May 15, 2011

Hands of Healing

As I've been rummaging through some of my old essays, I have come across a few that I had forgotten. This is one of those. I tend to get long-winded sometimes, so I don't mind if you don't read the whole thing. This is from when I worked at New Haven, a center for troubled teen girls. That has been my favorite job ever. I just enjoyed being with the girls, loving them, and watching them change. I was there just a couple of days ago for the graduation of a girl, and felt again much of what is written in this essay-- how God's hands hold us, heal us, shield us from the storms of life... if we let them. Let me know what you think of this essay--if you have the patience to read the whole thing. ;)

About Giving More

Friday night I sit watching Narnia with a room full of teenage girls. A woman on the screen is saying the last goodbyes to her children before putting them on a train. I have seen the movie plenty of times, but this time I am struck by this particular scene—maybe because lately I have been reading books like MAUS and Fugitive Pieces and The Hiding Place. It has got me paying closer attention to how the Second World War really was for families—and not just Jewish ones. Families all over Europe were ripped apart; like when you tear open a bag of Skittles with too much force, sending the contents bursting and scattering in different directions. Some of those pieces can never be recovered. The woman on the screen suddenly becomes hauntingly real to me, and I long to reach out and touch her tears away from where they have caught in the folds of her down-cast neck.

I guess at some point I begin to vocalize my thoughts; I hear myself murmuring something about how horrible it must be for a mother to send away her children and how I can’t imagine ever having to go through something like that. But one of the girls in the room responds, before my words can have any effect, “My mom didn’t seem to have such a problem doing it,” she says, sarcasm smearing itself across her face, but I know it is only to cover up the taste of sadness baked in there. I am caught off guard by the remark, but not very surprised by it. In fact, I am surprised instead, by the fact that the other girls in the room don’t rush to agree with her. I work at a treatment center, and each girl in this room knows, first-hand, the feeling of being the child who was sent away.

For a brief moment I begin to wonder if this girl is right. I wonder if I was way off in my view of these familial separations. I’ve never been a mother before. Maybe seeing their daughters go is a relief to these parents who have struggled with the girls’ behavioral issues for so many years. But then I quickly recall the image of the crying mother on our movie. She is every loving parent I have met while working at New Haven: the mom who, just before walking out the door, revealed that she didn’t expect to ever see her daughter alive again; the father who held his sweet girl’s hand on the day of graduation and said, “Thank you for finding our baby”; mothers who, with tears in their eyes, bring their fragile daughters to our doorstep, trusting them with strangers, relying on these strangers to heal the wounds they themselves cannot not even access; dads whose defeat shows in the sagging lines of their eyes, still unwilling to admit that they somehow were not strong enough to keep the monsters from making their way into their daughter’s lives. And then I know that the girl who has spoken to me is wrong, that her mother aches with remorse at the fact that this is the road that she must take. Still, I have been reminded that the parents aren’t the only ones broken, confused, and hurt when challenges tear them in different directions.

This moment with the movie keeps haunting me. I can’t stop thinking about why being a mother, actually sharing your body with another human being for a whole nine months, doesn’t instill in you a power to see into the future, grab hold of all the pain that might ensnare your child, and tear it down before it can reach them. It seems unfair that mothers and fathers are not privy to all the information it takes to raise up a perfect, carefree child. Sometimes, in fact, they have none of the answers. Those are the hardest times of all, I imagine: realizing that what this beautiful person—this baby you made—needs is something you can’t give them. As I sit typing this, a slogan keeps coming to mind. It is from an adoption agency which encourages young mothers to come to them for help. A young woman’s voice comes over the speaker, and says, indicating the infant she intends to put into the care of this adoption center, “I’m not giving her up; I’m giving her more.” I can’t help but think that the woman in our movie came to a similar conclusion. She understood that her children needed more than she could give them. The home she had available was a place filled with bombs and guns and hate. And so she sent them away—watched their train chug into the distance, wondering, I’m sure, like that mother who came to New Haven, if she would ever see her babies alive again. She was not giving them up; she was giving them more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the parents who have ever had to face such a challenge. This image reminds me of a woman whose name has been lost to history, but whose faith saved the life of her baby boy. Upon the realization that there was no other way to save his life, the mother of Moses sent her baby boy floating down a river. She knew that all her home had to offer this child was death. To give him more, to give him life, she gave him up. The act of placing this precious little child “by the river’s brink” was actually the act of placing him carefully in the hands of God.

I am compelled now, to look at my own hands. They are so small, so weak in comparison to those mighty hands which somehow managed to create this amazing world, this galaxy, this universe. And yet, in a way, my hands imitate His hands. Mothers pack up their daughters, place them gently down in the waves, and with a prayer in their hearts, watch them float into the warm, open hands of those at New Haven. My hands are amidst those hands. When I think of it this way, I am overwhelmed, almost, and feel unable to rise to such a challenge. But then, I am not meant to take it on alone. I have others with whom I can lace fingers, clasp palms, link love. We are each small pieces, but together can stand as a representation of those Almighty hands. We must. Or else we have failed those crying mothers, those broken fathers.

I realize that the whole idea of God’s hands is a little cliché, that there are songs written about it, ratty, old, over-used sayings about it, and even pictures of his hands taking actions both metaphorical and literal. But then I guess it just means that people all understand this idea, but have few ways to describe the feeling. There are lots of things that are hard to describe in words. Like a perfect sunset, painted across the summer sky. You can explain the colors and the way they weave through the clouds and over the mountain tops, but you can never capture the way the light reflects off the eyes of those who watch, or the smell and feel of the wind that brushes simultaneously over. The world is filled with words like sunset and rainbow and ripple and frost crystals whose true meanings are lost without experience. The same thing is true of God, I think. Words that capture how a lot of people feel about Him get dragged around and over-used like a rag-doll because we can’t describe any better what is far more glorious than our words.
I think I’ve been successful a time or two, in helping, in representing a piece of God’s hands. A few weeks ago, I believe I saw a bit of His glory. Really. It was shining from the eyes of a girl on her very last day at New Haven. I knew it was God’s light because of the intensity and the radiance with which it emanated—from eyes once so full of painful, empty blackness. I thought light could never touch it that darkness. But this day, all of the pain, the hurt, the shards of broken anger that this girl’s mother couldn’t even see to remove, they didn’t matter anymore. They were gone. The war was over, the storm died down. Her father could take her home where she could be safe. Her parents cried as they thanked us for our support; I thanked my God.
I’m lost now, and I no longer know if my thoughts are directed at broken families or God’s hands or parents who give up their children in order to save them. Maybe it is none of these. Maybe these thoughts are simply orbiting a deeper, harder to penetrate, issue that fills my heart with hard questions: children. Children without homes, without food, without families who love them and shelter them, without peace, without joy. Children who must suffer through life and learn lessons no matter how painful, how scary, how rotten—and all of them must ultimately do it alone. Parents may provide help sometimes, but other times they cannot. Each of us can try our best to provide safety and peace and joy and love, but sometimes it is not enough. The children themselves must find God’s hands, hold onto them, and let Him lift them up and out of all of the struggles of the world.

Moses’ mother turned her child over to God, but Moses had to make the decision to trust in God himself. When he did this, God not only granted unto him his own life, but made him an instrument to save the lives of an entire nation. His mother did not give him up; she gave him much, much more.

I wonder if my New Haven girls will someday save lives.

PS. This painting is a new one by Liz Lemon-Swindle. I can't get over how beautiful it is, and I thought it fit perfectly with my thoughts here. My friend Seth was with Liz as she worked on this painting, and has written a sweet post about the experience, along with a video that made me cry. Here's the link if you want to check it out: Behind the Scenes of Liz Lemon Swindle's "Lost Sheep"

May 13, 2011

Something new!

So, I was prodded by a friend to keep up my blog. I heaved a long sigh, not because I don't want to be writing on my blog, updating everyone about my life, and telling pointless analogical stories, but because I know that I get carried away with doing such things, and the next thing I know I have been writing for hours upon hours something that one of my six "followers" might maybe read. Ah, well. I guess there's that one.

Anyway, I have not written anything new... at least not yet. But while you wait, here is a little something for your immediate reading pleasure. This is an essay that I wrote last fall in my creative non-fiction class. Let me know what you think. I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing:

Imperfectly Perfect

I have been thinking about Jesus lately—wondering, really. I believe that he was perfect, that he never did a single thing that wasn’t in cadence with his Father’s will. He never sinned, never made a moral mistake. I don’t know how it is possible, but I accept it as truth just the way that I accept the fact that my heart keeps beating, pumping blood and oxygen through all of my many extremities; I don’t understand how that works either, but I know that it does, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sit here and write at all, let alone meditate upon the complexities of the Savior’s mortality. But that is precisely what I am doing.

If the Savior truly lived and breathed and walked upon this earth, then he had a fallible body just like me: fully bendable, breakable, bruise-able, scratch-able, scrape-able, sting-able, burn-able, sprain and strain-able, and not always completely controllable.

I thought about this while walking to school today. My shoes were a little too big, my legs a little too short, and my gait just a little too left-veering. As a result, I tripped over my own feet not once, not twice, but three times in the course of this twelve-minute walk. It is not my fault that my shoes are too big; I always buy the same size--a six--but shoe-sizing seems to be very temperamental these days. Sometimes a six is too small, and I end up with blisters on the pads of my poor feet. Sometimes a six is too big, causing the end of one of the blasted things to catch on the ground before my toes actually touch down on the path. This must be the fault of the shoe-maker or the shoe-seller or whoever decided that all size sixes weren’t to be universal. But the boy walking past me in the opposite direction doesn’t know this; he’s thinking I’ve jumbled my feet as I started staring into his big, brown eyes, and daydreaming about wedding colors instead of focusing on placing my right foot in front of my left as I quickened my stride to cross the street. He is wrong, of course; my shoes are just too big. Still, I made a mistake: I tripped when I clearly didn’t intend to. And suddenly I am thinking about physical mistakes--how they aren’t sins, but they certainly do not convey our normal idea of perfection.

I find myself trying to imagine Jesus’s shoes. John says they had a “latchet” which he didn’t deem himself worthy to undo (Mark 1:7). Beyond that, I have no clue what they were like, though most people paint him in a pair of brown sandals. I wonder how one went about acquiring a pair of shoes in those days. Did the makers measure out every individual’s foot and custom-make their shoes for them? If so, I suppose Jesus would not have had problems with shoes that were too big or too small, at least not after he had stopped growing. There is a chance that when he was still a boy he grew out of one pair and into the next, or a time when Mary, like my own mother, got him a pair just a little too big so that he could grow into them and she wouldn’t have to buy a new pair as soon. Correct size or not, sandals can be oppositional when you are trying to walk. The toe of your front foot can dig itself right down into the sand, so that when you push off with it and begin swinging your back foot forward to take its place, you are propelled, neck over knees, in a full tumble. Believe me; I’ve been there. Given how much the Savior walked during his ministry--from this city to that one, in the mountains, through gardens, on water, and finally up a hill--it is hard to believe that he never stumbled, slipped, or stubbed his big toe even once.

I sometimes imagine the Man being imperfect in other ways, too, like his physical appearance. After all, the people of his time were often disappointed upon meeting him because he didn’t seem to be anything special. And the Bible mentions that his “visage was marred” (Isaiah 52:14). I don’t think his looks made him stand out in a crowd; nothing distinguished him from all the other civilians who were heading to the market, to school, to work, to church, or even to the home of a secret lover. But maybe he had a scar on his chin from falling out of a tree or permanent calluses on his hands from working with wood in Joseph’s shop. It is possible he had crooked teeth or a really big nose or eyebrows which crept horizontally along the whole length of his forehead, looking like one long, hairy caterpillar. After all, it is man who “looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16: 7); would an imperfect image keep him from being a perfect man?

I sometimes even wonder if Jesus was the kind of guy who bothered people with the way he dressed. I could see him showing up to meetings in hand-me-downs from his cousin, John, while everyone else arrived in custom-fit, tailored robes from the recent spring catalog. After all, Christ was a mere carpenter’s son. He did not have money for “costly apparel,” nor, I assume, did he care about such trivial things. And it does seem that Jesus had a knack for offending people. He let a woman wash his feet with her hair, and everyone turned up their noses in disgust. He healed a man on the Sabbath, and onlookers were outraged. He walked through a field, picking corn to eat, and the community went stark-raving mad. I’m sure that he didn't intend to affect these people in such a negative way. Does the fact that he didn’t mean it make it a mistake? Does his making this kind of mistake make him imperfect? I don’t think so. After all, what is a physical blunder or two against your eternal spiritual progression?

I believe that Jesus lived so that he could experience mortality; so that he could understand everything we go through, including awkwardness and embarrassment and discomfort, and that he was not spared from those things just because he was without sin or mental blemish. In fact, my faith in him increases as I think of him this way—suffering the pains and afflictions that come with being mortal--physically imperfect, unbalanced, misunderstood--and still never conscientiously making a wrong choice. I am in awe when I think of this, and I know that I have a long way to go to become like him. After all, I doubt he pointed his finger at the shoe-makers for the shoddy work they did on his sandals as he took a nasty spill, the way I tend to do. But of course, this is important only if you believe the Man was capable of such mishaps.

Aug 12, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things...

I’ve always hated this song. I just find it silly. But mostly, I think that this is because Maria’s favorite things are totally ridiculous. Copper kettles and paper packages… ponies, kittens’ whiskers, and all that. Um….. yeah…. About those things… LAME!

But you know, the idea of the song isn’t so silly, I guess. It is important to think about the things that make you happy. Same idea as counting your blessings. When you take notice of the good things in your life, the bad things seem to slowly lose their importance.

A couple of months ago, I read the blog of a friend of mine, where he listed things that make him happy. It impressed me so much that I decided to create one of my own. So here goes… (in no particular order, by the way)…

1. Laying in the sunshine on a clear, summer day
2. Eating a fat piece of chocolate cake for breakfast
3. A shooting star so bright it makes you squint
4. A good workout that leaves you sweaty and sore
5. Arrested Development
6. Barbeque chips with cottage cheese
7. Sleeping in on a weekend… and then waking up and going back to sleep
8. Having the most amazing baby sister in the whole wide world
9. Rock band
10. Free Netflix on the Wii
11. Hot tubbing in the dead of winter
12. Accomplishing all your goals for the day
13. Staring adversity in the eye and beating it back with what you’ve got
14. Falling in love
15. A first kiss
16. Making new friends
17. Getting together with old friends
18. The satisfaction of a clean house
19. People’s quirks--I LOVE finding the things that make each person unique
20. When babies like you
21. Laughing until your sides hurt
22. Piling in your queen sized bed with some of your best girl friends
23. Talking until the sun comes up
24. Creating something all on your own
25. Being in love with your job
26. Friday the 13th
27. Fireworks
28. The excitement of a new relationship
29. Daydreaming
30. Calling in sick to devour the rest of a good book
31. Getting a massage
32. Eating frozen custard with your mission companions
33. Learning something new
34. Surprises
35. Finding a note that says someone is thinking about you
36. Christmas trees
37. An afternoon at the temple
38. Having faith to try again
39. The smell of new books at Barnes & Noble
40. Sitting on the highest point of a mountain—day or night—and looking down at all the earth
41. Enjoying the vastness of God’s creations
42. Summer nights when you don’t need a blanket
43. Roasting marshmallows and hotdogs over a fire
44. Singing songs with friends
45. Receiving compliments from random strangers
46. Sharing the excitement of a friend
47. Doing something they say can’t be done
48. Spooning
49. Inside jokes
50. Plato’s Closet
51. Finding money in the pocket of an old coat
52. When a chubby little toddler reaches out her hands for you to pick her up
53. Sharing the gospel
54. Being brave when you thought you didn’t know how
55. Having inspiration to write something of value
56. Orange Julius
57. The fresh smell after it rains
58. A full rainbow against a dark sky
59. The awkwardness at the beginning of a relationship
60. Lightening that turns the night to day for a split second
61. Thunder that takes your breath away
62. Suspense
63. A movie that you have to see twice
64. A warm cup of cocoa on a winter night
65. People who are always there for you
66. The triumph after killing a spider you thought would kill YOU.
67. Watching old movies from your childhood
68. Sunsets
69. Sun rises
70. The smell of baking bread
71. Watching chick flicks all alone, and never telling anyone.
72. Fry sauce
73. Oreo cookies and milk
74. Sitting at the feet of senior citizens and hearing the beautiful stories of their lives
75. Running in the rain
76. The sky—any shade. It is simply amazing
77. Playing pranks on your friends
78. Hot fudge sundaes
79. Tanning beds during the winter
80. XFiles
81. Chill music
82. Super Heroes
83. Being silly
84. Friends who give you a shoulder to cry on
85. Fresh garden vegetables
86. The first sunny day of springtime
87. The way a kitten’s head is disproportionate to its tiny body
88. The funny things that kids say
89. Being validated
90. Serving a mission
91. Cuddling
92. Wrestling
93. Nail polish in your favorite shade
94. Getting a great deal on something you want
95. Napping on Sunday afternoon
96. Changing your hair color (this one might only apply to me)
97. Funny You-Tube videos
98. Relishing over cherished memories
99. Holidays and traditions
100. Water fights

Well… there’s a hundred. I don’t want to get carried away and bore the heck out of all of you. Maybe I’ll lengthen it later as I think of more things.

Aug 5, 2010

Well, Bless my Soul!...

The following is an article I wrote for a website a friend of mine is designing. Let me know what you think:

“The influence of a valiant mission president is one of the great miracles of the restored gospel.”
-Elder Quentin L. Cook

The Savior, Jesus Christ, spent the entirety of his life teaching people the way to gain true eternal happiness. Every moment of his mortality was characterized by love, service, and sacrifice. He took no care for his own comfort, but laid down his life for the well-being and the joy of all of God’s children.

Jesus was the example whereby each of us should pattern our own lives. In following the example of Jesus to love and serve God’s children selflessly, each of us gains the possibility to have “the image of God engraven upon [our] countenances” (Alma 5:19) and, in effect, truly become more like him. In an article in the April 1973 issue of the New Era, we read, “By freely giving his life, Christ, and Christ alone, atoned for all mankind. We have the opportunity of aiding others to accept his love and his sacrifice—the gift of the atonement—and thereby aid in the work of exalting the human family, becoming saviors on Mount Zion…To become as God is, we must learn to give freely, to love freely, to be willing to suffer even the humiliation and sorrow of seeing our love rejected—willing to love all as God loves us, unconditionally, throughout eternity.”

If this is true, those who serve as full-time missionaries have the opportunity not only to be blessed with the happiness of bringing the gospel to others, but they also are placed at the brink of being made into new creatures—like the Savior himself. These missionaries, when they truly give themselves to such complete and dedicated selfless service, are privy to so much of light of Christ that those taught by them can feel the love of the Savior as if He were indeed present, wrapping His arms around them and calling them to return home. I know this is true, because I have experienced it. These moments are my most cherished memories.

But, I believe, it is a faithful mission president, the man who presides over all the missionaries in one large area, who has the ability to become the most Christ-like of all. A mission president dedicates every day of his life for three years to loving and serving each one of the young missionaries, even as they are serving others. His desires are their righteous desires, and he prays fervently day and night for opportunities to help them succeed.

A few weeks ago, I stood and embraced the man who served as my own mission president in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had just returned home, and though his eyelids sagged with exhaustion, his smile was more radiant than ever. It has been two full years since I returned home, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I have lost a great deal of the light that I was blessed with while serving. It’s funny; I thought I’d be able to hang onto it forever. But the truth is that the more concerned with self we become, the less like Christ we are. And since I am no longer a missionary, it is much harder for my focus to be outside myself. Life is hard. I’ve faced a lot of pains and sorrows of my own. But standing there, hugging the man that we Wisconsin missionaries had nick-named ‘Papa Bear,’ I felt warmth and peace course through my body and my soul. In that instant, the love of the Savior was made evident through this man who had served me and so many others so very diligently. This pure love coursed through me with a sense of power that I had not felt in a long time. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I said a silent prayer of gratitude to my Heavenly Father for blessing me with the love of such a faithful man.

Missionary work is powerful. I truly believe that it is a tool which, if utilized, can make us all more like the One who created us, our Savior, even Jesus Christ.

May 29, 2010

Goodbye my Almost Lover....

.....So apparently red dye fades fast. Too fast. I've dyed my hair twice already, and the red still seems to be slipping away. It's so sad. It now looks to be a sort of brown/pink color. Don't know if that is possible, but it is really how it seems. I think I'm ready to be blonde again. Not because I don't like the red, but just because I can't keep it.

This is sort of like most of my relationships. It begins intense and passionate, but fades out really quickly, leaving something that is hard to get rid of. Haha. Just kidding. Sort of.

Anyway, I'm just going to let it do its thing until it starts to look tragically horrific, and then I'll see what I can do. Incidentally, does anyone think it's time to cut my hair? I never, never like my hair short, but other people tend to. It is so damaged that cutting it my be the way to go. I dunno. We'll see.

(Oh... I stole the title for this from a song by A Fine Frenzy. She was my inspiration for going red. How come she keeps it so well?)

May 19, 2010

Go Big or Go Home!!

I did it!! I finally dyed my hair red! It is bold and—if I might say so myself—it is beautiful! I’m so excited about it. My roommate Emily has been wanting to dye hers for a couple of weeks now, and so she made me go and get a box dye when she got hers. I was super nervous because I didn’t know if I would find a color that would turn out. But I took a deep breath (or several), and I did it. I feel like a celebrity. And I’m grateful for the fun change. Give it a look and let me know what you think. But even if you hate it, be aware that I will still think it is one of the greatest things I’ve done. I really do.

Here is one of me in my big, pink movie star glasses

And here is me with my roommate Emily as we mock swimsuit model poses. Aren't we just so clever?

May 12, 2010

Zumba and New Year's Resolutions

I just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve been working on my New Year’s resolution. I know, I know, you’re all so proud and want to say congrats and all that. Nevermind that it is nearly 5 months into the new year and so the year isn’t even new anymore. But hey, I still write 2009 on things by accident sometimes. That means it is still fairly new, right? I don’t know.

I’m just really proud of myself for working on it. Actually, a few years ago I decided that it was better not to make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I never go through with them. And I just can’t deal with the stress of failure. You know? No goals= no possibilities of failure. Yeah! But no goals also= no progression. So….. I made a few resolutions for the year. And how am I doing on them? Well… I actually don’t remember what most of them are. Pretty sure I didn’t write them down anywhere because I still didn’t want to fail and then feel bad about it.

BUUUUUUUUUT…. I do remember one. And that is what I’m getting at here. I made a goal to get a gym pass, and get in shape. It only took me a month to go in and get the pass. I think I went in February. And, I got a really good deal by talking the guy down. I started going to the gym that same week. I’ve been going about once a week since then. But now the sun has been coming out, so I no longer feel like I need the tanning bed. So, not wanting my pass to go to waste, I decided to go to the gym for an actual work out.

I went yesterday. It was amazing. Did you know that the Provo gym has this room where all the lights are off so no one can see you and all your nasty, filthy sweatingness as you run on the treadmill? They call it the CardioCinema and they play movies to distract you from thinking about the fact that you haven’t been running in about 5 years and you feel like you’re dying. They must’ve been thinking of me when they built this room. After a while in there, I worked out on the weights, and found that the new ones have these awesome little pictures on them which show you how you might possibly look when you are through with the workout—pictures of people with chiseled abs, hard pecs, and muscular calves. I suppose these are for motivation as well as for instruction on how to use the machines.

Anyway, it was a spectacular workout. And then, Oscar, the “club manager” (he told me that that was his official title, but I’m wondering if he is really assistant to the club manager) told my roommate Emily all about how he sees me in the gym all the time. I guess Oscar sees the future. He also signed us up for a Zumba class. I wasn’t really sure what Zumba even was, but he assured us that it is great. We went tonight. Um…. I’ll try not to let the thought of Zumba effect my desire to go to the gym in the future. If I just go when they’re not teaching it, and pretend it doesn’t exist, I'll still like the gym.

But back to the point: I went to the gym. Two days in a row even! That is enough to maybe even create a consistent pattern. I feel proud. I might actually achieve this New Year’s resolution. Maybe.