enough about REM cycles and sleep debt that I couldn’t repay mine in blood. The 5 A.M. shift isn’t a shift, it’s a way of life. To be willing to sleep anywhere at any time is constant, but to be able to is not. To stay awake out of necessity is a lesson I have no problem believing comes straight from Christ.

As painful as this experience has been, as abject as I feel when I throw myself onto the floor each morning in order to rouse myself from sleep, I see a greater good in learning, as my mother taught me, to “live tired.” If nothing else, I might actually stand a chance to miss out on hearing these words, which so often pierce my heart when I fall asleep in yet another class:

“Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

I mean, the Savior didn’t ask me to do anything hard—just to stay awake in American Heritage. And Comparative Literature 201… and 202… English 251… Anthropology 101… Intro to Archaeology. In the immortal words of President Monson, “I’m embarrassed to add any more to that list.”

And despite the fact that I fail as surely as those noble and great men before me have failed, I cannot help but be critical of myself; the kind of critical that comes from being a custodian and having time to myself every day to work out my salvation as I watch the sun rise over a still sleeping world—wishing so desperately that I could find that peace. Fortunately, what better thing can I do with that time but learn what Paul taught to the Thessalonians when he said, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”

So I press forward, my alarm clock set to 4:30 AM, a prayer in my heart, and the expectation that I’ll someday be able to rest—if not from mine afflictions, then perhaps from knowing what O Dark Thirty looks like.

07 February 2009

In the Rain

Resolution: Find more ways to serve people by identifying their needs and doing something to fulfill them.


Last night, I was hanging out with friends of mine. We were coming back from the Wilk when we saw another friend walking by himself in the rain. We called him over and were chatting for a bit. We invited him to come with us over to Stover lobby, and he declined because he wanted to take a walk in the rain.

"It's very therapeutic," he said. I offered to come with him, and he declined.

We parted ways, had to stop here, there, and everywhere in between where we started and where we were actually trying to go (we're freshmen; apparently this is how we do things), and we finally made it over to Stover Hall.




We were almost inside when we saw this friend again, and he was absolutely soaked. He had been outside anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour since the first time we saw him, and who knows how long he had been outside before that. And to be honest, I've always had a concern for this friend that I cannot quite articulate, and he has given me no observable reason to feel that I can think of, but this kind of feeling is so instinctive to me that I don't really question it because I've realized that I just can't.

So I did what any girl in my position probably would have done. I went up to some mutual girl friends of ours, told them what I had seen, and they sprung into action to go and find him. As they were pulling on boots and coats, leaving the merriment of Stover Hall to hunt down someone I wasn't even sure was actually in trouble, I wondered if maybe I had overreacted, and had sent a cavalry of girls to intrude upon the peace he was seeking in a way that would have driven me NUTS had it been sent after me in that situation.

I anticipated that he would tell them the same thing he had told me, so I went up to some of our mutual guy friends and asked them to talk to him later when they saw him. I expressed my concern, and they took it in stride.

"I like walks in the rain," said one friend, "it's very therapeutic."

"That's exactly what he said," I commented. It was only then that I connected that in order for an activity to be therapeutic, something probably has to be wrong with you first.

I asked a guy friend of mine that I trust entirely, one more removed from the situation that has taken such walks with me, whether or not what I had done was a mistake--whether there was a cause for concern for this friend. Eventually he said he didn't think so, and that put my mind at ease--and right at that second, in came the cavalry with a very wet target.

He came in and mingled, and I watched him. At one point, he was standing by himself by a piano, touched a few keys without sitting down, looked like he was thinking very inwardly and sternly about something, then looked up to see me watching him. I smiled, didn't break my stare, and he got the biggest grin on his face and bounded over to me; not an uncommon thing for him to do.

He asked me how the activity at the Wilk went, and I showed him and told him about the rose I had waited for over an hour in line to dip in wax for 30 seconds. We talked very animatedly about not much in particular, just like we do every morning at breakfast after our early morning custodial jobs. I gave him my rose and told him to keep it. He didn't insist that I take it back like I had anticipated. We invited him to come watch a movie with us on campus, and he declined. We eventually gathered our group and left the building.




How do you know when to step into someone else's life and redirect their sojourn out of the rain? How can you be sure that you aren't imagining your concern when you look at a situation and realize that your evidence for a crisis is entirely subjective and circumstantial? Why is it so hard to distinguish between someone searching for truth and someone getting themselves entirely too lost?

I decided in that moment that I would rather be too careful, too concerned, than to watch one of my Father's sheep wander off into the orange glow of a rainy evening. Maybe I'm just projecting, but I've never seen a sheep wander into the darkness that wasn't in more darkness than I realized.

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